Season Three – Talia Smith

Image credit: Jeremy Weihrauch

Talia Smith

Season 3 – Episode 7



00:00:00 Kiera Brew Kurec
Hi, I’m Kiera Brew Kurec

00:00:01 Nick Breedon
and I’m Nick Breedon

00:00:03 Kiera Brew Kurec
welcome to Pro Prac

00:00:04 Nick Breedon
where we explore the professional practice of artists

00:00:07 Kiera Brew Kurec
and hear their stories.

00:00:10 Nick Breedon
Talia Smith is an artist and curator from Aotearoa and currently based in Sydney. She’s of Cook Island, Samoan, and Pakeha Heritage. Her curatorial and visual arts practice engages with ideas around time, memory, and familial histories with a particular focus on the way that artists are reclaiming the colonial tool of the camera. Talia currently works as the curator at Grandville Center Art Gallery and is curating Primavera in 2023 at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

00:00:39 Kiera Brew Kurec
Talia, thank you so much for joining us in the studio today. We’re so happy to have you on season three of Pro Prac and we would love to kick it off by asking you how did you get to where you are today and some background on your practice.

00:00:53 Talia Smith
Thank you so much for having me here with you both today. I do just wanna take some time to, acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land that, we are recording this on, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, but also the Darug people for where I work at Granville Center Art Gallery. And then that further extends to where I grew up in New Zealand and to all of the, indigenous Iwi around in Taranaki and Tāmaki Makaurau where I, also worked and grew up. So I pay my respects to ancestors past and present as well. I guess I really start that a lot with how I kind of introduce myself, because I think it’s really important, to talk about where I came from and whose lands that I, was brought up on and came from. But, uh, I’m a New Zealander, which uh, you can probably tell from my cool accent and, sorry, but also I said accent, like a New Zealander.

00:01:55 Nick Breedon
It was it. You couldn’t,

00:01:56 Talia Smith
I didn’t mean.

00:01:58 Nick Breedon
No, that was perfection. Thank you.

00:02:00 Talia Smith
I’m so sorry.

00:02:01 Kiera Brew Kurec
So good.

00:02:02 Talia Smith
I realized as soon as I said, I was like, no, you’ve said it like a New Zealander

00:02:05 Nick Breedon

00:02:06 Talia Smith
Yeah, I did. That’s recorded.

00:02:10 Nick Breedon
I’m leaving that in by the way. Sorry.

00:02:13 Talia Smith
Thank you. Thank you. You guys should have a, outtakes thingy reel. Yeah. An outtakes reel. Yeah. So I grew up in a small town called Taranaki in New Zealand on the west coast of the North island. And uh, my Mum is Samoan Cook Island, and my dad is Pakeha, which is, white essentially. And I grew up in this really small town, you know, until I was 18. And then I moved to Auckland to study and I guess like had quite a long journey. Well, I, a longer journey than most to kind of come into art making and feeling comfortable with doing it and being a curator. So I went to art school and decided to do graphic design because I thought I would get a better job, whatever that means. And I then kind of quickly realized that I actually hated making work for other people. But I was three years into a four year degree, so I thought. Let’s just finish the degree. So I did and then had, you know, two years off in between when I then went back again of just, you know, working in retail and trying to figure out what I wanted to do, like I really didn’t know, and I had always loved photography, so it was kind of strange that I hadn’t thought of that as an option for me. And then I started assisting a fashion photographer, which was an experience. It was, I guess I, I will say about it is the time that I realized I didn’t want to do fashion photography when I was assisting was just, it was like the last ever shoot that I assisted on, it was young, such young girls in it, you know, they were say 15 or 16, and the photographer that I was assisting, who I really do love, and I know that she didn’t mean it in this way, but I just realized I couldn’t do it anymore, was she had, was recommending to this young 15 year old that she got her teeth fixed and her hair cut and you know, all of this kind of stuff. And I could just see her being really crushed. And I just thought, I’m a, you know, a, a bigger, a larger bodied brown woman and I can’t, cannot keep upholding this, like behavior basically. I just couldn’t bring myself to contribute to that anymore. So I realized that that wasn’t for me. And I stopped doing that and went back to art school. And I thought I would leave with a diploma ’cause once again, I had the ridiculous idea that I would become a commercial photographer, despite the fact that I hated commercial graphic design. And then, after the two years when you would leave with your diploma, my very amazing lecturers there at Unitech, where I studied in Auckland, they took me aside and said, don’t leave. We think that your art practice is really strong and we want you to do the degree and finish because we think you’re gonna go somewhere. And so then I did. And then, I guess I would’ve been, I assume by the time I finished, I must’ve been like 27 ish, 28 maybe. And I applied on a whim for a job that I saw, which was assistant arts and events coordinator. At a gallery in Auckland and I just thought, you know what? I don’t, oh, sorry. It was the arts and events coordinator and I thought, I don’t have the experience for this, but I’m just gonna do it. I’m gonna apply. So I got an interview and then they told me as much, I didn’t have the experience, but they wanted me to, work with them. So they created a role, which was the assistant Arts and Events Coordinator. And that’s the first role I got out of uni. I had been, managing or restarted the student gallery at my uni and that’s how I sort of got into curating. ’cause I realized that I loved, I was surrounded by so many people that did amazing things and I loved hearing about their work and seeing it and bringing out the best in what they’re making. And so that’s why I started the student gallery. And, and what, when I started to figure out what this curating thing meant. Yeah.

