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Introducing: Kirsty McKellar

Kirsty is a visual artist and curator, who will be joining us at Tessellate on the 13th of July.


· Crate Mates Writings

Tell us about the core concepts of your prior exhibitions?

In the last ten months I have actualised two exhibitions over three locations. These were A Commentary on Productivity (ACOP) and Then.

Then was a group exhibition comprising twelve artists, including myself. The works were selected from 2018 with the aim of creating a personal timeline guided by a specific moment, emotion or feeling. Although I’d put on an exhibition in Berlin by this point, Then was the first formal gallery space I’d worked in. Then came into being, as a practice run for my 30+ person group show that would happen a couple of months later. However having the support of the artists that I did, meant we actually put on a really cool show.

The concept for Then came out of a visit I paid to the Helmut Newton Photography Museum, where I found myself in front of American photographer Duane Michals’ 1978 piece, Now Becoming Then. A work sliced in two, Michals’ mirror image can be read as a figure walking toward the future on the right, and into the past on the left. He couples his images with words to create his final works, scribbling underneath this photograph: ‘There is no now. It appears to be a moment, but the moment is an illusion… a series of about-to-bes and has-beens… Our lives are real dreams, just one moment, all at once, now.’

When I was five years old, I wanted to be an archaeologist - I was completely transfixed with this idea that we could find relics owned and used by actual people who existed 5000 years ago. I liked the idea of connecting my present reality to something so inconceivably long-gone; it felt like magic. When I was six, I made a time capsule with my primary school best friend. We wanted to bury it in the backyard for whoever would live in that house in 100 years’ time to find. Just like I wanted to understand the Ancient Egyptians, I wanted another group of people to understand who I was and what the people around me were doing in the early 2000s. This desire to remember and be remembered was something I observed that we take from childhood into our adult lives. 2018 for me was an exciting but strange time warp. I lived out the eight months in Berlin as just me. With 2018 over, I looked to my photographs, scribbles and mind maps to put together piece-by-piece, one long moment, broken up by events, feelings and people, and peppered with tiny details.

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What was your last show, A Commentary on Productivity, all about? What were the notes you took down from exhibiting so many other pieces of work on the matter?

A Commentary on Productivity is the first exhibition I conceptualised, happening in two stages over two locations. As the name suggests, the show hoped to investigate what it means to exist un/productively as a creative person, providing a voice to over thirty artists both internationally, from home in Melbourne, and locally to Berlin - where I was living at the time. Exhibition One, or E1, was what I entitled the Berlin ‘Non-Exhibition’. This name was given in response to the legitimacy of the gallery (being held in an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of Berlin in Schöneweide), to the nature of the show (a testing ground where unfinished works could be dissected and experimented with), and finally to the transience of the exhibition itself (the exhibit was set up on the 25th of September 2018 with the intention of being taken down that same day). All of these components aimed to highlight the importance of the process, rather than focusing solely on a finished task as the signifier of productive work.

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E2 just ended last month, happening at Ladder Art Space. This is where the efforts of the 18-month-long project were shown. I love that for me it started as a research project and ended as one too. Each individual or group’s work was richly imbued with meaning that transcended their own take-aways from the experience. In that way, it really was a collective commentary - to be interpreted both individually, holistically or somewhere in between.

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What did you gain from your experience curating in Berlin?

Knowledge that I’ll carry with me into my creative ventures and, in more abstract ways, in my day-to-day life. I learnt that if you can bring yourself to start something and hold yourself accountable to your project in some way (mine was through my responsibility to all the artists onboard), then you can create something that far surpasses what you deem yourself capable of.

Berlin fosters a creative culture unlike any I’ve seen before. A friend of mine there once said: it’s the city where you can choose to be anything and do anything, likening it to a playground for self-discovery. In Berlin I gained a practical skill set in installation and removal and everything in between, which I further advanced at Memphis Projects for Then, and later at Ladder Art Space for ACOP.

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Starting to curate in Berlin was also learning not to take myself too seriously. In the very first iteration of this project – the interviews I conducted – a friend told me he tries to take his work seriously, but not himself seriously. This is something I try to live by. Also, to be kind to myself and the people around me.

What do you love and find challenging as an art curator?

I don’t have a master’s degree in curatorship or a background in fine art, so I’m kind of making it up as I go. Although that presents a challenge, it also frees me from any kind of expectation too.

What have you got planned for the rest of 2019?

I’m headed back to uni and pretty excited for how I might integrate what I learn in Development Studies into my creative projects, or vice versa. As part of my brand, olis, I’ve also got another one day/night project lined up for the end of the year that will hopefully act as a fundraiser for a yet-to-be decided environmental cause, so watch this space!

Tell us about your own art and creative processes.

For the last few years it’s been all about film photography, and only now am I branching out into multimedia installation work. I think I’m most proud of the piece I presented for Then, entitled Martinstraße 10 - a reconstruction of the living room of my Berlin apartment. In terms of process as a curator, most of the job is communicating with your artists over Facebook or Facetime, remaining flexible and not getting fixated on minute details, but also focusing on the right minute details haha…because when the time comes you need to be able to pull it all together.

Fundamentally, I think we both really want to see visual arts being taken more seriously in the music scene - giving opportunities to visual and interdisciplinary artists to showcase and profit from their works being shown in these kind of club spaces or bandrooms.

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What do you envision for Tessellate - is there a way you want to make people feel or have you designed the work to create a particular vibe?

I was really lucky to be asked to work with the Crate Mates team who already shared a very similar vision to my own for what this night would hold. Fundamentally, I think we both really want to see visual arts being taken more seriously in the music scene - giving opportunities to visual and interdisciplinary artists to showcase and profit from their works being shown in these kind of club spaces or bandrooms. In terms of the space, I hope people feel curious and eager to explore and ultimately safe too.

For me, it's kind of all in the name - Tessellate endeavours to be an event that presents as an intricate mosaic; multifaceted in the colours, moods, feelings and approaches taken by both audio and visual selectors, but ultimately all being put together homogeneously as part of one pattern or style. The visual art also takes inspiration from Australian writer and poet David Malouf.

Tell us about some of your experiences of how visual art and space, movement and dance floors can work together.

Living in Berlin and enjoying music naturally meant exploring the club scene. Although there was definitely a distinct ‘Berlin-ness’ to each location, every space had a unique character about it - one that encouraged intrigue and through all the hedonism, a child-like playfulness. This came from the actual sites themselves that often boasted large outdoor areas with hidden corners for exploration, but also in the way they were set up like playgrounds and in the performative nature of the inside spaces themselves.

I think garnering this kind of curiosity has been lacking here but is something a number of collectives and festival organisers have persistently been trying to remedy. I think a club night’s visual exterior should be more than aesthetic niceties, and so I hope Tessellate can put together something its members can connect with and be engaged by.

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