Art Forum at the VCA: 'We’ve realised our community extends far beyond the borders of Southbank'

Judy Watson, ‘skullduggery’, performed by the Jannawi Dance Clan, 2021, Artspace, Sydney. Photo: Anna Kucera.
Judy Watson, ‘skullduggery’, performed by the Jannawi Dance Clan, 2021, Artspace, Sydney. Photo: Anna Kucera.

The forthcoming Art Forum series at the VCA features artists such as Grace Lillian Lee, Glenda Nicholls and Brenda L Croft – and the success of last year's online events means you can watch and learn from anywhere.

Like most things, the Victorian College of the Arts’ Art Forum – a series of weekly talks by leading artists and curators – was forced to go virtual in 2020, abandoning its face-to-face public events to deliver its program via Zoom. And while the ethos remained the same – guest speakers sharing the themes, processes and ideas that drive their practice – nobody expected the audience numbers to soar quite as much as they did with the move online.

“We’d been holding onto this idea that these events could only happen live,” says David Sequeira, Director of the Margaret Lawrence Gallery at the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music and curator of the Art Forum series. “What we didn’t realise was that the chemistry of those in-person events could actually be translated through this thing called Zoom that the whole world embraced in 2020 and that’s still very much part of our lives.”

It opened the floodgates, he says, for people from all over the world to participate – which they did. “We realised that our Art Forum community extends far beyond the borders of Southbank," he says. “It actually goes across the country, across the world.

“There’s a palpable sense of community when so many people get together for a common purpose, even when it’s through the internet. And it also means a lot to the speakers can look out into the faces, into the list of people, and see that they’re tuning in from all sorts of places.

“As artists, we don’t get a lot of feedback about our work or ideas. You might spend a year or two making a body of work, but when it goes up for show you’re often removed from it because you don’t live in the museum or the gallery. Doing this kind of talk online makes you realise that the work you do has resonance for people who aren’t just likeminded but who are really interested in wrestling with an idea or a concept and teasing something meaningful out of a conversation.”

The forthcoming Art Forum program, which runs on Thursdays during semester from 11 March to 20 May, features a broad range of artists, including Grace Lillian Lee, Glenda Nicholls and Brenda L Croft. They follow previous Art Forum talks by writers, artists and curators such as Bruce Pascoe, Hoda Afshar and Elizabeth Ann Macgregor. Usually coming in at about 50 minutes, the events, Sequeira says, are unlike typical artist talks.

“On a certain level you could call them that because they look like artists talks. But, because the speaker has this sense that they’re speaking within the context of an art school, they know they are speaking to people who are thinking though the process of working in a studio, and to members of the public who are also interested in those types of discussions.

"That’s a very different context to speaking about your work in a museum setting. At the Art Forum talks, most of us have already seen the works of art so we’re looking to unpack what a particular artist’s career looks like, how they see their work fitting in with the rest of the world, who their influences are, what the ideas are that keep them up in the middle of the night.”

On a personal level, Sequeira says he’s excited by the forthcoming Art Forum program. “There are some artists appearing whose work I’ve followed for many years, and others who are relatively recent graduates but who are really making a mark for themselves. I’m very interested in the idea of interrupting narratives and in lifting the lid on who we think of as thinkers, taste-makers and influencers.

“We’ve got artists on this program like Judy Watson, Rosemary Laing and Lindy Lee, who for decades have been pushing the boundaries of what art can be and what our relationship to it can be. On the other hand, we have younger artists like Gabriella Hirst and Hayley Millar Baker who represent a whole new generation’s exploration into these sorts of ideas.”

The 2021 Art Forum series kicks off with Judy Watson on Thursday 11 March, 12.30pm.

Judy Watson is a Waanyi artist who works in printmaking, painting, video and installation. Her work often examines Indigenous Australian histories. Watson’s studio processes involving tracing, outlining and wet pigments are intimately connected with her interests in the indelible stains left on country through the reverberations of colonisation.

Register for this free Zoom event here.

The current Art Forum series runs from 11 March–20 May 2021. Visit the Art Forum website for details of new Art Forum events as they're announced.