– By Vanessa James
a delight for the eyes and the imagination…
Completing a three-year journey, covering 5,077kms across Australia’s eastern states, Soft Core has created powerful impressions on audiences. Originally developed by curator Micheal Do in collaboration with Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, the exhibition has toured to eleven regional venues across NSW, VIC and QLD between 2017 and 2019. The exhibition is currently showing at its final tour venue, Perc Tucker Regional Gallery in Townsville, until 3 November 2019. The development of Soft Core was inspired by the industrial, hard-edged architectural elements of the Casula Powerhouse structure, with the intention to curate a collection of sculpture-based artworks embodying the opposing qualities, thereby introducing the notion of ‘a soft core into a hard shell’. Soft Core presents both existing and newly commissioned works by a diverse group of twelve leading and emerging Australian artists, whose work questions the fluctuating meaning of what it means to be soft.
Soft Core has received broad media coverage at local, regional and national levels, on-line, in print and on radio. ‘foam, fake fur, fabric, air, clay, balloons and plastics bags are just some of the materials used by artists to create the weird, wacky, and wonderfully fun sculptures in Bathurst Regional Art Gallery’s latest exhibition ‘Soft Core’… Traditional notions about what constitutes ‘a sculpture’ – who makes it, for whom, and from what – are questioned, contested, and re-worked in this exhibition.’ – Bathurst’s Western Advocate, 2 June 2017
Curator Micheal Do attended eight exhibition launches during the tour to facilitate a deeper understanding of the artworks. Micheal participated in numerous media interviews during the tour, providing interpretations of the artworks and insights into his curatorial inspiration. Quoted in Artdaily.org during the Shepparton Art Museum leg of the exhibition tour, Do commented:
Many of the sculptures within 'Soft Core' address us directly. This idea of anthropomorphism refers to the uncanny sense that inanimate objects can come to life and physically interact with the viewer
Visitors experienced the artworks in conjunction with an extensive array of public programs. The Soft Core works inspired diverse public programming and hands-on immersive activities utilising a variety of methods and materials. Many of these were facilitated by Soft Core artists who travelled to venues to host workshops, tours and talks. Opportunities to interact with the artists and curator were highlights of the tour, creating new connections between artists, venues and audiences.
Public programming was enhanced at Wagga Wagga Art Gallery and Caboolture Regional Art Gallery through the implementation of the Museum & Galleries of NSW two-year initiative, Engaging Art, which aims to support small to medium sized galleries to grow visitation, community participation and engagement with creative processes. This program facilitated artist led workshops at Wagga Wagga Art Gallery, where artists Simon Yates and Tully Arnot spent a week hosting school visits and public programs in collaboration with the Gallery. They explored simple approaches to robotics and the fundamentals of movement, combined with foam sculptures, to make giant robotic hand extensions. This allowed the Gallery to engage with new, young audiences. The artists’ experiences were enriched through gaining a better understanding of regional audiences and creating new relationships with peers, to further develop their own creative practices.
The success of implementing Engaging Art initiatives within the Soft Core tour was encapsulated by Caboolture State High School’s Visual Arts teacher who commented: ‘students were able to meet and work with a contemporary and practicing artist. Simon Yates’ work is playful and tactile while entertaining both historical and fictional narratives – this was accessible for students in senior grades. The artist visit resulted in a hands-on workshop that gave our students both a new way to make and to look at sculpture while gaining a unique insight into art practices and exhibiting.’
Museums & Galleries of NSW developed a comprehensive Education Kit to accompany the tour, targeting Stage 4-6 students and teachers, to facilitate their understanding and enjoyment of the exhibition. This attracted schools to the exhibition and assisted teachers by linking Soft Core concepts with curriculum frameworks. Soft Core was also a conduit for venue engagement with educators, providing professional development and networking opportunities. Caboolture Regional Art Gallery highlighted that targeted Professional Educator Workshops, run as part of Engaging Art, assisted in raising the Gallery’s profile within the educator community.
Regional venues noted the multiple benefits of hosting the Soft Core tour, with Hawkesbury Regional Gallery highlighting: ‘The M&G NSW touring exhibition program affords us the opportunity to access programs of the highest creative and organisational calibre that the gallery would otherwise not have the resources to undertake. The artistic scope of the M&G NSW touring program allows us to develop and extend our own exhibition and public programs for our audiences, to include artists, concepts and content that we would otherwise find challenging to develop ourselves. The diversity of our creative programs is of benefit not only to our audiences but also to the professional development of Gallery and Museum staff.’
Perhaps most importantly, Soft Core fascinated, inspired and delighted visitors. It created a sense of fun and entertained audiences from a range of age groups. Horsham Regional Gallery commented that: ‘the accessible content of the exhibition engaged a broad audience and certainly helped us develop our audience and expand traditional concepts of art.’ Visitors at all venues enjoyed the eye-opening and challenging content and appreciated access to high quality art in regional locations, commenting:
Fantastic, modern sculpture - makes you think!
Museums & Galleries of NSW would like to thank Micheal Do for his engaging curation and commitment to the Soft Core tour; Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre for both developing this exhibition, and their assistance and support during the tour; and our funding partners Visions of Australia and the Gordon Darling Foundation for making it possible to present Soft Core to regional audiences. Soft Core has challenged audiences to engage with contemporary sculpture in unique and meaningful ways, with a sense of playfulness, humour and imagination.
This article was written by Vanessa James as a part of her internship at Museums & Galleries of NSW through the Master of Museum and Heritage Studies program at the University of Sydney.
An exhibition curated by Micheal Do, in conjunction with Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre and toured by Museums & Galleries of NSW. This project has been assisted by the Australian Government’s Visions of Australia program.