Friday, September 19, 2008

Interview - Kate Rhodes

Kate Rhodes in a forest

Kate's favourite image of all time, taken in Santiago, Chile. The perfectly designed object - the mobile public library. "I try to get it into every talk I ever give" says Kate.

An image by Roseanne Bartley from Kate's first show at Craft Victoria - Solutions for Better Living in 2007. This is a necklace.

Another 'necklace' by Roseanna Bartley from the same Craft Victoria show. This was an interactive work where visitors drew links on the paper template necklace.

Kate Rhodes is a whirlwind. I first met her briefly during the Melbourne International Design Festival, after having reviewed her Melbourne Unbuilt walking tour for the MIDF blog. Since then I've learnt a lot more about Kate's work and her career to date - and I know I'm famously prone to gushing, but it is absolutely no exaggeration to say that what Ms Rhodes has achieved at the ripe old age of just-turned-30 is nothing short of astounding.

In her relatively short career, she's held the role of curator for the National Gallery of Victoria, Craft Victoria (who flourished under her creative direction), and The National Design Centre. She's recently made the move into the world of print media with the newly appointed position of Editor at Artichoke Magazine, simultaneously maintaining her role as Adjunct Curator at Object: Australian Centre for Craft and Design in Sydney. AND she also lectures at RMIT in the school of Architecture and Design.

Is this not the most INCREDIBLE CV you have ever read? I am in awe.

Refreshingly, Kate is also incredibly down-to-earth, endearingly self-deprecating, and so generous with her ideas and her extensive knowledge of Australian art, craft and design. She's utterly passionate about her work, and her unique, quirky aesthetic and sense of humour is clear in the varied collection of images she collated to accompany this interview - how about the self portrait? Love it.

I am convinced that Kate will, in years to come, be recognised as one of the most influential people in Melbourne's cultural and design sectors. You heard it hear first!

I feel very lucky to be able to share this interview with you :) Thanks so much Kate!

You’ve achieved so much in your career thus far and you’re still not yet 30! Tell me a little about your background - what did you study and what path has led you to what you’re doing now?

I wish I had written this on Monday when I was 29 but today I’m 30 and 3 days! I completed an Art History degree and a Masters of Art Curatorship at Melbourne University. In 2005 I started a Masters in design, focusing on fashion. The following year I left the NGV where I had been a Curator of photography and contemporary art to be Curator at Craft Victoria. In the last year I’ve also worked as a Curator at the National Design Centre and now I’m Editor of Artichoke Magazine, Adjunct Curator at Object: Australian Centre for Craft and Design in Sydney and I teach in the school of Architecture and Design at RMIT. Around this I’ve done lots of volunteer and part time work in galleries, worked as a research assistant, completed internships and done a lot of writing.

Key image from the thesis Kate is currently writing at RMIT, on the aesthetics of poverty in fashion.

What are some of your projects / exhibitions that we might be familiar with?

Right now I have two shows that you can check out – How You Make It which I curated at Craft Victoria looking at fashion designers who make work using conceptual and experimental systems. The show is touring this year and next. The other is Melbourne Unbuilt which is on permanent display at the National Design Centre. Melbourne Unbuilt is a self-guided audio tour to see building projects that don’t exist, but which are reanimated through the voices of the architects who designed them. From the NDC you pick up a map (a wonderful object designed by Warren Taylor) and an i-Pod and tour the unbuilt architectural past.

* note from Lucy - I reviewed the fantastic Melbourne Unbuilt walking tour during the Melbourne International Design Festival for the MIDF blog... check out my review here!

An image from Kate' Melbourne Unbuilt walking tour - this is an unbuilt proposal for Melbourne's Flinders St. Station.

You’ve recently made the switch from art curator to magazine editor – how did this change in direction come about? How do you plan to use your experience in the cultural sector in your new role as editor of Artichoke Magazine?

