The Arts: A Gateway to Understanding

I have always been a storyteller. I enjoyed writing short tales as a child and would make up dances, comedy skits and songs to perform for my parents or class at school. The arts had a major influence on my life and my interest in visual arts developed in my early teenage years during family trips to Europe. My parents migrated to Australia from Poland in the late 1980s and, when I was thirteen, they took my sister and I back for a couple of months. We also visited the Czech Republic. During our time there we were taken to castles, churches, art galleries and heritage museums. Even though I didn’t know it at the time, these encounters had influenced me and inspired this strong interest in the arts. In my later teenage years I stumbled across the work of Salvador Dali and became completely obsessed with surrealism.

However, my true passion for art history developed whilst I was undertaking an undergraduate degree in Media at the University of Adelaide. I was consistently selecting history electives and, in my second year, I selected two art history topics taught by Lisa Mansfield; 'Art Against Society’ and ‘Portraiture and Power’. After I completed these subjects, I knew where my passion truly laid. Although, at this point, I was very confused as to how I could pursue it as a career. After I finished my Media degree I found myself in a state of limbo. Upon completing high school I didn't know what I wanted to do but felt pressure to pick something and had not been passionate about media. I worked a few full-time jobs for a couple of years, which weren’t for me; however, I desired to travel to Europe (particularly Italy) so I continued to work. During these two years I was lucky enough to save enough money to visit Europe a couple of times. I travelled to France, Italy, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands. I went to all the major galleries and was particularly captivated by the Uffizi in Florence; the Reina Sofia gallery in Madrid; and La Sagrada Familia, La Pedrera and Park Guell in Barcelona.

What I also found interesting was the graffiti and street art overseas. Much of it responded to political and social issues within the particular country or region. I was surprised at the amount of protests and strikes that occurred throughout Europe, even on a small scale. I was in a position where I had to resort to alternative transport options as a result of taxi or public transport workers going on strike on numerous occasions. I felt inspired by the determination the Europeans had to fight for a better way of life. Visiting these places only increased my passion for art, art history and politics. In particular, Barcelona captured my interest. Catalonia was fighting a constant battle to separate from the rest of Spain and I witnessed minor protests almost daily. 

Catalonian flags hanging from apartment balconies. This was a common sight around Barcelona (2014)

Catalonian flags hanging from apartment balconies. This was a common sight around Barcelona (2014)

Catalan protestors outside of La Pedrera, Barcelona (2014)

Catalan protestors outside of La Pedrera, Barcelona (2014)

I returned to university in mid-2014 to study Art History. In the first semester of the Graduate Diploma, I undertook two subjects that I knew absolutely nothing about; ‘Modern Australian Art’ and ‘Studies in Australian Indigenous Art’. These subjects got me excited about local art history - particularly after seeing ‘Dark Heart’ at the Art Gallery of South Australia earlier that year. In the second semester, I undertook ‘Studies in International Modern Art’, and completed an internship with the Adelaide University Collections. This was a great experience as I learned how to use the database KE-emu which is the collection management software used in art galleries and museums worldwide. I also got some hands-on experience working with the collection and learned how to handle the objects.

In 2015, I began my Masters in Curatorial and Museum Studies. The first semester was challenging and fast-paced as we were asked to plan a hypothetical exhibition. It was great though as it touched on all aspects involved with curating and presenting an actual exhibition including writing a proposal, explaining the theoretical underpinning for the exhibition, determining a budget, a checklist, catalogue essay, wall labels, press release, exhibition design, public programming and creating the publication design. We were also asked to create a scaled model to provide the examiners with a clear idea of what the space will look like.

Scaled model of Beyond These Walls exhibition (2015)

Scaled model of Beyond These Walls exhibition (2015)

At this point in time I was incredibly fascinated by street/urban art and how art in public space creates an identity and shapes the psyche of a place. I decided to create an exhibition titled ‘Beyond These Walls’, and the premise of this exhibition was explaining how cultural spaces exist beyond the gallery walls. It explored how unauthorised art shapes who we are more than we may think. This idea has been further developed, but I will go into this a bit later.

The second semester of the Masters program was completely different. The task was to complete a 12,000 word thesis focusing on curatorial or museum practice. My chosen topic was to investigate the rise and reshaping of cultural institutions in post-communist Poland. The aim was to research how Poland managed to reclaim its identity post-1989, after the collapse of the Communist Regime that had ruled Poland since the end of World War II. The particular examples I focused on were national museums, history museums, independent galleries, local commemorative museums and public spaces. This thesis is only the beginning of some long-term research that I plan to undertake in the next few years.

As part of my Masters, I was to undertake a 20-day internship with an arts organisation. I was very interested in volunteering for a smaller, contemporary arts organisation, so I approached the Contemporary Arts Centre (CACSA), now joined with the former Australian Experimental Arts Foundation (AEAF) to form ACE Open. Here, I began developing a digital archive for past exhibition photographs – an ongoing project which is yet to be completed! Since the merging of CACSA and AEAF, I have gallery sat a couple and times and, after seeing ‘Black Flag’ and ‘24 Frames Per Second’, I am very excited about the emergence of this new contemporary arts organisation.

