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St Paul Street Gallery Hits the Brakes

Front: Yonel Watene, permanent sculpture, the Detroit series third and final instalment (in order: D is 4 Detroit, 8 Mile and Zug Island and Fighting Island), 2015–18. Back: Ruth Ige, Parallel worlds and the mundane, 2019. In Two Oceans at Once, St Paul St Gallery, AUT, February 15 - May 17. Photo: Sam Hartnett.

AUT’s ST PAUL St Gallery has chosen to slow its exhibition programming in an attempt to prevent burnout and better syncronise with the university semesters.

The gallery will only curate two exhibitions this year, down from eight last year.

Gallery Director and Curator, Charlotte Huddleston, who has worked in art galleries since 2001, says this decision was a deliberate response to witnessing burnout in the art scene. She says it is easy to overwork on exciting projects and when working on a tight budget curators often end up doing extra labour. “I might be here on a weekend painting the walls because we can’t afford someone else to do it. That gets a bit ridiculous after a few times.

“Everyone is busy, no one has enough money, but we are all still doing the same thing.”

While trying to prevent overworking was the primary reason for the decision to slow programming, Huddleston sees it as an opportunity to take a fresh approach to curation.

“I’ve been exhibition making for a long time, so it became about refreshing things. We’ve got a space, we’ve got time, how can we do something a bit more interesting?”

Huddleston’s answer to this question was to take exhibitions ‘deeper and not broader’, including giving artists in each show the ability to have more time in the gallery.

Kahurangiariki Smith, a gallery technician at ST PAUL St, says longer shows give viewers more opportunity to engage and find new meanings in the work.

“Having more time allows you to dip in and out of the gallery like you would with a book. The interpretations or the experience of a work change over that time. With a longer exposure to pieces you can process it and let it brew.”

The current work on display in the gallery is called Two Oceans at Once, which the gallery website describes as a process of “coming into relationship with our context.”

This process will likely involve choosing a new name for the gallery which is more reflective of its historical context and newly-set kaupapa.

As ST PAUL St is run by AUT, the two-exhibition structure comes with the added benefit of syncronising with the university semesters. This gives Huddleston and the gallery an opportunity to have better connection to AUT’s art and design students.

Huddleston says the two-semester structure of the curated program was also designed to try to foster more direct connections with teaching and learning. “Because if we are changing things over a little slower then perhaps it is easier to get staff to bring their classes and work more in-depth with students and staff.”

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