Editing and curating are similar approaches to hunting down interesting work. The most obvious have to do with things like selecting; refining; making connections; telling stories. I see Artichoke as a gallery in pages. There are special things about magazines that I really like and I’m also coming up with things that will start in the magazine but which will also exist as exhibitions.

A work by artist Annie Wu from a show Kate co-curated at the VCA in July this year

What does a typical day at work involve for you at the moment?

Being appalled at our public transport system is the first thing that tends to happen each day. Sadly. I hit the office – look at the beach from my desk and smile because I now get to work on a huge mac computer! I spend lots of time researching for the best, most interesting design projects and ideas for the magazine and then find someone to write on them for us. I’m writing and cooking up ideas for pieces that aren’t out in the world but which come out of my head. Part of my job is to also go to lots of studios, lectures, launches, openings and parties. Tough isn’t it!

Also from the Solutions for Better Living show at Craft Vic. Amazing work by Kiko Gianocca entitled Sand to Wear (2005). You clip the bag and put the sand in your shoe. A new accessory.

What are you most proud of professionally?

Pride can be a hideous thing but I really do love my show Melbourne Unbuilt and I’m happy to say that out aloud.

Which designers, artists or creative people do you look up to?

I’d like to be in more of a position to ask “How would Slavoj _i_ek ask that question?”. I’d like to be better at asking questions philosophically (and be as clear and as funny as he is).

Where do you find inspiration - either for your curatorial projects or in your role at Artichoke?

That would be telling! I have lots of sources for finding out about good things but it is safe to say that inspiration comes from things that are good ideas and these are lying in wait everywhere. It is a thrilling day when the world seems to be giving them away everywhere I look.

Image from the last show Kate curated at the NGV, called Remote Control. This piece is by Gregory Crewdson.

What's the best thing about your job?

Where do I begin! That I get to spend my time thinking about work that I think is great, that I pretty much hang out in the realm of ideas and ask others to write about them and then I get to bring all that great stuff together. Someone’s going to catch on to me soon I fear.

Kate was co-ordinating curator of the V&A's Guy Bourdin exhibition when it came to the NGV in 2004.

And the worst?

Like everyone else, the worst is when I have to spend anytime thinking about stuff that is awful or silly or mean.

What are you looking forward to – professionally or personally?

I look forward to knowing more.

Melbourne Questions –

The best place to see the work of emerging artists in Melbourne?

On the street. Melbournians are great dressers. Folk wearing homespun outfits are my favourite emerging artists.

One great example of Melbourne architecture?

I never tire of the modernism on Collins Street.

What/where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

Crunchy whole prawns at Cumulus.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

With my man in our gumboots picking things out of the garden or puttering around in our little baby boat amongst the serious boats.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

How bad our train system is. Melbourne is a wonderful city but I get super tired of hearing about how great it is when it is falling apart at the tracks. On a less grumpy note, everyone should know about eating salt and vinegar chips on the rocks at Williamstown beach after a swim, if they don’t already.


  1. What a great interview Lucy! Kate is the loveliest isn't she :)

  2. Craft Victoria thanks for your comment :) I always wonder if its the same Craft Vic person commenting or someone different everytime...? :)

    Anyway I greatly appreciate your comments! Kate is such an inspiration! I can't believe how much she has achieved already in her career to date! It makes me quite tired thinking about it! x

  3. ssh.. it's always the same person (the same person who writes the blog). heehee!

  4. i am not australian so i do not know, but when im reading this interview it seems to me that australia is aristicly great.
    aesthetics of poverty in fashion.
    aesthetics of poverty in fashion.
    talking about aesthetics of poverty in fashion... that is so interesting thing. like the aesthetics of ugly. let juts mention 1 example: models. i have been notecing that the perfect faces are not so perfect anymore in order to succede in fashion. the aesthetic of beauty is completely changing.
    kate does have really great cv. not only that, but its great to read about someone whos passion towards work you can catch just by reading their small interview.
    key is to love what you do, and you'll maybe be lucky as kate to achieve so much under the age of 30!?! well, 30 y and 3 days :)

  5. great interview, love kate's work!