00:06:48 Kiera Brew Kurec
So what led you to be here? Now where we are in Sydney,

00:06:54 Talia Smith
in the, like, brutal, honest, uh, truth is I had a very bad breakup. It was my longest relationship of seven years and, uh, I had a contract end.I was working with Tautai Pacific arts Trust, curating and mentoring some young emerging curators for them. And the contract just sort of ended. It was only for a period of time and I didn’t really know what I was going to do next. I didn’t have another job lined up. I was heartbroken. And then I saw this opportunity at Gaffa Gallery in the city to, do like a curatorial residency for a few months. So I applied and I was successful and I, I came over and I really didn’t think I was going to stay, to be honest. I just needed something to do basically. And, I thought this would be really fun and a great opportunity to come to Australia, which is obviously so easy for New Zealanders to come to and live and work. So, you know, it wasn’t as scary as going to like the UK or you know, where I wouldn’t have support systems as easily accessible. And then, at the end of the three month residency, they offered me a job, basically

00:08:12 Kiera Brew Kurec

00:08:13 Talia Smith
where I actually used to be a comms gal for, the gallery doing marketing and communications. And then it, you know, ended up more days and taking on more responsibilities and I became, like the co-curator of the space. And then eventually moved on after that. But, that’s why I ended up staying. I actually thought I’d go to Melbourne as well, because so many New Zealanders live in Melbourne. And so many of my friends do, or did, at least at the time. A lot of them have moved away now. But I really felt, I don’t know. I’m one of those people that really loves a challenge and I felt that if I moved to Melbourne, I would just live the same life that I was living in Auckland. And I didn’t want that. I wanted something new and I wanted, the challenge. I wanted to challenge myself basically. . And so I guess I sort of just fell in love with this really messed up place called Sydney. And so I stayed maybe at Stockholm Syndrome, I don’t know, but uh, now it’s been about eight years. And I’m still here.

00:09:24 Kiera Brew Kurec
Yeah. I can, I can understand that. You have a really strong arts practice. You also have a really strong curatorial practice and it seems to me, from my understanding, that you give even weight to both of them. You take both of them very seriously and they are part of an expanded practice together.

00:09:56 Nick Breedon
Are you two people? Tell us your secrets.

00:10:00 Kiera Brew Kurec
How do you do it? And what was the process beside, behind continuing two practices at once?

00:10:07 Talia Smith
I’m actually an identical twin. Yeah. Sometimes you see, I knew Tanya and sometimes you see Talia.

00:10:19 Kiera Brew Kurec
I love this.

00:10:21 Talia Smith
I think one of the biggest like, I suppose gripes that I have is when people know that I am an artist and also a curator and will say to me how like, When are you gonna choose one over the other? It just drives me insane because I think there are many ways of being and existing, and why do I have to conform to this idea of just being one thing when we also know to be able to, you know, survive in this world. I need a job and I also want to do a job that I love and I’m passionate about. And I’m very lucky to be able to have that. And I know a lot of people don’t, but it does mean that I’m not going to let one part slide. . I’m gonna work really hard as a curator because I’m passionate about it. I love it. I love bringing people together. I love questioning structures. I also just love making fun shows that are bright and brilliant and joyful, as well as shows that are more political or try to have a stronger message in that kind of way. And then I also have this urge to make and there are ways that I can’t express myself in curating, that I try to do when I make, uh, I think that my visual arts practice is probably a lot more personal ’cause it is a lot about my like, familial histories and diaspora and ancestors and all of that. Not to just shrug those huge, uh, themes off, but I think, it does allow me to actually physically make something. You know, when I’m curating it is working with other people and their works and, you know, sometimes you do. I think the hardest part can be when I am curating sometimes and I really want to say to an artist, You could make the work this way though, but I’m not the artist and you know, that can be difficult to balance each other’s egos, I suppose. And because I think like an artist as well, and I could have a good like, suggestion, but that’s not what they wanna do. And so that’s kind of a funny little part that happens for me. But I also think they’re very intertwined a lot of the time. And, you know, I’m not putting down, curators that aren’t artists at all. We all come to where we are in whatever path that is and it’s always messy and convoluted. But what I think, I mean, I hope that when I am curating is just this sense of space that you get because you are an artist and you’re always already thinking about space presentation, how you move around, how you have a work in there, and you move around that work, all of those kinds of things. You know, the, literally like the composition of an exhibition, the way it’s installed, what this work, how it relates to the one next to it. I think, for me it’s another way of expressing myself and what I sometimes think about in my own practice as well.

00:13:56 Nick Breedon
Yeah. I think also, you know, as an artist, you know, who’s a curator, you also, you know, those moments of feedback, you are actually, uh, coming from a really, you know, lived experience. You know, you ha you actually, you have, you’re in a position to give that kind of advice. Like, I’ve had curators tell me to pull works out of a show because they didn’t understand them. Or they thought like they just didn’t like the work or something like that. And I mean, you know, this is a, a, let’s just say I, I probably would’ve appreciated, kind of feedback that was a little bit more informed from a, from a making perspective than, than, you know, just somebody’s opinion about what, they liked or, or not. So, you know, I’m sure, artists can receive, you know, that feedback from somebody who has that experience, with a lot more

00:15:01 Kiera Brew Kurec
just be more receptive. Because it’s informed. In a way. Other, yeah. Yeah.

00:15:07 Nick Breedon
So, Talia, would you mind sharing with us some of, what have been some of the biggest challenges, that you’ve kind of faced in continuing, your career as both an artist and a, and a curator?

00:15:22 Talia Smith
Yeah. I mean, it’s definitely a challenging industry in general for anyone.

