Magali Gentric, and her partner artist Jason Waterhouse, run a seminal arts and retail space called Stockroom Kyneton and a clothing outlet called No Town. Magali talked to CW about her love of web and product design, contemporay art and a cinema classic called 2001: A Space Odyssey.
I understand that you were involved in web design initially, even lecturing on the subject at Swinburne Institute, is this right? Is this an area you are still actively involved in?
I have always been passionate about design, but it was not until arriving in Australia, from France, that I made design my vocation. After completing a degree in web design, and a strong career doing freelance web design work, I began teaching at Swinburne University. My strength at the time was web coding, an eye for composition and minimal design, as well as attention to detail - down to the pixel! I became known around the uni as "Mrs Pixel". (laughs)
Daily, graphic and web design skills are in constant use at Stockroom. A big part of my time is spent creating the many design components for the gallery, from the invites, to the website and everything in between. It is an especially important part of the business to project, in the best possible light, the incredible talent we have the pleasure to represent. This opportunity is absolutely one of my highlights of the day and I thank my lucky stars often that I have set up a world where I can live my passions daily.
How long have you lived within the north-eastern region of Victoria? What was the inspiration for the move to the area?
Coming from the French countryside of Brittany, I have always been drawn to the rural lifestyle.
My partner, the sculptor Jason Waterhouse, had a weekend bachelor pad on a beautiful ten-acre property with river frontage in Glenlyon. We made the decision to move in together full time and the bachelor pad developed rapidly into a family home.
It wasn’t an easy transition, we still both had to commute to Melbourne for our teaching positions, renovate our off-grid home to make it suitable for us. I had two kids and was pregnant with the third. Tag teaming and juggling became our weekly routine, but we loved every minute, building an incredible space, with huge veggie gardens; creating the lifestyle we wanted.
You originally had a gorgeous shop, Wolf At The Door, in Hepburn Springs. Is Stockroom an evolved version of this shop?
Yes, very much so.
A year or so after our move from the city, I came across a shop space in Hepburn Springs. I had put my teaching role on hold after the birth of Milo, and was looking for a new project. The space became my art and design space.
Wolf At The Door was a great project and we specialised in combining industrial vintage, design, makers, and contemporary art. More than eleven years ago, a mixed design and retail space, with incredible contemporary art, in the country was a very new idea. The store and its vision proved to be a great success.
How long has the space operated for?
Jason and I discovered the Kyneton District Butter Factory building in Piper St Kyneton back in 2010. It was a cavernous and derelict 150-year-old factory space that had never been open to the public. We instantly fell in love! We saw straight past the collapsed ceilings, and fell in love with its industrial patina, multiple nooks and crannies, and limitless potential. We approached the agent, who tried to discourage us, saying that the space was not suitable for retail. This was like a red flag to a bull and cemented the space as a challenge we just had to undertake. But most importantly, the 1000 square meter space gave Jason and I an opportunity to work alongside each other, with Jason being able to give up teaching and have an amazing sculpture studio onsite, build the business together, joining our passions under one roof. After an intense couple of months of very long days reimagining the old Butter Factory we opened the doors to Stockroom.
I know this might be a tough question, as you have staged so many great exhibitions, but do you have any particular favourites?
We have hosted so many shows over a period of nearly ten years, on average two to three monthly, from traditional hung exhibitions to highly conceptual and experimental outcomes, in a myriad of mediums including poetry, live music, and performance art. We work as a team when inviting artists and do so based on what we are drawn to. It’s very much a decision of the heart. We only invite artists who the Stockroom team all agree on and love. Each artist possesses a distinct voice and incredible talent. This is why we have a good reputation for presenting a wonderful array of challenging, experimental, sometimes confronting but always deeply engaging exhibitions. Essentially, all the artists have resonated with me in different ways making it very difficult to have a favourite.
The space has a very contemporary design aesthetic and it would sit quite comfortably in inner Melbourne. Can you speak about the interior design process and how the space has evolved?
Stockroom was originally the old butter factory and then became a woollen mill some thirty years before we came along. Respecting the history and the industrial heritage of the building was essential to the final aesthetic of the space: we built the space around an enormous 100-year-old boiler, the woollen mill humidifiers, walls peeling paint, and exposed wiring and pipes.
