LE GRAND (ARI) TOUR
David Broker visits Artist Run Initiatives
My initial interest Artist Run Initiatives (ARIs) – sometimes called ‘Artist Led Initiatives’ – was because I think, speaking artistically, they are where its at. My past impressions have been somewhat romantic and I’ve discovered there are a lot of misconceptions about ARI’s being the exclusive territory of cool young emerging artists who take the initiative to create spaces in which they can show their work. While they have tended to operate on the fringes of arts institutions, in the context of Australia’s current arts funding crisis, ARIs are amazingly diverse and encompass artists of all ages working in many different areas and ways. My current visits to Brisbane, Hobart, Adelaide and Melbourne generously supported by a travel grant from the Gordon Darling Foundation has been to study some (but certainly not all) of the diverse models, to meet the people involved in them, to research some of their histories and reach an understanding of their contribution in the context of the broader arts ecology.
BRISBANE 6-10 SEPTEMBER
Outer Space is a force to be reckoned with. One of the newest, and size wise, one of most substantial ARIs in Brisbane, its focus is education, career development and community engagement. Llewellyn Millhouse, Outer Space’s Building/Facilities, Exhibitions & Gallery Manager who spoke recently at NAVAs Future/Forward in Canberra told me about Outer Space’s ambitious plans for DYI refurbishment – well underway. A cavernous warehouse in South Brisbane with two commodious galleries and several (to die for) studios upstairs, Outer Space is supported by Brisbane City Council who wanted the building to be used for the creative purposes. Along came Outer Space, not-for-profit and dedicated to the promotion and support of diverse early career and emerging artists. With modest ongoing financial support Outer Space is in a state of expansion to include a regular all-ages live music program, an affordable studio residency program, a community space tailored for alternative avenues of education and annual exhibition programming.
It’s quite a trek from Albion (inner city Brisbane) to Russell Island. An 80 minute train to Cleveland, an 30 minute Uber to Redlands Bay Marina and a 30 minute ferry to Russell Island. I was met by Sharon Jewell (artist and sessional teacher at QUT) and Paul Andrew (Ph.D Candidate also at Queensland University of Technology and ARI Remix project). Also met Tricia Dobson freelance visual artist and arts project coordinator. Sharon cooked up a storm with pasta and vegetables straight out of her garden and we talked about Lines in the Sand an ARI that connects artists, environment and community across the islands and waters of Quandamooka (Moreton Bay). Lines in the Sand initiates ephemeral arts projects, performance, film, creative workshops, nature conservation and education. 2011, the year that Lines in the Sand got underway was a year of great change for North Stradbroke Island with state government announcements about native title determinations, national parks, camping grounds and the phasing out of sand mining. The Island Festivals of 2011-2014 aimed to use arts to bring people together across this vast area of islands, embracing locals and visitors, nature and art lovers, families, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal art and culture. Lines in the Sand shares respect for the islands and its peoples and works collaboratively with many to include; artists, culture workers, island businesses, entities such as Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation, Moreton Bay Research Station, North Stradbroke Island Historical Museum, Healthy Waterways and Reef Check Australia. Since its inception, Lines in the Sand Arts Festival has been an island community celebration, a showcase for local and regional artists, an agent for the revival of traditional crafts, a catalyst to explore and reach new ideas: an inclusive message of love for the environment.
Late afternoon we visited the remarkably resilient remains of a 6 day mini artists residency Canaipa Mudlines which gave artists the opportunity to work for an extended period at Melomys wetlands ( so named after the local species a dusky mosaic-tailed rat Melomys aerosus’) on Canaipa (Russell) Island. The artists involved were Tricia Dobson. Leah King-Smith, Duncan King-Smith, Virginia Jones, Mark Weiss, Julie Menzies, Kane Oakenfull, Christina Bakker, Jennifer Stuerzl, Kaia King-Smith, Sharon Jewell, Carol Schwarzman and Sarsha Brisbane.
