On the Couch with Steven Tonkin

Steven Tonkin Arts Review On the CouchWho is Steven Tonkin?
I am currently curator of contemporary and live art at Arts Centre Melbourne, and I have just curated a new exhibition, Political Acts: Pioneers of Performance Art in Southeast Asia, as part of the inaugural Asia TOPA: Asia Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts.

What would you do differently to what you do now?
As you get older the list seems to get a little longer. But if I’m thinking about work, it would be my lack of tech skills. I must admit that I still design my exhibitions with a pencil, paper, UHU glue stick and little cutout pictures. I’d like to do that differently, and with a little more computer design prowess; because it is getting increasingly embarrassing as a middle-career (I almost slipped up and typed middle-aged) curator to show a professional exhibition/set builder what I want with my primary school craft skills.

Who inspires you and why?
Artists, artists and more artists. I absolutely love working with artists. I am forever inspired by how they view the world, and being privileged to witness their creative processes and outcomes.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
It may sound trite, but I still believe that Art makes a difference in the world. So I hope that as a curator, I can do my little bit to make a difference by providing a platform for artists to have a voice and present their work in exhibitions, such as Political Acts.

Favourite holiday destination and why?
Any holiday destination would be fine by me! Our last restful and relaxing family holiday was nearly five years ago, so we’re all probably due a real break. Whether our kids want to spend time with us these days is another matter altogether, but the sea, sand, sun, and an overseas theme park might just do the trick.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
If we’re staying local – a bite to eat and then a good movie at the Sun Theatre in Yarraville. If it’s to be an ‘arty’ afternoon – we’ll jump in the car and make a visit to Heide, or if we have the whole day, probably out to the Yarra Valley, a wander around Healesville and leisurely visit to the TarraWarra Museum of Art and the Cellar Door. (Although I’m usually the designated driver). But if they’ve got kids, it’s the middle of summer and one of those scorching 40 degree days, then you can’t beat the wave pool and slide at MSAC – Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre.

What are you currently reading?
I usually have a small pile of books beside the bed, which I switch between depending upon how I am feeling and how many minutes I can grab of an evening. For the last year in preparation for the exhibition I have been reading a mass of art history and theory books on art in Southeast Asia. One of the most challenging and rewarding (and which I’ve now almost finished) is Michelle Antoinette’s Reworlding Art History: Encounters with Contemporary Southeast Asian Art after 1990, which I picked up when I was in Brisbane for the opening of the last APT8.

Next on the list is a book my aunt recently gave me, called Blood Magic by artist George Gittoes, which she said she couldn’t put down from start to finish. So I might give it a go next weekend. Plus, I’ve got one more chapter to go of The Great Gatsby. I last read it when I was at school, but as one of my boys has just started Year 11 and it’s his first English text of the year, I thought I would join him so we can talk about. I’ve actually really enjoyed reading it again (for pleasure) after all these years.

What are you currently listening to?
For the last 3 months I have been listening to snippets of Kylie every morning as I arrived at work and walked through the previous exhibition Kylie on Stage, which will be touring regional Victoria from later in the year. But when I’m at home, it’s most often classic Bowie – still with a sense of loss.

Happiness is?
It’s a cliché, but family first and foremost, although dare I say, a close second is to love your work. I spend five days at work and the other two often thinking about it, receiving the odd work email, reading books on art, visiting exhibitions, etc., so it definitely helps in being happy when you live and breathe the work you do.

What does the future hold for you?
Another creative project on the horizon. Even though Political Acts has just opened, I think it is a great launching pad for building new collaborative partnerships with Southeast Asian artists and arts organisations. Exhibitions take years from conception to realisation, so I’m keen to start the ball rolling again (although I’ll probably wait until next Monday).

Political Acts: Pioneers of Performance Art in Southeast Asia is currently on display in Gallery 1 – Arts Centre Melbourne until 21 May 2017 – free entry. For more information, visit: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au for details.

Image: Steven Tonkin