On the Couch with Natalie King

Natalie-King-photo-by-Luke-WalkerWho is Natalie King?
I am a curator, writer and Professor of Visual Arts at the University of Melbourne as well as a mother to three children [Lilly, Coco and Woody] and a psychiatrist’s wife.

What would you do differently from what you do now?
I love what I do though sometimes I wish my younger self had been emboldened to negotiate better working conditions and fees.

Who inspires you and why?
Artists inspire me and take me to places – metaphorically and physically – that I hadn’t imagined. I have curated the current Aotearoa New Zealand pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale with Yuki Kihara who is the first Pasifika, fa’afafine (“in the manner of a woman”) and Asian artist to be selected. Our exhibition Paradise Camp shifts the optics towards a fa’afafine/transgender utopia from Oceania and has certainly received inordinate attention in Time magazine, The Art Newspaper, CNN, Financial Times and The Guardian to name a few.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
I have been researching the role of care and interdependence hoping these attributes might shape a more equitable world.

Favourite holiday destination and why?
I have just returned from four weeks in glorious Venezia to install the Venice Biennale in the central Arsenale so usually my travel is bound up in work assignments. After more than two years of not travelling, I savoured the thrill of working on site at the oldest and most prestigious biennale in the world and spending time with colleagues from other pavilions. French artist Zineb Sidera said that you can’t have solidarity without physicality. In 2017, I curated the Australian pavilion with Tracey Moffatt so it was interesting to see the shift in orientation and curating in times of crisis whereby priorities have been reorganized and audiences queued to see our pavilion as it is steeped in joy and heartache with Yuki’s dazzling images.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
I would probably take friends to Heide Museum of Modern Art and Cynthia Reed’s studio recreation. Reed was Sidney Nolan’s wife and a fascinating artist herself with a modernist studio shop and gallery in Collins Street that she opened in 1932. Tai Snaith recently made black ceramic interventions within Cynthia’s studio and kindly lent me Cynthia’s fascinating biography derived from her intimate letters.

What are you currently reading?
I always read multiple things at once. At the moment, I am reading catalogue essays from curatorial comrades at the Venice Biennale particularly Emma Ridgway’s essay for the British Pavilion with the first black artist Sonia Boyce’s Feeling Her Way (who also won the Golden Lion) and Liisa- Rávná Finborg for the Sami Pavilion. Both write about language, gender and orality. Jennifer Higgie’s reappraisal of women artists in The Mirror and the Palette is vivid and evocative linking to Cecilia Alemani’s large, curated exhibition for the Venice Biennale called The Milk of Dreams that puts women and gender non-conforming artists at the forefront many of whom consider the fragility of existence and kinship between species.

What are you currently listening to?
I have eclectic taste in music so I might listen to Italian, Renaissance arias as well as DJ mixes by Peggy Gou. I also enjoy walking and podcasts. Perambulating is a way to clear one’s thoughts and Deborah Blashki Mark’s podcast, What I’ve Learnt is honest and revealing. I also enjoy spoken word poetry especially Sami poet, feminist and queer activist Timimie Gassko Märak’s Sipping Coffee makes me weep – it’s fierce and tender!

Happiness is?
My husband bringing me a cup of tea every morning except Sundays when it’s my turn. Small, daily rituals make me feel content.

What does the future hold for you?
I plan to return to Venice in October for a Talanoa Forum with University of Melbourne and Ca’Foscari University of Venice called “Swimming Against the Tides” initiated by Yuki Kihara as we want to bring dialogue to the New Zealand pavilion and the issues that Yuki raises about small island ecologies, intersectionality and environmental crises. I am also assisting Aboriginal artist Destiny Deacon with her new commission for the Sharjah Biennale, February 2023 and hopefully Paradise Camp will tour. Sometimes I prefer not to know what’s around the corner and relish unexpected detours.

Natalie is the Curator of Paradise Camp by New Zealand artist Yuki Kihara – currently on display at the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia until November 2022, before going on display at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum in 2023.

Image: Professor Natalie King OAM – photo by Luke Walker