00:15:29 You know, it’s, a lot of, uh, work that is voluntary. You know, I’m very lucky to work in a job that I have a wage. You know, I get sick leave, all of those kinds of things. But it took a long time to get to that job. And I had a lot of jobs where I was taken for granted and, you know, working at all insane hours of the night, but not getting paid for it and all of those kinds of things. I think, Actually not giving up and persevering is, uh, really one of the biggest challenges that you have to face being in the industry because it’s so, uh, it’s hard and it’s seems very easy to give up. Like the idea of, I don’t wanna say give up in a negative way because I think it shouldn’t have to be like that. And by giving up, I just mean letting go. And I think, that’s definitely been one of the biggest, when I’ve just been at my lowest and my mental health isn’t great. My physical health isn’t great, and I’m being demanded from a job that pays me minimum wage to work, you know, till 2:00 AM And I just think, what’s the actual point? I, there are great things that I love, obviously about. This industry that we are in. And I love mentoring. Uh, I do a lot of it with, high school or university students as well as other artists, or curators. And I really love that part because although I think exhibition making is important, I do think that the mentoring side, or at least it’s, it’s just a bit more hands-on and I can see the actual result and I can see that I’m having a difference or, or changing something. And that’s really exciting to me, as well, uh, which makes the challenges sometimes a little bit easier. Mm-hmm. Maybe it’s a little bit carrot dangly though, right? That we have this just to keep us going, but we’ve gotta do what we’ve gotta do, I suppose. So I think the. The mental strength to persevere basically, is definitely one of the biggest challenges that I’ve had to face. I’m also extremely lucky that I am privileged, that I have parents where my father worked a job that, I even thought I could be in the arts, that I could even go to university, that I could move countries and be okay. I was extremely lucky that I had parents that, could do that and could afford to support me if all things, you know, went tits up. Then I, and I recognize that, and I always wanna be very open that that is the background that I have had. And I, I dunno what it would’ve been like if I didn’t have that. So a certain perseverance, uh, that I would’ve developed, I suppose, has also come from. That, but my parents, you know, they weren’t university educated and they both didn’t finish high school, so they also worked extremely hard from day one and then put in the hard work and became, the bosses in both of their industries that they were in. Uh, and so I guess I had a really insane work ethic because, from my parents and they were not hard on me like, you know, or anything like that. But I mean,

00:19:18 Kiera Brew Kurec
it’s what was modeled. Yeah.

00:19:20 Talia Smith
Yeah. It was really great. And even though I did go to uni and, you know, I have my master’s and stuff, they’ve never really made me feel like that I, I had to actually and I’m very, again, very privileged that I also, have had, have been able to have that. I guess it, a slight downside about, uh, my appearance is of course I’m mixed race, so, Despite having these privileges, and I am a lighter skin, brown person. I’m still a brown person at the end of the day. And so as we know, the arts is, it, you know, says a lot, it postures a lot about inclusivity, but only at certain levels. It’s really only about what their out their output is, which is exhibition making and the artists they work with. And it’s usually only a chosen selection. It’s like friends and I joke about, it’s like the good Browns, that’s what we call it, the good brown people. Yeah. That’s who they all, put in the shows and that’s who, you know, the ones that become on a pedestal for whatever reason, and then they’re in everything. And that’s not to say they don’t deserve that at all. That is not what I’m saying. It’s more that the institutions are lazy.

00:20:36 Kiera Brew Kurec

00:20:36 Talia Smith
And it just means that a lot of people don’t get the same opportunities or, uh, get to maybe have that kind of support that some of those artists, do get. And again, I’m not trying to say that those artists have to do that either, because we all have to play the game and we all have to try and survive and live in this pretty shaky industry that we’re in. But, you know, it’s, I faced a lot of structural racism, in just outright racism in my life. And, and I think, you know, could I have chosen a worse industry? I don’t know. Because I think what annoys me the most about the arts and what I said before was it’s, it’s very fake. And it, well, you know, not all of it is. And I know there are great people who work really hard and try to change these things, but. At the end of the day, the structures that were made were only made by a select few people. Whether it’s the police, whether it’s the government, whether it’s education systems, it was made, all created by a select few people. And so many people were left out of those conversations. So the structures that we’ve just accepted and lived in our whole lives, we had no real say in, and we just have to take it. And you know, it’s frustrating to at, I’m 37, turning 38 this year, and it’s frustrating sometimes to not feel valued and to not get senior opportunities. I can always get a freelance job fine enough, but if it’s a senior curatorial position that is not, uh, identified in terms of my ethnicity, it’s the hardest thing in the world to get, and I see it all the time when I’ve applied for roles. I get to the second round and then the feedback is, you’re just, you’re really great. Yep. And I’m like, okay, well what could I work on? Well, you’re doing it all. I’m like, yeah. Yep. And so, and it’s never really anything that I, well, it’s like, you need more institutional experience. Okay, well, give me a job then. Mm-hmm. And then they hire someone who is generally a, you know, lovely but pretty quiet white girl who’s not gonna rock the boat. I’m very open and strong about, and for what I wanna believe and what I stand up for. So I’m not going to just let an organization have bad behavior. If I work at it, I’m going to call it out. And not in a ridiculous like way, but I mean I’m going to hold them up to the things they say that they do. And I guess that that is, you know, very intimidating for a white director and they don’t want to be challenged. And why would they hire that basically? And you know, I don’t agree with that clearly, but, but I guess, yeah, I can sort of also understand the, an insane logic behind the thinking is they’re scared of giving power away. Or what they perceive to be power. Mm. A way to someone who has historically not had power because they don’t know what that looks like and they think it’s going to be that I would come in and I would be like, you can’t do that. You can’t do that. You are awful. You should pay reparations every day of your life. And like, that’s not what it’s gonna be. But I honest to God feel like that’s what

00:24:41 Nick Breedon
can it.

00:24:41 Talia Smith
They think it’s going to be,

00:24:42 Nick Breedon
can it? I mean, not your job, obviously, but Yeah. We should all be pushing to that quiet white girls included. So if you’re out there, get on it.

