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In Conversation With… Keinton Butler

Damien Hirst, the London Design Festival, and the British Council are just a few of the notches on the belt of this Australian curator.

Senior Curator of Architecture & Design at Sydney’s Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences

You’re Australian, but lived in London for 10 years. What were you doing there?

I actually arrived in London via Spain. I spent a couple of years in Barcelona, exploring Spanish architecture and going to many, many art galleries and museums. Although my background is in furniture design, my time in Spain helped to develop my interest in fine art.

Didn’t you work with Damien Hirst at some point?

Eventually I moved to London and started working for Damien on his contemporary art publishing project and through that role established two of his London galleries. Later, I took a Master’s degree in Curating Contemporary Design at the Design Museum and after I graduated, worked as an independent design curator for cultural organisations like the London Design Festival and the British Council. I also set up a curatorial project space which was led by a cross-disciplinary and socially engaged exhibition program and I co-founded a British furniture start-up, Beynon. It was a busy time, but the creative environment in London is so inspiring it encourages you to work hard.

The role of Senior Curator of Architecture & Design at MAAS is a new one. Why has it been created and how do you intend to fulfil your role?

Design and architecture are two of the museum’s key disciplines and the creation of this role marks a renewed approach to critically examine contemporary design. We are currently developing a strategy for design and architecture which will include some important new acquisitions and exhibitions that will reflect contemporary design practice. We will also be delivering a series of programs, events and commissions. Of course the Sydney Design Festival, which is run by the MAAS will continue to be an important part of what we do.

So your furniture design background is coming in handy.

It provides me with some industry insight, but more importantly it means that I am experienced in working in a very interdisciplinary and collaborative way. In my current role I’m working closely with the local and international design communities to explore key issues facing designers today, and I’m focussed on building relationships and sharing this knowledge. Ultimately I want to promote understanding and appreciation of contemporary design and architecture and to develop initiatives that enable the museum to do that in ways that are really engaging for our audiences.

I understand you are broadening the scope of the MAAS’s geographical zone of interest. Can you tell me a bit about the rationale behind that?

Having recently moved back to Australia I’ve been so inspired by the diversity of design practice both here and in Asia, and my primary focus is to explore contemporary design from the Asia Pacific region. We are seeing substantial growth in creativity and innovation from our neighbouring countries, many of which until recently were classed as emerging economies. The scale and speed of change taking place in Asia has created a real optimism for the future, which is in stark contrast to what is happening in Europe. This is an exciting position for us to be in and there are real opportunities for Australia and for our designers to be part of this growth. Part of our role as one of Australia’s leading design museums is to support our local design community. Perhaps one of the ways we can do that is to facilitate some of the connections or collaborative opportunities that are on our doorstep.

You have your first big exhibition coming up at the museum early next year, to align with the new dates of the Sydney Design Festival. Can you tell me a little about what we can expect?

We will be exploring an expanded definition of design and will be tapping into some key trends in design practice. As our needs become more complex, many contemporary designers are now undertaking independent research projects in order to inform their work. The exhibition will reflect this and will feature some really exciting work. We look forward to sharing it with you!

Interview by Stephen Todd

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