A curatorial note by Elizaveta Maltseva, from Return Flight MEL>HKG. Read our review of Return Flight MEL, here.
Return Flight MEL>HKG
Where to start the end? Return Flight MEL>HKG is the third and final chapter of this international cross-disciplinary exchange, exhibition and publication. I was inspired to attempt something like this project back in 2016 when I was living in Edinburgh and fully immersed in the local visual arts scene. It was around then, when I was practicing and collaborating more than ever before, that I discovered the gorgeous Melbourne-based literary journal Going Down Swinging. In turn, I connected with the Edinburgh literary circles and the framework of Return Flight was formed: a project that would commission new artwork and responsive creative writing in two cities. Upon returning to Melbourne in 2017, I teamed up with the literary powerhouse that is Going Down Swinging. Together, we applied for funding to the City of Melbourne and Creative Scotland and the first chapter was born.
It’s quite remarkable that we have managed to stay so close to the original project parameters throughout the three years of the project. In Return Flight, the artists are commissioned to create a brand new work in response to the year’s curatorial theme. Each artwork is then digitally sent to a writer in the opposite location for a blind creative writing response. In this case, ‘blind’ refers to the fact that the writer is not presented with any context or information about the artwork, such as the title or the artist’s name. This encourages the writer to trust their gut response to the artwork and consider the partnering city. Once all of the written pieces are submitted and edited by our generous editorial team, it is my absolute pleasure to introduce each artist and writer pair to each other. We share a Skype call and learn about each other’s piece and greater practice. This series of remarkably inspirational conversations can be found in the later pages of this book.
Three years ago, Return Flight MEL>EDI explored a broad curatorial theme of ‘place’ with the aid of artists and writers in Melbourne and Edinburgh. Our Melbourne exhibition was hosted by the iconic Federation Square in their Atrium space. Meanwhile, the Edinburgh exhibition was hosted by the cornerstone artist-run space and collective, The Number Shop. The first iteration of the project really challenged me and my team, not only creatively but logistically. Working with twenty creatives in opposite time zones was one obvious challenge that we only really got a handle on towards the end, while the difference between our two gallery partners was a consideration right from the start.
By the time we began to work on our second chapter in 2018, a lot of the logistics were ironed out and we allowed ourselves to be truly ambitious with the curatorial lineup and theme. Again, we commissioned twenty artists and writers, this time from Melbourne and New Zealand. Return Flight MEL>CHC explored another broad yet loaded theme of ‘home’. Initially, I selected Christchurch to host this collaboration due to the city’s recent earthquake devastation and recovery, which saw countless left without their homes. However, as I explored ‘home’ further, it became more important to include First Nations voices and I was thrilled to work with incredible contributors from across the Tasman Sea. The project was so warmly presented by two pioneering artist-run spaces, BLINDSIDE gallery in Melbourne and XCHC in Christchurch.
‘Home’ led us to explore a sense of echoing displacement before arriving at 2019’s theme, ‘away’. This year, I have been privileged to work with artists and writers from Melbourne and Hong Kong. As in our first exchange, we teamed up with another international partner, artist-run space and collective, Floating Projects. Floating Projects have recently moved into a reclaimed arts building and organisation, similar to Melbourne’s Nicholas Building. I have always been inspired by these responsive arts sites that pop up between the cracks in cities and occasionally thrive where nothing else would succeed. When selecting our Melbourne gallery partner, I couldn’t think of a more complementary creative space than the infamous The Blender Studios.
This year, with the aid of Going Down Swinging, our project partner of the three years, our two incredible gallery partners and another twenty fantastically talented contributors, we have picked away at this year’s curatorial theme. ‘Away’ has been something about journey, but also something about being still. It has been about the people we were and might become. It has been about that thing we do online when we’re not really here or there. Away and present at the same time, this year’s commissioned artworks and writings have been gentle doodles and firm strokes that explore and articulate what it means to be human at this time and place.