00:24:55 Talia Smith
We all know the jokes about the art administrators, right? That they’re all the

00:24:59 Kiera Brew Kurec
Oh Yeah

00:24:59 Talia Smith
the white girls who all have the same

00:25:01 Kiera Brew Kurec
Yeah. Yeah.

00:25:01 Talia Smith
and they have the same haircut and wear Alpha 60 Gorman, like all of those. Although some of them are getting a lot more fashion forward these days, but

00:25:09 Nick Breedon
Yeah, I think they keep the Alpha 60 ones in Melbourne only.

00:25:12 Talia Smith
No, there’s definitely, oh, there’s some here as well.

00:25:14 Nick Breedon
Yeah. Okay. I guess they are, there are stores here, so there has to be someone buying it.

00:25:18 Talia Smith
Yes, exactly. Yeah. And also to be fair, I have bought, I own quite a lot of Alpha 60

00:25:22 Nick Breedon
well, you know,

00:25:23 Talia Smith
but I’m subverting it ’cause I’m brown. I can say that. Yeah, I guess it’s like been, I get that, that’s why I kind of started with perseverance. ’cause it, it all leads into that as well. Like, I remember once having an interview and it was with say like the gallery director, another person from the gallery, I can’t remember what their role was. And then an HR person. And I remember when I walked into the room, like I can’t really describe. Yeah, like, it’s funny because, you know, structural racism is not someone wearing a k k K hood and fucking burning a cross in my front yard. That’s not what it is. It’s all insidious and quiet and it’s in the way it’s looks, it’s things they might say in a very, indirect way. So when I walked into this room, the mood just, uh, changed instantly and I could tell that they’d already written me off, like immediately that they weren’t going to hire me. And it was the worst feeling in the world, and I felt so, demoralized and just like, again, why do I even do this? Like, what’s the point? Because nothing is changing as fast as I want it to change. And I don’t even know if it’s going to change in my work lifetime. I don’t like enough. And you know, enough for me to be able to have a stable job that pays me. ’cause I do have to live.

00:26:59 Nick Breedon
Pay the bills. Yes,

00:27:00 Talia Smith
exactly. And you know, we live in the most expensive city in the world or one of them. And it’s not easy. And I remember after that interview, you know, I went through it, held my head up high, did all of that. And also because my name being Talia Smith, it’s very ethnically ambiguous. There is no, it’s not like I have a, an obvious Pacific Island name ’cause it’s not, it’s actually Greek and Hebrew randomly. Talia is so very different to my actual ethnic background. And then Smith is, you know, clearly the most blankest name in the world. Thanks dad. And, I think that some people, if they didn’t know me already were quite shocked when I would enter and be very like, wow. Talia and it’s like, you’ve done all of this stuff. Like, yeah, because I’m not a moron and I’m also not a teenager. Like I, unfortunately, or fortunately, ’cause I am nearing 40 people don’t think I’m my age either. So they don’t take me seriously for also age. And also the fact that I’m brown. It’s very irritating. But after that interview, I walked out and I burst into tears immediately in the hallway and called my Mum and was just like, I don’t, I don’t know what to do. Like, I actually don’t know. I try so hard and I make mistakes, of course I do. But I try my hardest to do everything, best practice and to do it within these structures and to try and change it and all of this stuff. And I just, I, yeah, I don’t get the, I don’t get it back. And I’m very thankful for a lot of people that have. Have given that back to me and that respect back to me. And that is really, means a lot. But, just to get to that senior level is a huge challenge for me at the moment. And, you know, I am nearing 40. I don’t want to be an assistant curator at 40. Like what? I’m not again. Okay. If you are an assistant curator and you’re 40, that’s fine. Just if you’re listening to that. Sorry. In my own career trajectory. Yeah. I don’t

00:29:13 Nick Breedon
You’re ready to, to move on. You’re ready to move up?

00:29:16 Talia Smith
Yes, I’m ready And I’ve got what I can, I can bring it all. You know, it’s been like nearly 15 years that I have been working in and out of organizations and freelancing and everything as a curator. So like, I just don’t understand when they say, wow, your lack of experience in institutions, I’m like, so that you learn an institution when you work in it. Like that’s the most laziest answer I’ve ever heard in my life. But yeah, it’s that perseverance. When you face things like racism or you know, just jerkiness from a lot of, I mean, females still don’t get paid the same. Transgender people don’t get respected or even can submit things with their chosen names. You know, there’s all of that. And I really like it. Really, it, I don’t know. Sometimes it leaves a very big burn in my chest ’cause I’m mad. But I’m also, I think that’s also what drives me because then I think, don’t underestimate me because when I do eventually take over and become, queen of the art world, you are all going down.

00:30:29 Nick Breedon
Yes. And, uh, yeah. Similarly, uh, yeah. Slide into the dms, right. Someone give Talia a job. Yeah. Senior curator,

00:30:43 Talia Smith
God of the world I would take as well. Yeah.

00:30:45 Nick Breedon
Yes, you are overlord.

00:30:48 Kiera Brew Kurec
That’s Cleo.

00:30:49 Talia Smith
Oh yeah. True. Actually, that is Cleo

00:30:53 Nick Breedon
you know, you’re obviously a very busy person. Got a lot on your plate, a lot of, shows and a lot of, uh, work to do always. What does a successful practice look like or feel like to you?

