Loose Canons: Isobel MacKinnon

Ahead of her and Meg Rollandi's 2018 STAB Commission season of Actual Fact, Wellington performance-maker Isobel MacKinnon tells us about the inspirations that helped her find her own truth.

Loose Canons is a series in which we invite artists we love to share five things that have informed their work. Meet the rest of our Loose Canons here.

Isobel MacKinnon is a busy lassie. The Wellington-based performance maker and director has been touring with multi-award-winning show My Best Dead Friend (co-created with Anya Tate-Manning) to Tauranga, Dunedin and Nelson arts festivals, and the Melbourne Fringe, where it was nominated for Best Performance and took out the Summerhall Award to tour the show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and present it at Summerhall theatre. Isobel directed Jo Randerson and Thomas LaHoood in Soft N Hard, the Barbarian Productions “wife’n’husband” show which most recently toured to Tempo Festival at Q Theatre.

Isobel has been the recipient of multiple awards for her original works, including the Chapman Tripp Theatre Award for Most Original Production (Dinner With Izzy & Simon), NZ Fringe Festival Best in Fringe (2018, My Best Dead Friend; 2015, Wake Up Tomorrow), and Best Director (2018, Force Field, Auckland Fringe; 2015, Wake Up Tomorrow, NZ Fringe). She attended Victoria University and John Bolton Theatre School, and she teaches the acting programme annually at the National Youth Drama School.

Actual Fact, the 2018 STAB Commission which she has created with Meg Rollandi and a team of collaborative artists, opens at BATS Theatre this November.

Sexy Pigs

As a kid I collected pigs. Or I thought I did. On recent reflection I realise that what I actually collected was sexy pigs. Figurines of pigs with big human breasts and long dark eyelashes, wearing bikinis or tutus and high heels, riding vespas and carrying little handbags. I am obsessed with this discovery. Obsessed with how this can possibly be a genre of decorative objects. Obsessed with how in the hell I never looked at my collection and thought, “Something is amiss about these pigs.”

In my work I am often concerned with objects. I love them for their perceived stability and simplicity, which can then be unravelled to reveal a dense lineage of history and meaning. A Trojan Horse of meaning, or a Trojan Pig of meaning. A Trojan Pig that speaks about anthropomorphism, hypersexualisation and Eurocentric feminine beauty ideals but just sits like an inanimate lump on a dressing table.

Meg Rollandi/four rosés

Meg Rollandi and I began working together in 2015, and our collaborations have increased exponentially ever since. Performance designer, academic, Aries to my Aries rising – we understand one another’s drive and sensitivity.

Not only does this relationship feed me artistically, but it gives me a sense of home, an anchoring, a sense of continuity and stability within my practice. Meg and I sharing our thoughts has become a really significant part of my life. Between Meg and I, it seems like our conversations are very rarely ever finished, but rather the ideas we talk about continue to be turned over and over and re-examined throughout our work. It is a pretty special privilege to be able to communicate with someone in that way.

The scarcity of resources in the arts can breed an unhealthy feeling of competition and jealousy between practitioners, an undercurrent of insecurity about our own worth and ability. Feeling insecure over other people being brilliant and making great art is a trap. Last year Meg and I started referring to Friday night wine drinking times as ‘four rosés,’ and inviting both women that we were close with and women whom we admired and wanted to know better. I remember one of these times the subject of the terrible insecurity came up, and each of these incredibly accomplished women said that they felt it. It felt so gleeful and radical to take the power away from that feeling by saying it out loud. Anyway it was Meg’s idea, and short of quoting Lady Gaga it is difficult to express the difference this exceptional human being has made to my life and work.

My whānau

When I was younger I used to have some shame around my family and who we were. It feels painful to write that. Maybe it’s a normal thing that happens to teenagers. Maybe it’s not.

We grew up in a really affluent part of Auckland although we were a pretty poor single-parent/three kid family. It was a sort of magic trick my Mum did with a series of two-bedroom flats. As a British immigrant who came to Aotearoa at age 16 more or less on her own, it was important to her that we went to high decile schools and had friends who could take us waterskiing on the weekend. It felt like the big issues being dealt with within the walls of our home – disability, financial and housing insecurity, mental health crises – existed in another world from the lives and homes of my peers.

In my early 20s my girlfriend gave me a copy of Nobody Passes by Matt Bernstein Sycamore, an anthology of essays in response to the prompt, “What lies are people forced to tell in order to gain acceptance as ‘real’”?

In short, one of the superpowers of queer theory is that it can help you to better love your family.

I’m so proud of my family and their vulnerability, resilience and commitment to healing. They’re also proud of me and fiercely supportive of my career. And they’re so funny.


This part is basically a section of subreddits to which I am haphazardly applying this flawed title as a way to group the following texts/writers:

  • TERROR NULLIUS by Soda_Jerk is a film work that reframes and reimagines a bunch of excerpts from canonical Australian cinema, queering it into a “political-revenge fable,” smashing up against ideas of Australian national identity. It’s on at City Gallery Wellington until 18 November.
  • Sara Ahmed, an Australian-British scholar whose writing about race, queer theory and feminist theory is urgent and re-energising. She has a lot of talks on YouTube. Just saying.
  • Dear Rosa by Professor Julieanna Preston is a visual essay which responds to her sculptural work This is my feminist survival kit. It a tender manifesto exploring what spaces might be accessed through the tiny space inside a matchbox and the radical potential of ordinary materials.
  • [CENSORED] is a documentary by archivist and filmmaker Sari Braithwaite, made out of clips cut from foreign films by the Australian Classification Board between 1951 and 1978. Sari narrates it, and there is a really interesting dissonance between her expectations of what the film was going to be, and what it became. I think there is always this transformation between conceptualising and realising a work and I love the way this is incorporated into the voice of the film.

Kate Macintosh and Nicola Gunn

Seeing work by performance makers Kate Macintosh and Nicola Gunn has had a massive influence on me.

As performers they both have an eerie calmness, and an approach to subject matter that feels startlingly oblique. They speak directly to their audience or participants, their curiosity bristles, they tell long stories about things that don’t immediately seem to relate to their subject matter, they perform strange physical experiments and afterward I feel as though everything in the world has shifted by a few degrees. Their work is simple in a brave dense way, following a single unravelling thread to the least expected, disorienting but logical conclusion.

Actual Fact runs from 16 November to 1 December at BATS Theatre. Tickets available here.

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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