Dr Lee-Anne Hall in Ancher House, Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest. Photo: Daily Telegraph.
In the final days of the City of Plenty installation, students Kathleen Sta Ana and Brooke Vincent had an opportunity to talk to Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest Director, Dr Lee-Anne Hall to discuss her ideas and perspective as the curator of this initiative.
Hall said she was “very, very pleased and very excited” to finally bring an idea to life after two years since the idea was first aired. Hall also noted that Penrith Regional Gallery has a history of putting on exhibitions that focus on “social intent” and “seek to engage the community and issues or ideas,” and the City of Plenty project was part of that natural development of ideas in the rich thirty-five years of history of the gallery.
“Over two years ago, Sarah Goffman did an exhibit for us… called Plastici.” Hall recalled. “Sarah is very well known for working with waste. [She] creates beautiful things and her work demands you look at the waste or rubbish in a totally different way.”
“I observed [Goffman] creating [Plastici] in Lewers House … it was very serendipitous in the way it came together. I approached her with [the idea for City of Plenty]. While Goffman expressed interest at that time, Hall recalled that the idea kept “burbling away” as both parties waited for the right time to begin the exhibition. An opportunity presented itself in a one month gap in the 2015 program which then became home to the City of Plenty. This timeframe also coincided with Lent, “a period of people already thinking about of what they have and where they might give, and being very aware of themselves as individuals that live within a broader community, a community of riches, and also needs and what our part as individuals is in that.” As Hall said, “Like all good things, sometimes fate plays the better hand and … that’s the case with [City of Plenty].”
Hall’s personal interests and scholarship in art have revolved around “political issues and political art, indigenous art and the politics around that” and admits that she is “really fortunate as [City of Plenty] was an idea that I got to run with.”
“I made a call that this could be really good for [Penrith Regional Gallery], where it might have a great flow on effects and benefits for those in direct need. It will bring the community together and engage people purposely inside the exhibition spaces … It’s a portal or a pathway in understanding an array of things around us as our humanity.”
One of the key features of this project has been Hall’s decision to engage a range of partners in this collaborative community project. “We brought many different partners together; from the larger donors to people out in the cafe that might bring cans. Partners like the Penrith Press, who are interested in promoting what we are doing, … to the schools such as Caroline Chisholm College and St Dominic’s College.” Hall explained, continuing to reiterate the importance of these partnerships. “[We’re] building relationships, building co-response, it’s building a future in terms of loyalty and engagement for [Penrith Regional Gallery], but also in the marketplace of ideas.
“Partnerships have been really important, bringing the community together … It all impacts upon the relations [we] have”
Hall talked further about the ideas about food that are at the heart of the City of Plenty project.
“[City of Plenty is] about food, it’s about food security, it’s about need, it’s about wealth, it’s about waste, it’s about greed. [Goffman] has built a city with satellites and vignettes. Small stories have appeared in the build” Hall observed that Goffman is telling us many stories about the role of food in our communities, personal stories about food in her quirky self portraits as well as stories about cultural diversity or the ways that we desire or consume food and its potential effect on us as a society. Hall observed that Goffman’s “works are asking you to look differently and around issues of great concern. We are coming to the world’s end resources… [and the work asks us ] what are we going to do about it?”
On reflecting on the progress of the installation over the past month, Hall states that she is “greedy for it to be bigger.”
“Whatever happens will always be a commentary of the generosity of our community or the commentary of the lack of generosity or lack of giving … what that says about us as people – the idea of ‘Am I not my brother’s keeper?’ It’s saying both. We really had to pursue donations and it’s taught us a lot about running a gallery. It’s about convincing others of the worth, convincing other people how their participation will make a difference … Really make a difference.”
Though the City of Plenty is coming to an end, Hall says that “[City of Plenty] has encouraged me about what’s going on … We’ve had our eyes open to partnerships like Penrith Community Kitchen, Cana Farm, Mulgoa Farm, Food Bank and OzHarvest … It’s allowed us to think about how [Penrith Regional Gallery] might work with schools, not just about ‘Come and see our new exhibition.’ It’s about how students and teachers get the opinion to shape what we are doing and the nature of it … about how they tell the story back into the community. It’s not just about an art project, but a project of giving”.
Curator Lee-Anne Hall ended the interview by thanking the many partners involved with the City of Plenty project and the two schools that organised and ran the blog; Caroline Chisholm College and St Dominic’s. She extended the thanks to all those who contributed to the installation with their donations of non-perishable food items or household goods and to those who visit the installation as it has grown in the main gallery space.