ESSAY: Creating and collecting art for kids
Over the last 15 years of the Gallery’s programming, a unique focus on collaborations with contemporary artists has resulted in more than 70 interactive art works being commissioned especially for young audiences. Here, Tamsin Cull provides insights into two recent acquisitions.
Across Australia and throughout the world, artists including Pierre Bismuth, Cai Guo-Qiang, Bharti Kher, Yoshitomo Nara, Eko Nugroho, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian and, most recently, Gordon Hookey, have considered their practices with children in mind and developed a wide range of interactive experiences with the Gallery’s support. The Children's Art Centre’s exhibition program would not be possible without their commitment and enthusiasm.
In recent years, a number of works created through the Children's Art Centre have been acquired for the Collection. It is also exciting that interstate and international museums and arts venues are requesting these commissioned works for display in their own exhibitions and programs for children. This year, the multimedia interactive work Persian for Kids 2012 by Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar, commissioned for Kids’ APT7, will appear at Casual Powerhouse in Sydney; the Memento masko 2012 mask-making project by Uji Handoko Eko Saputro (aka Hahan), also commissioned for Kids’ APT7, will be restaged at Sydney Contemporary Art Fair; and Yayoi Kusama’s installation The obliteration room 2002–ongoing will tour venues in South America and Asia as part of a major survey exhibition.
Since 2012, seven interactive art works for children have become part of the Gallery’s Collection. Two of these are Kwoma Arts’ Kwaia koromb (Small spirit house) and Australian artist Fiona Hall’s Fly away home, both 2012.
The Kwoma Arts group is from the village of Tongwinjamb in the East Sepik Provence of Papua New Guinea. Visitors will recall their spectacular paintings and carvings that were on display in GOMA’s Long Gallery during APT7, which comprised the large-scale installation based on a customary koromb (spirit house). The spirit house is an important meeting place, used by members of the community as a place to discuss issues and hold ceremonies. The entire interior of the koromb, including the ceiling and posts, were decorated with paintings and carvings that depict creation stories and clan designs. The presence of the ancestral spirits in all aspects of the design influences all aspects of life — decision making, ceremony and conversation — that takes place in this space.
For Kids’ APT7, the artists created Kwaia koromb, a small house like those used by the men in their home village. As well as being used for ceremonies and important decision making, the houses are places for relaxing, painting, storytelling, carving and teaching children about culture. Kwaia koromb was a space inspired by the stories and experiences of the Kwoma people. Here, visitors could listen to the artists’ favourite music, and create drawings responding to a display of carved objects, which were inspired by the artists’ recent visit to Brisbane. The installation provided young visitors with an insight into Kwoma culture, as well as an opportunity for an exchange between the artists and the children.
Fiona Hall’s Fly away home, also a large-scale installation for children and families, was originally created to accompany the 2010 exhibition ‘21st Century: Art in the First Decade’, and was re-created on a larger scale especially for ‘Contemporary Australia: Women’ in 2012. The work invites young visitors to consider the beauty and fragility of the environment, and the place of people in the world. Many of Hall’s works feature real banknotes, and Fly away home can be considered in relation to another of her art works, Tender 2003–06, also in the Collection. For Tender, the artist shredded thousands of US dollar bills and wove them into nests resembling those of different bird species, drawing viewers’ attention to the human obsession with wealth and material possessions and its potential damage to the natural environment.
For Fly away home, paper money was specially designed with illustrations of migratory birds, and could then be used by children as the medium for their own bird species and nests. Like birds, humans often migrate to warmer and what are hoped to be safer places, and Hall’s work invited children to explore the world from a bird’s perspective.
This is a new area of collection management, and lending and touring works for children is an exciting development for the Children's Art Centre. We look forward to exploring it further in the months and years ahead.
Tamsin Cull, Head of Public Engagement, QAGOMA.