TBI Q&A: Melanie Oliver

Melanie Oliver, writer, curator and current director of The Physics Room.
'An unbearded, athletic youth' by Ella Sutherland at The Physics Room.
'An unbearded, athletic youth' by Ella Sutherland at The Physics Room.
'An unbearded, athletic youth' by Ella Sutherland at The Physics Room.
'An unbearded, athletic youth' by Ella Sutherland at The Physics Room.
We hear from The Physics Room director Melanie Oliver as they get ready for their Christmas party, which tops off a big year including moving back to Christchurch CBD.

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We hear from The Physics Room director Melanie Oliver as they get ready for their Christmas party this Friday, which tops off a big year including moving the contemporary art project space back into the Christchurch CBD.

"I think it was important for the local arts community that we return to this building, to be able to connect with the development of the city ... I’m looking forward to the city growing around us."

During what hours of the day do you feel most inspired?

I find different times of the day good for different ways of thinking: mornings are up and go, evenings better for research and mulling things over.

How would a good friend describe your aesthetic or style?

I am less interested in aesthetics or style than I am in socially and politically engaged practice, which involves aspects of ethics as well.

What aspect of your creative practice gives you the biggest thrill?

Working with artists to develop new work is always exciting. I also enjoy facilitating discussions and creating alternative avenues for encountering art.

How does your environment affect your work?

It’s hard to ignore the environment of Christchurch currently – The Physics Room is located in the Old Post Office Building in the central city and still surrounded by vacant lots of rubble, so we are involved in the broader debates around the transitional city, future design and community of Christchurch. It is an incredibly interesting time to be here.

Do you like to look at the big picture or focus on the details?

I often find myself taking an overview and planning in advance.

Which of your projects to date has given you the most satisfaction?

‘A Ronald Hugh Morrieson Festival’ by Liz Allan for One Day Sculpture was an intense, formative experience. There are a number of other projects that have been satisfying, such as ‘Talking Pictures’ at Artspace, Sydney, or ‘Every Now and Then’ at Enjoy, but all of the projects I’ve worked on have been valuable in different ways.

Tell us a bit about your background – when and why did you join The Physics Room?

I joined The Physics Room about a year ago, keen to face the challenges of post-quake Christchurch as well as be part of a dynamic contemporary art institution. Prior to this, I was assistant curator at Artspace in Sydney and Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth, and worked at artist-run initiative Enjoy.

Tell us about The Physics Room and team

The Physics Room exists to act as a catalyst for the development and promotion of ideas and debate through art. It evolved out of the South Island Art Projects organisation in 1996, and has been at its current site since 1999. We have a small core team: a director, programmes manager, office manager, gallery technician and weekend gallery assistant, supported by many wonderful volunteers.

Tell us about The Physics Room new space which opened earlier this year – and why you decided to return to the CBD?

When we relocated from our temporary site to the CBD, we leased some extra space in the building and the gallery is now on the top floor, with office space and the potential for a residency studio on the floor below. I think it was important for the local arts community that we return to this building, to be able to connect with the development of the city, and it is a beautiful gallery space. Also, leases are difficult to obtain in Christchurch now and we are lucky to have a functioning venue. I’m looking forward to the city growing around us.

What have been the main challenges and rewards in Christchurch in the past few years?

Simple things are more difficult than you could predict, such as driving down a street, but the collaborative community spirit is remarkable. Also, there are incredible opportunities to work in public space at the moment.

What support have you received

The Physics Room is generously supported by Creative New Zealand. We also receive funding from the Christchurch City Council and in kind support from The Crater Rim wines and Three Boys Brewery. Our Christmas party has been whipped into shape by party extraordinaire Anna Dean.

Tell us about upcoming projects for summer and 2014?

Until Christmas, we have a solo exhibition by Christchurch artist and graphic designer Ella Sutherland, ‘An unbearded, athletic youth’. We start 2014 with a Summer Writing Workshop and the rest of the year will feature a range of exhibitions, a design school, new work commissions, offsite projects, publications and the launch of our artist in residence programme. Keep an eye on our website or join our mailing list!

Who or what has inspired you recently?

I am most inspired in conversation with people.

If you could go back and choose a completely different career path to the one you've chosen, what would it be?

I can’t imagine doing anything else! One of the wonderful things about my job is that it is so varied. I often get thrown into unexpected situations for particular projects and learn about unusual interest areas, which keeps things fresh. It’s part of what I love about what I do.

What place is always with you, wherever you go?

West Auckland.

What's the best way to listen to music, and why?

Either while running, or on the dance floor. I’m a fan of the collective ‘If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part of Your Revolution’, who are interested in performance and the performativity of contemporary art.

You are given a piece of string, a stick and some fabric. What do you make?

A banner.

What's the best stress relief advice you've ever been given?

Eat your breakfast slowly.

What’s great about today?

Summer is in the air.

What’s your big idea for 2014?

Many small ideas.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

9 Dec 2013

The Big Idea Editor

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