Art as essential activity: an inquiry | Open call for public submissions

TarraWarra Museum of Art is one of Victoria’s major art institutions who have closed their doors to the public due to Covid-19 Stage 4 Lockdowns. In light of the challenges this brings the team at TWMA have been working behind the scenes to bring virtual experiences to their audiences across a stream of digital-based content, as well as developing new exhibition projects that will flow into 2021.

The Museum’s most recent development ‘Art as essential activity: an inquiry’ presents a series of ongoing artistic investigations focusing on the role of art in a global pandemic as well as looking at new ways to engage in international collaboration while navigating the limitations of restricted movement. ‘Art as essential activity: an inquiry’ is curated by Melbourne-based independent curator Biljana Ciric and will be running until 11 July 2021.

Jasphy Zheng, Stories from the Room (detail), 2020,Center for Contemporary Art, Kitakyushu, Japan. Photograph: Ken’ichi Miura. Courtesy the artist

The first in the series is an audience participatory exhibition titled ‘Stories from the Room’ by interdisciplinary NY/China-based Chinese-American artist Jasphy Zheng. For this project Zheng is calling on members of the community to submit written works, which reflect on personal experiences during the current world-wide pandemic. Received submissions will become part of Zheng’s show and will form archival material as documentation of this extraordinary time in world history.

‘Stories from the Room’ was previously staged at the Center for Contemporary Art, Kitakyushu, Japan earlier this year and displayed stories from people living through the pandemic in Japan, Wuhan, China and the USA. When restrictions are lifted the entire collection of archived material received thus far will be assembled for public viewing at TWMA.

“In my ongoing long-term project Stories from the Room, I wish to stimulate a physical gathering by collecting parallel realities from participants and displaying them at TarraWarra Museum of Art. Through a collective act, a sense of emotional connection is generated, in the form of a community, regardless of distance,” says Zheng.

Jasphy Zheng. Photograph: Malachi Smythe

To get involved and share your experiences in ‘Stories from the Room’ all you need to do is write about your journey through COVID-19 either in a letter, an email, journal, memo or other written work, penned in any language and at any length. You can send new writing as often as you like, and each time your piece will be added to a folder specifically marked for you. Submissions are accepted via email and by post.

*Important notes. Please make sure your communication is dated, with your name and location only. Do not include any private details (such as street address, telephone or email) in the letter as these could be on public view at the museum and anonymous quotes may be published online, or used for promotional purposes. All written submissions will be saved in an archive in hard copy form. Submissions will not be returned to the sender and will remain as property of the artwork. There is no closing date for this open call.

Send your submissions to: [email protected] or post to Stories from the Room, c/- TarraWarra Museum of Art, PO Box 310, Healesville VIC 3777, Australia.

Jasphy Zheng, Stories from the Room (detail), 2020, Center for Contemporary Art, Kitakyushu, Japan. Photograph: Ken’ichi Miura. Courtesy the artist

In the midst of Coronavirus disruptions and while the value of the arts sector has been overlooked by the powers that be, artists, arts workers and art institutions have rallied together to find new and innovative ways to support the industry, motivate artistic actions and continue delivering their creativity to audiences.

Ciric says ‘Art as essential activity’ will raise some important questions about the purpose of art in a pandemic such as “Can art be considered as an essential service and, if so, how can institutions perform that essential service? Can they be used in the cause of emotional health and how?”

“Given our current restricted living conditions, can art institutions provide an experience more valuable than an individual work of art? How do we conceive of the physical presence of museums and galleries in these times, without turning them into a hyper-sanitised space?”

“Through new modes of encounter and connectivity in a time of closed borders, the project seeks to generate a renewed feeling of solidarity amongst the international community. Underlying this approach is a spirit of generosity, of not being afraid to learn from each other, and a willingness to allow for cracks to open wider and expose certain failures.

“In showing their vulnerability in this time of immense uncertainty and turmoil, and by creating a space for openness in a period of great restriction and poor access, each of the artists will prompt us to consider a new role for art as a form of radical care,” Ciric shared.

New projects will be added to ‘Art as essential activity’ soon. Click here for more information. To explore TarraWarra Museum of Art’s digital content you can visit the Museum Channel and follow on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and take a virtual exhibition tour of ‘Making Her Mark: Selected Works from the Collection’.