My Alternative Archive
By Ingrid Horn
A little bit about me
I was born in Carnarvon WA in 1972 to British immigrant parents, 10-pound poms. I grew up across from the mangrove marsh in Carnarvon, that was my playground, there and the boat harbour. I was interested in art from a young age. This eventually led me to study art history at UWA. Later in the early 2000s, I volunteered at and then worked in galleries in Melbourne. My field was lighting, and I learnt on the job at NGV. We worked with curators, exhibition designers, conservators- everybody highly specialised and skilled in their areas.
Jump to Geraldton 2018
The coordinator of Geraldton Regional Art Gallery, Eve York invited me to participate in The Alternative Archive project as an emerging curator. This project by Connect to the Creative Grid can be summarised by: 1 Central Theme – 26 Curators – 13 Locally Generated Regional Exhibitions – 206 Artists – 26 Photographers – 1 Metro Survey.
The project supported arts professionals to mentor a local in curating an exhibition with established and emerging artists in their community. 13 different regions took part, creating 13 different exhibitions following the same brief. Artists and photographers were also mentored in the project.
It was a brilliant opportunity. I was scared to commit but I couldn’t say no.
The brief was so interesting, so well crafted by artist and independent curator, Anna Louise Richardson. I was instantly drawn to it. It presented the opportunity to explore histories that were hidden or lost. Histories that were unpleasant, unknown, buried under bitumen and concrete, hidden by myths, by established archives and ignorance. In Geraldton and its surrounds, as in most towns in Australia, Aboriginal people were displaced, their movements and opportunities tightly controlled by the government. Their position as citizens of their very own country not even recognised. Post-colonial society has many deep wounds that are only now being acknowledged, however the consequences of past mistreatment and greed are felt daily by the community in each generation. The past is never very far away here. But many people have no idea what took place in their own towns and regions because those events are never spoken about and the official “history” does not acknowledge what really happened.
The brief allowed for many interpretations, but I hoped we could bring to light some post-colonial truths.
Eve York was a brilliant mentor. She was so relaxed about everything, she helped me see that things which I saw as obstacles did not have to be obstacles. She gave me confidence and encouraged me to aim high. I could bring all of my doubts to her and she would provide practical solutions and advice. For example: I was worried about offending any local artists that I didn’t approach to be involved. She was firm: I was the curator and I had an idea about how I wanted the project to progress and of the final result. I was not to worry about it, I could be professional. I had a dream of including some of Julie Dowling’s paintings in our exhibition, (Julie Dowling being a Badimaya artist). Eve supported me in this and thanks to Roni Jones and Yamaji Art it was possible. We made a list of artists that I was interested in working with and she suggested a few I didn’t know. After refining the list, I wrote a letter inviting these artists to be involved, a bit about the themes I was interested in exploring and a copy of the brief.
But before I could do this, I needed to do something else.
Wanting to explore post-colonial issues and the truths of the lives of the Aboriginal community in the Midwest was a serious and strong desire, however even writing about it was complicated. I was bumping up against the limits of my own Anglo-immigrant perspective. I felt awkward and self-conscious, out of my depth and very, very White. But these issues are what gave the project depth for me and without addressing them the project would have been too shallow to embrace in the way I wanted to. Looking into the truth of Midwest racial history among other interpretations was what would give the exhibition integrity.
I had been reading Charmaine Papertalk Green’s poetry and in the poem ‘Hawes-God’s intruder’ she wrote about the people in Mullewa, Aboriginal and non-aboriginal, who helped to build the church of Our Lady of Mt Carmel, who are not recognised in favour of a perpetuated myth of the priest John Hawes building it by himself. It was this sort of skewed history I was hoping to bring to light.
I felt like I needed permission to follow this slant. I am a white woman, who was I to talk about anything around this topic? adding more white opinions? I approached Charmaine Green to ask if I could site her poetry in my blurb inviting artists. In a way I was also asking permission to go where I wanted to go with the project. Charmaine Green is a respected writer, poet, community advocate and a proud Southern Yamaji woman. We met and spoke and from there I felt the project could take form. The Alternative Archive, Truths Myths and Legends of the Midwest began to evolve.
Challenge and Courage
I learnt that we have to try to address the past, it is essential. If nobody does, then nothing will change. I felt ignorant and that’s ok. It’s better to try to acknowledge the past than to let it lie dormant, under the surface, hidden but affecting everybody’s lives every day. Looking into these past truths does not make you feel comfortable, it actually feels very uncomfortable, it makes your stomach feel unpleasant and that is because the truths are deeply unpleasant.
Curating the exhibition was a challenge, a very new experience, however I had amazing women working around me: Eve York, Anna Louise Richardson, Charmaine Green, Fiona Sinclair, Sara Walker and Marina Baker. They gave me practical advice, guiding me each step and they were always available. I really believed in our exhibition and I wanted our own community to see it, this helped give me the determination to keep at it. My friends, family and the artists themselves were also very encouraging and supportive. Curating takes a lot of time. Everything swirls around your head continuously, you’re always processing.
As a whole the exhibition was very cohesive with a nice balance of works and different media. Some lighter, others deeper, all of them resonating with the theme of revisiting, reinterpreting archives. I was really pleased with the works the artists created and the overall look and energy of the exhibition in Geraldton.
Some people, including some of the artists said it changed something in the dynamic in the town. I hope so and I hope it continues to change. The project definitely activated our community in a positive way.
The follow-on survey exhibition in 2021 has been a mind-blowing experience. The symposium presented by Southern Forest Arts, John Curtin Gallery, Galleries West, The Creative Grid and Art on The Move was nothing short of brilliant. We met other curators and artists from The Alternative Archive, it was a real buzz being together, sharing all of those wonderful experiences together and knowing that we all share the same all-consuming passion, Art.
The individual events that were organised, from tours of private collections to forums with arts workers were so valuable for us. I have so many more ideas from the time at the symposium. Seeing artworks from other regions was beneficial and it was very special to meet some of the artists. It has all been totally inspiring. I said to Fiona “I feel activated! On all levels! Artistically, emotionally, mentally.”
The symposium and all the events around the survey exhibition were a gift which I feel incredibly grateful for– and I do feel activated! It was the coming together of a big circle that The Alternative Archive project has been.
And I also feel really, really proud.