It is not very often that the creative process behind an exhibition is just as exciting as the works themselves. However, this winter the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery has done just that. Authentic Determination is the unique product of a collaborative journey between Brigid Noone and Gemma Weston. The exhibit, put together by Noone, displays the artist’s own works, as well as works from her peers and from the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art. The dynamic space explores the role of the artist, and the relationships and experiences shared by the artist and the viewer. Gemma Weston, curator of the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art (CCWA), has created a space brimming with human interaction, celebrating diversity and women’s art throughout the last decade. Weston sat down with Pelican to reflect on her creative process and the vision behind Authentic Determination.
Megan Dodd: What was it like collaborating with Brigid Noone for the exhibition? How did you find that this changed your curatorial style?
Gemma Weston: I’ve worked with Brigid a few times before on different projects, so luckily we had an existing relationship, and knowledge of each other’s working methods and interests – as well as a level of respect and trust that’s important in collaboration. This made working on the exhibition easier than it would have been if it was a first-time thing. As a curator, Brigid has a generosity, a sense of looseness, and an intuitive approach based on building formal relationships of colour, motif, tone, shape and so on, that I really admire. I think this comes from working in independent galleries and as an artist, whereas I can be a bit more of an ‘over-thinker’ – which is also something that can come in handy in a museum context. Between the two of us I think we were able to reach a good balance, where Brigid has created some really surprising and rich relationships that I wouldn’t have thought to make, and I’ve been able to use these as an opportunity to research aspects of the artworks that I haven’t yet considered. Logistically there were some challenges, because Brigid is based in Adelaide and the collection (the CCWA) is here in Perth, so thinking through what works would be included and how they would be arranged in the space required more negotiation than usual – but it’s always useful to get out of your comfort zone.
MD: Both yourself and Noone discussed the intimacy of the artist with the artwork and with other artists. To what extent do you think that these relationships influence the curatorial process when creating an exhibition like Authentic Determination?
GW: I think that these relationships are fundamental, in terms of both Brigid’s selection of artists from outside the collection (the CCWA), and in terms of her own work. Brigid’s paintings are all about these intimate and emotional relationships between people in her immediate circle, about finding a visual language to express how moments between people are colored by memory and feeling. The other artists that she’s chosen to show from outside the collection are all artists that she – that we both actually – have worked with previously. There’s a level of intimacy with an artist and their work that you develop over the course of working projects with them. I think each of the works that Brigid selected from the CCWA also express a sense of intimacy – between subject, in Dorothy Braund’s portrait of Helen Maudsley and her daughter, or between performers, in the case of Agatha Gothe Snape’s Every Artist Remembered with Elizabeth Pulie, which is a record of a moment in time shared between two artists. Even in the more abstract works there’s a sense of an artist translating something of their ‘interior’ life, which can be quite an intimate and vulnerable thing to do.
MD: I always find it interesting when artists or curators incorporate their surroundings into the collection, and the space created. Why did you and Noone choose to paint the walls behind the artwork?
GW: I love projects that consider the gallery space – or wherever an exhibition is held – as something fundamental to the experience rather than simply as a vehicle for display. The gallery is supposed to be sort of ‘invisible’ – background noise to the main event, which is the artworks that are displayed in it – but everything about it impacts the way we experience those artworks. It’s never a neutral, background thing, and simple things like painting on the walls, or using a colour other than white or black or grey –supposedly neutral colours – can shift attention outside of the frame of the work to the experience of looking itself. Because this was an exhibition very much about either honoring or creating relationships between artists and artworks, some of the circular motifs painted on the walls express this quite literally – they hold one or two works within them, like Venn diagrams, and suggest things like overlap or interaction. Brigid has often used wall painting like this, to ‘frame’ or pull together multiple objects as part of a single conversation, or to subtly change the intent or the reading of the work, but in a way that is also respectful to the intent of the artist, which is always important.
MD: I thoroughly enjoyed the varying ages of the works you chose, and I found it particularly interesting to see an artwork from 2017 next to one from 1957. Why did you think that this was important, and how do you think this creates conversation between the works themselves?
GW: An art collection is such an interesting thing because it creates an interaction across time, simply by pulling all of these artworks together under the same roof, so to speak. Once works start to speak together as a collection, there are all kinds of surprising relationships that become evident, simply through proximity. Some of these can be quite direct and obvious lines of influence, such as artists being influenced by each other or working within the same lineages but from different points in time – like an artist thinking about International modernism or abstraction, for example, from either 1940 or 2010. Putting those things together tells you something about how time and space influences perception, and about ideas have or haven’t developed over time. Authentic Determination puts Kate Power and Ann Newmarch together – both artists from Adelaide working from a feminist perspective, from the 1970s and from the recent decade respectively – which does something similar but there’s also something a bit speculative and even a bit risky, because what it produces in terms of interpretation or experience is beyond anyone’s control. The brain automatically tries to form connections and goes on an exciting little trip in response, which can lead you into very revealing territory.
The Authentic Determination exhibition is still showing at the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery at UWA from 5 May – 18 August 2018