Rebecca Evans, Curator of European and Australian Decorative Arts at the Art Gallery of South Australia.
Tell us a little more about what your role as Curator of European and Australian Decorative Arts at the Art Gallery of South Australia entails.
In my opinion, I get to look after the best and most exciting collections at the Art Gallery of South Australia including fashion, textiles, furniture, glass, ceramics, metalwork and jewellery – European, Australian and North American, antiquity to contemporary. The Gallery holds one of the finest collections of Australian and international decorative arts in the country. Its strengths are in Colonial South Australian gold and silver including the work of H. Steiner, J.M. Wendt, J. Schomburgk, C.E. Firnhaber and A.L. Brunkhorst, which features prominently in the Elder Wing of Australian art. Since the 1980s the Gallery has amassed a significant collection of Aboriginal craft including batik by Emily Kame Kngwarreye, ceramics by Pepai Carroll and mariner shell necklaces by Lola Greeno and also holds a substantial collection of South Australian craft and design 1970s to now.
The European collection consists of around 2000 objects including fashion, furniture, textiles, metalwork, jewellery, ceramics, glass and wallpapers from the late sixteenth century to the present, with a decidedly British bias. Since the 1990s, the collection has been greatly enriched by works from the British Arts and Crafts Movement – most significantly of Morris & Company furnishing textiles, embroideries and wallpapers and it is the largest collection of Morris & Co. material outside the United Kingdom.
Day to day, I spend my time looking for works for the collection, planning for exhibitions and displays and engaging with artists and designers. Today I have a meeting with benefactors at their home, followed by a catch-up with a contemporary jeweller and then a meeting with Adelaide Fashion Festival Creative Director Chris Kontos to talk about an exciting upcoming project.
With a significant professional and personal interest in fashion, what excites you about Australian design, and in particular Australian furniture design?
Yes, I seem to have an affinity with parts of my collection that relate to the body – fashion, textiles, jewellery and furniture. I love how the public interact with these works, we all know how garments feel, how a necklace would hang around your neck or how a chair envelops the body- we have very personal responses to these works.
I am excited by Australian design that seeks to re-define and challenge. I recently installed Linda Jackson and Utopia in the Gallery’s decorative arts gallery and am inspired by how Jackson transformed the Australian fashion industry from the 1970s, pioneering a vibrant and unique Australian look that seeks inspiration from local traditions. Her fabulous printed, hand painted and appliqued textiles and paintings incorporate opal, gum leaf, Sturt’s Desert Pea and waratah floral motifs in bright bold colours. And in a similar but perhaps more profound way, the women of Utopia station in central Australia used the technique of batik to express their traditions of mark making in a new form while also establishing a source of income ahead of their successful 1979 land claim.
In the same way I’m excited by Australian furniture that looks at local traditions in innovative and intriguing ways. Whether that’s work that references traditions of Barossa folk art or a design that explores new innovations in materials and techniques.
How important is it for awards like AFDA and the support of institutions like AGSA to help promote and nurture Australian design?
AFDA 2015 was awarded to emerging industrial designer Seaton McKeon’s and his work ‘The Sun The Moon and Me’. This work is now in the Art Gallery of South Australia’s collection and contributes to the story of innovative Australian furniture design historic to contemporary. McKeon’s work challenges the form and purpose of lighting in a beautiful and whimsical way - it is contemporary design on the edge pushing boundaries and traditions. AFDA is a space for designers to explore the more conceptual part of their practice and produce something original and fabulous.
What will you be looking for in the winning design?
I’ll be looking for design that pushes boundaries, something that references historic local design and makes it completely contemporary and relevant to 2017. I want to be challenged and excited by what I see!