In exploring the diversity of ARIs Paul Andrew’s ARI Remix project has been of great assistance. Largely driven by social media engagement and it began in November 2012 via the social media open-group, now comprising over 300 of the artists, designers, creatives, peers and social observers engaged in 1980-1990 Queensland artist-run collaborations:
This open-group was initiated to assist with both the study, education, research and development of the Ephemeral Traces exhibition curated by Peter Anderson at the University of Queensland Art Museum and the collaborative ARI Remix Living Archive, Past Present Future. These two projects are independent while being interelated. They are currently being generated in collaboration through shared research, study and dialogue to produce a broader more inclusive and diverse social history. It is Remix that inspired me to revisit Isn’t one of Brisbane’s most notorious ARIs during the early to mid 1990s.
While I was not exactly involved in Isn’t I spent a significant amount of time with this group of artists (Roderick Bunter, Christine Ploetz, Jeremy Hines) during my first days in Brisbane. Working at the IMA (Institute of Modern Art) on the corner of Ann and Gipps Street, Isn’t (‘the neighbours from hell’) was the next door – separated only by “the wasteland” once occupied by a church that burned down. Isn’t’s program was defined by shows that pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable in visual arts, at the time producing exhibitions that were purposefully subversive and transgressive. At times even unrecognisable as art, as we know it. Artists lived in their studios on the first floor of an abandoned 6 storey building and tended to be 24 hour party people. This vibrant social and creative scene in many respects shaped my view of ARIs (and the direction of contemporary art generally) occupying the edge of visual arts practice – and yet they remained well within the sights of institutions such as the IMA and Queensland Art Gallery. You will be able to hear my interview with Roderick Bunter about the spectacular rise and sudden fall of Isn’t on the REMIX website soon.
Not exactly a pop up space but The Soylent Spot in Red Hill is a classic example of artists creatively using whatever space is available to show their work. Artistic Director Erika Scott runs a space with a highly professional attitude on a roof top garden of the residential building in which she rents a ground floor apartment. Producing several shows each year since 2010 Erika brings together artists working collaboratively with other ARIs to focus on group exhibitions of largely 3D work and performance in a space short on walls but open to spectacular views of Brisbane City and suburbs. Sometimes works are hang on walls in the stairwell. The Soylent also produces catalogues and notes for exhibitions and viewing largely takes place around openings.
Simone Hine and Kyle Weise are an inspiring couple. They were founding co-directors of two galleries in Melbourne: Screen Space (2010-2016), a not-for-profit gallery dedicated to the moving image, and Beam Contemporary (2010-2014), a commercial gallery focused on emerging artists. Having moved back to Brisbane they are parents while Kyle works as a curator at Metro Arts and Simone is teaching and together they have their own ARI Kuiper. Kuiper is a name inspired by the Kuiper Belt a ring of objects beyond Neptune held in orbit by the distant gravity of the sun. It’s a fitting for reference for ambitious Kuiper Projects operating in two exhibition spaces in Meanjin (Brisbane CBD). Kuiper and The Shop Front in Brisbane’s Anzac Arcade have been refurbished by Kyle and Simone into compact spaces that do justice to the works of artists local, national and international. Open in the weekends Kuiper exhibits high quality works looking not unlike an institutional space but in reality far from it. Its just classy – and meeting Kyle and Simone you get the idea that these two are blessed with highly refined taste. Some of the artists who have shown with them include Angela Tiatia, Baden Pailthorpe, Rachel Haynes and currently a great video work by Substanzaufnahme by Bernd Oppl from Vienna.
HOBART 11-13 SEPTEMBER
My first day in the Hobart spring delivered horizontal rains and gale force winds coming off the Derwent. Next morning I had coffee at Retro in Salamanca Place with Jonathan Kimberley Director of GASP Glenorchy Art & Sculpture Park. GASP is one of the more unusual ARIs with some funding (but not much) from the Hobart City Council and working almost entirely with public projects. Its location on the banks of the Derwent is ideal for people taking a walk, jogging or picnic(ing) families. I got the impression that GASP is something of a struggle requiring more significant resources than your average ARI and with unusual (environmental) challenges when it comes to installing and maintaining work. It is, however, a work in progress with no specific time line and an inspiring program of projects and permanent art works. The coming weeks will see new work by James Guerts’ Refraction Principle (in water) and Hunting Ground incorporating Barbecue Area by Julie Gough. An incredible line up of artists from all over the world for Mapali a public sculpture and e-media project celebrating 500 years of creative engagement between Aboriginal and Muslim people. And then there is Across the Coals in partnership with Constance ARI. So there is loads going on this estuarine environment that has huge potential on so many levels. And the buildings already here are brilliant examples of modern design that is sensitive to the surrounding environment.
