Interviews: Interview | Tansy Curtin, Curatorial Manager, Bendigo Art Gallery
Last week when the Regional Arts Australia Board and Staff were in Bendigo, exploring and preparing for Artlands Victoria in October (#soexcited), we were lucky enough to stop off at the Bendigo Art Gallery and chat with Tansy Curtin, Curatorial Manager about her work, background and the best of Bendigo.
Firstly, can you describe a day in the life of Tansy Curtin.
People often ask what you do in a gallery, or what you do as a curator – what you actually get up to. It’s not all glamour and not all exciting and wondering around amongst artworks. We do get to do a little bit of that but it’s also a lot of research, trawling for artworks online, looking at auction catalogues, doing research into future exhibitions, quite often working on exhibitions 3,4, 5 years in advance, so a lot of that. Dealing with public enquiries – people wanting to know about the collection, wanting to do research into the collection and doig public talks as well. So lots of different things that fill up my day. It often feels quite busy. And of course there are meetings, meetings and more meetings!
All of us at Regional Arts Australia can’t wait for the upcoming Marimekko Exhibition. Could you tell us a bit about the exhibition and how it came into being?
I’ve always loved Marimekko. I guess, being a child of the early 80s, my mother was a big fan of Marimekko so always had Marimekko in the home. We had been talking about doing an exhibition and then saw this exhibition that was actually touring from the design museum in Helsinki, touring around Japan. We thought, let’s not reinvent the wheel here, let’s see if they would be interested in bringing that exhibition to Australia. And they were very excited by that prospect. It’s only been seen in Japan and it’s coming here, and nowhere else in the world. After Bendigo, it will head back to the design museum in Helsinki. And it’s a really amazing exhibition. We have just started installing it, it opens in a couple of weeks (3 March 2018) and there is everything from the very early history of Marimekko in the 1950s right through to the most recent season 2018. It’s an incredible collection – bright, bold, beautiful designs. Those people who love design, like me, are really going to love it.
Do you have any favourite works, or any that really stand out for you personally?
I love seeing some of those original designs, some of those really early Maija Isola designs. Obviously we know Unikko really well, but there are some other, really pop-py, fabulous designs which they keep bringing back. I think that is one of the fabulous things about Marimekko – they don’t design something and then leave it in the past, they reinvent it and reintroduce it to their audience, perhaps in different colour ways or reinterpret for the period but you get this chance to see the original iteration of a design and then the new iteration which is really fabulous.
The Marimekko exhibition is one of many exhibitions on at the Gallery this year. What other highlights can you tell us about?
We always have lots on. Following Marimekko, we have a wonderful exhibition which has been curated by one of our curators here. It’s called New Histories and it actually brings together 10 contemporary Australian artists who are responding to 10 historic works that are in our collection, which will be really great. Looking at the history in which those original works were created and creating new works in response to that in new ways. We have got some great artists – Christian Thompson, Gabrielle de Vitri, Paul Yore – lots of amazing artists. It will be a really great show and obviously have a real resonance to our own collection but also give us a way of telling different histories. Often the history that is told is the history of the winner in society so it is often a predominantly white male story so this way we get to reinterpret some of those histories and put a new slant on it which is really great.
Following that, we have another fabulous exhibition called Another Day in Paradise, which has been curated by Ben Quilty and Michael D’Agostino for Campbelltown Art Centre in Sydney and it is actually of the work of Myuran Sukumuran, a member of the Bali Nine who was executed. So this is an exhibition that shows his work, particularly the work he created on death row. It will certainly be a challenging exhibition, and also a beautiful, thought-provoking exhibition. That’s on in July this year.
We have some other great things happening in October, when Artlands is on in Bendigo. We have a fabulous exhibition as part of our Going Solo series, where we commission a locally-based artist from Central Victoria to create new work. We have a fabulous artist, her name is Jessie Boylan. She is creating a new body of work that will be on display during Artlands. It is very specific to this region and talks about things like slow emergencies, the impact of mining, the importance of water in this region. It will be quite good for people, particularly for those who are not from here and don’t necessarily know about the landscape here, it will be a wonderful exhibition. So, we’ve got lots of good stuff on!
You’ve been working at Bendigo Art Gallery for twelve years and the gallery has undergone huge changes in those times. Can you talk about some of these changes and the impact that the growth of the gallery has had on Bendigo more broadly?