00:31:10 Talia Smith
Hmm. That’s a tricky question because, uh, I don’t wanna sound like I’m a crazy person. But I think, you know, for a long time, I dunno. Look, I’m getting all sage and and wise in my old age, but I am definitely reflecting a lot on my career and my life. And for a long time I thought being busy meant I was wanted and that I couldn’t say, I mean, everyone feels this, that you couldn’t say no to an opportunity because what if it never came again? Or I couldn’t like, not go to that opening. I, I couldn’t not write that piece or, you know, et cetera, et cetera. And the older I’ve gotten, I’ve realized, you know, I still do a lot of stuff, but I am a lot more choosy on what I actually take on now. And I don’t always say yes to everything, which has been a new thing. Uh, and obviously helped me a lot, but, I think success. You know, I also, that’s a complicated word, but it’s like how I wanna compare it to, I said this once to a therapist and they told me it was the saddest thing they’d ever heard, but I told it to another therapist.

00:32:32 Nick Breedon

00:32:33 Talia Smith
I didn’t see this, this therapist after that.

00:32:35 Nick Breedon
But I, I saw in that’s a bold claim to say the saddest thing that a therapist has ever heard.

00:32:42 Kiera Brew Kurec
Did they just graduate?

00:32:44 Talia Smith
Yes, I know. Look, she, but I had said that, I was never aiming to be happy. And she was like, what do you mean? And I said that happiness is a fleeting emotion, like anger and sadness and that I’m actually aiming to be content and that is something that is actually achievable. And I think we should stop pushing this idea of happiness. Everyone should be happy because that’s actually not ever achievable. It should be being content with your life. And I bring this up because it’s kind of how I feel about success. It’s not necessarily about the awards or the praise, and obviously that is part of it. We have to be honest. That is part of it. We do like being liked and people enjoying what we do. Of course we do. But what I’m trying to aim for, I suppose, is that kind of contentness in that I feel really solid about what I’m putting out and that I’m also bringing others with me at the same time, and that it’s not just because of a succession plan, but because I think if anything’s going to change, it’s obviously gonna have to come down to the individual because the overall structures and organizations aren’t necessarily interested in that, or they say they are, but they’re not gonna follow through. So it unfortunately has to be put down on the individuals a lot. And I’ve had a lot of privileges in my life and a lot of really great support. And so if I can give that back to people as well, then that’s the success for me. Even though, you know, I’m doing primavera at the MCA, that is an incredible thing and I’m very proud and I don’t wanna take that away. But that’s not necessarily my, measure of success. It’s more the relationships that I’m building and the kind of legacy or what I’m trying to give others and what I’m trying to help others feel that they can be in the arts and that this can be a place for them. That’s kind of, yeah. Sorry, I think I’m getting on my soapbox a bit.

00:34:56 Nick Breedon
No, oh my God. As, as, as the, the friends we made along the way.

00:35:00 Talia Smith
I wish I’d said that.

00:35:02 Nick Breedon
I think you just did. That is, that is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. And I want to, hire your old therapist so I can fire them again.

00:35:15 Talia Smith
So you don’t think it’s the saddest thing you’ve ever heard?

00:35:17 Kiera Brew Kurec
No. No. I think it also sounds like a more sustainable, like you know, that’s a long term, long game of having an arts practice, but also living like Yeah. We can’t be jumping from highs to lows all the time. No. It, it’s exhausting. And there’s a lot of highs and lows in the art world. Like, we’re kind of always, you know, swinging from one thing to another post-show blues is a real, real thing. And to just like build more sustainable, long-term being content with what is the day-to-day practice rather than just waiting for the big, shiny, fun things.

00:35:56 Talia Smith

00:35:56 Nick Breedon
Well, when we base, when we base our cultural, you know, output as a society, when we base that on excellence, we’re only gonna have more of this, more of the same. That everything should always be better than the last bigger shows, more attendance, you know, prizes, you know, all of this is, is based on this idea of excellence where I feel like you are kind of advocating more for a cultural output, which is actually just all of us sharing and creating, what we know and exploring you know, our experiences as, as a, as a collective. Now who’s on the soapbox?

00:36:39 Talia Smith
Yeah, I know.

00:36:40 Nick Breedon
But that’s definitely more sustainable and that Yeah. And that, and that’s where the contentedness can come in. Mm-hmm. Because we, you know, we, we can, we don’t have to excel, we just have to share.

00:36:53 Talia Smith
Yes, definitely. And also it’s, it’s insane to have, a model for what is excellence and what is success, because everybody’s goalposts are different and they’re constantly moving. Mm-hmm. All the time. And I just think it’s insane. You know, this little like Hunger Games type like vibe.

00:37:16 Nick Breedon
George Brandis

00:37:17 Kiera Brew Kurec

00:37:21 Talia Smith
oh my God. That sort of Hunger games vibe that we’re in is just insanity. Like, I do understand and I, I, you know, I I’ve entered prizes et cetera. I’m not saying don’t enter them, but it’s just, don’t base your worth around that because you’re just setting yourself up to fail. And I’ve really learned that a lot over my career. ’cause I did, I based my worth on other people and, you know, what they thought or if I was successful in something, like, as in getting something, then I did base it on that and I’ve just gotten older and been like, at the end of the day, if it doesn’t make me feel good inside, then why do I do it? Mm yeah.

00:38:05 There’s just not, no, there’s no time anymore. Why? It’s pointless.

00:38:09 Nick Breedon
And, and, yeah, it’s a good question to think about, like, who’s the, who benefits from working in that way. . Is it, is it the artists? I don’t think so.

00:38:20 Talia Smith
No. Definitely not. It’s the organization.

00:38:23 Kiera Brew Kurec
Talia, would you be able to give us a run through of what your practice looks like, like a day in the life of Talia, or a week or a month or a year, whatever feels like a accurate portrayal of what your actual practice looks like?