There is no one quite like Kylie Johnson to share a bottle of El Desperado with. Kylie was one of the founding members of In Flight (along with Sarah Ryan) based above the Letitia Street studios in the early 2000s. Because there was not much going on in Hobart for contemporary artists In Flight received some government funding from the get go. They also ran quiz nights to raise extra funds. Starting of as a collective, In Flight moved towards a more directorial model and gained a significant profile throughout the country. Kylie’s second project Curated Shelf experimented with a completely different project based model focussed on the development of products such as posters and tea towels some of which were sold at MONA. This style of initiative provided challenges for the artists involved especially in terms of running a retail enterprise as well as more traditional arts projects.
In a compact scene like Hobart the death of one ARI can be the birth of another and from the ashes of In Flight, Constance became central to independent Tasmanian projects. Liam James and Grace Herbert have been two of the power houses behind Constance which abandoned its space and moved towards a more project based program using a newly appropriate space/time schedule. Thus Constance provides a flexible and supportive platform for emerging and experimental artists to push the boundaries of their existing practice for the exhibition of new and challenging work in an off-site context. It is focused on creating critical dialogue and engagement within, and beyond, the local Tasmanian arts community. Constance, while known throughout the country as an influential experimental space inserted itself on the national and international map with Hobienniale 17 a gathering of ARIs from across Australia and New Zealand. One of the best events that I have ever attended Hobiennale developed relationships between ARIs and Artspaces that have outcomes yet to be realised. In my conversations with Liam (Grace is overseas) I got the impression that he does not see a permanent space as the highest priority for ARIs. The project model frees coordinators from struggles with rent, enabling artists to concentrate on work. Liam is soon moving to Launceston to run Sawtooth another highly regarded Tasmanian ARI and it will be interesting to see how he contributes to the ongoing success of this organisation. Grace is involved in another ARI, Visual Bulk along with Theia Connell. This is a studio space which is easily converted into a gallery with some quirky and challenging spaces for showing work. Situated at 153A Argyle St, Hobart, Visual Bulk is focused on supporting emerging, experimental and non-commercial arts practices. The gallery facilitates exhibitions, artist residencies, performance, music, lectures, markets and other experimental work.
ADELAIDE 14-16 SEPTEMBER
It was enormously fortuitous that I arrive in Adelaide the day before FELTforum on the ecology of Artist-Run Initiatives in Australia. Organised by one of Adelaide’s most established ARIs Felt Space and hosted by ACE Open this day of discussion and performances brought people from ARIs in Sydney, Canberra, Alice Springs, Melbourne and Adelaide. Panel Discussions centred on (i)Sustaining Practices (How do art forms, value structures and power systems interrelate to create the type of sector we encounter locally and nationally? Are our ARIs complicit in this system or do they provide productive counterpoint?), (ii) Caring for the commons (What responsibilities do our Artist-Run spaces/initiatives have to work fro the common good? Do we have a responsibility to champion social justice and work for positive political change? How does this manifest in overt, subtle, and nuanced ways?) In the afternoon “break out” sessions provided the opportunity for groups of people to get together and focus of specific issues concerning ARIs. I joined Group 3: Making Space: The Impact of an ARI (with Zoya Godoroja-Prieckaerts and Bernadette Klavins). Much of the conversation in this group centred around the reasons ARI’s emerge and do they have to be seen to be equitable organisations accepting proposals and avoiding what might be perceived as nepotism or the formation of cliques. Many of the historical discussions I have had indicate that initiatives begin for groups of people to show their own work and proposals become a burden for organisations without resources. This led to opportunities for artists particularly emerging artists but with acknowledgement that it isn’t necessarily easy for more established artists either and there was a need to consider people at all stages of their careers. Other sessions included Building Connections: ARI Relationships with Channon Goodwin and Lauren Abineri and Beyond the Arts Sphere: Engaging with Communities with Katie Winten, Andrew Clarke, Hen Vaughan.
