A Conversation with Artist, Glen Skien
Posted 20 March 2015on:
Queensland artist Glen Skien talks to Bonnie Melrose, M&G QLD Exhibition Program Officer, about his touring exhibition, MYTHO-POETIC: Print and Assemblage Works by Glen Skien
MYTHO-POETIC: Print and Assemblage Works by Glen Skien, an exhibition of 35 artist books, assemblages, collages and installations has been touring to regional and remote centres around the country since 2013, immersing viewers in rich imagery, challenging them to navigate social histories and to answer vexing questions of Australian identity, place and myth.
We ask Artist Glen Skien about his experience of touring the exhibition.
Bonnie Melrose: How did the idea of touring your exhibition arise?
Glen Skien: I saw an opportunity for my work to reach a wider audience. Coming from a regional centre in Mackay in North Queensland, I am quite aware that regional centres don’t always get the opportunity to see new and interesting art. I met the Director of the Gympie Regional Gallery, Joolie Gibbs, and through conversations with her, the idea of touring a new body of work I was developing (in connection with my doctorate) to a wider audience became a real possibility. Once the potential of the exhibition to tour was established, I started to structure the exhibition according to how I wanted audiences to experience it – a museum-type experience. The potential for the exhibition to tour fed into the format that the exhibition would take.
BM: Tell us about some of the challenges of preparing an exhibition for tour?
GS: I was initially pretty blind to exactly what my responsibility was, apart from simply making the work. The greatest challenge for me was in articulating why my work was relevant to regional audiences and why my work deserved to tour to these communities (more than another Artist’s work for example).
With specific ideas of connecting narratives and histories, I thought my exhibition would be something audiences could relate to and would be something important for audiences to see, but it took me a while (and a couple of funding applications) before I could articulate this well.
I think it is important for Artists to recognise that their work may be able to be altered or manipulated to form a narrative with a stronger relevance to the community. There may also be practical things Artists can alter in considering their exhibition for tour – as an Artist I think it is important to say what you want to say, and get your ideas across, but to see things from funding bodies’ and Galleries’ perspectives and still make things workable for touring and for different spaces. It is, however, remarkable what is toured – from the very delicate to the quite rigorous.
BM: What have been some of the highlights of the tour of your exhibition?
GS: I feel privileged to have been chosen – to have the support to tour my work. There are a lot of good Artists out there.
The highlight for me has been the opportunity it has provided for me to give Artist talks and deliver workshops in communities, which I find is the most important thing – it’s a valuable, reciprocating process and pleasure.
As an Artist, it makes you feel you have something to offer, not only the artworks on the walls, but through discussions with people and by starting conversations that otherwise would not be occurring in the community. To provide that platform for conversation – it’s invigorating. In the practical workshops you are able to pass on skills. I feel more and more people want to learn and to make “stuff”.
I’ve had some great public program experiences: a series of two really well-attended exhibition floor talks at Caloundra; and a great workshop at Redcliffe, where a number of people from the local printmaking community came. Knowing that the workshop participants are taking the skills they learn back into their own groups and printmaking clubs, and the conversations about art that are prompted – together it’s a full educational package.
On a number of occasions I’ve had the opportunity to work with high school students and I think that’s an invaluable experience. I think it is especially important for Year 11s and 12s to see that becoming an Artist is a real possibility.
Another fantastic experience I had was in Gladstone. My exhibition was on at the same time as the South Sea Islander community was celebrating the opening of an exhibition titled From the South Sea Islands: Commemorating 150 Years. At the opening event there was a performance by The Pacific Piccaninnies, which was really great. The performers and the community stayed around to look at my exhibition and many lovely conversations were had about the work – that was a really great experience for me. It was beautiful – a lovely, warm, welcoming experience.
BM: Tell us about your experience working with staff in the regional Galleries and venues on the tour.
GS: In my experience to date, the staff have all been fantastic – very respectful of my work and it’s positioning within the Gallery. I’ve got nothing but praise for them. I realise more and more how difficult their jobs are – because every exhibition space is different, and often in some of these smaller regional centres they have a very tight budget – and it’s a challenge to be respectful to the work and to exhibit it in the way it needs to be shown. In all cases, they are doing a fabulous job. Very passionate people – you just know that they enjoy being around art and that they enjoy engagement with an Artist.
BM: Would you say touring your exhibition has been a positive experience?
GS: Yes. I find that Artists and anyone working in the Arts don’t usually have a lot of support. And also the nature of the beast, working as an Artist (visual or performing) is that you are often working in isolation. M&G QLD provides an essential link in maintaining a meaningful and relevant relationship between the Artist and the wider community – I’ve encountered such sound professionalism.
So, it’s 5 stars from me. There is no way that this exhibition would be touring without M&G QLD. You guys “do it all”.
Top: Glen Skien, Miscellaneous Books 1-12, 2012/13. Altered books, thread, dimensions variable. Series of 12. Courtesy of the artist.
Centre: Glen Skien, Archive of Country, 2013. Iron and paper envelopes, ink and photocopy transfer, 162 x 72 cm. Courtesy of the artist.
Bottom: Glen Skien, Letters from America I, 2012. Hand-made muslin envelopes, etching, collage, encaustic, 200 x 120 cm. Courtesy of the artist.
MYTHO-POETIC is organised by the Gympie Regional Gallery and toured by Museums & Galleries Queensland. It has been assisted by the Gordon Darling Foundation and the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.