Preparing an application for the world’s largest annual outdoor sculpture exhibition is a class assignment that really does prepare you for your career. For UNSW Art & Design student Sivaan Walker this assignment has turned into reality, with her work selected for the next Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi exhibition.
The final year student will not only emerge into her career with this great accolade under her belt but she is also one of two artists to be awarded $15,000 as part of the Clitheroe Foundation Emerging Sculptor Mentor Program.
Established in 2006, the program supports selected artists to bring their exhibition entry to life, while facilitating the exchange of professional and skills development between emerging sculptors and established practitioners.
Sivaan has chosen UNSW Art & Design Scientia Education Fellow Associate Professor Emma Robertson as her mentor for the 12-month program. Sivaan first met A/Prof. Robertson as one of her teachers and was inspired by her openness to trying new things and an appreciation for learning from practices different to her own.
“I’m hoping to get out of [the mentorship] more of an emphasis on playing, experimenting and looking at different material applications,” says Sivaan. She feels supported by A/Prof. Robertson “to get a maturity in art making and how to talk about art, recognising it as a career rather than as a student.”
Sivaan has just finished her study of the Bachelor of Fine Arts/Arts double degree. A/Prof. Robertson believes that “it’s an important time as she’s just about to graduate. It creates a bridge between her studies and what comes next. I felt honoured that Sivaan selected me as the mentor,” she says.
Live brief to real life
The pair met during the course The Public Domain, a key part of Sivaan’s degree that changed her mindset toward being a professional artist. To prepare for careers in the Visual Arts industry, students document, plan and propose an artwork for a public art opportunity.
A/Prof. Robertson didn’t want students to work with imaginary briefs. The students had to write real applications and be as professional as possible in how they pitched their ideas. This approach resulted in public art opportunities for several of the students, including Sivaan, with two other students accepted into the HIDDEN, Rookwood Cemetery Sculpture Exhibition and Awards.
“It wasn’t just an assessment ‘make an artwork’. There does come a time when you need to learn how to put an application together, what is it, why are you making it, what are the materials, what’s the size. That’s sometimes more important than your experiments and playfulness,” Sivaan says, reflecting on the course.
Small goals build up to big achievements
As a first-year student Sivaan visited an artist talk during Sculpture by the Sea, not thinking that she could exhibit her future work in the internationally renowned event.
Held at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sivaan thought “I really want to be in [Sculpture by the Sea] one day, I bought tickets to it and chatted to artists afterwards. I felt like an imposter. I didn’t know anything about art. It’s funny that five years later that I actually can do it.”
This ambition that she set for herself at the beginning of her degree, although she admits it wasn’t always front of mind along the way, was worked towards through smaller achievements.
In 2019, Sivaan exhibited the solo show ‘Being Nothing’ (pictured above) at AD Space, a student-run exhibition space at UNSW Art & Design. Through a series of 3D printed abandoned houses, modelled on various locations in Sydney, the forms ruptured out of piles of dust as metaphors for the instability in political progressiveness and human presence.
As an extension from this work, Sivaan developed her entry to Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi and through the support of the grant she will be able to explore and expand on these concepts in new material, scale and context.
Become more strategic in your professional development
A/Prof. Robertson encourages students to consider opportunities for mentorships in informal ways outside of structured programs.
These connections don’t have to be big commitments. Opportunities can include asking to spend a day shadowing someone in their workplace to see how they conduct their job, or even a smaller commitment like asking someone if you can interview them.
Through the Clitheroe program Sivaan has already visited the studios of Dr Kath Fries and Caroline Rothwell. Sivaan prepared by researching their artistic practices in advance and arranging key questions to ask them about their successful careers.
“A one-to-one interview where you can even send them questions in advance, it doesn’t just educate you about that individual’s work practice, it also puts you on their radar for future networking,” says A/Prof. Robertson.
It’s also important to look closer to campus, as the people that you are studying with now will become your network in the future. “I think that at the time students are studying they don’t realise that those friendships and relationships that are forged with their peers then evolve and grow when they leave and they can become more formal types of networks and contacts.”
A/Prof. Robertson says that even decades since she graduated from The Glasgow School of Art, as an alumnus she keeps in contact with her peers and the institution. This includes visiting to see student shows and sharing with her current colleagues what’s happening at the school.
Advice to future students
Sivaan’s advice to other students thinking about entering a large exhibition is to ‘just do it’ because you can only get better at applications the more you do it.
“It might take a couple of goes, but you’ll see what doesn’t work and then might breakthrough and get something that does work and it could be really big.”