Born and raised in Adelaide, Emmaline Zanelli (b. 1994) is a South Australian artist whose expanded photographic practice captures a range of performative, collaborative and sculptural techniques. In her final year of study at the Adelaide College of the Arts in 2015, Zanelli majored in photography, approaching it as a kind of catch-all medium; “you can make whatever you like, take a picture of it and then it is photography.” A wide view of Zanelli’s practice reflects this philosophy; her chosen photographic subjects are diverse, from prehistoric life to popular culture. However, Zanelli’s strong DIY aesthetic, sense of humour and material playfulness, her interest in working and making with others, and her explorations of the powerful relationship between photography and memory remain constant. “I’m massively nostalgic. I don’t photograph things in a nostalgic kind of way but I do get a lot of solace in constructing a world and documenting it, like keeping it in a little vault.
In 2020, Zanelli was commissioned by ACE Open to create a company Christmas card. Self Portrait as The North Star at the 2002 Credit Union Christmas Pageant heading to the David Jones Magic Cave (2020) restages Zanelli’s childhood experience of Adelaide’s iconic annual Christmas Pageant and Magic Cave, featuring larger-than-life dioramas, fair rides and a fantastical replica of the North Pole – the highpoint of which is Santa’s photo booth. “When you’re small you remember things being massive or terrifying. I think that’s kind of funny but it’s also really beautiful and powerful and mysterious.” Crafting a pageantry of her own, Zanelli’s makeshift costume transforms her into a butter yellow eight-pointed star – some limbs outstretched, others comically soft – whilst backgrounded by a curtain of failed Santa photo booth portraits trawled from the internet. “I like the idea of remixing memory. Every time you remember something it becomes more distorted by who you are now.”
Zanelli’s solo exhibition RIFE MACHINE, first exhibited at ACE Across in 2017, explored a similarly performative and ritualistic approach to portraiture. For the first time, Zanelli worked with subjects around her – friends, family, a former teacher. Making use of the ubiquitous 6 x 4 photographic print, she created immersive environments and makeshift costumes for her sitters: a boyfriend dons a feathered suit of close ups of the artists belly button; a whole room is plastered in images of shimmering water, leaving only hands, a face and bathroom taps as context clues.
Even Zanelli herself is both subject and object. In the self-portrait Red Room (Safe House) (2017), Zanelli’s impulse to simultaneously obscure and reveal is evident as her costume and setting are entirely formed from stills of own laparoscopy. RIFE MACHINE makes use of the materiality of images and draws on the power of the image as a transformative device, “There are expectations around how you treat a photograph. Ripping up a picture, for example, is a powerful act.
 Emmaline Zanelli, unpublished interview with Belinda Howden, Adelaide, 1 November, 2021.
 - Ibid.
The three-channel video installation Dynamic Drills (2020), produced for ACE Open’s 2020 South Australian Artist Survey If the future is to be worth anything, marked Zanelli’s first foray into moving image. Again working with family, Zanelli’s subject was her paternal grandmother, Mila, who worked a lifetime in manufacturing. As a young woman in Italy, Mila was a knitting machine technician. Upon emigrating to Adelaide she worked in a wool processing plant, shrink-wrapped chickens and made car seat covers for Holden, among other forms of manual labour. Dynamic Drills explores Mila’s work history and the relationship to Zanelli’s own labour as an artist, “I wanted to explore the idea of familial legacy and the transference of memory. Dynamic Drills proposes that memory is a group exercise and, furthermore, it is work.”
Across the half hour montage, Zanelli and her Nonna play out ritualistic scenes of work: Mila’s muscle memory kicks in as she mimes threading a knitting machine; an over-engineered Rube Goldberg-esque conveyor belt sorts and processes apricots; Zanelli rides a stationary exercise bike to light a scene of her grandparents making a Skype call. The video also features a voiceover. In her native tongue, Mila recites passages from Manifesto del Futurismo (the Manifesto of Futurism) – an early twentieth century document by Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. An art historical movement, Futurism rejected previous centuries of Italy’s agrarian society and classical heritage, instead championing the proposed freedoms of speed, machinery, industry and war.