00:38:43 Talia Smith
Sleeping in? Yes. Uh, I’m a big, a big advocate for, naps and sleeping in. I love sleep so much. So I just wanted to put that out there right now that that’s, uh, what I’m, what is my main practice is, sleeping. I do sort also tell a side story about. Just to show the kind of person that I am, that, one time I dreamed a, a concept for an exhibition and a list of artists and I woke up and wrote it down and then I made that show in real life,

00:39:19 Kiera Brew Kurec
great. I’ve done that too. I’ve had dreams and then it’s come to life. It’s amazing dream.

00:39:25 Talia Smith
That’s how good sleep is, right? Well,

00:39:27 Nick Breedon
which one

00:39:28 Talia Smith
you’ll never know.

00:39:29 Nick Breedon
Oh, secrets.

00:39:31 Talia Smith
I know. But also I’m like, which one was it? But yeah, like I think having time alone into myself has become really important as well. And I’ve been doing a lot of that, that kind of, care for lack of a better word for myself, in that kind of regard. So I think, you know, I go to work, I do work five days a week, so my week is revolving a lot around that nine to five kind of, Job, but involved in that job can be anything from, uh, answering emails and phone calls, sitting out and invigilating the gallery space when, one of the other staff is having their lunch break. So interacting with people that come into the gallery. If anything needs to be cleaned or fixed in the gallery space, you know, like going through those proper, protocols and channels that we have, if there’s something that’s, you know, broken or whatever. It can also be going on studio visits and meeting with artists for a future show and having coffees and talking about how they might want to be in the show or be involved in some kind of way. We do commission, a lot at Granville, uh, where I work. So, that’s why a lot of studio visits and, and, chats in that kind of way because obviously they’re making the work over the time. But, yeah, it can be that kind of stuff. It can also be dealing with, counselors ’cause I work for local government, uh, or other staff from different units in council. Tons of pre-planning and programming and strategizing, applying for funding, doing the social media and marketing and comms. What else don’t I do? No, uh, but yeah, it’s, it’s, it can be very, very varied. I think it’s really nice when we get a show open ’cause you just get a tiny breather because it’s open before you gotta focus on the next one. And the public programs we’re doing, like, we have some great ones at the Mument. So we’ve been working on those, to get them happening, which has been, you know, it’s exhausting. We have a very tiny team and I really admire my, and respect my team a lot because we do produce a lot for only about two people. Yeah. You know, so mad respect to my, amazing colleagues as well. Uh, and their visioning too. So that’s kind of the day job stuff. And then sometimes I socialize in the evenings or sometimes I just go home and, play my Nintendo switch on the couch. Uh, and my, I call it Winnie the Poo, which is I take off ’cause I don’t wear pants, but I take off my skirt and I just walk around with, a long t-shirt on and no pants.

00:42:34 Nick Breedon
Mm. Mm-hmm. Amazing.

00:42:35 Talia Smith
Mm. It’s the most, I would just recommend that for everybody. It is so comfortable. Winning the on the couch.

00:42:42 Kiera Brew Kurec
I am also a fan of like a long sleeve t-shirt. In your undies.

00:42:47 Talia Smith
Yeah, there’s something freeing about, I don’t know, letting it all out, hanging out. So, and then other times, I guess if I have a deadline for something, then I’d be working on that probably during, like, after work, whether that’s, uh, a show or a piece of writing or, a freelance curatorial thing. But luckily, because my practice is video and photo photographic, I can do that at home a lot. You know, I have a second bedroom that is my studio, but I don’t have to be, in a tool room and using insane equipment like sometimes during install. Sure. But not really in making of the work. I’m very much doing still life at the moment, and I just do that in my second bedroom, and then work on it digitally or paint on them. But again, I can do that in my room. So, That’s, yeah. Very lucky that I have a practice like that. I, I dunno how people do manage it when they have an object based or sculptural practice.

00:43:56 Nick Breedon
I’m very sore.

00:43:59 Talia Smith
Oh, I did get tennis elbow, by the way though.

00:44:01 Nick Breedon
Oh, yeah. Yeah. Brutal. Yeah.

00:44:04 Talia Smith
Yeah. And I think my weekends, I don’t know, like I make it sound like I’m a koala, I think. But I, I do think I am kind of a koala. I love home and sleeping and, I’m cute. Obviously I don’t have any diseases. Just future partners. It’s fine. I don’t, I can show you the clean bill of health, but, I just think

00:44:29 Nick Breedon
you have a cat though. That’s, that’s the whole, I would stay at home all the time.

00:44:33 Talia Smith
I know that is true. I do have a cat and she is gloriously grumpy all the time.

00:44:38 Nick Breedon
And a celebrity.

00:44:39 Talia Smith
And a celebrity. She is little, uh, Sydney celeb but I think. I just try to, I guess like part of my practice is the conversations I have with people and those really nice times that you can have, whether it’s, you know, both Winnie the pooing out and eating pizza and watching a movie together, or it’s looking at each other’s work and having a really in depth convo about it and being open about that. And I think, that I like to try and balance that as well in my week along with being in Koala and having some rest because I can’t make anything if I’m exhausted, I just, I can’t do it anymore. So yeah, I guess that would look like a day in the life or a week in the life.

00:45:30 Nick Breedon
Talia, would you share with us some of the, resources that, have, uh, assisted your practice, throughout your career?

