Moving from an art appreciator at Courthouse Youth Arts, to intern and this year as the gallery’s curator, Amber Smith is incredibly passionate about art and the effect it has on people. As she says, “Art is so important to society and this is something I feel really passionate about. It has the ability to make people feel.”
Here’s a chat with Amber so you can get to know the face and mind behind Courthouse Youth Arts’ exhibitions.
Do you remember your first experience with art?
I have been drawing for as long as I can remember. It was always something I did as a child. I can very clearly remember drawing a really fantastic Rhinoceros once when I was about 8 (I was and still am into natural history illustration) and my eldest sister wouldn’t believe that I had drawn it because she thought it to be too good. And I mean, for a solid couple of months she wouldn’t have it that I’d drawn it. We still laugh about it. That was the moment I realised that I had an ability for art and that it was something that I truly enjoyed.
How has your work developed over time?
I have a habit of becoming wrapped up in the formalities of my art practice and lean towards a very structured approach to making and researching. However, through my studies over the years I have learnt to loosen this up and to let it all emanate more naturally. Coming from a background of drawing I found that the introduction of collecting practices, found objects and installations into my work has also allowed things to develop and mature.
The concept of found objects and archiving is quite an occurring theme with your work, what are your favourite pieces to work with when archiving?
Being someone who is into Natural History in a big way (note: obsessive), my favourite pieces are always those that I find on walks or drives through national parks. I use the process of cold maceration to clean up any found animal remains – which are usually kangaroo, koala or livestock bones. My best find is an albatross skull. I also love working with heirlooms and trawling through second-hand stores.
When did you first come across Courthouse Youth Arts?
When I was a teenager I used to come to Courthouse Youth Arts to see bands. I remember being 15 and coming to the Freeza gigs. However after studying Art in University, I rediscovered CHYA and struck up an interest in what they were offering young emerging visual artists.
What made you decide to apply to be (at the time) the arts intern there?
I had just finished my undergrad degree and returned from a 6-month holiday overseas and had one of those almighty existential/career crises. I had made myself a promise to not get back into hospitality work and to persevere with art as a career regardless of how long it took or how hard it was. I’m so glad that my passion endured and led me to CHYA. I applied for the intern role with no real hope that I would be selected; even though I knew I was more than qualified for the position. It was such wonderful news when I found out that I had gotten the internship. And I worked so hard throughout the year to make it known how grateful I was for the opportunity.
What’s it like for you as an artist, being able to allow other artists the opportunity in showcasing their work?
It’s truly inspiring. I have learnt so much from being allowed a glimpse into other artists’ practices. The differing methodologies and nuances to each is something that I find really amazing to view. But not only that, allowing artists to see their own visions come to life and to help them to realise them is something really special. The development it affords them and their practice is immense. There’s also a clarity that comes with focusing on other artists’ work that you don’t have with your own.
How has your curatorship been different from previous years?
Last year in comparison with this year has been vastly different. I was subtler in my curatorship in 2016, whereas this year I have really put myself out there and have been making bold statements in the way I arrange and assemble shows. Taking creative risk is important. However, as is always a concern with not-for-profit art, budget always weighs heavy on how far we can take the shows. But we’re trying to get around this by being more resourceful and inventive. I am noticing my curatorship evolve and develop with the course of this year, which is something I am finding really exciting.
Have you learnt anything from the exhibitions and other artists so far?
Every artist is so incredibly different and has a completely different methodology. It is important to take each exhibition on a case-by-case basis. I’ve learnt that passion expresses itself in a myriad of fashions.
How has this whole experience influenced your creative process?
Due to the nature of my creative practice, it has helped me immensely. I collect, assemble and curate objects as an artist, so this has allowed me to develop my skills both personally and as a gallery curator.
Since being curator at Courthouse, do you think this is a career choice you’d like to pursue?
Absolutely. Being someone who has a large portion of her arts practice based around the idea of curating, this is certainly a career path that I’m looking to pursue. My passion is in the display of objects and the narrative poetry that they create when placed in certain orders and hierarchical structures. Therefore my own practice and curating are always flowing into one another and developing simultaneously.
What would you say to those thinking of applying to be an arts intern/curator?
Don’t let something as intangible as fear stop you from taking a chance on something you are passionate about.
Images by Leikography.