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Q&A with Gina Fairley, National Visual Arts Editor at ArtsHub

We chat with ArtsHub’s Gina Fairley about the golden age of online publishing, the revival of craft and the importance of setting professional goals.

 

Craft, design and the visual arts have become increasingly blurred when it comes to the exhibition space. How have conversations within the sector, shared on ArtsHub, helped that move?

As the adage goes, the more you practice something the better you are at it. I believe this holds true of conversations too.

I believe that online publishing is facing a new golden age for such cross-medium conversations, and that mediums siloed by more traditional forms of publishing – aka your art or craft magazine – have become tumbled together in the online space, which inevitably results in greater impact or pick up.

What that means is that there has been a growing normalisation that these medium-based territories are now blurred. For example, on ArtsHub a story about current ceramic trends could sit alongside a funding announcement by the Minister for the Arts, a performing arts review from regional Australia, a panel discussion on commissioning public art, or the latest gender statistics across blockbusters. Our lives are much more layered these days, and that can only be a good thing when it comes to the visibility of creative practices.

 

Craft seems to be having a ‘moment’ right now, can you tell us why you think this is?

Craft has always had a moment, however, we have just been blind to it, caught in fashion or museological weight.

There have been parallel pushes in recent years that have ratcheted up that visibility, such as a more equitable presentation of craft and design within our art museums; the rise of the makers movement as a backlash to the intrusion of technology in our lives; and I would add the global revival movement of 20th century design, which has enlivened the consideration of furniture, lighting, glass, ceramics etc in our everyday lives.  

I think the greatest stumbling block we face today is not a lack of appreciation within our museum and collecting circles, but rather the arrogant appropriation of designs by the big chain stores and off-shore sweat shops that have destablised craft and makers markets.

This is why design festivals, craft and designer fairs, art museum shops and makers markets are so vital in maintaining that groundswell of support for local industries.

Most of us live with more craft and design in our homes than we have art hanging on our walls, and yet there remains a stumbling point in understanding that the designer coffee cup we use every day or the necklace we wear is part of this greater conversation. We can all play a role in celebrating these things.

 

You travel extensively for ArtsHub and see many exhibitions. What’s an interesting craft related exhibition or event you’ve attended recently that’s left an impression on you?

In May this year I was in Venice (Italy) for the American Glass Conference and caught an exhibition presented in a disused Church by Salvatione of the oldest Murano glass factories.

It was the perfect demonstration of how the intersection of production, craft, design and art can push back against the China-led decimation of a craft sector, where functional vessels and bespoke lights can still be exquisite art objects. Salviati’s philosophy is all about that blur between the domains of design, production and increasingly technology, while preserving craftsmanship. I think we can learn a lot from their agility.

I have only recently come to live with glass, and like many mediums across the craft and design spectrum, I have been impressed by the resilience of its many artists – contemporary Australian artists – who continue to push the medium in exciting ways despite the hike in fabrication costs, a faltering market, and the antiquated perceptions that still locates their work in gallery vitrines placed in corridors and side galleries.   

I am doubly heartened when I see something like Glenn Barkley’s ceramics presented at Sydney Contemporary art fair in a fresh and exciting way; Tim Horn’s steroid-size jewellery pieces collected by the Art Gallery of South Australia; a regional gallery leading the celebration of Indigenous ceramics; or jewellery taking the summer blockbuster spot as with Art Gallery of Western Australia’s exhibition Beyond Bling.
 

We are seeing an increase in the maker-led economy; how is that impacting the art scene?

It has been a hard realisation, especially the last three to four years as public funding has retracted and artists and creatives, alongside organisations, have had to recalibrate to sustain their practices. I feel this is where the broader sector can learn a lot from craft and design practitioners and the maker-led economy. We need to get better at looking sideways and taking on board their lessons and successes.

Many artists working in this space are very successful at compartmentalising their careers between production and exhibition work, and in developing strong brand identity.

It feels like there is a greater sense of “you want to do – then do”; to being business-like and self-sustainable rather than taking the default position of apply for a grant and wait and see.

Craft practitioners and makers have been doing this for decades – we have just now put a name to it – sustainable practice. 

 

Of all the hundreds of artists you meet and exhibitions you see, what makes a person or their work stand out to you?

A confidence of hand and an understanding of context.

 

What advice would you give to emerging creatives wanting to get their work noticed?

Don’t wait for someone to endorse what you are doing. Have a heart-to-heart with yourself and understand what it is you want to achieve. Then be strategic. People bandy around the word “brand” as the way forward, but in reality it is simply about creating a consistent image for your practice.

I would suggest setting a professional goal for the year – just one – and work towards it. It is so easy to tread water with grand dreams. And remember, in today’s climate, you will not be visible unless you are active – digitally, mentally, and physically.

 



Image: Gina Fairley. Photo: supplied.

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