With experience running her own alternative gallery space and her love for reimagining spaces through installation-art, artist Courtney Ward was approached in 2013 by the curator Stacey Williams to transform the Courthouse Youth Arts gallery with an exhibition.
“Stacey got me into Courthouse, because I’d never done any programs or really heard of Courthouse before,” she says before adding, “I thought it was a youth drop in centre.”
Following her exhibition curated by Stacey Williams, the curator once again contacted Courtney, however, this time it was to apply for the position.
Courtney had recently made the move to Sydney, and so without much hope for an acceptance in her application, she applied and didn’t think much of having a plan in place to move back home. Nonetheless, Courtney’s application was successful and she commenced her curatorship in 2014.
“Generally within Geelong I think it’s a right of passage and it introduces you to that arts admin role, it’s still an awesome opportunity,” she says of the curatorship at Courthouse Youth Arts.
“It’s also a wonderful thing to see the organisation can see the importance of that role and the role of the curator and how fundamental it is to encourage that.”
The experience in a traditional gallery format was challenging, rewarding and opened Courtney’s eyes to the arts funding model. It also allowed her to work with other artists, where normally art is quite a solitary venture.
“I liked giving people the opportunity and platform of showcasing as well. Understanding what it’s like being an artist, they don’t like being managed, so I found that really hard at times,” she says.
Perhaps her biggest lesson was communication on a whole. Whether it was with professionals and using language to reflect that, or in understanding each individual artist’s processes and requirements for an exhibition and working through any limitations.
A pleasant challenge for Courtney came with reinventing the traditional space and making the most of having track lighting, a hanging system and the other benefits that come with a professional gallery.
“We were presenting art in a nature that was come and put your hands behind your back and look at the art on the wall, and there was no interactive nature to it that existed… So I then spent time on how to change the space. Using the elements of making interactive art and situations for the viewer it’s much more engaging,” she says.
One of Courtney’s favourite exhibitions during this time was curating the joint exhibition ‘Phantasm’ between Soraya Mobayad (see her work here) and Katie Bishop. Working with the fine ink work of Soraya’s pieces, Courtney created a live art installation. The creation featured a woman positioned in the corner of the room standing at the top of a ladder. Surrounding her body from the waist down she was draped in fabric sheeting, and these sheets angled from her body and connected to the walls around her. The model was topless, and this stunning display caused viewers to engage with the exhibition in a completely new way.
From the pure nature of her shows, Courtney’s exhibitions opened the gallery up to artists and a community that had otherwise not set foot in the building. She became more aware of the community as a whole that was out there, and the connections to be made.
“I didn’t know of some of the projects going on or groups that existed, so it was nice to get in touch with those platforms,” Courtney says.
Following her stint as curator at Courthouse Youth Arts, Courtney went on to run several exhibitions at other arts venues in the region. She continued her exploration in the arts with her ‘Xanadu’ exhibition at Little Creatures, followed by two shows at KUBU Gallery – one a joint show titled ‘Cray City Plaza’ and one of her own works and live installation titled ‘Organic Matters’.
“From that it was just a way I could use found objects to create something different and generate that way of thinking in someone, rather than them just thinking, ‘Oh, that’s really pretty’,” she says.
“[Installation art] always resonated in my works, and when it came to ‘Organic Matters’ I had a lot more skills at that point.”
While practising as an artist, Courtney established her own floristry business The Jungle Room – which she studied while undertaking her curatorship at Courthouse Youth Arts.
“I finally got to find something that I made money while being creating and I did fall in love with it,” she says.
The Jungle Room became something bigger than just an income, and the seasonality of the wedding industry allowed Courtney to work extremely hard for half the year to then travel the globe the remaining months.
Not currently creating art, this process of travelling is enabling Courtney to see the world and capture content for graphic design art she envisages in the near future.
A recent trip through Asia saw Courtney schedule days around shooting scenery and iconic buildings in the region. Closer to home, Courtney wants to explore more of Australia – an element that’s always been a part of her work through her use of native flora and fauna.
“As Australians we have something that exists in us that doesn’t necessarily in others because we’re exposed to so much land and space. I think that connection to nature has been such a big part of my works,” she says.
While Courtney’s focus has shifted away from exhibiting as an artist and while she isn’t currently creating works, she is gathering the inspiration and content to fuel her next return into the art world.
“I will find my way back into art very soon, but this is my process of figuring out where I’m going,” Courtney says.
Read about other exhibiting artists and Courthouse news here.
Image taken during Courtney’s time as a curator at Courthouse Youth Arts in 2014.