Now in its third year, QAGOMA’s youngest supporter group, the Future Collective are putting their combined might behind Australian artists and investing in the development of the Gallery’s Collection. The group met at GOMA last month to discuss all things commissioning and hear from the artist they voted to commission two new works by in 2016, Helen Johnson. We asked Future Collective member, Kamillea Aghtan to reflect on the event.
On our way into GOMA we pass the fibrous form of Judy Watson’s Tow Row, which weaves a silent reminder in bronze of the Kurilpa Point’s history as a sacred meeting site along the banks of the Brisbane River. A short moment later Geraldine Barlow, Curatorial Manager, International Art, takes us on a journey: past Carsten Höller’s interactive helices of steel, Left/Right Slide 2010; through the slicing sheets of light which inhabit Anthony McCall’s Crossing 2016; down a sugary forest of Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir’s rainbow-bright Nervescape V 2016; and over eighty voluptuous ‘breaststupas’ composing Noon-nom 2016 by Pinaree Sanpitak. And finally, we settled attentive at our destination for the evening: a conversation with the artist of the Future Collective’s nominated project, Helen Johnson.
The thread that ties all these artists together at QAGOMA is commission. Each has been asked to consider a particular space and time at the Gallery, and to produce a work that intimately interrelates with it. Helen Johnson’s artwork, yet to be realised, is only the second project to be supported by the pooled funds of the Gallery’s newest supporter group, the QAGOMA Future Collective. It promises to open up a unique conversation – one which carefully considers QAGOMA’s Collection as well as its own place in it, and which responds to two much-loved works owned by the Gallery: Vida Lahey’s iconic Monday Morning 1912 and A M E Bale’s Leisure moment 1902.
Helen cuts a modest figure under the auditorium lights but she fills the room with her subject matter. She has spent days carefully researching QAGOMA’s Collection in the Gallery’s Research Library narrowing the scope of her endeavour down to these two works and investigating their unspoken contexts. In conversation with Dr Kyla McFarlane, Acting Curatorial Manager, Australian Art, Helen helps us approach some of the beautifully detailed works which feature in her most recent exhibition at the Institution of Contemporary Arts, London and in The National: new Australian art, at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Her paintings there, a mélange of images often inspired from archival sources, are juxtaposed, layered and mapped in order to expose different narratives of colonisation, politics and society barely hidden under the glossy surface of sanctioned history.
In 2015, the QAGOMA Future Collective voted to support the Gallery’s purchase of five compelling and challenging photographs from emerging Perth artist Abdul Abdullah’s ‘Coming to terms’ series 2015, which were displayed in ‘The 8th Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT8), an exhibition viewed by over 600,000 visitors. The Future Collective’s 2016 decision to support a commission of Johnson’s work was no less daring. We don’t know what forms will be depicted in the two large-scale, double-sided hanging canvases that the artist will produce, or what messages or stories. It is like a test of faith between us, and a thrum of excitement grows in the room, redoubling between artist and Future Collective members, as we realise the depth of influence and inspiration that can emerge between works in the Gallery’s Collection and Helen’s practice.
Our decision to fund a project by the Melbourne-based female artist was also very much in line with one of the group’s driving motivations – to support exciting contemporary Australian art and artists as they gain their footing and momentum, and hopefully to provide a midway launching platform during their ascendancy. Before the close of the conversation, Helen thanked the Future Collective for enabling her the opportunity to create works for QAGOMA and explained what it means to her as an artist at this point in her career. By this time, of course, we feel equally privileged to be right there with her – sharing her ambitions, hopes and creative futures. This may have been a daring Future Collective investment, but its pay-off in artistic passion and possibility feels nothing short of immediate.
Kamillea Aghtan is the Director, Finance & Operations, Westan Australia Pty Ltd and a member of the Future Collective. She also works as an independent scholar in Brisbane and has published on regulatory and sensual ethics in a variety of platforms including academic journals, books and blogs.
Feature image: Geraldine Barlow, Curatorial Manager, International Art takes a tour past Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir’s Nervescape V 2016 / Photograph: Joe Ruckli © QAGOMA