The debrief: looking back to move forward

Eye of the Corvus exhibition install at Western Plains Cultural Centre

It was the focussed joy of a special needs child experiencing my VR video in Eye of the Corvus that left me feeling that what I do is worthwhile. It was unplanned and unexpected — no doubt for both of us, but it will be that little boy who handed me his plastic Australian flag on Australia Day, while he held on tightly to the VR headset, who has confirmed my thoughts on how I need to present my work in future. Jimmy, you are my champion.

Coming to the end of the two and a half year Eye of the Corvus project and exhibition, I’m now reflecting on the experience as part of what I believe to be a critical debrief for the future of my practice.

“…as the philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.” – Danish philospher, Søren Kierkegaard, 1843 journals

First, a little history for context. The impetus to take Eye of the Corvus forward as a project came on the back of an offer of an exhibition at the Western Plains Cultural Centre (WPCC) following the success of my multi-channel video and soundscape work, Volucres, at the national regional festival, Artlands, in 2016. At the time this concept was developing, it was my most ambitious and problematic art project to date. The initial concept was plagued with problems following the want to collaborate with a high profile composer and community, made worse by not being able to secure critical funding for the production of the work. Thrown a lifeline six months out by the festival’s creative director, Dr Greg Pritchard, I was able to start from scratch, producing a work that I’m still immensely proud of. I didn’t do it alone, bringing in specialist help from fellow Dubbo-based creatives who were able to follow my direction and realise my vision.

Throughout my 20 year practice, I’ve sought to keep pushing the boundaries of what I do and how I do it. My switch to digital mediums in my practice 12 years ago was the real break-through, giving me the challenge and the flexibility to continue delivering works, underpinned by a consistent theme, in a wide range of accessible sonic and visual formats.

Our relationship with nature is so often about control. We overlay our own narratives on the natural environment, expecting it to conform to our expectations. This is the territory I explore. – Kim V. Goldsmith

So, in mid-2017, discussions began about what kind of work I might deliver for Dubbo’s regional gallery for late 2019. My champions were the then manager of WPCC, Andrew Glassop, and the executive officer of the regional arts board, Orana Arts, Alicia Leggett. A project outline was developed and the planning began.

Projects like this require champions. There are many things to make happen that need support and a sounding board. There’s a requirement for programming information (up to two years out from any exhibition), budgets to set and funding sources to investigate, residencies to apply for, fund and schedule, research to conduct, contacts to make, tech to purchase and learn, schedules to develop, field trips to undertake, installation plans to dissect, publicity to generate, hours and hours spent in the studio editing and problem-solving, then starting all over again. All of this was documented in the project blog.

Along the way, you pick up new champions. Crowdfunding through the Australian Cultural Fund in early 2019 to cover some tech expenses, I picked up 46 new champions (donors) for the project — all invested in what I was doing.

Despite the continuing support of my champions, particularly with what seemed like an endless trail of grant applications in the final year of the project — none of which were successful, the good run of support did come to an end prior to heading to my overseas residency. With Andrew Glassop’s departure from WPCC, my project and resulting exhibition had to learn to swim without assistance.

I’m writing this purely as a debrief for myself as much as anything — a reminder that sometimes we can complicate things and that we don’t always get to work with people who care about what we do. To be fair, at the time issues arose around the exhibition development, the Council-administered gallery was undergoing an enormous restructure — disruptive and chaotic as these things are. At the same time, I was on the opposite side of the world in Iceland, trying to rely on email communication from a different time zone.

Eye of the Corvus was installed within the week allocated prior to the opening on 14 December. It was a fluid and somewhat chaotic experience. So often, you don’t know what challenges will present until you’re in the space — things like not having the projectors needed to screen the videos as planned, on top of what are often going to be budgetary constraints. I’ve joked that by the second day of install we turned over the original plan, developed six months in advance, and worked to a blank page for the remainder of the week. An artist needs to work with a curator they trust. You’re putting your creative energy and output in their hands at this point.

Over the six weeks of the exhibition, I continued to engage with my donors, documented the installation, undertook my own media and social media promotions, produced video interviews for the website, conducted several private tours and talks, pushed for a public talk (that was in my contract but not scheduled), checked in on the maintenance of the show, and fixed problems that arose that were within my control. The rest, I just had to let go. It wasn’t what I’d imagined but neither were the resources to support the show.

I am proud of the concept, videos, and soundscapes I produced for Eye of the Corvus, and the exhibition catalogue is a lovely record of the project and show. However, the real positives were the process, places and people I met along the way, the enquiry from those who actively engaged with the work, and the joy experienced by children like Jimmy.

“Kim’s art challenges. It challenges her, it challenges us as gallery install teams, and challenges the audiences that view her work. That challenge is crucial.” – Jessica Moore, Dubbo Regional Council Cultural Development Coordinator, Eye of the Corvus opening, 14 December 2019

Too many artists walk away from their work once the show is installed. I remember, Dubbo Regional Council curator, Kent Buchanan saying to me about 16 years ago that artists need to persist with the creative process beyond simply framing the work ready to hang. I believe, artists need to persist with ideas of showing work outside the white box. Artists need to persist with taking their work to the public in a way that is accessible and offers an experience beyond simply looking. And if curators are to remain relevant, they need to invest in the artists who work within them beyond simply installing the show.

Full details of the project and exhibition can be found at the Eye of the Corvus website.

* I have been a vocal advocate for the Western Plains Cultural Centre over many years, and critic of Dubbo Regional Council for decisions around their management of the facility. I sat on the WPCC Advisory Board as a marketing representative and was chair of the Board for two years. I have worked on exhibitions with gallery staff since 2004 (when it was Dubbo Regional Gallery). It is a space considered to be an asset of the region and greatly treasured by the creative community of Dubbo and the region. My position on the role and value of the gallery hasn’t changed.

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