Jason and I both have different creative approaches due to our different training: mine design, his contemporary art, which can at times be challenging but ultimately we make a great team. I often joke about Jason being outside the square and myself inside the square. Although I strongly believe it is that difference which makes the space.
Can you explain a little about your curation process? Is there an emphasis on exhibiting local artists?
We curate from the heart. We bring in people who we believe in and who are doing incredible things in their fields. We show Australian as well as international artists. We don’t put any emphasis on our selection process on whether the artist is local, although we do have strong local content. It seems central Victoria has become very appealing in the last few years and many of our artists became local after showing with us.
The key is to keep an eye and mind everywhere, from ARI’s to grad shows, art magazines to regional galleries, artists and their peers, all with a little help from platforms like Instagram and the web, as obviously I’m also drawn to the digital realm.
When inviting someone to show with, meeting the artist and chatting about their practice is essential. It is important to experience the work in person, to grasp the artist’s technique, their concepts, as well as layers and texture within the work. Only then can we represent them in the best possible light.
Curated or group exhibitions consist of different steps to a solo exhibition. If we are curating a show, the theme or vision needs to be established first, then I create a wishlist of artists who’s work resonates within the chosen field of enquiry. At times we also invite guest curators, as I am interested in their vision and the artists they work with. Group shows always create amazing new energy in the space.
With solo exhibitions, once invited, the artist is free to explore and present what they wish. We strongly believe that an artist should always be able to work with autonomy, experiment and present their vision; usually with a bit of curatorial assistance from us in the setup.
The retail component of the Stockroom has a wonderful array of eclectic giftware and fashion items. Are the pieces curated as “functional art”? How do you choose what items to stock?
Stockroom in its current state has two main components: the contemporary art spaces and the retail space and it is important that they both work as a cohesive whole. When selecting a designer or artist for the retail space my priority is that this designer or artist is creating something that is at the forefront of their field. It doesn’t matter what the medium is, it’s just important that the piece must work within the space and be of an aesthetic that matches our vision.
How has Kyneton changed over the time you have been there? It has a strong arts and culture vibe. Has this always been the case?
Piper Street was just beginning to establish itself as a destination when we arrived nine years ago and there were only a handful of innovators on the street, such as Kabinett, Lauriston Press, Annie Smithers, and the Royal George. Annie Smithers had a weekly column in the Epicure which contributed to what I believe to be the start of the resurgence of Piper Street, Kyneton. The food on the strip had an established presence, but I have been told that Stockroom brought an “arty” edge to the town and was a direct contributor to a surge of creatives who have moved into town.
What places would you recommend people visit while in Kyneton?
When visiting Kyneton, you could easily lose a day or two on Piper Street alone, with a feast of incredible award-winning restaurants and cafes, bars, retail outlets, galleries and of course Stockroom.
For a nature fix you have the fantastic Kyneton botanical gardens with its brand new community kids park as well as the Campaspe River Walk. Just out of town you have wonderful nature reserves such as Black Hill and Turpins Falls.
After a busy day, what do you like to do to unwind and relax?
Spend time with my family, have a great meal.
What music do you currently have on high rotation?
I advocate silence after the constant noise of the day, however both Jason and my son Milo love to play our extensive vinyl collection when at home.
Do you enjoy travelling? What are your top destinations to visit?
I do enjoy travelling, although being time poor, visiting my family in France is a priority.
I do go to Tasmania on a regular basis to experience the new exhibitions happening at MONA. Tasmania is one of my favourite spots in Australia as it is not so dissimilar to Brittany, and it has an incredible vibe of fresh creative energy.
Japan is definitely on my list for the near future.
While on the topic of food, do you enjoy cooking?
I have a wonderful partner who very much likes cooking. Being from a Eurasian background, Jason spoils us with an array of incredible dishes every night. I enjoy cooking French meals such as Coque au Vin, and Boeuf Bourguignon is my forte.
Are you a film buff? What films would you deem as essential viewing?
I could watch 2001: A Space Odyssey endlessly. I love its projection of the future and its gentle pace.
Stockroom Kyneton98 Piper Street, Kyneton
Monday: On Appointments
Thursday: 10.30 - 5.00
Friday: 10.30 - 5.00
Saturday: 11.00 - 6.00
Sunday: 11.00 - 5.00