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WWKD? In Conversation with Karl Bayly

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  Karl Bayly – curator and gallerist of PILOT, Free Parking Space Project and Casbah. Based in Hamilton, Karl is a key player in the vitalisation of the local art landscape. Read more for What Would Karl Do?

Within only a few years you have become integral to the Hamilton art community. What is the current state of Hamilton arts and what needs to happen?

Its been rather bleak of late. You could name the galleries on one hand for awhile, and probably still could. For a small city, Hamilton has lots of artists and creative people here, but limited spaces in which to participate in. I don’t think Hamilton has established itself yet as an attractive city for artists to come to work in. When I moved back to Hamilton at the beginning of 2013 I think the only gallery not associated with an institution was Draw Inc, which stood alone for at least a few years and recently lost its building early 2014. Hamilton has had a few places over the years like Ariki Gallery, Platform 01 and New Friends Gallery, but thats like a 10 (ish) year history. There is some great energy picking up here though, things are starting to happen which is really exciting to hear and hopefully they will take off. Hamilton has a lot of potential, it just takes more people to take more chances and put the opportunities out there. Also a mix of public and private support to get spaces going.

Being a part of three spaces must be a challenge. Can you tell us about Pilot, Casbah and Free Parking Space Project? What does each space offer and how do you provide variation instead of exhibiting the same/same?

It is a challenge and its not. I really enjoy doing it, being active, maybe its a sense of urgency or something. It is a lot of work & I guess I don’t really think about that to much and just do it. They all started at different times, and established themselves relatively smoothly! A lot of it is just time management and crowdsourcing some labour (which can sometimes have mixed results!). Also I’ve been pretty lucky, all the artists that I have worked so far have truly been amazing and made it all such a dream.

PILOT snowballed into existence for me back in February coming off the back of a project I curated in an empty retail space in Hamilton at the end of 2013 (we’d make it if…). Pilot runs on a pretty basic ARI model with a three week curated exhibition schedule which will continue until the building becomes unavailable. One of my main concerns for the Pilot was to hold group exhibitions pitting artists from outside of Hamilton beside Hamilton artists, trying to establish links between local and national concerns. Pilot has also had strong presence of artists and projects from outside of Hamilton, in the hopes of making the city a more attractive venue for artists to come and realize projects in.

On the other hand Free Parking Space Project came about out of a need or excuse to do more but with less commitment to a continuous program or paperwork. Pilot was doing well and I wanted to see what else was possible if you took away the stability of having a continuous building to do projects out of. Its more of an irregular and roaming curatorial experiment, that allows for more project driven & site specific projects to occur in the City.

Casbah is a little different again and is run by a collective of five artists, positioned upstairs overlooking the main road of the City, which could make for some interesting projects. It has a two week exhibition turnaround and uses a more traditional proposal system which will be calling out for submissions in December. I think it will be a little faster and looser than the other galleries around.

Variation is key, especially here at the moment and there is a great pool of artists out there throughout NZ, and as long as you are looking your can find them. There is also a lot of good artists coming out of the woodwork in Hamilton and I’m really excited to see what happens in Hamilton in 2015. Its just a case of making sure that as a curator of a small space such as PILOT that you’re catering for a wider audience than your own areas of interest, but there will always be overlap. I think with PILOTs first year I was very conscious of this and pushed for variation between projects. It will be interesting to see what happens in its second year, Hamilton’s context has changed from when I started the space. I guess I have the summer to think about it.

Quite often we see artists escape small town New Zealand for the bigger cities or even abroad, what is it about Hamilton for you?

I’m not to sure really, I’ve kinda always had this escape plan to get out of Hamilton kept in the back of my mind. Lately though, talking to friends about this city, I’m hearing a more optimistic outlook people are wanting more and wanting to do more. I think in 2-5 years — if Hamilton can hold on to its people and pump up the culture — it will be a really attractive city to live and work in. I guess Auckland is only an hour and half away if you want to get out for a while. I stayed because I got an opportunity to start PILOT, which is something I have always wanted to do and I probably wouldn’t have been able to do anywhere else, not like this anyway. I studied in this city, and grew up in rural Waikato, I feel closer to this context and more comfortable to take the risk here. I had spent some time around artists and projects outside of Hamilton, it felt right to bring in some of those ideas and see how they might play out here.

How responsive is the community to contemporary art?

That’s a difficult question to answer. On one hand good on the other hand not so good. But I think thats the same anywhere. Hamilton has hosted the National Contemporary art awards for many years now and thats usually always controversial, apart from 2013 but the Waikato Times still tried to take a snarky stab at it. There is a core group of artists and art enthusiasts that will always turn up and are support the scene. Hamilton is a small city with a small art community, but it is active and its growing. One thing I have found interesting while minding the Gallery is you over hear parts of peoples conversations walking past such as “what is that place?” “oh its an art gallery… I think.” I love it when people walk in blind off the street “so what is this place exactly?.” That can be exhilarating, you get better at the “explaining to your parents what exactly it is that you do story.” I think it has been really great having an art gallery on one of the main streets by the Centre Place complex with a lot of window space, if people aren’t actively seeking it out they’ll eventually walk past and have an encounter.

How will your spaces exist in 10 years?

I’d think I’d be stretching it if i think they would be. I don’t think any of the spaces I am involved in currently will be around in 5 years let alone 10. It is a pretty rapid and changing game and Hamilton is going through a few of its own changes. I hope things will look very different in the 10 years. I would like these spaces to exist as precursors to new projects and directions. I hope that the artists that I have worked with continue to have a positive relationship to Hamilton.

Lastly what words of advice do you have for other young artists wanting to set up a space?

I think in some cases, maybe setting up spaces aligns to this – just going blindly headfirst into a situation and seeing what happens is the best way to start! Also get your people around you. Luck, hard work, 24/7 internet access and hardly any sleep seems to be combination that has worked for me. Maybe also don’t be afraid to mess up, it will happen whether you are afraid of it not!


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