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Collaboration and art history (1)

2 December 2022 at 11:00:00 pm

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Session Convenors

Dr Susan Lowish, University of Melbourne
Dr Ursula K. Frederick, University of Canberra

Session Speakers

Mikala Dwyer, RMIT University
Liss Fenwick, RMIT University
Rebecca Ray, National Portrait Gallery
Penelope Grist, National Portrait Gallery
Dr Chiara O’Reilly, University of Sydney

Much has been written about artistic collaboration, but what of collaboration and art history? This panel focuses on demonstrations of collaboration within the discipline of art history, between artists and institutions, and with communities and academics across disciplines. It seeks to showcase examples of collaboration that cross cultures and interdisciplinary alliances that demonstrate innovation, develop new methods and link differing knowledge and value systems. This panel also includes presentations in the form of conversations between artists and historians, case studies of curatorial collectives, and papers that outline circumstances of a breakdown in an existing collaboration or an absence of a collaboration where there should have been one.

Aiming to highlight the range and diversity of collaborative endeavours, alongside a focus on what makes collaboration successful, the presentations in this panel show research outputs that benefit their source communities. The key questions proposed by this panel are: what is ‘collaboration’? How do we/should we/can we ‘collaborate’? How do we understand the nature of collaboration? How might we collaborate better in the future?

Trust the artist, trust the creative process: perspectives on collaborative commissioning of public art

Mikala Dwyer, RMIT University; Liss Fenwick, RMIT University

This paper will present the perspectives of both an artist and a curator on their collaborative evolution for a City of Melbourne public art commission.

Mikala Dwyer’s artwork Apparition, a temporary commission located in University Square, Carlton, was the first iteration of a new innovative public art commissioning process instigated by the City of Melbourne, which centred on a collaborative dialogue between artists and the commissioner. This process facilitated the creative evolution of both practice and place, in contrast to existing Local Authority processes that often involve a fixed creative brief and proposal at the outset of the project. This paper explores the background, methodologies, and reflections on this commission and includes discussion of how the collaborative process performed against its aims to:

- Allow space for the artist to determine the parameters of their creative approach through research and iterative engagement with stakeholders throughout the creative development;
- Facilitate artist and commissioner to think differently about the site and its multiple histories and futures;
- Enable unexpected interactions between stakeholders that produce new narratives about the city and the role that public art plays in a 21st Century landscape.

Collaboration as a decolonised practice

Rebecca Ray, National Portrait Gallery; Penelope Grist, National Portrait Gallery

Our paper demonstrates the power of collaboration to redefine a genre, reshape an art historical practice, and challenge institutional boundaries through a case study – Portrait23: Identity, a contemporary art exhibition currently in development at the National Portrait Gallery for March 2023. A portrait gallery seeks to reflect a sense of national identity through recognising individuals’ contributions to nation-building. In Portrait23: Identity we have reversed this flow of art historical meaning through a collaborative process involving 23 artists. Our decolonised curatorial methodology sees relationship-building, two-way dialogues, an open brief and transparency become a reflexive cyclical process. This disrupts the transactional portrait commissioning model that has its origins in the Renaissance. In Portrait23: Identity, artists shape the exhibitions’ meaning. As curators, we have deliberately not imposed an authority voice of traditional Western curation by not theming works into categories of identity. We have trusted that the collective voice will carry a coherence. The visitor will thus become a collaborator and active participant in finding and offering meaning within the show. Through this active collaboration, the exhibition presents artists’ concepts of identity in the ways they want them to be understood. Consequently, new art historical conversations around the genre of portraiture are made possible by collaboration.

Serious Undertakings: Centring collaboration and development in an artist-in-residence program

Dr Chiara O’Reilly, University of Sydney

Artist in residence programs have traditionally been designed to advance the practice of the artists involved. Wagga Wagga Regional Gallery has upturned this model with an innovative collaborative, pilot residency program, designed with a developmental focus. The Gallery invited renowned Australian practitioners with individual disciplinary foci – curator and writer, Julie Ewington and artist, filmmaker, Helen Grace – to act as catalytic agents. They used their practice, knowledge and experience to connect, and mentor, the practice of Riverina creatives.

