Kim Paton is the director of Objectspace, New Zealand's only publicly-funded craft, design and architecture gallery. She's overseen the gallery's shift to a new $650,000 gallery opening in Ponsonby this Friday.
1 Why is Objectspace moving to a big new gallery at 13 Rose Rd?
We're extending our remit to include architecture as well as craft and design so we needed more space. Our site at 8 Ponsonby Rd, an old ASB Bank with concrete walls and heritage restrictions, wasn't fit for purpose. After years of negotiation by the Objectspace board and founding director Philip Clarke, our core funder Creative New Zealand has nearly doubled our funding to increase service delivery to the sector.
2 You became Objectspace director nearly two years ago. Were you hired to lead this move?
A new building was on the table, I was hired to figure out what could be achieved. I was able to bring a company called Brown Bread, which does all the fundraising for Christchurch Art Gallery, on board.
They spent three months interviewing members of the sector to see what appetite there was for a shift in direction. We realised we could make a real stake in the ground around architecture and pull it off ourselves. We just needed space.
A local architect, Richard Naish, agreed to do the design work pro bono. Using his concepts we were able to gain support for a $550,000 redevelopment of a 1980s industrial building into a multi-use institution with four exhibition spaces and a public programme space that can seat 60 people.
3 Was it hard to find a new space?
It was incredibly challenging. We needed something large enough to carve up into several galleries but it had to be affordable because we're not council funded so have to operate on a commercial lease. The new site is in an industrial zone - half the price of shopfront - and with drive-in parking. It's at the heart of a changing part of Ponsonby where lots of architecture and design firms are moving in.
4 Did you look abroad for inspiration?
Definitely. We've taken bits and pieces from contemporary design museums in major cities worldwide. Some, like the Design Museum in London, are huge. Ours is more comparable to smaller venues like the Cooper Hewitt in New York and 21 21 Design Sight in Tokyo founded by fashion designer Issey Miyake.
5 Are you expecting a change in number and type of visitors?
Objectspace has a strong community of hard core supporters - a large portion are practitioners themselves. At the previous site we'd get about 10,000 visitors a year and I'd say pessimistically we'll double our audience base within the first year of reopening.
6 Since taking over as director of Objectspace, what exhibition are you most proud of?
A survey show of basket-maker Ruth Castle put together by Damian Skinner, New Zealand's most well-known and qualified craft historian. Ruth is in her late 80s and has been making baskets all her life. She was at the heart of the 1970s craft movement but interest in her work died out as fashions changed. There's a total simplicity in what Ruth does. Whether she's living in Titirangi or Devonport, she goes out into her local environment and forages for materials to weave her baskets. They're small, humble objects for the domestic setting. Damian identified the need to create a formal record of her life's work and there's been a resurgence of interest since that hugely popular show.
7 Is craft in general enjoying a resurgence of interest?
Yes we're seeing massive engagement in crafts like ceramics. Community courses run by Auckland Studio Potters in Onehunga are utterly oversubscribed. Yet tertiary education in craft has been in decline for at least a decade. The craft design diploma offered in a dozen polytechs nationwide no longer exists. Unitec produced some of New Zealand's best contemporary jewellers. Their amazing ceramic studio is now largely unused. It's all about numbers. You can fill a lecture theatre with 150 students but you're only going to fit 15 in a working studio where they're taught technical skills. It's reached a point that we're now sitting in a generational void of technical knowledge. Fine arts students want to do ceramics but they no longer have the expert teachers. Massey University sends students to Wellington City Potters for hands-on training.
8 The word "craft" can be a bit loaded. How does Objectspace define it?
The baggage of craft is it means different things in different contexts. We define craft by how the object is made and the relationship between the material and the maker. Objectspace is here to account for work that is either an articulation of incredible skill or the transition of knowledge over periods of time or work we think is important for our culture to take stock of.
9 Are one-off designs more valuable than mass-produced designs like Ikea?
Good craftsmanship is no longer defined as being handmade. Anything goes now from industrial making processes to digital technologies. What the field of craft and applied arts does honour is a respect for the making process. I'd draw a line at the worst kind of mass production involving poor materials and poor treatment of labour that we've become accustomed to.
10 Was art a big part of your childhood in Christchurch?
Yes, my grandmother was a Sunday painter with an art room in her Otago farmhouse. She wasn't an amazing painter but that didn't faze her. She had an innate belief in the role art played in daily life and encouraged us to paint what we saw. She'd often paint the grim realities of farming life like dead animals. My older brother Justin Paton, a prolific art writerand curator, was a huge influencein my teens. He'd take me to theart gallery on the weekends andtalk about the work.
11 Did you want a career in art from early on?
I'm no good at drawing representationally, which was important at high school, so I started a fashion degree but I felt pulled towards conceptual work so switched to fine art. I majored in sculpture. Massey had a terrific woodwork shop where I spent most of my degree. I found an affinity with wood and standard construction techniques, possibly because I could cobble it together myself intuitively. Before I got into art management I spent about six years making and exhibiting work, largely built architectural sculpture which as an audience member still utterly thrills me.
12 What exhibition are you opening with?
A show called Future Islands created by architects Kathy Waghorn and Charles Walker for the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale. New Zealand has only been to the architecture biennale twice so it's really poignant the work will be shown in New Zealand for the first time at Objectspace.