INTERVIEW | Anya Wong: Here/There/Somewhere curator, interviewed by Nicole Schwartz, Master of Art Curatorship student.

Anya Wong is a Bachelor of Design student and Rising curator. In addition to her background in Performance and Graphic Design, she has a passion for curation.

Nicole Schwartz is a Master of Art Curatorship student, with a passion for curation and its evolution, and a strong interest in the global art market.

In the following interview, Nicole speaks to Anya about her experience curating Here/There/Somehwere, a powerful virtual exhibition for the George Paton Gallery and her first curatorial project.

Nicole: Hi Anya, thanks so much for speaking to me today.

Anya: Thanks for having me, hi!

N: So you were in the midst of planning an exhibition when COVID hit and you had to completely reimagine it. How did you go about shifting online and changing the concept of the show?

A: Well, to start with Teresa (a featured artist in the show) and I, had planned to focus on appreciating the ordinary objects around us, through installation and experience based works, which was conceived almost a year ago. Then there was COVID and I was basically trapped overseas, so I couldn’t return to university! We had a long discussion and wanted to switch the theme to something more relatable for the times, more current and we felt it had to be more reflective.

Also, we had a few artists planned who specialised in installation type work, and they wanted audiences to see it on site, so it was challenging for them to translate it through a virtual ‘site’ the exhibition page.

N: Did you feel that audiences related to this new theme? For me as a viewer, it does engage with things we’re feeling at the moment. You mentioned wanting to emphasise the small everyday moments?

A: Yes, exactly.

N: All of the chosen works do feel very personal, it does come across strongly.

A: Yes, I am very happy with the outcome. Other than the theme, I had no clear idea of the finished works until the very end! Some of the early ideas were quite drastically different from the final works, and it was a surprise.

N: You really allowed a lot of freedom in the process. Which is unique too, you invested in a specific concept where many curators work with finished works.

A: Yes. This theme is, I think, personal not just to the artists but to everyone. So I hoped it would create emotional impact, when the work comments on something strong and personal to the artist like it does here.

N: I noticed you feature works of collage, which as a medium has quite avante-garde roots. I was wondering what was behind this selection, or did the artists lead this choice?

A: I chose two collage artists. For example, Maxine Chen works on a number of digital collage and fashion-based works. For me, I gave them as much freedom as possible, and asked them to decide the best way to present how you feel during lockdown. Collage is something I feel is ‘closer’ to the audience, and less technical in a sense. It’s an in-between space between a physical work and the digital world, something very unique.

N: Yes, such an interesting point. Also, I think, the collage works take something from the analog world and here artists digitally reimagine/reclaim it. I was intrigued by iokzi’s choice to use Rainer Maria Rilke poetry, something historic, and placing in the contemporary.

A: Yes, that was one of her favourite texts and she re-read it within the quarantine. So it’s use was something highly intimate and a self-meditation for the artist. She wanted the audience, also, to reflect and perhaps calm the mind during this time.

N: And how was the experience of working with artists remotely? You were in different locations and had to somehow pull together the show!

A: It was actually both fun and stressful! I needed to create an online schedule for them, and set reminders by certain times and dates, working with them to submit artist statements, portfolios, etc. I needed to coordinate with them to show me their progress.

To do this, we actually created a shared platform where the artists uploaded their ideas and sketches, and I could look in from time to time. It wasn’t as challenging as I expected, but I’m not such a digital person and still prefer talking with the artists in person! I think this allows more connection between the artist and I (as curator).

But because of my theme itself, and the lockdown and quarantines, the online platform might have given them more inspiration for the works. It’s the theme itself that drives the creative process.

N: It certainly opens up interesting future possibilities: artists don’t need to be confined to their local collaborators, and work internationally more easily?

A: Yes, definitely.

N: I wanted to ask about your experience with Exhibition Design. Where usually you have a tactile space and the ‘white cube’, did you feel as if the online exhibition ‘space’ affected your abilities to curate?

A: for me it’s just different. I found that once you curate a webpage, you view it as a sort of separate entity, not like an actual 3D ‘space’. Presenting the work in 2D is in some ways easier, budget-wise definitely.

Both experiences are similar, in coordinating artists and that side of things. It’s only the presentation of the work, and navigating the audience that’s a bit different.

N: It’s interesting, because even the functional buttons, copywriting and page design become aesthetic choices and part of the show, very different to how we are used to thinking of a webpage.

A: Yes, and you have to subtly lead the audience to click on these buttons and move through. I don’t know if I had to put some of my personality into the webpage design, but you need to create a space, even if it’s virtual, for the artists’ work to really shine, and not showcase too much of yourself as the curator.

N: in terms of making that space, the colour scheme etc, it complemented the works so well. Did you try to mirror the works’ stylistic influence in your design, for example iokzi’s minimal paintings?

A: Yes, personally I feel some of the works are quite minimal, but it’s also part of my personal aesthetic. I did want to create something similar to ‘the white cube’, while forming a narrative around the artworks. So I started with something more minimal, as the paintings, and moving on to something more digital like the collage, moving on towards other media such as video.

N: Was creating this ‘narrative’ structure difficult online? I guess this will be an ongoing question for future curators too.

A: Definitely it’s a new way of thinking for all curators, to connect the works digitally and construct a ‘storyline’ or narrative. It’s certainly a different experience, onsite to virtual. The audience experience, how they see the story and its development will be different similarly.

To me, online exhibitions open up a whole new perspectives, for curators, museums and galleries. It opens up many new possibilities, for the artist and the audience to see all kinds of work.

N: Thankyou so much for speaking with me, and congratulations on your wonderful first show! Here/There/Somewhere is accessible via or through the George Paton Gallery website.

A: Thankyou so much!