This year, two new opportunities arose. In January, I began volunteering at the City of Marion Council. I am primarily assisting with the management of their art collection. I have developed an acquisition template, as well as streamlined and made some changes to the existing arts collection database. I have also curated rooms at various sites across the council, as well as assisted with the installation of the ‘Art of Respect’ exhibition at Gallery M earlier this year. In April, I was also involved with the audit, which involved figuring out where all the artworks were and updating the database accordingly, as well as adding images. The second project for this year is working as Carclew’s curator in residence. This had been very exciting for me as it is giving me the chance to apply everything I have learned to a real space. During this residency I will curate six exhibitions at Carclew House in North Adelaide throughout 2017. The best part of this experience so far has been engaging with contemporary artists, understanding their practice and the ideas they explore in their work.

For my inaugural exhibition, I decided to play with the idea of how people can form nostalgic and deep connections to a place. This was the idea that had developed from my hypothetical exhibition –‘Beyond These Walls’. In its realisation, the exhibition showcased the works of five extremely different artists working in five completely different mediums. The artists featured were: Gabi Cirroco (embroidery artist); Viray Thach (graphic artist); Lucy Timbrell (print artist); Cara Pearson (glass artist), and Alaska Young (watercolour artist). 

Exhibition at Carclew, Beyond These Walls, work by Gabi Cirroco, Little Embroidered Bricks (2017)

Exhibition at Carclew, Beyond These Walls, work by Gabi Cirroco, Little Embroidered Bricks (2017)

The second exhibition was quite different and focused on the sensual themes associated with youth, love and desire. It was titled ‘Echoes of Rococo’ and my aim was to capture how the themes, which were associated with the French art movement in the eighteenth century, were being expressed by contemporary artists working today. The four artists featured in this exhibition were: Christina Peek (mixed media); Georgina Chadderton (illustration); Amanda Ng (painting), and Tayla Carlaw (aerosol). 

Exhibition at Carclew, Echoes of Rococo, works by Christina Peek, I Love the Idea of you, It Started with a Kiss and Dirty Pretty (2017)

Exhibition at Carclew, Echoes of Rococo, works by Christina Peek, I Love the Idea of you, It Started with a Kiss and Dirty Pretty (2017)

The third exhibition (currently showing at Carclew) explores darker themes. The title is inspired by Francisco Goya’s famous etching – ‘The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters’. The works in the exhibition dictate what one may see when all rational thought is abandoned. The artists featured in this exhibition are: Emilija Kasumovic (mixed media); Hanah Williams (print artist); Tim Casiero (print artist); Sarah Boese (digital artist), and Jack Lowe (illustration). In all three exhibitions I felt excited that the themes that I wanted to explore were also being explored by contemporary artists, which made these exhibitions possible. I enjoy looking at art within a contemporary context but informed by an art historical background. 

Exhibition at Carclew, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, work by Tim Casiero, We Hide in the Shadows (2017)

Exhibition at Carclew, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, work by Tim Casiero, We Hide in the Shadows (2017)

When I am asked what my specific interest in art is, I find it a difficult question to answer. I tend to fall in love with ideas rather than movements, themes, times or even aesthetics. If an idea or a concept is executed well, I become obsessed. I think they go hand in hand. Initially my love for art was very much inspired by European art history. As time went on, it evolved and changed and now nothing gets me more excited than contemporary art and what artists are doing today. However, I am a firm believer that one must understand and embrace art history, and all history for that matter, to understand art at its full capacity. One of my favourite evolutions in contemporary art is street art.

Photograph taken of Hosier Lane in Melbourne (2015)

Photograph taken of Hosier Lane in Melbourne (2015)

I don’t mean the commissioned public pieces, but the small stickers, stencils and scribbles you see in random places within the urban environment. It is a nice alternative to advertising. I always think about the artist’s intention – whether there is a political message underpinning the art, whether it’s meant to be noticed, or whether it’s simply there to bring a little bit of joy. Whenever I travel, one of my favourite things is getting lost in a city. By being observer and simply looking and absorbing what we see, I think we can learn a lot about contemporary society. I truly believe that the arts are a gateway to understanding the world.

As those who work in the arts will know, long term planning doesn’t exist. I can’t tell you where I’ll be in five years' time. I can’t even tell you what I’ll be doing in twelve months. It’s one short-term project after another. At this stage my plan is to successfully complete my residency at Carclew and then early next year travel to Poland and continue the research I started for my thesis last year. I plan to travel to Warsaw, Wroclaw, Krakow and Gdansk and speak to curators and people who work in cultural intuitions and galleries in Poland, as well as visit the sites which I have written extensively about. I want to gain a stronger understanding of the changes in both galleries and public spaces following the collapse of Communism. I hope to record oral histories from people who lived through this change and record their memories. This is a long-term project but one day I would like to develop an exhibition looking at how Australian and Polish contemporary art has evolved and juxtapose the development of contemporary artistic practice in two extremely different societies. Watch this space!

Written by Olivia Kubiak