Each year, the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) presents NEW – an annual exhibition showcasing a collection of specifically commissioned works from rising contemporary Australian and New Zealand artists.
NEW15 presents newly commissioned works from eight artists: Paul Bai, Jessie Bullivant, George Egerton-Warburton, Richard Frater, Ash Kilmartin, Adelle Mills, Kate Newby and Alex Vivian. Curated by Matt Hinkley, a NEW alumni artist himself, Hinkley gave the artists an open brief – allowing the artists to produce any work for the exhibition that they desired…
The result, while anxiety-inducing at times for Hinkley as a curator, is a uniquely constructed, artist-led exhibition that draws out conversations around art and text, the constructs of the gallery space, and the role of the curator. Founder of Utopian Slumps and SLOPES galleries Melissa Loughnan sat down with Matt Hinkley to discuss his ideas, resulting outcome and picking up a few grey hairs along the way.
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Melissa Loughnan: How did your experience as a NEW alumni artist inform your position as curator of NEW15?
Matt Hinkley: I didn’t really think about it through my experience in NEW necessarily, but more as a viewer of NEWs over the years. Thinking back to what I did in NEW – I built a space that isolated myself from the rest of the show – my approach has been completely different as curator. Early on in all my discussions with the artists I said “how about we build no walls and keep it really open and fluid.” Most of the artists were keen to deal with the gallery as it is, in its most straightforward state, and to react to that space. Lots of things came out of that approach, with people taking their work outside, and with Ash Kilmartin cutting into the wall and Richard Frater’s piercing of the wall, and there were other ideas about subverting the space. I think that comes up when you take everything away, you’re more conscious of the space.
(Image: Andrew Curtis)
Pocket sculptures, Kate Newby
ML: So you’re thinking architecturally, like without being able to build a wall, how can you intervene with the space?
MH: Yeah, and the artists are all coming from different angles. Ash is dealing with the history of the space and the scars on the back of the wall from years of exhibitions. The sound accompanying her work is changing every week too; it’s a serial play. I guess the artists are also reacting to what NEW has been in the past. Like with Kate Newby’s works. Normally NEW is quite monumental and everything is a big production, however with Kate’s pocket sculptures, I love this idea in the context of ‘new’ – this tiny gesture that forms a completely different exchange.
ML: Your practice involves the casting and carving of intricately detailed sculptures that are often so minuscule that they can be difficult to find. Do you see this reflected in your choice of artists for NEW15?
MH: Not consciously. I can see a cross over with Kate, in terms of scale, but she’s completely opposite as well. Her work is quite social, and my practice is contained. If I have a show coming up I just lock myself in the studio and make everything myself. I don’t need any help. It’s kind of crazy how reliant everyone has been on other people in this show, on their input and help. And people have been so generous in helping their work to be realised. I’d find that so exhausting! That notion that you’re counting on people, just sweating on someone else coming through with something, or else the work doesn’t exist.
ML: So in a way, this is the epitome of what’s outside of your comfort zone.
MH: Yeah! Except none of this was ever deliberate. Curiosity played a factor in my selection of artists as well. With George Egerton-Warburton you can’t always tell what he’s going to do, so I was enthusiastic to see what he would come up with.
George Egerton-Warburton, ‘Eucalyptus Standard’, 2015
ML: You refer to all eight artists in the exhibition as peers. Are the other artists you’ve selected influential to your own work? Or is it more that these artists are working outside of the parameters of your practice, and that’s what interests you?
MH: I’d say more the latter. With a lot of artists you can consider their practices and say ‘oh yeah, their work is a bit like this artist’s and that artist’s…’ What I admire about these guys is that they’re original and doing their own thing.
ML: You’ve mentioned that the artists’ works have dictated the outcome of the exhibition. Can you tell me about how you would normally construct an exhibition, and explain why you chose a different approach for NEW?
MH: You know when you’re putting a show together, like when Josh Petherick and I curated Habitat at Minerva in Sydney at the end of last year, you’re kind of going ‘I want this specific work, and I want to hang it at this height, and we’ll get these plinths…’ But you can’t do that in the context of NEW because none of the work pre-exists, it’s all generated for the show. So I had to adjust to that. To go OK, well it’s more like ‘these are the people I want to work with’, and their work is going to drive the exhibition.
ML: It must have been pretty anxiety inducing at the start?! It’s all unplanned and unknown…
MH: Yes, the whole thing has been pretty anxiety inducing – I think I’ve even got extra grey hairs! But I mean, that was the crux of the exhibition, not knowing what everyone was doing. And in the end that was the exciting thing. As George and Kate are overseas, and you’d wake up to an email with a new idea. It was always super exciting. I think I prolonged the process by getting a little bit too excited about each new idea…
Adelle Mills, ‘Moving Through Phone’, 2015
ML: What conversations and crossovers have come out of the exhibition?
MH: When Richard did his artist talk he explained the meaning of the Greenpeace calendar work in the exhibition. The Rainbow Warrior, which was an anti-nuclear Greenpeace boat, was bombed by the French foreign intelligence in 1985. A Greenpeace photographer died on the boat. Two of the French agents responsible for the bombing were jailed, and when they were released one of them became a nature photographer. By a weird twist of fate one of his photographs ended up on Greenpeace’s calendar this year. Richard explained that entire story for most of his talk, and when he got to the lure works he just said “oh those are just two things that fit together”. And that was enough. I really liked that.
ML: When not everything has to be conceptualised or theorised.
MH: Yes. And it was definitely not conscious, but in terms of crossovers – from early on it seemed that quite a few of the artists chose to deal with writing in different ways. George would send me these amazing emails discussing his thoughts on the show, and I’d be thinking, “Can I put these in the catalogue?”. Alex and Adelle have produced what I’ve been clumsily referring to as poems within their work for the show but I think neither of them are probably happy with that title. Richard sent me through a really interesting piece of his own writing early on in our discussions, and then there’s Ash with the radio play she’s written.
We’ve accentuated this in the catalogue, with some of the artists contributing their own writing and we’ve also included writing from other artists including Helen Johnson, S.T. Lore, Aodhan Madden and Christopher LG Hill.
NEW15 continues to 17 May 2015.
Australian Centre for Contemporary Art
111 Sturt Street, Southbank, VIC
Richard Frater, ‘April’, 2015
Richard Frater, ‘April’, 2015
By Melissa Loughnan