It’s not often we stop what we’re doing and take in the world around us, and the upcoming exhibition, ‘People Like Us’ at Geelong Gallery is set to help us do just that. We had a chat with its curator, Felicity Fenner.
How are you and what are you up to at the moment?
Since launching People Like Us in Sydney late last year, I have been overseeing its regional Australian tour and spruiking the project further afield. I spoke about the exhibition at a curatorial conference in Copenhagen in December. I was the only speaker from the southern hemisphere and they loved how the works in the exhibition introduced the conference delegates to the laneways of Sydney and Melbourne, as well as how the European works in the exhibition were in dialogue with those by the Australian artists. I’m actually writing a book at the moment called Running the City, which expands on ideas underpinning some of the artworks in People Like Us.
It seems technology is forever finding new ways to immerse itself into our lives, do you think along with this exhibition (People Like Us), we will see more and more artists utilising these new forms of media? Is that something that excites you as a curator?
Definitely. It’s inevitable because artists have always been on the leading edge of cultural change and technology is changing the culture in which we live. It determines who and how we befriend, our relationships with time, people, places and other beings – and our very sense of self. All these changes are captured in People Like Us with artworks that invite visitors to immerse themselves in both everyday and unusual experiences.
Given your extensive career as a curator how does this exhibition compare to those you’ve dealt with before?
This exhibition is focussed solely on new technologies being used by artists. Usually I work to a conceptual theme and the medium that artists use to express their ideas is of secondary importance and not particularly relevant to the theme. Only once before I curated an exhibition that was media driven: I was invited to curate an exhibition of painting by emerging artists for Primavera 2005 at the MCA in Sydney. For that exhibition, as I have in People Like Us, my response was to take on board the brief (focussed on media), but to select works around a particular subject matter so that the media becomes secondary. I don’t really [know] what’s interesting about an exhibition of “painting” or “sculpture” or, for that matter “technology”, unless it establishes a meaningful dialogue between the works that also engages visitors and their experience of the world.
What do you think is the biggest thing viewers will get from witnessing the works?
For the most part, people coming to the exhibition are “participants” rather than passive “viewers”. Besides getting a good physical work-out by cycling through Sydney, then finding a blissful meditative mental state by playing with a calming app devised for young hospital patients, visitors can listen to two very beautiful Michael Nyman scores, go inside a human body undergoing keyhole surgery, and take a Virtual Reality ride through the blood vessels of a stroke victim. I think the biggest thing that people will find about the exhibition is that art can actually be fun and that technology isn’t scary, but, on the contrary, can be used playfully by artists to open up new insights and ideas.
With your role as curator, and as there are so many different elements to the exhibition, how do you approach piecing together how it will all look to the viewer?
Curating is an organic process that comes together over time with lots of looking, talking to artists, travelling to exhibitions and in the end having confidence in the dialogues that you want to set up between works in the gallery space. As you infer, the experience for visitors is key to how the exhibition is curated: it’s pointless exercise, after all, if there is no audience engagement…. I don’t believe in making exhibitions too thematically hard-and-fast or didactic. You need to create space for visitors to dream a bit, to make their own interpretations and meanings of the works they encounter.
Thanks again for taking the time to chat with Forte Magazine. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we finish up?
Just to urge people to see the exhibition and send me their feedback. Artists always welcome feedback too – it can be a lonely profession being an artist and sometimes once the work goes out into the world it’s as if it’s gone into a black hole, never to be heard of again. The exhibition is touring to 15 venues all around Australia, so there are no excuses to miss it! I think people will find it fun. And the feelings and experiences conveyed by the artists are universal ones that we can all relate to – that’s why I called the show People Like Us.
When & Where: ‘People Like Us’ will run at Geelong Gallery from June 18 – August 21.