Q&A with Erin van Amstel
Erin van Amstel is a freelance writer and creative producer that specialises in art criticism and curation. Erin is currently writing and working out of the Byron Shire mainly to continue developing exhibitions and other projects.
You recently curated your first event at Private Thanks Studio. What inspired the show COPE?
Through conversation with artists and other people in the industry, I found that we mostly all agreed on having noticed very specific kinds of art being appreciated within Australia. I wasn’t seeing the sense of humour, sensuality, or kind of madness I enjoy in Australian works. COPE started with an essay I published a long time ago about what the new practice looks like in relation to this. It’s funny, the resistance that the essay was met with encouraged me far more than the approval did, so I made a show out of it.
What did you learn during this experience? Any advice for others?
I had to learn to exhaust every possible opinion, strategy, contact and idea and transform them into a resource. Getting support from any and all of these things is very much needed to make anything of merit at the moment.
Certain institutions and their adherents who were instrumental in producing the bleak state of current support programs gave me the impression that there was little chance of financial help, which was a hard pill to swallow. I ended up researching more accessible grants from local organisations with quick turn-arounds that were a lot more friendly, which led to COPE receiving funding through a micro-grant from Arts Northern Rivers. I don’t want to be misleading though, it was a desperate scramble to the exhibition. I had to sell a lot of my possessions to fund this project, I cut a deal or two, I evaded an issue with a hostile (and no doubt creatively impotent) farmer. I was still levelling works and one of the artists was still installing on the morning of the opening day.
I also now know in great intimacy, the nature and nuance of the colour orange. Turns out, it is the hardest and most expensive colour to print in terms of its actual physics. The graphic designer Ash and I had to conduct three separate printing tests to try and get that retina-burning shade affordably. Weird stuff like that set me back, whereas I somehow learned how to install track lighting in a reformed banana processing warehouse in under 8 hours. I can’t help but laugh at it.
Can we expect a COPE round two, or a follow-up exhibition from you?
I have some big ideas for equally big projects, and in a way COPE was the guinea-pig that gave me the ultimate confirmation of affirming that I can, in fact, produce a show with high standards of quality. From here, I am looking forward to taking my time and making something more conceptually manicured. I am also sitting on a heap of essays I did before COPE and have a lot of energy to start writing and reading criticism again. I especially like that most of the people who reach out to me about reading my work are quite young – around the 20-30 mark, this makes me want to continue.
The novelty of Private Studio’s location has not worn off either, it is the perfect home for art. The nature of the vertical space above your head and the character of the building that comes from its history as a successful banana-processing warehouse makes Private a space unlike any other around here. So despite COPE being designed to be a singular occurrence, it has initiated something I see continuing for a while. The same platform that I created for COPE @cope.space will be used to launch the next projects, but the namesake and attitude of the exhibitions will obviously change.
I proved to myself I could do it, I worked with sensational art, and far too many people gave me kind words and flowers so now I have a monstrous appetite for creating shows that borders on gluttony.
Image | COPE exhibition opening. Photograph by James Adams