Tag Archives: ARI

Bus Projects – January

There is a lot to see at Bus Projects in January with five artists exhibiting in five different spaces. It is a good first start for the new year; I didn’t dislike any it but I enjoyed some more.

In the main space is “For Illusion Isn’t The Opposite Of Reality” by Dida Sundet, an RMIT fine arts student. It is a fun exhibition with lots to look at and look at again. Her surreal photography is excellent, carefully staged with beautiful chiaroscuro lighting. It is like the Mad Hatter meets Hannibal Lector. The series of photographs was awarded two honorable mentions in the 2009 International Photography Awards. Along with the photographs there are elements that have been used in the photographs: painted animal masks are held out by plaster hands and in the center of the gallery there is an installation of a bloody dinning room.

Leo Greenfield’s “The Coverings Project” is installed in the “Sound Space” although not a sound installation. Greenfield is exhibiting a deceptively simple installation; a circle made of recycled t-shirts, titled “My teenage life”, on the floor and a series of six collaged photographs, “Garments in Motion” on the walls. It is almost an anti-fashion exhibition if his photographs weren’t so stylish – complete with Doc Martens boots. They continue the late-modern tradition of documenting body art through photographs but they have been altered with subtle and stylish collage. For more about Leo Greenfield’s art visit Fashion Hayley’s blog entry about him – The Bride Stripped Bare.

Jodi Cleaver’s video, “Little Machine” in the “Window Seat” space in the stairwell, is basically a good music video (without the industry standard images of the band playing) with music by the Ice Cream Creatures. And, why not? Music videos have done some of the most interesting film making for years. It didn’t have much of a narrative; Cleaver describes it as: “A little girl tries to fly her kite while being tempted and pursued by both a machine and a magician.” The video uses stop motion animation like those of Jan Svankmajer where ordinary objects that become magically animated.

In the “Skinny Space”, Brooke Wolsley’s “Feast” is a series of now rather traditional, that is Dada and Pop influenced, mixed media collages. The wall painting by Jessica Wong, “Parallel Universe”, in the Foyer reminded me of Tom Civil’s use of stick figures to draw worlds of people, but I didn’t take a close look at it as all the other exhibitions had distracted me.

Art Squats

For some reason Melbourne’s main daily paper the Age published an article on the Tacheles art squat. I suppose it is cheaper to buy a syndicated article than actually report on Melbourne’s art scene. I visited Tacheles when I was in Berlin in 2001, there were several floors of a former department store turned into studio/exhibition space and, of course, like in all Nth European art galleries, eating and drinking space. There was a big beer-garden out the back, a cinema and venue for bands.

I emailed my friend and artist, Simone Haack who lives in Berlin to ask her views of Tascheles and other art squats. Simone replied: “to be honest, I don’t know so much of them here (except Tacheles), cause I am in a less alternative art scene here (if I could claim that I am in an art scene) but some months ago I saw a good exhibition in Tacheles, it was about being stranger, artists from several countries participated (I forgot the title!).”

I told Simone that I had been thinking about writing an article comparing the art squats in Europe with Artist-Run-Initiatives (ARI) in Melbourne. There are no art squats that I know of in Australia even though residential squatting is still relatively common in Melbourne (a squat in a house owned by Melb Uni has recently been brought to an end but the squat around the corner from my house has continued for years).

Both art squats and ARIs are run by artists but there the similarities end. Art squats are not galleries but mix studios with exhibition and performance space, they are chaotic, dynamic and political. It might appear that this is the genuine avant-garde art. However, as Simone pointed out: “I wonder why art squats are often so similar to each other: you’ll always find this particular type of person: politically engaged (left), punks, autonomies, vegans, special dress codes… so I don’t think they are really free.”

The ARI, in contrast are structured like art galleries, the exhibition space is organized, structured and static throughout the exhibition period. Politically they are basically bolshevik; controlled by a small committee of artist/insiders who determine what and who will exhibit. This does mean that there is some filtering, unlike in the art squat where everything is on exhibition. This lack of filtering means that art squat art tends towards craft or popularist or popularist provocations against official art. Whereas the ARIs tend towards the official non-commercial side of gallery art aimed at the insider arts circle of other fine arts graduates.

I was disappointed to find that the art squat Chez Roberts had closed last time that I was in Paris but according to its webpage it is once again open.

Collaboration Exercise

“Advance/Retreat” is an exhibition at Westspace curated by Brad Haylock and Mark Richardson. “Three experiments in transdisciplinary collaboration” occupy Westspace’s three gallery spaces.

In the middle of the first space, shut off by a chain-link steel gate, a large plant sits in a garbage bag a single root trailing to an empty glass.

The next space subtly vibrates both visually and aurally with fishing-line running in almost invisible vertical stripes across the white walls. (Coincidently my father used a similar arrangement of fishing-line to trap bats in order to study their homing abilities.) This is accompanied by an elegant video of male and female hands collaborating to string the fishing-line. And a sound piece that all worked together in a successful harmony.