 Emmaline Zanelli, unpublished interview and artist website, accessed 13 October, 2021
I liked this vision of these young guys that were so misogynistic, so obsessed with war and machines and going fast, imagining a woman of the future. My Nonna was the epitome of this mechanised body that they dreamt of: she flew in planes; she worked in factories her whole life; she now takes pills and powders in order to stay alive, which is what they describe in their Futurist cook book. She lies on a mechanised bed and walks around with a motorised walking frame. I think if they saw her though, they would still not think she was the ideal despite having done everything they said.
Nonna and I weren’t making anything in our little choreographies, we weren’t producing anything. The point was not to be producing. If anything, we were producing our relationship. Our product was care and time.
Make a costume which pays tribute to a childhood memory. Photograph yourself in this costume and consider your surroundings when staging your image. You might make your costume from paper, cardboard or recycled clothes and fabric.
Tear and cut photographs of yourself. Now join these back together in an interesting way - it could be 2D or 3D. Take it further – repeat this process with portraits of your family to create a collage family portrait. Consider pattern, repetition and experiment with scale and proportion.
Challenge yourself to take a photograph of someone you care about, without showing their face. How can you create a temporary world in which to take your photograph? What does this scene communicate about the person? Is your sitter disguised in some way? Look at Zanelli’s photographs from the series RIFE MACHINE to see how she has created immersive environments and makeshift costumes for her sitters.
Look at yourself in a mirror and draw what you see. Cut up your portrait into large random shapes. Swap your shapes with other members of your class to create a remix portrait.
Using photography and Photoshop, create a distorted portrait of a family member. Write each feature on separate pieces of paper, select one feature at random and modify your portrait accordingly.
Sometimes artists who use photography in their work manipulate their image or their subjects. Does a photographer ‘make’ or ‘take’ a photograph? Use Zanelli and two other artists as examples to support your answer.
Hopper, C. “Dear Mila.” In If the Future is to be Worth Anything. Adelaide: ACE Open, 2020. 18-23.
Articles and Journals
De Zilva, O. “Emmaline Zanelli meditates on family, work and apricots in ACE Open’s 2020 Artist Survey.” The Adelaide Review. 23 July, 2020.
Foster, F. “Emmaline Zanelli’s RIFE MACHINE.” CityMag. 24 May, 2017.
Freney, Z. “Emmaline Zanelli.” Art Guide Australia. 31 May, 2017.
Llewellyn, J. “Artist Profile: Emmaline Zanelli.” The Adelaide Review. 3 June, 2016.
Llewellyn, J. “Emmaline Zanelli’s prehistoric echoes.” The Adelaide Review. 3 May, 2018.
Sanders, C. “Emmaline Zanelli.” aint – bad. 11 November, 2018.
Smelter, D. “When Walls Close In.” Matter: Journal. La Trobe Art Institute. Edition 3: Innovation. PDF.
“Eight Fingers Crossed.” FELTspace. 5-21 September, 2019.
Emmaline Zanelli.Artist Website. Accessed 13 October, 2021.
“To resound, unbound.” Centre for Contemporary Photography. 23 April – 27 June, 2021.
“RIFE MACHINE”. ACE Open. 26 May – 17 June, 2017.
The Bait Fridge. Artist Website. Accessed 13 October, 2021.
Videos and Podcasts
“Emmaline Zanelli.” YouTube. Accessed 20 October, 2021.
“Dynamic Drills (three channel view).” Emmaline Zanelli. Youtube. 29 September, 2020. 30:52.
“PHOTO LIVE: Luke Parker, Grace Wood, Emmaline Zanelli.” Photo Australia. 19 February, 2021.
The Gallery’s Learning programs are supported by the Department for Education.
This education resource has been developed in collaboration with ACE Open and the Art Gallery of South Australia. Written by Dr. Belinda Howden with contributions from Louise Dunn, Kylie Neagle and Dr. Lisa Slade.