Colleen Davis' favourite things

By Zoe Walker

Her tastes and talents take in a wide range. Viva talks to actor and singer Colleen Davis.

Colleen Davis. Photo / Babiche Martens
Colleen Davis. Photo / Babiche Martens

Working across theatre and live music, actress and blues and jazz singer Colleen Davis is currently appearing in Venus Is, a sensual piece that combines aerial theatre, dance and song.

Described as "New-Vogue cirque-burlesque", the performance features physical reinterpretations of erotic stories from the likes of Anais Nin and Shakespeare. The Toi Whakaari: NZ National Drama School graduate is also a co-founder of the Almost A Bird Theatre Collective - and, like most young local performers, has appeared on Shortland Street (she was murderess Nurse Paige). The talented Davis talks to Viva about some of her favourite things, from a creative deck of cards to a skeleton suit discovered in a junk store.


1. Oblique Strategies

The Oblique Strategies are a deck of cards created by musician Brian Eno and painter Peter Schmidt in the 1970s as a set of working principles to guide them through times of pressure during the creative process.

Eno described them as "tangential ways of attacking problems" which he found useful when in a panic, specifically in the recording studio. The Strategies come in a black box with the title and the creators' names printed in gold along the sides - which looks very handsome sitting on top of my piano.

2. Billie Holiday article clipping

Published in Life magazine in 1976 and written by Elizabeth Hardwick, this incomplete clipping of an article about Billie Holiday was the first object I can remember collecting and coveting. I found it among bits of paper belonging to one of my parents. From a literary point of view I love that she describes Holiday as a "bizarre deity" and as the kind of woman who "admired large, overwhelming and impressive dogs". From a design point of view I love the ragged, yellowed paper and the layout, with this strange caricature of Holiday in the middle of the page and the text wrapped around it. It is a mysterious and beautiful object.

3. Lou Guerin tulip bag

This leather and silver bag was made by Lou Guerin, the father of my friend and jewellery maker Alice Guerin. Lou's jewellery and leather work have a gothic architecture to them that really gets me. There is often subtle humour, a story or symbolism in his pieces as well, like his bird's eye view of a Buddha's head ring or the little silver frogs you pull to open this bag which are a symbol of good fortune.

4. Vintage faux leopard fur swing coat

One of several amazing finds from my favourite vintage store in New Zealand, Ziggurat on Cuba St in Wellington, is this vintage faux leopard fur coat. I don't normally go for faux fur's plasticy weirdness (let alone the dead animal weirdness of real fur), but the cute A-line swing cut stole my heart and the fur is abnormally lush faux.

5. High-heel Doc Martens

I love the absurdity of wearing Doc Martens with a heel.

6. Norma Jeane the cat

She snores, she can't meow, she's bung-eyed, and she's impossibly little. To know, know, know her is to love, love, love her.

7. Henry Darger: Art and Selected Writings by Michael Bonesteel

I first came across Henry Darger's "outsider art" in a show at the old Auckland Art Gallery. The dust jacket alone on this book is a work of art. It includes a biography and excerpts from Darger's epic about seven sisters called the Vivian Girls. The book also features fold-out pages of his bizarre and beautiful illustrations in impossibly saturated colour.

8. Fornasetti's Tema & variazioni designs

The cushion covers from Fornasetti's Tema & variazioni collection are double-sided. Fornasetti created the collection of images based on the face of Lina Cavalieri an opera singer known during her prime as the "world's most beautiful woman". I love the idea behind this collection that a single idea or theme (in this case the enigmatic expression of a female beauty) could "provide enough inspiration to create infinite variations". I think it is wonderful how one face of the cushion comments on the other.

9. Ondies

These perfect, simple undies are designed by my friend Natalia and made in Peru from organic, fair trade cotton. Hands-down best pants. Ever.

10. Vintage skeleton suit

There is a warehouse in Swanson rammed floor to rafters with second hand flotsam and jetsam. I found this adult-sized skeleton suit among loads of princess dresses from a defunct costume shop. It was worn with gusto by my friend/percussionist extraordinaire Chris O'Connor during The Sad Lament of Pecos Bill at the Basement last year, but you can catch it in action again when the show tours the Nelson and Tauranga Arts Festivals this October.

* Venus Is. Q Theatre, until September 17, tickets $25-$35 from the website, R18.

- NZ Herald

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