Above: 2019 Lofty recipient Beth Sometimes, holding her trophy crafted by Gabriel Curtin, with, from lefty, chair of the Watch This Space board, Frankie Snowdon, gallery assistant Mimi Catterns, and director Zoya Godoroja-Prieckaerts.
By KIERAN FINNANE
Accolades abounded for four “art warriors” at the annual Lofty awards, recognising high endeavour in the arts in Central Australia, held last Saturday at Watch This Space.
Only one of them, of course, was the 2019 Lofty winner and that was Beth Sometimes. Judging by the whoops, cheers and prolonged applause that greeted the announcement, this was a well-earned and very popular choice.
Chair of the board, Frankie Snowdon, hailed Sometimes’ achievements in “examining this place with all its complexities through a prolific, outstanding and fundamentally moving body of work.”
Snowdon spoke also of outgoing director Zoya Godoroja-Prickaerts, describing her as “tenacious and intelligent” and having held down her job with “big dreams, precise execution, and gentle but determined leadership”. Godoroja-Prickaerts will resign in March next year, after three and a half years at the helm.
Snowdon credited Mimi Catterns, in the position of gallery assistant and project coordinator, with shouldering “a significant slice of the workload this year, bravely stepping in to fill Zoya’s shoes when needed, and injecting new skills, ideas and energy into the everyday operations of Watch This Space.”
Godoroja-Prickaerts, acknowledging her own “burnout” – as can so often occur in underfunded and overstretched arts jobs – was also deeply appreciative of Catterns: “If you are doing a project and you have a small budget, this woman is insane at hustling .. on not much money and in a sustainable way.”
Right: Apmereke-artweye Doris Kngwarraye Stuart, the 2016 Lofty recipient, acknowledged the land of her ancestors who had always been here for thousands of years “in this beautiful country that we all call home”. By this she meant everyone present: “I know we all love this place because I get a lot of support through the arts by helping me put out the story of what it means to be responsible for this place that has so many sacred sites.”
She described Snowdon as “an amazing powerhouse” with an “unwavering passion and dedication to the arts” (qualities which Snowdon went on to demonstrate in a stunning performance, with fellow dancers Madeleine Krenek and Miriam Nicholls.)
Together, Godoroja-Prickaerts continued, and with the various board members and studio artists over her term, they have worked to bring the Space to “a strong, stable position” (which has included a move to its Gap Road premises and achieving an improved financial position, supported by successful grant applications and a big crowd-funding drive).
Snowdon held off naming the Lofty recipient, spinning out the suspense, but soon her description of the artist’s practice was pointing in one direction: “It’s Beth”, “It’s Beth”, went the whispers.
Less a practice “with multiple arms” than a whole range of diverse skills and practices that “move alongside and in between each other” make the artist “a consummate creator, producer, advocate, documenter, critic, champion, translator and ally”, she said, commending the artist’s capacity to collaborate, teach, learn and share, “holding space for myriad projects and people.”
All doubt was dispelled when she detailed the artist’s studies of “privatised space that sits on top of Arrernte country, observing how the institutions that occupy the space are acting on the people”.
This refers to the iterations of Sometimes’ work on the Coles carpark: a postcard series, a conversational performance, and in 2019 at WTS, “Heat Island”, which brought “soft, abstract representations of security personnel and their presence (among other things) into an immaculately imagined and realised gallery space.”
She ranked her biggest endeavour as “Apmere angkentye-kenhe” or “The Yellow Shed”, developed alongside “a fierce and prolific team of senior Arrernte people in Mparntwe”.
Left: Beth Sometimes with Magdalene Marshall, foreground, and Amelia Kngwarraye Turner on the headphones, planning an audio guide for a walking tour of Mparntwe as part of “Apmere angkentye-kenhe” in 2018. Photo from our archive.
A work “exploring language, power and place”, it was delivered with Sometimes’ typical “attention to detail”, and with “agility and patience”.
Engaging residents and visitors through a series of Arrernte language-related events and exhibitions including screenings, sound works and learning resources, it highlighted the potential to affect local relationships of language knowledge exchange.
The award also acknowledged Sometimes for her commitment to Watch This Space, having worked as a coordinator, board member, studio artist and on the curatorial committee (still current), and so helping to ensure that the Space maintains its identity as artist run.
This makes it the only one of its kind – an artist run initiative or ARI – in a 1500km radius, as Godoroja-Prickaerts said, evoking its many-faceted role in our town.
“I know it is not just a space that provides exhibitions, residencies, studios for local artists, performances, presentations, panel talks, workshops, community projects, reading groups, screenings, awards.
“I know it is so much more than that.
“It’s a living, breathing being that ebbs and flows as we do, particularly the artists and the communities that move through it.
“Sometimes it’s sleepy and quiet, having a little down time.
“Sometimes it’s ravenous and gorging on all this delicious creativity, filling its belly with a banquet of art, sound, conversation, movement, energy.
“Sometimes it goes a little wild, and finds itself on some pretty unexpected adventures.
“Sometimes it’s really deep and pensive, engaging in critical discussions about where, who and what we are.
“Sometimes it’s having a hard time and it needs people to lift it back up.
“And sometimes it’s home.”
Note: The Lofty Award is named for the space’s founding coordinator and highly regarded artist, the late Pamela Lofts.
Related reading: Safeguarding the Space for ground-up cultural expression
Below: Alice Springs Pop Choir performed “Hallelujah” – wonderfully, movingly – with Casii Williams (not pictured) during the celebrations.