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Bubble wrap

Updated: Jun 30, 2020

Ioana Gordon-Smith is Curator Māori Pacific / Pou-ruruku Whakaaturanga Iwi Taketake o te Moana at Pātaka Art + Museum. Here she talks community, curating, and cabin bread tins.

How do you engage with your community?

Big question – which community? As a Pacific curator, my communities – or rather communities I both belong to and am accountable to – include both an artistic and a Pacific community, but these aren't necessarily single, cohesive groups. Working at Pātaka, there's a clear focus on local communities too. Obviously you can't meet all your visitors, but when working with people, making the effort to show up and engage in person matters.

What does a typical day look like?

The only really typical thing about any given day is that a bulk of it will be spent dealing to emails. Beyond that, the job varies depending on what stage you’re at with a project – and that’s one of the best things. Some days you might be in meetings or site visits, other days I might be painting walls or in a library trying to finish an essay. By far the most interesting turns are when you’re doing odd jobs for artists’ projects. Once I drove home with my car filled to the brim with bubble wrap; another time I ransacked train station stops around West Auckland for stones of a particular size.

If you weren’t doing what you currently do, what would you be doing?

Something related to writing! Growing up I wanted to be a novelist but now I’m more inclined towards criticism or essays.

What’s something your brain tries to make you do and you have to will yourself not to do it?

Eat everything; check Facebook; bite my nails.

'Names held in our mouths', installation view of Louisa Humphry and Kaetaeta Watson, Te Tai and Te Itera, 2019

What do you consider to be your most successful shows of the last five years?

Janet Lilo: Status Update (a solo survey exhibition), From the Shore (a group exhibition looking at indigenous methodologies in moving image) and Names held in our mouths (a group exhibition considering the surgency of indigenous, revivalist practices) stand out the most to me. All these shows felt a bit risky at the beginning, but in hindsight felt really obvious or overdue. All three were also commissions that had a focus on generating opportunities for the artists to be ambitious. With Status Update, for instance, we staged a ‘survey’ show made from entirely new work, a paradox most galleries would refuse; but it was honest to Lilo’s methods and used the exhibition to actually support new making. When you can encourage the development of a practice, that’s something I consider pretty successful.

What is the educational path to becoming a curator?

Not all the curators I know set out to be curators, but most have still come through either fine arts or art history training. There are postgrad curatorial programmes (mainly overseas) but these are mostly undertaken after already having done some curating.

What advice would you give someone wanting to become a curator?

Make shows! You can’t practice curating hypothetically or privately. And go see art.

'Status Update', installation view of Janet Lilo, Purple Horse, 2016

What is your favourite show you’ve seen lately?

A recent exhibition I enjoyed was Kalisolaite ‘Uhila’s Kapa Ma at Dunedin Public Art Gallery, where 'Uhila uses cabin bread tins for his sound-based performances. When I entered, some tins had already been beaten while a partial pile remained untouched, suggesting both past and future actions. There’s something incredibly elusive about 'Uhila's work that makes me question how much I’m privy to and conversely how much I’m over-reading. Even just watching a performance makes you acutely aware of your own projections about what is or isn't going on, how you should or shouldn’t engage. Formally, the rows of beaten cabin bread tins are just beautiful.

What’s been the most interesting thing you’ve seen or read this week?

I was on leave this week so I binged on columns by Emily Nussbaum, the television reviewer for the New Yorker. I love how she can analyse television both according to its own tropes and as a wider pop cultural lens. Someone writing incisively about programmes also makes me feel less guilty about watching so much TV.

Money is no object. Which priceless artwork do you buy?

A house.

First published ArtZone #82


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