The final space contains a scatter style installation by so many artists that it would be hard to imagine them all working together in the small space. “Working space” is a reference to the title of a book by Frank Stella.

“Advance/Retreat”is about lines: minimalist lines, vibrating lines, and dividing lines. Lines area major component of art, from visual lines to written lines, but that does not make them interesting. Lines might be essential for art but I don’t suspect that good art is about the essentials. Searching for creativity in artist-run-initiatives appears to be endless exercises rather than new experiments.

I don’t know if the number of collaborating curators, artists and designers (15+) added to the quality of this small exhibition. I can see the strategic advantage to the collaboration. Collaborations like this allow the artists to record more exhibitions on their CV and spread themselves thinner. However, collaboration should not be a goal in and of itself as it is simply a means of working.

ARI Who?

What is the difference between Melbourne’s artist-run-initiatives (ARI)? Some of them, like Mailbox 141, a bank of glass-fronted mailboxes in the art deco foyer of 141 Flinders Lane, are obviously different kinds of exhibition spaces to the standard gallery. Some are obviously in different geographical but many are in the same basic location; Seventh and 69 Smith St. are only one tram stop apart.

So what is the difference between TCB Art Inc, Bus, Kings, Blindside, Utopian Slumps, 69 Smith St., Conical, Ocular Lab etc.? To the casual visitor – absolutely nothing. Regular visitors may notice trends in some of the ARI exhibitions. Only the insiders would know the different clichés that run the galleries. There is no overt ideological or stylistic differences, no overt competition and very little co-operation aside from Via-N via-n.org a hub website. The only real exception is The Narrows in Flinders Lane; this is one ARI that has clearly defined itself between art and design.

And what is the difference between an ARI and a rental space gallery, like Brunswick Street Gallery or Hogan? To the casual visitor – again nothing. Regular visitors may not even know or care. Only the artists renting the space and the committee running them know about the differences.

Many people involved in ARIs are enthusiastic about how an ARI mollifies the economics of art for the artist, as if money is a major aesthetic feature. Supporters of ARI argue that ARIs assist artists in their careers, as a step to commercial galleries. And for this reason many of Melbourne’s ARI’s attempt to look the same as a commercial gallery.

Although many of the ARIs pay lip service to a fading idea of the avant-garde of gallery art. The exhibition spaces provided are conservative, replicating the standard white cube gallery space. Most of ARIs do not want to visually distinguish themselves from any other gallery; there is no sign above the door saying “Artist Run Initiative” (Kings Artist Run, is an exception). Consequently there is nothing substantially different about the art that you might see in an ARI gallery and any other contemporary art gallery. They are nothing like the chaotic, dynamic mix of studios and exhibition space in the art squats of Paris and Berlin.

Maybe ARIs were important or, at least, relevant, when they emerged in the early 1980s but decades have past and it would be wrong to believe that this was still the case. Apart from providing exhibition space is anything happening at Melbourne’s ARI? Is providing still more exhibition space in Melbourne’s over crowded gallery scene of any great importance? Still more ARIs have opened this year. 

Location & Exhibition

Some art in non-gallery exhibition locations work with the location and the alternative exhibition space successfully, others do not, and others have the poor locations forced on them. Traditional gallery methods of hanging art and even conventional gallery art will not work these locations. And, due to the mass public exposure of these spaces a successful exhibition has to appeal to a broader population than the art in most galleries. Many of these locations are ARI (artist-run-initiatives) whereas others are commissions for public art.

Lori Kirk’s “The Door Snake Project” at Platform is a fun work, involving 16 artists making snakes and using the glass cabinets at Platform to maximum effect. Kirk was the winner of the 2006 Freedman Foundation Traveling Scholarship. Kirk’s “fake replicas of natural environments” are the best part of the exhibition; the snakes by the individual artists vary in quality. Kirk has turned each of Platform’s cabinets into a terrarium for her fake snakes. Her creative use of fabric to replicate plants, stones and water makes the perfect environments for fabric door snakes.

Also at Platform, the Sample cabinet has an exhibition, “The Book of Proverbs” by Erica Tarquinio and Madeline Farrugia. Farrugia’s whimsical illustrations are well supported by Tarquinio’s collection of proverbs. However, the delicate installation is too small for the space in the cabinet.

Rachel Ang’s photography exhibition “Framed” does not use the glass letterbox spaces in the lobby at 141 Flinders Lane to any great effect. The quote from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window does alter the way that the mundane actions in the series of photographs is viewed but not enough to make it exciting. Frances Johnson in The Age (4/4/08) gave the exhibition a tiny but favourable review.

On the trains I saw a Peter Burke’s “Commuter News” poster. It isn’t as good as the real newsprint posters that Burke used to paste-up around the city. The poster version on the trains had been Photoshopped, the shadow effect is too obvious and it ends up looking just like more advertising. The location on the trains makes it hard for Burke’s poster to look like anything but clever advertising copy.

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