00:45:39 Talia Smith
Yeah. Definitely a lot of really great relationships that I have had. I really thank a lot of my lecturers at Unitech when I went and did my second undergrad. They were really phenomenal in helping me see what I just couldn’t see in my practice. And also just letting me, or helping me get to a point of actually valuing what I was making. I really was just thought I was just putting things out and wasn’t feeling that great about it, but I wasn’t letting myself connect, I think a lot and they really opened my eyes to that. I mean, I had incredible lectures and I always thank them and they’ve been really great supports in my career since I’ve left. Even I still get support letters from them sometimes. I catch up with them when I can, when I’m back home, so, A big shout out to Marie Shannon, Edith Arm Ivantage and Alan McDonald specifically, for how great they were at, I guess, like helping this scared artist think they could actually make work. So I think that’s been the greatest resource, especially early on. And then, you know, obviously it’s hard being a person of colour, but it’s also kind of awesome. You have great communities, you have great, you know, people in arms that are going through similar things or, or at least to kind of understand, what it can be like. And so that kind of support system is really incredible. And I think, you know, I can only speak for Auckland and Sydney, but it has been really valuable for me to connect with that. And you know, even though we joke about, you know, obviously we have a thousand jokes about diversity, inclusion and all of those things, and tokenizing, and we probably call each other that all the time. But it’s just nice to be in that kind of space where you don’t have to put on an act. That’s how I feel. They just kind of get it and you’re like, yeah, isn’t it fucked up? And you both go like, yep, anyway, I’ve gotta go to work. Like, it’s just really nice to, to have that. So those kind of communities have been really important. And also like my family, you know, whether or not. They agree to, they’re always in my work. Like I just forced it upon them a lot of the time. Uh, you know, especially my Mum. And, I have so much love and respect, and admiration for my parents and, you know, the, just, we all have our issues and our traumas and, you know, they’ve got their own. And I think the, I guess the life that my brother and I had growing up, we were really, really lucky. And so I’m always grateful for, for that. And they’re the biggest resource for me to feel calm and or not calm. And loved. And to also just like, I had a really bad, time at the end of last year with my mental health. Which I have, you know, for very many years, have been, I don’t wanna say battling ’cause it’s not, I hate using that word, but dealing with anyway. And it hit a bad low at the end of last year. And so I went home over the Christmas break for three weeks and my Mum said, come home and just lie on the couch and I will feed you. Your dad will do your laundry. And there you go. This is what you need. You just need time. And so I just always know I have that and I really did. I literally reverted back to being a teenager and it was the best thing I’ve ever done. And I miss those times for that. But there have been an amazing resource for that kind of nourishment of just like needing to reset and also keeping it real with me a lot of the time. You know, my Mum, had experienced, obviously over her life. She’s much darker than me, a lot of racism, and particularly in the work that she did. She was a social worker, for a very long time. And she lived in Warrnambool in Country Victoria, where she faced a lot of racism, as you can imagine. Yes, so she’s definitely like always there to ground me when I’m getting a bit too, I guess, upset or, or kind of blowing things outta proportional or getting too hurt, you know, like taking something so personally, all the time. And so Mums just in her experiences, has been able to do like to sort of ground me a lot, which has been really, really useful. I think in hearing about her own experiences too, is always, you know, a really, really good idea. And then of course, friends, you know, friends are always good. Again, it’s that kind of same community of. Artists, curators, writers, or not even actually, sometimes a lot of them don’t work in the arts. And I like also not just having friends that are all in the arts, I like to also have other opinions, you know? And again, this idea of keeping it real, what I mean is we can get a little bit caught up in our own, uh, bubble ness, and think, you know, we’re changing the world, et cetera. And then, you know, certain things may happen in countries we are from or where our ancestors are, and you just think oof, lordy, we just need to have a little bit of a reality check there. So it’s quite nice to, have a, a range of, uh, friends in my friend group for that kind of reason. And I think also I would add in a lot of the mentees that I’ve had, Over my life. I was a mentee in a Pacific, program at my university, and then I became a mentor through that program. And have mentored a lot of high school students and uni students and other like peers. And I think I’ve learned so much from them just as much. I think mentoring, even though I do hate that word, but mentoring is a reciprocal relationship. And if it isn’t, then it’s not mentoring.

00:52:29 Kiera Brew Kurec

00:52:30 Talia Smith
Like it’s ridiculous that people call themselves that, but they only wanna hear their own voice. It’s mm-hmm. I don’t agree with that. So I’ve learned so much from, all of the people that I’ve been really privileged to work with and get to know and, you know, I can shit on teenagers a lot. But, when I’ve worked with them through either through public programs or in these mentoring programs, like I. It’s been, I don’t know, we disregard a lot of what teenagers say, but because they’re just less jaded than we are, their insights into art can be far more interesting and far more valuable than anything that we say, to be honest. And I think we need to appreciate that a lot more, and have a bit more space for that rather than just writing off what they’re gonna say. And you know, I know I don’t expect all of those students to go into the arts either. That’s not what I’m expecting when I do that. But if I can just make them feel really good about themselves and think that they are valuable in this little time that I have with them, then that is the best thing. Because they make me feel that. So I hope that they feel that as well. And if I’d had that when I was at high school, I think if all of us had had that when we were at high school especially, ’cause it’s a terrible time of our lives, then I think we’d all be better people, uh, to be honest. So, you know, and also just sometimes, at least when I was growing up, I had people, they would look at me and be like, okay, well you’re not gonna amount to anything because of what I looked like. So if I can tell them that that’s not true, it doesn’t mean you have to go to Uni, become a doctor. That’s not what I’m saying. But to find that level of success or contentment for them, would be amazing. I’m getting on my soapbox again.

00:54:30 Kiera Brew Kurec
No, it actually leads perfectly into our final question. Which is, if you could go back in time and give your younger self some advice, what advice would that be?

