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Curator Vic McEwan introduces Tension(s) 2020: Tamworth Textile Triennial

Curator Vic McEwan introduces Tension(s) 2020: Tamworth Textile Triennial

Q. Vic, can you tell me about how you developed the idea behind Tensions 2020?

Tension(s) 2020 was developed from a moment of positivity, a reflection that we are living in a changing world. A reflection that was positive, despite the slowness with which this change is happening. Reflecting on this slowness, it seemed clear to me that change will only continue if we uphold tension, whatever that might mean. By offering the idea of Tension to the artists, I didn’t prescribe how artist might respond. The curatorial brief was open for people to make work that could range from being confrontational to gently and subtle, the choice was theirs.


Q. How do you see this notion of tension, harmony and dissonance being connected to or related to Australia’s own cultural identity?

Too often, we seem to lament the lack of an “ideal”, a “utopia”. I am of the belief that the concept of a utopia isn’t possible. Both indigenous culture and quantum physics (ancient knowledge and science) talk about the past, the present, and the future all co-existing in any one moment. Given that the pain and joy of the past exists in whatever change we might achieve tomorrow, this co-existing of time means that the notion of an “ideal” is already dispensed with.

But thinking like this isn’t just a negative exercise, it has many positive sides as well, and one of the keys to this positive understanding is in discovering how much rich information and experience is embedded within the harmony, tension and dissonance that co-exist in all our stories, both personal and collective. Think of your favourite song, chances are that it contains tension and release.


Q. How do the chosen artists contribute to the progress of textile art?

The artists in Tension(s) 2020 all contribute to their field in different ways. Whether this is in the conceptual thinking that underpins their work, or in the technique, or in consideration of installation and how you bring the work from your studio into a gallery to be shared. They all progress textiles work through their culmination of ideas, technique and humanity.


Q. How may the exhibition translate to the world beyond Australia?

In October this year I will be giving a Keynote presentation at the Textile and Place conference in Manchester UK. This will be alongside presentations from the British Textiles Biennial and other European textiles artists. I think that Tension(s) 2020 works with themes that translate internationally, and I will be able to put this to the test in October as I share the work with an international audience, so maybe check in with me after that and I can give you an evidence based answer :)


Q. Why is it important that we share and learn new meanings from different perspectives?

Viewing the world from a single perspective could be considered to be at the heart of many of the inequalities, injustices and difficulties that we face in the world. Given that I have an artistic

practice that is deeply socially engaged, I am of the firm belief that change happens through a thousand small steps. Learning to listen, learning to see difference, learning to value experiences that we ourselves have never experienced, is at the heart of this change. I believe that these things can exist in ways that are loud and extreme or small and delicate. I also believe they can exist in big events or in small intimate encounters.

In terms of artistic practice, it allows us to consider new collaborations, new ways of making.


Q. What is the greatest challenge for you in fostering and communicating these new perspectives?

Whilst I think these perspectives can be communicated in every encounter, such as in a simple meeting in the street and beyond, I think there are many challenges for artists that are addressing some of these complexities in their work.

These complexities are different for different people and can be different depending on the artistic process undertaken. An artist who has a studio-based practice has a very different set of considerations than an artist who is working in a way that might be considered socially engaged, or in relationship to people or place.

The other challenge that I encounter is that even within groups of people who are all vocal about their desire for change, the concept of stopping to listen to a different opinion, can be difficult. We seem to struggle at times with the concept of a world that is based on the subjectivity of other people rather than the subjectivity of ourselves, no matter how open and understanding we believe we are.


Q. Tensions 2020 features works in different mediums such as installation, video and performance. What sort of role do you envision textile art evolving into or taking shape as in the future?

Tension(s) 2020 is a contemporary textiles exhibition that is in relation to the history of textiles practice in Australia. It was my intention in this exhibition to encourage the artists to think about collaboration with other mediums, but only if that is where their practice was interested in going. Artists were supported to try new things, to expand their vocabulary, if that is what interested them. Namely they were encouraged to understand their practice in relationship to the world, rather than just in relationship with textiles practice.

Questions written by: Embie Tan Aren

IMAGE: ANCA (Detail), 2020, Jane Théau, a video portrait of the dancer Anca Frankenhaeuser performing with her thread portrait. ANCA (BÖJANDE), Tarlatan, silk organza, thread, wire, 380 x 300 x 160 mm.

Tension(s) 2020