Del Kathryn Barton is an Australian artist, widely recognized as one of the leading figurative painters of her generation. She recently made her debut as a curator with the exhibition Mad Love, which inaugurates today at Arendt Art Agency’s gallery in Berlin. The show is part of Australia Now 2017, a yearlong program that celebrates Australian arts, culture, science and innovation across Germany.  
The exhibition, showcasing works by nine different artists – including Barton herself –, explores the human condition through a series of figurative pieces in various mediums, which have a very radical approach to human figure. This daring exhibition presents a glimpse on contemporary Australian art, and the artists’ vision of it in a European context. Mad Love is all about our bodies and our natural instincts and urges, and Barton has aimed to leave space for freedom to all the creators contributing to this exhibition, therefore all their personal voices are represented in a juxtaposition of energies and visions. We talked with Del Kathryn Barton about her interesting role in the project, where her voice is present both as the curator and as an artist.
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Paul Yore
The exhibition is part of the cultural initiative Australia Now 2017. Can you tell us a little bit about this project and how did you get involved in it?
This initiative is a bilateral agreement between the Australian and German governments, which is really exciting. During 2017 there will be a range of Australian cultural projects held throughout Germany across the fields of music, visual arts, dance, theatre, cinema and more. My curated exhibition, Mad Love, will be held at Arndt Art Agency (A3), who invited me to collaborate with them on a group show presenting the very best of Australian art. I was excited to give an artist’s personal view on Australian contemporary art.
A3 founders, Tiffany Wood and Matthias Arndt, had long wanted to do a show of Australian contemporary art in Berlin, Germany. With Australia Now as the frame, it was a huge honour to be asked and thus began a labour of love!
About the title of the exhibition, how did you come up with the concept and how did you approach it? What was the inspiration for putting this exhibition together?
It was important for me to work within a framework that felt true to my creative heart. I was so hoping the show would be an unapologetically outrageous, visceral figurative show.
 “Body as pleasure. Body as machine. Body longing, always longing. Hungry body, filthy body. Body to run. Body to deny. Thinking body. Muscle Body. Body as instrument and song, as instinct towards life. Body light. Body dark. Evolutionary body, dinosaur body. Plastic body. Colour body. BODY as unmitigated surges of light and energy, just briefly, but oh, such, such love......... mad, mad love.” It was with this statement that A3 and I approached a selection of artists I had penned. So in the end, what potentially connects the artist’s in the show is, firstly, my perception of all of the artist’s radical approaches to the figure; and secondly, whether my earnest little poem spoke to them. I love that the title speaks to you of irrepressibility.
Mad Love will showcase a number of pieces by nine artists. Can you tell us a bit about it’s composition and what people will find? Each artist’s unique vision conveys its own glimpses into the mysteries of the human condition. 
For the selection I relied on this instinctual filter more than anything else. Longing and melancholia peppered with something a bit precocious and fucked-up is what always calls out to me. I have to believe and feel something immediately. If my body says YES I trust that there is something of value within the work.
All of the artists in Mad Love I believe to be legends in their own right. I am also showing two large-scale paintings in the show so it has my voice as an artist and a curator. The first work, titled And stain through fur and flesh, and stain through hair and flesh, speaks about the dichotomous urges of youth, the slow awakening of flesh. A small puppy stares transfixed and devotedly into the eyes of his baby-human-mother. Here the alchemy of love, youth and beauty collapse into something that cannot be said. Will this stranglehold result in mad love?
The second work, Hard wet, is a work at play with the poetics and muscularity of private spaces. This she-beast could be understood as a warrior both defending and preserving the kaleidoscopic power within the galaxies of our inner lives, both real and imagined.
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Tell us a little bit about your background in the art field, since you are also an artist yourself, not just a curator. How did you start?
Yes, in a way this is my curatorial debut. However, I don’t have ambitions as a curator, although I would relish any opportunity to gather together quality works from artists whose work I respect and admire in a beautiful gallery space or museum. There are simply so many talented artists and creatives working here in Australia! And so many that don’t get the recognition, support and success they deserve.
I was born in Sydney, but when we were quite young we relocated to a fairly eccentric country property in East Kurrajong. There was a white-ant ridden, 100-year-old timber farmhouse that was completely falling down. My father pulled this house down by hand and rebuilt it over the course of about fifteen years. For my brother, my sister and I it was a completely enchanted childhood. I left home to study at the College of Fine Arts.
My father was firmly against my decision at seventeen to go to art school in the big, bad city. The counterpoint to that was mum. Her paradigm as a parent was that if you are lucky enough to feel passionately about something, then your only obligation is to be true to that. She gave me a wonderful gift in that way.
I moved from a fairly idyllic, isolated bush life to the heart of dirty Newtown in the late '80s and early '90s. As a parent now my blood almost runs cold at how ill-equipped I was, but it was an incredibly exciting, wild time in my life. It was such a wonderful melting pot of youth culture.
It was a pretty tough lifestyle, but I was in heaven. Whatever grungy casual work you could find and spending all of your income on art supplies. My memory of those years is of incredible vitality, pure discovery, and making a lot of purely horrendous things.
Winning Australia’s prestigious national portrait prize, the Archibald Prize, for the first time in 2008 was a pivotal moment for me and certainly afforded me great exposure to move to the next level of my career.
What do you think are the differences between artists and curators?
This is difficult to answer, as I truly believe curators and artists share many artistic and intellectual qualities.
As someone who has taken on both roles, how is the process different? One could say they are opposite ends of the spectrum but throughout art history we find a lot of examples of artists who have successfully taken on curating as well. 
I have found it extremely refreshing to operate with this dual perspective and I do agree that the artist as curator can provide new dimensions to the curatorial process. What I am personally interested in with this project is the topic of exposure of Australian artists. One of the biggest challenges for Australian artists is reaching international audiences. I think more than anything Mad Love was an opportunity to offer up to German and European audiences some of the juicy awesome stuff currently being made in Australia. I am very proud of this show and honoured to be working with some of my most favourite Australian artists.
The art scene in my country is bound by distance. I do think our distance from bigger art-worlds and our small collector base can be a problem for Australian artists and creatives. But at the same time it is exactly this that can grow singular and unique creative visions. In my experience there is a lot of support for the emerging art scene, and mid-career can be very tough. Sydney, where I live, is an aggressively competitive city; resilience is tantamount to success!
Was it challenging to work with so many different artists and mediums? Did you take in account every artist’s vision or did you have to compromise people’s ideas and opinions at some points?
As mentioned, I have relied on the artists’ own individual voices to colour and fill this show, welcoming the enjoyment of clashing energies. Each artist’s unique vision conveys its own irrepressibility and glimpses into the mysteries of the human condition.
Mad Love’s inauguration will take place on Tuesday 6th June from 18h to 21h at Arendt Art Agency A3, Fasanenstraße 28, Berlin, and will be on display until the 29th September.
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Ben Quilty
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Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori
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Patricia Piccinini
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Paul Yore