Archives for posts with tag: curator


Photo: Broadsheet

arts interview was invited by 2012’s Vivid Festival and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) to host a panel discussion about networking in the arts. We invited four diverse panelists to talk about the development of their network and the role of networking from their professional perspective.

Eliza Muldoon, Director

Lisa Havilah is the Director of Carriageworks, Redfern and previously held the position of Director at Campbelltown Arts Centre- a pioneering role that shaped the way in which institutions engage with cultural diversity and communities. Lisa was assistant director of Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre and Liverpool Regional Museum between 1998 and 2004 and co-director of Project Contemporary Art Space in Wollongong between 1995 and 1998.

How important is it to locate and work with artists that are in the region that you are working in?

I have worked a lot in Western Sydney and whenever you are commissioning and producing contemporary art it is very important to consider the context of where you are working. Particularly the local context- we certainly did that in Campbelltown. On the other hand it’s very important to provide a national and international context for that very localised practice. So we always try to have a combination, a mix, of local, national and international perspectives in our programming.

In Redfern, at Carriageworks, we really look at the history, the context and the identity of Redfern. We engage artists that look at both contemporary Redfern and engage the history of Redfern.

How do you find those local artists? Do they find you?

I think when you are based in an institution you sometimes have to work hard to get outside those institutions to locate artists. When you are in such institutions there is a lot of information coming at you, all the time. You actually have to take the time to go and look at a lot of work- not just work that is easy to get to or easy to access. That actually takes a fair bit of commitment and investment. You need to look at what is happening locally on a range of levels. You have to look at local arts practice but you also have to engage with local ideas and consider what is happening across a range of disciplines.

How do you develop and maintain your relationships with artists once you’ve found them?

The relationships between artists, curators and producers are really critical, though I consider the work that I do to be artist led. A lot of the work I do at the institutions that I’m part of is to set up structures and environments that allow artists to lead the practice.

What factors influence an ongoing relationship? What makes you want to keep working with someone?

I have worked with some artists for many, many years. I think that has come about when we as an institution or I as a curator or producer have been able to deliver on the ambition of the artist and the artist, in turn, has been able to deliver on the expectation that we as an institution have placed back on them. That ongoing delivery and outcome over a long period of time allows the ambition levels to increase.

Does personality come into it?

Well, you always want to work with people that you like. I find that I want to have some sort of connection with the artist and their work. It’s easier to support them if you have empathy and investment in what they want to achieve.

How do you first identify people that you could or should get to know?

You look for the people that you want to work with you or alternatively people that you need something from, like the government. An example of this occurred when I was at an artist run initiative. We wanted money from the local council so we simply rang up the Mayor’s office and asked to meet him and then we asked him for money. You can’t be scared of knocking on their door and making contact. It’s certainly better to do that, ensuring that it is professional, rather than ask them at a social outing or situation.

It’s worth remembering that people want to help other people. You just need to understand their priorities and their policies and relate that to what your doing. It took some time to convince Campbelltown Council to invest in contemporary art but we came to understand that through contemporary art programs we could deliver whole sections of their social plan. It was important to talk about it within a broader local government context.

Finally, compulsory volunteering in the arts remains contentious, how important has volunteering been in developing your own network?

I think it’s the most important thing. I started in an artist run initiative and basically volunteered full time for three and a half years. I think that experience provided a whole range of professional opportunities that have served me throughout my whole career. I think it’s critical to make that investment.

These responses were recorded as part of the panel discussion Who You Know: Building Networks in the Arts at The Museum of Contemporary Art on June 9th 2012 .An event in partnership with arts interview and VIVID Sydney.

Original panel discussion chaired and transcribed by Eliza Muldoon


Russell Storer, alumni of COFA, UNSW, is a Curator of Contemporary Asian Art at Queensland Art Gallery (QAG). He has been working collaboratively to curate exhibitions such as the QAG’s Asia Pacific Triennial (APT) and the ongoing  Singapore Biennale 2011. He was also a visiting curator at Documenta 2, Kasel and Curatorial Comrade for the 2006 Biennale of Sydney. In his previous role with the Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney, Russell curated a number of exhibitions among which was the Situation: Collaborations, collectives and artist networks from Sydney.

Interview by Shivangi Ambani

What was the experience of working across a geographically dispersed curatorial team for the Singapore Biennale 2011?

Working long-distance is a common situation for biennales today, with curators working from a home base as well as in the host city often in tandem with others. It offers the possibility for new connections and to draw in different networks of knowledge, experience and information. It does of course also present major challenges in terms of time and communication. Fortunately Matthew (Ngui), Trevor (Smith) and I all knew each other and had worked with each other before, so we had an established understanding of each other’s approaches, and we shared points of reference. We communicated regularly via Skype and email and every few months would come together in Singapore or Australia for intensive meetings. We also had a wonderful exhibition manager, Michelle Tan, who could co-ordinate with us and centralise information in Singapore, and we also had an online ‘cloud’ where we could share materials and documents.

For the APT you work with your curatorial team at the QAG as well as external curators. What were the challenges and benefits of working in this kind of collaborative environment?

The benefit of working collaboratively is that you expand your knowledge base and shift the dynamic into a more discursive mode rather than as a singular statement. There are benefits in that approach, but I love the dialogue that takes place and appreciate the multiple perspectives that collaborative curating offers. In some instances, as in APT, external curators are essential if you are working in areas that are unfamiliar or inaccessible to gallery staff, where you cannot proceed without specialised knowledge and on-the-ground contacts. As with any relationship there are negotiations and compromises to be made, which depending on the spirit in which this is done can be very productive or very difficult, but fortunately I’ve only really had positive experiences so far!

What do you look for in a collaborative curator when embarking on such a project?

I think as with any collaboration, you look for the experience and knowledge that people offer, but what is also important is that they are people you can relate to and there is some kind of shared goal in mind. There may be different views on how to get there, and the goal posts may shift, but there needs to be a desire to develop something together that you can both contribute to and learn from.

The upcoming Sydney Biennale for the first time will have a curatorial team rather than an individual. Do you see collaboration between artists, curators and institutions becoming increasingly important?

That is true, although the 2000 Biennale did use a ‘curatorium’ of advisors/curators from around the world to develop the project. Artists and curators have been collaborating for decades, from early 20th-century avant-garde groups to the activist collectives of the 1970s and 1980s to the participatory projects of the 1990s and 2000s. There has been increased attention and historicising of collaborative activity over the past decade, as well as expanding possibilities enabled by technology and new forms of organisation and production. With the enormous emphasis on the individual in society, and with the increased instrumentalisation of culture, the critical possibilities that collaborative work offers in setting up alternative structures and approaches will definitely continue to be significant into the future.

Any lessons learnt from your past collaborations—would you do anything differently the next time?

I see curatorial work as a constant process of learning, with each project teaching you so many new things. There are always aspects you might like to have done differently in hindsight, but that applies to everything in life I think! It’s important with collaborative projects to always be open and flexible while having a clear sense of what you are trying to do. You can bring your experience to each new project, but there are always situations you have never encountered before which makes it exciting and requires you to think in new ways. Collaboration – with other curators, with artists, with audiences – is a significant way of developing these new ways of thinking.