You were appointed manager and curator of Malcolm Smith Gallery in 2015, as a relatively recent graduate. How has your focus changed since leaving art school?
I have always been fond of research, and even while at art school, I was more interested in reading, writing and thinking about art. In my fourth year, I exhibited Thirty-six Views of Mount Taranaki. This pilgrimage art project, at the time, didn’t strike me as something curatorial. The artworks shown were the many resulting responses to a bus trip I coordinated for Auckland artists to Taranaki and back, between sunrise and sunset in July 2012. More recently, I completed a Masters focusing on the problem of oppositions and extremes in the Hindu mythology of Śiva.
I’ve now found myself in what is an incredibly privileged position, where I’m fortunate enough to cultivate my preferences. Inevitably, the job has adjusted my focus. Alongside my commitment to the arts and artists, I’ve developed an unexpected sense of allegiance to my audience, to the communities of East Auckland. I’m delighted that our contemporary art space for the eastern suburbs of Auckland will be opening June this year, and invite everyone to celebrate with us.
I read a piece of writing by you from October of last year, reflecting on notions of community. Have these been important to how your approach your work at the Malcolm Smith Gallery?
I believe in context. In 1981, Uxbridge Arts and Culture (of which Malcolm Smith Gallery will be a part) was founded as a ‘creative leisure centre for the community.’ Although Uxbridge is breaking its conventional shackles with the addition of a rigorous contemporary art space, the word community still resonates at the pivot. The text you mentioned, The Adda Community, which was published in Localise and is available on my website, grapples with this term. What is community?
The inaugural exhibition deals with architecture as the primary context within which we experience communal life. What does it mean to experience art under the curfew of architecture? The exhibition’s objective, for want of better words, is to establish Malcolm Smith Gallery as a ritual space for the communities of East Auckland, a space for deep reflection and conscious living.
What are your goals for the space? What sort of programme do you want to deliver?
We’re all too aware of the lay person’s fear of galleries, and so, our ambition is to create an approachable, warm space, but without ever compromising an artist or her work. We’re interested in showing work that is globally minded yet locally rooted. In fact, in the Howick Ward, where the gallery is located, close to 40% of the total population identify with an Asian ethnic identity. As a location with one of the highest numbers of Asian peoples in New Zealand, Malcolm Smith Gallery aims to connect to a wide network of art institutions, practitioners and audiences around the Asia-Pacific rim to show a leading example in shaping the success of Asian arts and cultural practices in New Zealand.
Our ambition is offer a space for the eastern suburbs of Auckland with a sense connectedness, a gallery in the idyllic surrounds of Howick that is part of a global conversation on contemporary art.
Has your writing mentorship with Anthony Byrt been useful to this role?
Anthony Byrt is not only an excellent thinker, but a thoughtful mentor. Plus, I felt fortunate that we held many opinions in common, and so, he was a rather sympathetic critic of my writing. I joined the Gallery partway through my mentorship, and during this tumultuous time of the Uxbridge redevelopment, he gifted me an unrestrained sense of perspective on both my curatorial and written projects. I’m truly grateful to Artists Alliance for the programme.
Are there any projects you’re particularly looking forward to? Be it within the gallery or externally.
More than anything, I’m looking forward to opening the glass doors of the new gallery in June this year. There is something quite thrilling to look forward to in each exhibition, because I have challenged myself and the gallery to go a little bit further with each show, whether it is through experimental exhibition design, the publication of catalogues, connecting with local school, supporting artists through ambitious projects etc. Harnessing a belief in the transformative power of art, and through a range of contemporary exhibitions that stimulate and challenge its audiences, the Gallery will strive to encourage dialogue, foster creativity and explore meaningful new ideas with insight, imagination and intelligence.
To keep up to date with Uxbridge and the Malcolm Smith Gallery, which will be opening June 11, 2016, see their website: www.uxbridge.co.nz