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WWID? In Conversation with Ioana Gordon-Smith

WW..D? Is an interview segment where we get to know awesome people that are a part of the creative community in New Zealand.

This week we spoke to curator Ioana Gordon-Smith, of Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery. Before her time at Te Uru Ioana was the curator of Object Space and the Artspace Tautai Education intern. Read more for What Would Ioana Do?

Your career consists of both independent and institutional curation. How do you balance your own curatorial motivations within an institution? 

There are projects where I’ll take a leading role and others where it’s more about facilitation. I like that though, because it means I get to be involved, in some capacity, with a wide range of projects that go beyond what I would have thought up on my own. A key difference working within an institution though is a bigger responsibility to the public, whereas I probably have a much narrower group of people in mind when curating independently. Wall texts, labels and opening hours become more of a factor.

What are your curatorial motivations?

My curatorial motivations are process-driven. I studied art-history at Uni, where many of the works were made by artists who are long-dead, so I enjoy working together with artists to consider how to present their work in the best way possible for that particular iteration. Those opportunities to drill down into ideas and how they manifest within works are really stimulating. I find I can get really enthuastic about the aims of different projects, which spills over into a desire to enthuse others, so acting as a bridge between the artist and the audience is key for me.

While Lopdell has been around for years, the brand of Te Uru is very young. How will you as a Wellington born, Pacific female foster the vision for this West Auckland gallery?

Good question. I’m not sure how how well I can trace my interests back to the fact that I’m a Wellington-born, Pacific female, but I definitely have a familiarity with contemporary Pacific art practices that will influence projects I want to undertake at Te Uru. I also have a quite broad range of interests, from performance through to object-making, a diversity that will be reflected in our programming.

The vision for Te Uru though is already pretty developed in its aims to be locally rooted but with a national and international perspective, so part of my contribution to the Te Uru ‘brand’ is being able to engage with our local context. There are so many great artists based in West Auckland, as projects like The Whau Festival remind us, and the Waitakere Ranges has a rich lineage of art making and a history of environmental activism that really appeals, so I’m keen to learn more about local histories and consider what broader art conversations have resonance here.

What does the future have in store for Te Uru?

A really diverse programme of exhibitions and events. We’re lucky enough to have five gallery spaces, which were constructed in part so that we could meet the conditions required to loan works from collecting institutions. That means that we can present a major touring exhibition, while at the same time as working more directly with artists on a smaller body of work.

In a relatively short time you’ve had a steep ascent in your curatorial career. Is this a result of hard work or do you know a secret?

I think it’s just been lucky timing! My first curatorial role was at Objectspace, where I got to meet a number of makers. The role was part time, which meant I could pursue independent curatorial projects and also take up concurrent part-time roles Tautai and Artspace. Each of those art organisations focus on different areas of art production, but they have all been really informative in understanding different approaches to curating and allowed me to get a broader overview of the Auckland arts infrastructure.

You have a portfolio of curating show with Pacific artists. Do you think race based curation helps or hinders the artist?

I think that depends on how the work is treated: so long as the work and the artist isn’t ghettoised or reduced to the point where the artwork is no longer the focus, then I think opportunities to enter work into a dialogue with an audience is a good thing for artists. There have been a couple of shows where I’ve worked with Pacific artists where the show has been reviewed with reference only to Pacific ideas, which wasn’t what we were going for, but was still an entirely legitimate reading. I think the important thing is to put the work at the forefront of decision making even when working within certain parameters.

Lastly what words of advice do you have for other young curators?

Get amongst it! Curating is one of those disciplines where you improve primarily through practice, and for me it’s been a real trial-and-error learning curve.  See as much art as you can too. I figure the more you experience different modes of presenting work and grow your knowledge of contemporary art practices, the better equipped your curatorial toolbox will be.

 Image courtesy of Janet Lilo

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