As is almost always the case some of the most valuable conversation happens after the event and on this occasion it happened at the West Oak Hotel in Hindley Street, a pub that has been frequented by artists since at least the 1990s. The challenge for artists to find spaces to show work in and how they engage with their communities dominated conversation since the break out sessions. This continues to be difficult especially if people have disabilities, jobs, families – well other responsibilities. Do ARIs actually provide accessible spaces when they follow the policies of the institutions (like art spaces) in relation to equity and diversity. If you start you own ARI why can’t you show your own work when that is why you started in in the first place? As the evening went on the discussions were frank … and fun. Artists from FELTspace, Floating Goose, Mixed Spice Creative and Sister dropped in an out for what turned out to be a great after party.
Melbourne turned out to be a bit more of a challenge than previous cities visited: its lager for starters and I arrived on Grand Final Weekend. Despite its size Melbourne does have a great sense of community and Anita Spooner from Seventh took me under her wing – thanks to a bit of handy networking by Kyle at Kuiper in Brisbane. The public holiday made meeting tricky since our favourite bar was closed but again my timing was impeccable as it turned out to be the 15th Anniversary celebration of Kings Artist Run, one of Melbourne’s oldest and most influential ARIs. The exhibitions perfect – DUDSPACEwith Lou Hubbard, Katie West, Kim Donaldson, Makiko Yamamoto, Sean Dockray & Benjamin Forster, Simone Slee, Yuval Rosinger and Dissident Assemblies: A celebration and consideration of a 15-year-old Artist-Run Initiative. I was able to meet with Anita here on what turned out to be a great opening, as well as David O’Halloran founding member of Post West Adelaide and Jesse Bowling founding member of Meanwhile in Wellington.
Grand Final day and Collingwood was a ghost town with their own team playing the West Coast Eagles. The perfect day to visit Channon Goodwin at Bus Projects another of Melbourne’s oldest influential ARIs. Have been seeing quite a lot of Channon lately at Hobiennale in Hobart, NAVAs Future Forward in Canberra, FELTforum in Adelaide and now on home territory in Melbourne. Channon is a dynamo with an ambitious vision for Bus Projects and at the centre of All Conference a national organising network comprised of 15 artist-led, experimental and cross-disciplinary arts organisations. We were able to talk about our personal visions for CCAS and Bus and the possibility of playing role in the visions in the future.
Visiting all these organisations in such a short time was ambitious. It was a highly planned tour and of course things didn’t always work as expected but this is the nature of ARI exploration. I didn’t even make it to Sydney yet but its not far from Canberra so that can happen when time permits. The last few years in the arts have been in a state of struggle as organisations and artists have been required to rethink the ways they go about their business. As funds were redirected from small orgs and artists, to the large already well funded institutions during the time that George Brandis was Minister for the Arts, Australia struggles to maintain its reputation as a vibrant innovative nation. This hard earned reputation may even have disappeared. Without doubt all the people I have met and ARIs I have visited are thinking alternatively and adapting to circumstances created by governments who at best have little understanding of the value of the arts to their communities and have proved to be just plain ignorant. This of course will change … but in the meantime its clear that many artists across the country are doing it for themselves. When the funds come back Australia’s arts communities will be well prepared and it will be a spectacular renaissance.
The Grand ARI Tour is a work in progress and obviously I have not been everywhere … well not yet. There is often a tendency to leave out what is right under one’s nose and rest assured, I have no intention of doing this. No mention yet of Canberra with its unusual mix of ARIs that have developed over a very long period of time. There is Tributary Projects – one of the newest and most exciting spaces to emerge over the last two years. And then there are the unusual models that have history in a city that lacked old run down areas with cheap rents that enabled artists to run their own spaces – ANCA and M16 for example. CCAS Manuka which persists today, a remnant of The Bitumen River Gallery is another space that artists can hire and run their own show. Two years ago Sarah d’Alessandro and Sabrina Baker organised a series of exhibitions in people’s Garages and eventually created an ambitious project that moved into any available space such as the Silo Cafe and eventually an entire street (Lonsdale).
So … watch this space as we continue to explore Australia’s ARIs and focus on the ACT.
Thanks to Gordon Darling Foundation for this wonderful opportunity. Also to Paul Andrew’s assistance (REMIX) for networking assistance and filling the photographic gaps. Thanks to everyone mentioned in this post for their generosity in showing me around and discussing their practices with such enthusiasm.