00:54:40 Talia Smith
Oh, that would be, gosh, it’s so much advice that I’d wanna give Baby Talia but, I think really, so I guess I, I bring this story up a lot in terms of these kind of reflective questions. So my, at my 21st birthday, uh, my grandfather, my Samoan grandfather, he did a speech and historically in other cousins, 21st’s , he would say something that was very, usually pointed about weight or being unhealthy. He was an overweight man, so a funny hypocritical man. But he would often say stuff like that, or like, at my brother’s, 21st, he’s older than me. He had said like, watch out for women. They’ll get pregnant and make you marry them. All kinds of things like that, you know, look, He’s an old, he was an old arrogant Samoan man of a certain time. Uh, so I suppose it wasn’t surprising that he would say these kinds of things, but it meant that when it was my 21st and he was gonna do a speech, I was really worried. I was just like, oh God, what’s he gonna say? Like he’s going to, oh my God. And so he gets up and I can’t remember any of the rest of the speech that he said, to be honest. But at the end of it, he said, and just remember Talia, that all that glitters is not gold. And I remember I looked at him being like, well, that’s just some old man nonsense at the time. And then that year, unfortunately, like a few months, oh, sorry, the next year he passed away and that I was the last 21st out of all of the cousins that he was able to attend. And I kind of like thought about that for a really long time. I just kept being thinking, I mean, I know what the. Saying means, but I just wondered what he meant. You know, and I’ll never know his true intention of saying that, but I’ve actually written a piece about this, but I really like what I’ve taken from it. And at least my interpretation is that I spent a lot of my teen and twenties years, trying to look for validation from those that didn’t deserve my me, basically. Whether that was relationships or friends or, you know, in particular for me, it was that I had this idea that when I moved to Auckland, I would finally become a Pacific Islander. Like it’s insane to even think that, like what does that even mean? But, you know, I’m frigging 18 so I don’t understand anything, and I moved to Auckland, uh, and. Yeah, I, I really thought, okay, well I’m going to, people are gonna know that I’m a Pacific Islander now, and how good is this? Like finally I found my people. And so I really wanted that from a lot of Senior Pacific artists that I knew, or in that, mentor group that I was a part of, which was all for Pacific students. Uh, I wanted that. I wanted them to accept me. And it doesn’t have, you know, that’s unfortunately an unattainable thing and people are who they are and I can’t control that. And I was still on the outside and, you know, I was just, people always shrug off like, oh, you know, people that are mixed race like, Kind of like not get over it, but I mean, oh, it’s such an old conversation now. Like haven’t we moved on? No, because it’s still happening and there’s so many more of us that are mixed race now, so it’s still a thing. And I was never white enough and I was never brown enough. And I tried so hard to be accepted by either. And I remember once a person in the group, that mentoring group that I was in, I had thought, yeah, I found my people right? Like I feel like they actually really like me and this is great. Like I’ve been accepted. And then we were having drinks or something and I said some kind of remark, I can’t remember what, but she looked at me and she said, yeah, but we all know you’re a Plastik , plastik islander, Talia. And that’s a in insult obviously, that we say of that you’re fake, that you’re a fake islander. And I remember just sitting there thinking like, This is who I was trying to get all of this validation from, and for them to somehow tick this box inside of me that says, you are a Pacific Islander, I was like, what a waste of my time. Like that’s just hurtful and it’s not funny. And why do I want the validation from these people that it is mean. Why? And so that’s what I thought my granddad was trying to tell me all of that time. Like I was probably about 27 at this point when I realized, and he’d said it at my 21st. Like that’s how I, how I interpreted this kind of all that glitters is not gold because I already had the people, it was my family and my friends. It was my friends who are all different, you know, they’re white or they’re mixed race themselves or whatever. It’s those people that accepted me for who I am that mattered. And so I think if I just could’ve had that lesson a lot earlier, I think it would have, saved me a lot of heartache or, uh, doubting myself. I doubted myself for a really long time, and I’m not saying I don’t still doubt myself sometimes, but you know, I, it led to me down a lot of really bad, unhealthy mental health paths. A lot of that thinking. And so if I could have had that knowledge or my granddad say that and me interpret that way, when I was younger, then yeah, I think that was, was what I would do or what I would say out of everything.

01:00:50 Kiera Brew Kurec
Thank you so much for sharing that.

01:00:54 Talia Smith
Also, it just would be hilarious to, Go back to my granddad and say, what did you mean? And he says something that’s not that at all. And I’d be like, okay, well lucky I didn’t ask you at that time.

01:01:05 Nick Breedon
I was like, I don’t know. It sounds cool. Yeah.

01:01:07 Talia Smith
He’s just like, oh, it’s just that you liked fancy things.

01:01:09 Nick Breedon
Yeah. I mean, haven’t we just described how art works really? Yeah. It doesn’t really matter what the artist intended. It’s how you interpreted it.

01:01:18 Talia Smith
Yes, that is true.

01:01:19 Nick Breedon
It was the friends we made along the way.

01:01:21 Talia Smith
Yeah. It really was, maybe you should title this. It was the Friends we Made along the Way.

01:01:26 Kiera Brew Kurec
I think this is a lovely place to leave it. Thank you so much, Talia, for coming in the studio today for sharing your story and, being part of Pro Prac.

01:01:35 Talia Smith
Thank you for having me.

01:01:37 Nick Breedon
Thanks, Talia. This episode was recorded on the Sovereign lands of the Eora Nation. We pay our respects to the traditional custodians, the Gadigal and Bidjigal people, and pay respects to elders past, present, and emerging. We extend this acknowledgement to the traditional custodians of the lands and waters that this podcast reaches you on today. Our intro music is created by Evelyn Ida Morris.

01:02:03 Kiera Brew Kurec
This season Pro was generously supported by the Australia Council for the Arts New Project Grant.

01:02:11 Nick Breedon
hanks for listening to Pro Prac. You can listen to other episodes and subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. You can stay up to date with what we’re up to on Instagram @propracpodcast or send us an email at