How To Adult | An Interview with Kieran Butler

by Loc Nguyen (Kudos Intern)

What is your practice?

My practice finds it's foundation in photography, but now spans across performance, video and installation and all the different kinds of activities that come with that like makeup, costuming, set building, Photoshop, dance and text - the list is almost endless. Conceptually I am interested in applying transgender studies as a methodology for examining non-binary models of contemporary photographic practice, gender identity, and where these two histories might speak to one another. A lot of the work I make is derived from my lived experience too. I also have a keen interest in writing, arts administration and curation along the same conceptual veins as my art practice.

Where have you exhibited before?

I have had the pleasure of exhibiting in a number of different types of institutions from artist run initiatives (ARI), and regional galleries, to festival locations like bars and public spaces. Most recently I've exhibited interstate at an ARI called BLINDSIDE in Melbourne's CBD. It was my first interstate solo show. I also performed at this years Art Month opening party at the Landsdowne hotel. Locally I've exhibited at places like MOP (now Galerie Pompom), Verge Gallery and Kudos Gallery just as a few examples. 

What are some quick tips or things to look out for when applying for exhibitions/grants?

Quick tips are hard! When applying for grants or exhibitions I would say do the basic three first: 

  • Research the institution you're applying to! It's important to know the organisation and if they are a fit for your practice. You can reflect this in your application by using similar language the organisation uses. 
  • Address their selection criteria and be straight to the point. Really evaluate what you've written. Is it clear? Is it concise? Am I speaking to what they're asking for? Have I stuck to their word limit? Am I giving them all the information they've asked for? Believe it or not you should fill out your application form completely and not with hold information if it's being requested. That may sound silly, but I've read so many applications where people haven't even filled out the form in its entirety. 
  • Practice and ask for feedback! Don't just apply for one, get rejected and never try again. Apply for as many things as you can, the worst that can happen is someone says no and then you ask for feedback. Practice makes perfect and the harsh reality is you'll probably get rejected more than you are successful. 

What was your most successful achievement within your career/practice?

This is also a hard one! I like to think every small accomplishment is an achievement in building your career, from mundane tasks like sending that email to someone to tell them you're a fan of their art, to finishing off the major piece in your new body of work, and to being selected as a finalist in an art prize. Some highlights would be having my first solo show at Gaffa in 2016 and then more recently my solo show in Melbourne at the beginning of this year. However, at the moment I would consider my two most successful achievements being selected as a finalist for this years National Photography Prize at MAMA and actually producing work that makes me happy.

What was a failure, and how could you have changed this?

There are so many. Where do I start!? Two examples would be; 

  • Constantly submitting half baked ideas for exhibition, prize and grant applications. I always seem to fall in the trap of having an idea, not workshopping it properly and submitting something for proposal anyway. This just comes across like you don't know what you're talking about and you don't know where your work or project is situated in art history. My resolution for it is to make myself aware when I'm doing it - it's the old saying "quality over quantity". Although grant writing practice is important, keep in mind there's nothing wrong with backing out from something your working on or writing as long as it's for the right reasons. You recognise those reasons and you learn from why you decided to back out. 
  • Some work I made for an exhibition not that long ago, and realising once it was installed that I could've done better or produced something more refined. I had to spend the entire exhibition knowing my work wasn't at the level I wanted it to be at and that people were seeing this work I wasn't happy with. To be honest this is something hard to resolve sometimes until you've installed the work in it's entirety. Do everything in your power to make sure it doesn't happen, but if it does happen wear it on your sleeve and openly learn from the mistakes you make. 

Do you financially support yourself through your art? If so, how?

I work a lot LOL! I'm lucky I have a full time job and minimal financial commitments outside of my art aside from bills, rent and looking after my cat (hi Zuki

How do you continue to support yourself financially beyond your practice, yet still staying in the art world?

I'm a workaholic, I work to support my artistic practice, haha. As well as constantly applying for grants and opportunities and doing odd jobs here and there I am really lucky too because my full time job is embedded within the art world. In addition to my job I have been on, and continue to be on, committees for ARI's and doing as much volunteer work as I can for ARI's. For example, I volunteered at MOP projects and worked at Galerie Pompom for five years and currently I am on the committee for Cold Cuts project space in Petersham. Volunteering is so important not only for your professional development but the arts economy in Australia in general. Volunteering is also a good place to start if you're not really sure how to get into the art scene. Go and see as much art as you can and go to exhibition openings, be present and make friends with everyone.

What are some organisations/resources to look to when trying to find creative jobs or positions in the arts?

NAVA (National Association for the Visual Arts) - get a NAVA membership if you can, they're amazing, super supportive and know what's what. You should also sign up to the Arc @ UNSW Art & Design fortnightly e-newsletter. It has an offering of hot goss comparable to NAVA (signing up to the newsletter is free ICYMI). You can also look at sources like Arts hub, Create NSW and local council websites. Basically look everywhere, but you're pretty covered if you stick with Arc and NAVA.