Some jobs are difficult to explain to your parents. Nella Themelios, the Coordinating Curator of Craft Victoria, is responsible for curating complex exhibitions of craft and design, works that push the boundaries of the disciplines. She’s responsible for collating exhibitions of furniture, architecture and jewellery, as well as more traditional exhibitions such as sculpture.

But that’s not how she describes it to her elderly Greek parents. “I just tell them that I work in an art gallery, and they understand that,” she says, laughing warmly.

This week, Themelios was pleased to see the opening of FRESH, the 2010 graduate exhibition showcasing the best works from graduate exhibitions across 30 Victorian craft and design courses. The exhibition is put together by a committee of 20 people, and they awarded Thomas Llewellyn a $2000 cash prize for his two-person drawing table (pictured below).

Themelios says the table, which is designed so that two people can draw together, taps into the current trends in design.

“If you can imagine a kind of modified workhorse with a pivoting table in between the two people who sit at it, that’s what he made,” she explains.
“The idea is that two people can sit at ”the table, and one person can draw, tilt the table, swivel it and turn it around to the other person.

It creates this kind of ongoing interaction and idea exchange between the two participants.” She says the piece is a good representative of the wider themes in the exhibition.

“Most of the work this year has been about social interaction, social engagement, collaboration,” she says. “It does what the best craft practice does, which is to solicit interaction and engagement and collaborative practice.” And when it comes to the theories underpinning craft and design, Themelios would know.

The 33 year-old tells Neos Kosmos she studied cultural studies and art history at university, and is completing a master’s degree in curatorship, looking at how these works sit together in art galleries.

“I’m quite interested in models of curatorship, and I think in the realm of craft and design, that’s certainly a burgeoning area,” she says.
And she says, despite what she tells her parents, there’s quite a difference between exhibiting a craft object, such as a table, and exhibiting more traditional art, such as paintings.

“In the visual arts, there’s a direct relation between producing a work and showing it, whereas in the context of craft and design, that relationship isn’t necessarily as clear.

“So it becomes quite an interesting process to develop an exhibition’s practice, to think about how exhibition practice in craft might be different to production practice, where you’re making a small run of commercial work. So that’s been really interesting for me, and also quite a challenge.”

But Themelios hasn’t always been dedicated to art and craft theory. She started off studying law, she says, before she found herself swerving more towards the more theoretical aspects of her arts degree.

“Coming from a Greek background, my parents weren’t very happy about that,” she laughs. “But they’ve accepted it.”
But Greeks have played a massive role in the way craft has developed, so surely leaving a career in the law for something more artisanal is not completely foreign? It’s not as if she’s run away to join the circus.

“The history of antiquities and artisanal practices among ancient cultures, yeah definitely,” she agrees. “And my parents, I guess, when they think about art, that’s what they think about.

“But my focus is contemporary practice, which is quite different. And it’s working with living artists not just artefacts, often thinking through ideas and processes rather than just processes, and that is quite a challenge for my parents to understand.”

Themelios has been the coordinating curator of Craft Victoria (CV) for three years, and she speaks with the excitement and passion of someone who had, indeed, run away to join the circus.

“CV has quite a history of pushing at the boundaries of craft practice and what that might be, and it’s been really wonderful for me to be involved in that,” she says.

One of the highlights of the job, she says, is the panel discussions that take place when deciding on what to include in the annual graduate exhibition.
The panel includes Greek Australian artist Melanie Katsalidis.

“It’s these twin ideas of interaction, and understanding our context, the context in which we operate,” she says.
Themelios is clearly a Greek Australian with an eye on her context as well as the boundaries she wants to push.