Oct 11, 2023 Art
ABIGAIL: Who is The Killing?
Right now? Six members eating chicken. We’re a little family. We all met at Elam; we love chicken; and we make art that’s silly and fun.
Don’t fall for our name — we aren’t a satanic cult or anything. But it did come from a joke about American Horror Story: Murder House. How we would all flat together in a house and end up haunting it …
… and kill whoever trespassed. Anyways, it became our group chat name since our first year of art school.
ABIGAIL: Can you tell us more about the silliness?
The silliness comes with how much we play with our ideas — especially when it comes to the naive. We play. That’s what makes it really fun for us as well.
ABIGAIL: How do you see the silliness or naivety situating itself in the larger context of Western contemporary art?
Everyone takes themselves so seriously and takes art so seriously. And in that effort of taking it all so seriously, they designate who and who isn’t allowed to participate in contemporary art. I feel like — and this was maybe not 100% intentional at first — our collective works to make art that is silly and approachable. Work that engages people who aren’t directly involved in the contemporary art space.
Because with galleries and art spaces, everything can get so serious, almost intimidating. A lot of our works are interactive — always made with conscious thought to the experience of our audience. We want to break down the barrier of intellectual superiority and say, “It’s not always that serious.”
ABIGAIL: When you see The Killing’s work, you know who made it. You’ve developed a signature visual language. How did that happen?
Maybe from our first show together? That was the moment we started making work as The Killing.
That show [Nuisance at RM Gallery] was the melding of everyone’s individual style and works into a show about angst and bodily experience and institutions. It just happened. Most of the time, we just pile trash on and it makes a new thing.
Like, actual trash … We once scoured all the recycling bins in the city campus to papier-mâché and stuff a giant blob sculpture.
Because we all have different styles and approaches, we rely on motifs or themes to pull us in together. For example, you often see pink, red and hearts. With Cirque Du Killing Presents: ‘APPETISER’ at Papakura Art Gallery, we built a cohesive visual language to bring us together. All the paintings were portraits, all smiling. It’s a way to bring everything back to the same place. And most of the time, our work isn’t refined to the point of its death — we always let the work be what it was when we first made it.
I feel like our friendship is the style. Before we are a collective, we are a bunch of friends who love each other. You can see that in the work.
ABIGAIL: What’s your relationship with KFC Wicked Wings?
I reckon it was at Elam … we just wanted some chicken, eh?
A lunch box from Sensational Chicken was the Elam go-to, but KFC Wicked Wings are our favourite.
I remember I had never got into eating fried chicken with my friends until Elam. For me, it started there. And it is honestly a labour of love, sitting around, eating chicken.
I remember even before I was in The Killing eating chicken with you guys on Symonds St and gossiping about Elam dramas … that was the way that we bonded. Go to the lecture and be bored as shit, and then go eat chicken afterwards and make your work. That kind of translated into our tradition. Whenever we’re together, we eat chicken. It’s like our Sunday service, our holy communion.
It’s a ritual. It has followed us since inception. Nowadays, it’s fairly hard to all be together in one place, but a dinner with some wings always brings us together. It’s an important facet of our everyday lives as well as our working life. Before an opening, on nights when we install till our wrists are weak, we sit at the dinner table or on the floor of a studio or gallery and eat some Wicked Wings. It’s a moment of peace and togetherness. A chance to reflect before chaos resumes once again.
ABIGAIL: What is it like to collaborate with friends? Any drama?
I think, first and foremost, as a collective, collaboration is inherent and a really big aspect, especially if you want things to work. Because we were in Elam and we would crit each other’s work and go have a look at each other’s stuff, that environment kind of prepared us for working as a collective in the outside world.
ABIGAIL: So no fights?
Oh, we fight. And that’s inevitable, but it’s never that deep. Because we’re all friends, disagreeing doesn’t hold that much substance for long.
I think it’s like … you talk about ‘working together’, but most of the time, it doesn’t feel like work. Everything outside of us feels like work, but when we are together, we really are just playing as kids again. That relationship, our relationship, is what is reflected in the gallery spaces. Our conversations and our interactions and our relationships are our collective practice.
ABIGAIL: I remember you saying you were planning a trilogy — how’s that going?
Um, it’s good! So we did part one of Cirque Du Killing Presents: ‘APPETISER’ at Pap[akura Art] Gallery. Right after this, we are actually meeting to work on sending a proposal for part two. We’re working on it! We want it to happen.
ABIGAIL: Any sentiment you’d like to leave people with? A last note for this conversation?
There need to be more collectives in Aotearoa. A lot of people follow a solo path, but collectivism is so important right now — more than ever, I think. The arts are going through a drought of resources; the only way to move forward is to connect with other people, organise, ask for help, inspiration, whatever!
I feel like in theatre or film, in the arts sector, it’s very much about community. But this is quite lacking in the contemporary art space. It’s funny — we’ve weirdly become advocates for collectivism in the contemporary art space by accident, just by this working and us seeing it working.
Because arts are consistently being defunded, organising, collectivising and relationships are maybe the only way we can actually succeed. When we collectivise, we share power. Because we work together under The Killing, we are kind of protected by the collective. We share resources and skills. We have enough brains to not get scammed or underpaid — to think critically about what we are saying when we make work.