Chelsea samples a taste of curating

Final year student relishing the opportunity to work with Murdoch University Art Collection's curatorial team.

In recent months, curatorial staff Mark Stewart and Dr Baige Zylstra have been pleased to welcome Chelsea Ford aboard as Murdoch University Art Collection’s curatorial intern to assist with a wide scope of activities including exhibition development, writing, and collection management. Chelsea, currently a final year student at the University, became intrigued by the MU collection through her studies in Visual Evidence and the Art of History, a course developed by Dr. Elizabeth Burns-Dans from the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS). This course was highlighted in a previous Backlight feature.

Upon completing the unit, Dr. Dean Aszkielowicz, Associate Dean Engagement of HASS, recommended Chelsea for an internship with the curatorial team for a semester. We caught up with Chelsea to hear about her experiences so far…

What is the degree you are currently studying and when do you finish?

I am currently studying a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in History, and English and Creative Writing. I am due to complete this at the end of this semester.

What did you enjoy about the unit Visual Evidence and the Art of History? What did you learn from it?

It was a really unique unit in that it offered a different approach to studying history. I enjoyed listening to all the guest lecturers and engaging with the Murdoch University Art Collection to learn about the various ways art can capture the ideas, attitudes, experiences, and culture of a society, past or present. Most history students tend to focus on written or statistical sources of evidence, following a very western understanding of what counts as factual or reliable information. However, as this unit demonstrated to me, such practices fail to take into account cultures that have relied on oral or visual methods of documentation, and are not always as effective in reporting people’s emotions and reactions to particular events in history.

How long is your placement and what are some of the things you have worked on?

My placement ends soon, unfortunately. During my time with Mark and Baige, I have assisted in setting up the exhibition, An Enduring Exuberance, at Parliament House WA, which celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of both Murdoch University and the Art Collection. In addition, I have worked on creating didactics and labels for some of the artworks displayed on campus and drafted social media posts for recent acquisitions. I have also been aiding Mark and Baige in selecting potential artworks for the gallery’s next exhibition.

What have you learnt about the task of curating a vast collection such as Murdoch’s?

When it comes to acquiring artwork for a collection like Murdoch’s, I’ve learnt that networking is an important factor. Establishing a good rapport with artists, other galleries, colleagues, and leading figures within the community, as both Mark and Baige have done, provides opportunities for a collection to grow and be seen. As Murdoch has such a large collection to manage, I have also learned that being able to prioritise is a key component. It also helps to have an overarching style or theme that guides the collection, determining what kinds of artworks will be included, so that it does not grow too large or disorderly. This theme can also make a collection unique and identifiable to audiences, and can reflect the values that it stands for. The Art Collection at Murdoch for instance focuses on contemporary Australian art.

Has the work placement helped you focus on, or clarify what you might envisage yourself doing in the future?

Definitely. I was really unsure about what I might do after graduation, but working with Mark and Baige has helped me narrow my ideas and encouraged me to consider curating, for either an art gallery or a museum. I have also really enjoyed many of the written tasks I have undertaken during this internship, which have reignited my interests in editing and publishing. 


Feature Pic: Murdoch University Art Collection student intern Chelsea Ford (left) and Assistant Curator Dr Baige Zylstra installing an exhibition at Parliament House of Western Australian, February 2024. 

Posted on:

3 May 2024

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