Torika Bolatagici is an artist, writer and educator working across a range of media including photography, video, projection, publication, installation and curation. Her work shifts between the languages of documentary, archival recovery, re-enactment and abstraction to explore the tensions and intersections between race, gender, power, commodification and visual culture.
Tell us about the Community Reading Room?
I started the Community Reading Room (CRR) in 2013 and it just grew organically out of a community need for a collection and space for First Nations, Black, global Indigenous artists to connect with each other and an archive of books and ephemera that privileged the creative practices of their kin, ancestors and peers. I was drawing a lot from my own collection of texts about contemporary Pacific art and artists. It was really established in response to shared lived-experiences of practitioners and students who were exhausted by a monocultural curriculum that ignored their presence, excluded their historical contributions and contemporary reference points and was heavily inspired by my visit to the Stuart Hall Library at INIVIA in 2011. Over the past ten years, the CRR has evolved from a static collection of my own books, to one that incorporates a co-curated program of exhibitions and events to engage the public with the themes arising from the collection. The project has been presented at Footscray Community Arts Centre, Arts House, Colour Box Studio, Testing Grounds, Arts Mildura and Metro Arts and engaged with public programming events with the Emerging Writers Festival and MPavilion. With each iteration, I partner with artists and collectives who are interested in working outside formal institutional frameworks to create a counterspace for critical dialogue and alternative modes for creative practice and presentation. The ongoing project aims to create a life-affirming space that values and centres the breadth and depth of creative practices and art writing that exist outside the Western canon and it is intended as a safe space for marginalized folks to be in contemplation and in-conversation with each other without the weight of the institutional gaze.
What have you got coming up for 2023?
In terms of my visual arts practice, I’m currently finishing a commission for the 2023 TarraWarra Biennial: ua usiusi faʻavaʻasavili curated by Dr Léuli Eshrasghi which opens in April. Then I’m dedicating the last few months of my time in the RTC studio to developing a solo exhibition for 2024 and a finishing photobook project that I have been working on.
2023 marks 10-years of the Community Reading Room from the very first pop-up at Colour Box Studios in Footscray in June 2013, so I’m looking forward to marking that in some way. Starting in February, the Community Reading Room will have a monthly pop-up in the public area of Collingwood Yards so folks can come and hang out on the last Wednesday of each month. I’m also starting the Black Art Reading Group, a casual monthly meet-up to discuss Black art and visual culture with readings from the collection – please get in touch if you’re interested in being involved! In September the CRR will form part of the Volume: Bodies of Knowledge exhibition at Counihan Gallery and finally I’m in the last year contributing to an ARC project with colleagues Prof. Emlily Potter (Deakin) and Dr Brigid Magner (RMIT) called Reading in the Mallee and we’re hoping to take the CRR back to Mildura later this year. For exact dates, times and pop-up locations keep an eye on the events page of the CRR website or sign-up for the newsletter.
What does a day at Collingwood Yards look like to you?
I usually arrive early, after school drop-offs and (if I’m lucky) before all the car spaces are taken on Wellington St. I settle in by doing a bunch of admin and emails and then take a break, go for a walk and grab a coffee to reset. I work predominantly in video and photography and shoot most of my content offsite, so my studio time is dedicated to editing and printing. I finally bought an A2 inkjet printer and a little photocopier last year, so having the space to experiment with different papers, scales and materials has been invaluable. If I don’t bring my own lunch, I usually head up to Friends of the Earth for some food and then back to the studio. I keep the CRR collection in my studio space, so a part of my day is usually spent reading and researching as well. Most days I need to do school pick-up and the latest I can leave is 3:00, so my studio days are fairly dense so that I can make the most of my time.
Photo of Torika by Zan Wimberley