Working in Partnership

A century of eyes are upon us as Louiseann King walks me through the Ferry Gallery at the Art Gallery of Ballarat (AGoB). 

Part of King’s work solis (showing until April 7), which utilises work from the permanent collection alongside her latest creations, the Ferry Gallery “is curated to include a wall of portraits of women and girls who look out, demanding to be seen,” she explains.

The remaining walls in the Ferry Gallery feature colonial imagery of the landscape, including women within it. Each looks out on King’s bed of mirrors, a constructed landscape and “pseudo-garden made of vintage wooden turned pedestals, glass cloches, bronze cere-perdue cast birds including a tawny frog mouth, kookaburras and a magpie,” explains King.

In the neighbouring Crouch Gallery, the soundscape of King’s Eganstown property sings to us from a Victorian glass vitrine adorned with eucalyptus branches and bronze acacia. The permanent collection is again put to work on the surrounding walls, as Heidelberg-era paintings track a day from dawn til dusk.

The opportunity to work in partnership with AGoB, and the collection, was an exciting one for King.

“The permanent collection of The Art Gallery of Ballarat is one of the most impressive in Australia,” she says. “It includes iconic works by Eugene Von Guerard, Hans Heysen, Arthur Streeton, Frederick McCubbin, Emanuel Phillips Fox and Tom Roberts – just to name a few. It has been an incredible honour to work with this collection.”

Julie McLaren, Curator at the AGoB is similarly enthused about King’s approach.

“It was incredibly rewarding because it brings a completely fresh view on the collection, and you start looking at artworks in the collection with new eyes when you’re assessing it with an artist.”

Presenting a temporary work in a permanent space required King and McLaren to work in close partnership.

“Louiseann and I literally spent hours down in the basement, going through our screens, to come up with work which really bounced off some of the ideas of her own work,” says McLaren.

“There was a lot of negotiation that went on,” she continues. “There were certain works that I felt were really important to keep on display. These are two gallery spaces that haven’t really changed in the past two decades very much in terms of what is shown in them. There’s certain works that visitors will expect to see when they’re here and certain artists.”

“But at the same time, it’s important for people to understand that galleries aren’t static. We do change.”

Adds King, “This was not an easy project on my levels. It had been around a decade since the Crouch Gallery had been rehung – moving large and extremely valuable works is not a simple task.”

“Julie’s commitment to realising solis was exceptional – she walked with me as the project developed enabling solis to develop and grow through the process of reflecting on the… collection and the sculptural work-in-progress. It was an exciting journey as we were both thrilled to see solis realised.”

The approach presented some challenges for regular visitors, notes McLaren.

“A lot of the people who are really invested in the gallery, like the gallery guides and volunteers, were really quite excited about it but a bit nervous at the same time.”

“Some people do just want to come in and look at Eugene Von Guerard or Arthur Streeton. That’s absolutely ok if they don’t want to engage with the contemporary art work that’s on display.”

With these challenges, though, have come rewards, continues McLaren.

“One day we had a (school) group in that was led by our education officer, and she got us all to lie on the floor, with our eyes closed, and just listen to this soundscape, and its sounds of the Australian bush. Its rain and wind and birds. It is really quite magical being in the space, and quite meditative.”

For King, there are a number of important reflections as well.

“Often we talk about ‘opportunities’ for artists – unfortunately this word has been terribly misused and has become a byword for artists being unpaid or underpaid.”

“I think that we need a new way of talking about working in the arts where we look at the language used in other professional settings to describe the production of major projects and the engagement of professionals.”

“Imagine if we spoke about the engagement of artists to produce a major work? Or that an artist has been commissioned to produce a work? Immediately this kind of language speaks of professional respect and also of an equal arrangement between artist and gallery.”

As we continue to explore new ways to support sustainable arts practice in regional Australia, it seems entering into more partnerships as respected, equal contributors provides an exciting way forward.

solis features at the AGoB until April 7 2019:

Joe Toohey is Regional Arts Victoria’s Director and CEO. He brings a wealth of administrative and management experience to Regional Arts Victoria, gained at Footscray Community Arts Centre, SYN Media, Express Media, Macleod YMCA and Victoria University.

Regional Arts Victoria is the peak body for regional artists and arts organisations in Victoria and the leading organisation for regional creative practice in Victoria. We are inspired by arts across the state, and through partnerships, programming and projects, we develop creative practice all over Victoria.