The residency took place in 2022 across six months, in three discrete iterations. Each produced ‘artefacts’ – an exhibition, a film forum and site-specific installation – that were a means to showcase their critical practice and provide points of collective encounter. Reciprocity and opportunity are at the heart of this program; local artists benefit from the mentorship of senior practitioners and verso, new works have been created by Ewington and Grace inspired by their new context. This paper looks to the gallery as a site of civil society utilising innovative collaborative practice. It draws upon participant stakeholder interviews to examine the benefits and dependencies of this model positioning WWRG as a leader; decentring artistic hierarchies and geographic borders in support of a regional creative practice and dialogue.



Dr Susan Lowish, University of Melbourne 

Dr Susan Lowish is Senior Lecturer in Australian Art History at the University of Melbourne. She publishes widely on the critical reception of Indigenous art, and the uses of technology in cultural heritage preservation and management. Her monograph, Rethinking Australia’s Art History: the challenge of Aboriginal art (Routledge, 2018), won the Art Association of Australia and New Zealand’s Best Book Prize in 2019 and was released in paperback mid-2021. 

Dr Ursula K. Frederick, University of Canberra 

U.K. Frederick (Ursula) is an artist based in Canberra, Australia. Her primary modes of art practice are photography, printmaking, and video. Her art practice is informed by her interests in material culture and the way people interact with each other and their worlds. Ursula was recently awarded an ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award to examining the relationships between creative art practice and contemporary archaeology and heritage. Her interdisciplinary research reflects a background in archaeology, fine arts, photo media and art theory. 

Liss Fenwick, RMIT University 

Liss Fenwick is a project lead within City of Melbourne’s public art team, Creative Urban Places. They are also a PhD candidate with RMIT University School of Art.

Mikala Dwyer, RMIT University 

Mikala Dwyer has pushed the limits of sculpture, painting and performance, establishing herself as one of Australia’s most important contemporary artists. She has been honoured with solo survey exhibitions at Sydney’s two major art museums, the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, and the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane. Dwyer’s work is always responsive to site and context, and her successful public art commissions include Apparition, University Square, Melbourne, 2021; Sydney Metro, 2020; In the Smoke of Ghosts, MUMA 2020; Egg Swing, 2012, Royal Women’s Hospital, Paddington, Sydney; Windwatcher, 2011, Central Park, Chippendale, Sydney; A Lamp for Mary, 2010, Mary Place, Surry Hills, Sydney; Swamp Sculpture, 2006, Omi Sculpture Park, New York, NY; and IOU, 2005, Docklands, Melbourne. 

Rebecca Ray, National Portrait Gallery 

Rebecca Ray is a Meriam woman, descended from the Torres Strait Islands and is the Associate Curator at the National Portrait Gallery. She holds a Degree in Arts (History and Sociology) from Griffith University. Rebecca was Assistant Curator, Indigenous Art at HOTA - Home of the Arts and Cultural Heritage Researcher at Griffith University in Queensland. She is an alumni of the Wesfarmers Indigenous Leadership Program partnered with the National Gallery of Australia and most recently, Rebecca was a judge for the 2022 National Photographic Portrait Prize. Rebecca has worked primarily with First Nations peoples promoting art, representation and autonomy. 

Penny Grist, National Portrait Gallery 

Penny Grist is Curator Exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery. Penny holds a Master of Liberal Arts (Museums and Collections) from the Australian National University and honours degrees in Law and Art History from the University of Sydney. She has twice judged the National Photographic Portrait Prize (2016 and 2020) and has curated and co-curated numerous exhibitions including Starstruck: Australian Movie Portraits (2017), Before hand: The Private Life of a Portrait (2020), and Who Are You: Australian Portraiture (2022). 

Dr Chiara O’Reilly, University of Sydney 

Dr Chiara O’Reilly is the Director of the Postgraduate Museum and Heritage Studies Program at the University of Sydney. Her research examines museum and gallery history, collections, exhibitions and audience experience. Her work has been published in Journal of the History of Collections, Museum Management and Curatorship and Museums andsocial issues and she co-authored the monograph The Rise of the Must-See Exhibition. Blockbusters in Australian Museums and Galleries (Routledge, 2019) with Dr Anna Lawrenson. This research is part of a broader collaborative research project with Dr Anna Lawrenson looking at Museums as Sites of Civil Society.

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