Interview: Barbara Dowse, Art Consultant
It is said that art is a mirror of society, or an expression of what it values. In many ways, art is the purest embodiment of culture. It can reinterpret and reimagine history, often helping us to see the mundane and everyday in completely new ways, and be a catalyst for storytelling and conversations.
It’s an experience well known to art curator Barbara Dowse who has spent much of her life with art and artists and bringing together works of art and people that are as diverse as they are inspirational. She has been tasked with curating a program of art exhibitions within the International Towers community and shares her story and insights with us.
How did you become involved with art?
I had studied Art History at ANU in the early ‘80s and was in the first intake of students for a post-graduate, curatorial degree newly-introduced to Australian universities. That led to an internship at the National Gallery of Australia then positions working with the Gallery and later the Parliament House Art Collection. I moved to Sydney around 2000 and transferred from institutional collections to the commercial art world and gallery and collection management,and advising.
How did you come to be involved with curating the art at International Towers?
I was contacted by the project team and asked if I’d be interested in curating an integrated art program for the working community within International Towers. I was immediately drawn to the unique opportunity to respond to the ethos and future of the site and its people, but also because of the integrity and passion of the International Towers Management and The Geyer Design team and their shared desire to celebrate creativity and inspire through this amazing architectural complex, with its bustling community and ecosystem.
So you accepted this challenge...
Absolutely. Our proposal was to use a dedicated space, initially on Level 31 of Tower Two for a sequence of small exhibitions from different artists. Each exhibition feeds into aspects of the site and its peoples and reflects a diversity of stories in very engaging and creative ways. We all loved that this will be a dynamic, innovative, sustainable and inclusive approach, rather than a more traditional static collection solution, and a genuine way to pay tribute to an evolving place embracing both ancient and modern.
Tell us about the first exhibition.
I had always wanted to work with artist Lorraine Connelly-Northey and believed her art, with its inherent crossover of Indigenous and settler heritage, would be the perfect voice with which to begin. Contained within Connelly-Northey’s contemporary sculptures is a tradition of recycling, weaving and reclaiming of culture and land within Aboriginal Australia. She has created ten bush bags (narbongs) from burnt and bent fencing wires and discarded iron she gathers from her Waradgerie (Wiradjuri) mothers and other tribal boundaries and rural farmlands. Embodying the ethos of Country, both Indigenous and settled, the vessels are powerful carriers of knowledge and lore and the potent and harsh histories of this land and its oldest known peoples.
Why is art so important? What is its role in place making within the International Towers community?
When you consider the essence and character of this new community at International Towers, the words that come to mind are innovation, collaboration and inspiration. And art, particularly contemporary practice, is an ideal medium for expressing these attributes. Art elaborates place and opens our eyes and minds to new and uncommon ways of seeing and thinking and making: sometimes overtly, yet often also with subtlety. The art that is being introduced within the community forms a reflection of the Barangaroo site and its gateway location at the confluence of river and ocean, its landmark architecture, its Indigenous and settler heritage, and diverse migration, mercantile and commercial cultures, and narratives that so powerfully bring people and ideas together.
Can you share what we can look forward to next?
Our next artist is Camille Hannah. Her sensuous, translucent works are painted in rich, viscous oil paint that is unusually applied onto the reverse of transparent, sometimes curved, glass, mirrored or acrylic surfaces. Their jewel-like depths nuance the play of light from inside and outside both the works and the building. Her art is vested in contemporary, digital screen technologies and formats but steeped in the history of art. I look forward with much anticipation to the possibilities that each new chapter of the International Towers Art Program offers.