Bendigo has changed astronomically in twelve years. I remember when I first moved in here, I thought ‘what have I got myself in to?’ not really knowing what Bendigo was like. Obviously the gallery was really like the thing you do in Bendigo at that time and it’s gone from strength to strength. The gallery was probably the leader in terms of programming that was happening, enticing audiences here, getting tourism into the region. But Bendigo, the whole city, has really followed. So there is a fabulous food culture in Bendigo now, lots of really wonderful fresh food, a big foodie movement, lots of sporting activities and lots of other really great things to do. What’s been fabulous is that yes, the gallery has lead the charge, but Bendigo has really embraced the gallery and said ‘let’s make it great for the whole city and let’s make Bendigo a really wonderful liveable city”.
You lived and grew up in Adelaide. Can you tell us about your background and how you came to be in Bendigo? Maybe a bit of your work history?
I actually moved to Bendigo on a one year contract twelve years ago and I am still here! I am from Adelaide and in lots of ways Adelaide and Bendigo are quite similar. People who see the cities will know what I am talking about. They are from a similar era, there’s only twenty years difference in terms of when the cities were established, similar architecture and that sort of thing. Obviously Adelaide is that much bigger. For me, I went to the University of Adelaide and did a Masters in Art History. I worked at some of the University Art Museums, Flinders Art Museum and what is now known as the Samstag Museum in South Australia, which was the University of South Australia Art Museum then. Then I worked in a commercial gallery, I worked in Adelaide Central School of Art, which I worked out wasn’t my forte. I don’t really enjoy selling art, I much prefer to have art accessible for the public so for me that wasn’t the avenue I wanted to take. When I saw this job here in Bendigo advertised, I thought ‘well, you know, getting a job in a regional gallery is an incredible opportunity and often leads to so much greatness, really’. It was one of those fortuitous moments when I thought that all I could do was apply for the job, and I got the job. I fell in love with Bendigo, moved here, and now have a five year old and I love it, I think it’s a wonderful city. You have all the great things of living in a regional centre – you can walk to work, you have a nice piece of land, you can have a beautiful garden, you can have pet chickens, you can have all of that, but you can also get on a train in an hour and half and go to the theatre and go to the National Gallery of Victoria and all those sorts of things. So it’s the best of both worlds.
You’ve answered my next question, which was about living and working in Bendigo. But on the flip side, do you see any challenges of working in a regional community? And if you want to talk more about the benefits and the positives, please do!
Any community has challenges. You have a community in Bendigo that is transitioning in many ways. It was a rural/regional centre and is now one of the largest council areas in terms of regional cities. I think it is the largest inland regional city in Australia. And you’ve got that kind of disquiet between the regional lifestyle and the city lifestyle. But I guess all cities face those sorts of problems. As I mentioned, Bendigo has the best of both worlds, having that regional style and being close to Melbourne. The great thing is that in a smaller community, you can make a really big impact and I think that’s what’s really lovely. My job is here at the gallery, but my job is also very much about the community, about creating wonderful exhibitions that the whole community enjoys. And I am not talking just Bendigo, I am talking Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
You get that opportunity to do a small thing that has a big impact on people and I think that is what is really wonderful about my job. People feel really connected to what I do. Sometimes this can be negative, sometimes you can be out there and people can get cross and those sorts of things, but most of the time it is a very positive experience. The people of Bendigo have really embraced the gallery and that is what is so lovely about it. There’s a real sense of ownership of the gallery.
You’ve really sold me to moving here!
The housing market is really good!
Just finally, we are all counting down the months until Artlands Victoria, the biannual regional arts conference in October. As a local, what tips can you share for people visiting? Any hidden (or not so hidden) gems that shouldn’t be missed? Any other recommendations that you want to give?
Well, definitely make sure that you’re hungry when you get here! There are lots of great restaurants and places to eat. Lots of beautiful landscape to see as well. Bendigo is surrounded by forest on three sides so it is a beautiful landscape to see. Wonderful winery region as well. So if you’re interested in a bit of wine, and we all know that arts and wine go so well together. It is just a beautiful town to be and experience. You get the wonderful 19th century architecture combined with the contemporary lifestyle and it is just a beautiful place to be. Sitting in the park and enjoying the landscape is fabulous.
Thank you so much Tansy!