The BARI Festival is a bi-annual event in Brisbane, “founded by the crew at Jugglers Art Space in 2008”. This year it ran from the 9th to 19th October. The Festival’s Creative Director was Jaclyn Bates. The festival featured many of Brisbane’s ARIs including Jugglers Art Space, The Hold Artspace, Post Datum, Boxcopy, Fake Estate, Lost Movements, Scribble Slam, The Wandering Room, Frank and Mimi, DM, Fractal Division, Aggregate and Inhouse ARI.
As Randal Breen, Festival Founder notes, the festival gives people a chance to experience the community of artists, rather than the single artist, “The concept of BARI is about celebrating the coming together of artists and the community they’ve developed more so than one specific artist…”
I’m only here for two days: Looking at the online BARI program I plan my nights. Clicking through the 12 different ARIs featured on the BARI programme website, I notice a singular feature of Brisbane ARIs and one that I discuss briefly with different artists during my visit, and that is their approach to “space”. It seems that a high percentage don’t have a dedicated physical space, rather they are nomadic or virtual, creating spaces temporarily or in alliances with other fixed spaces. And there’s a high incidence of showing/exhibiting/performing in people’s own homes. For instance, inHouse ARI usually shows in one of the collaborator’s own home. (Although for BARI they have secured a grand office space right in the centre of the city.) The Wandering Room co-curated the Brisbane chapter of Justin Jade Morgan’s travelling project titled Tools of the Trade, which was then installed at Juggler’s Art Space. Fake Estate made a collaborative work titled ‘I’m Sorry The Letter Is Late’ with Romii Fulton-Smith, Zoe Knight, Madeleine Stack and Jarrod Van Der Ryken and installed it at Aggregate Projects. And DM ARI (Dhana Merritt Artist Run Initiative) which Dhana describes on the BARI video as “me as the gallery”. In the last few months DM has exhibited in the front window of Ryan Renshaw’s Gallery.
In brief chats with some artists I mentioned my observation about Brisbane ARIs and nomadic spaces, wondering if Real Estate, an important factor for most ARIs, was a consideration…yet real estate doesn’t seem to dominate Brisbane artists’ thinking when imagining an ARI. I think this is an interesting difference between the capital cities. One of the artists suggested that perhaps the tradition of artists showing in their own houses – like the well known Accidentally Annie Street ARI or the longer tradition going back to the 1980s and 1990s, where artists had to make their own spaces, with little financial support from the State – could have something to do with the creative, lateral and innovative approach to space. I make a note to investigate further. Thursday night: Scribble Slam 19
Scribble Slam is a live art battle between two artists held at Kerbside — a sort of indoor/outdoor pub in an alleyway — with a theme announced at the start of a 90 minute timer. Winners are chosen by two judges and a crowd vote. My visit to Brisbane, and BARI, was too brief to see all, but I was lucky to catch some of the turbo-charged energy of Scribble Slam 19. It was a great event with lots of noise and cheering as the two artists attacked the wall-sized canvas tackling the theme of Darkness and Light. The ‘slam’ set-up owed much to the outrageous antics of TV wrestling shows like WWE, with their colourful monikers, Cherie Buttons and Bambi Wants Revenge – complete with online taunts and provocations. It’s a battle. Here’s the final pictures. Darkness.
Friday night: A travelling exhibition titled Tools of the Trade opened at Jugglers Art Space. The project was initiated by Justin Jade Morgan and began life in New Zealand. The project seeks to create a global archive, both physical and digital, of artists’ tools by way of artists donating their own tools.
“Tools of the Trade is a snowballing project where willing creatives are invited to present their tool of choice from the studio in a physical and or digital form towards a global archive. Through this ongoing project Justin seeks to address the disparity between artworks and the tools that create them by elevating and re-contextualising selected tools within an online and exhibition context.”
The resulting ‘tools’ donated by artists were displayed on long wooden trestle tables in the gallery. They showed a witty yet serious engagement, with artists donating objects as simple as a ‘multicoloured biro’. Or the humorous “conceptual depth analyser” ( a strange ruler-like instrument), or the essential but overlooked humble ‘jar for medium’. The archive of tools shows the vast range of ways and means that artist’s utilise to create their work. And as Justin alludes to in his artist statement, this archive creates a nice reversal of roles for these objects/tools which are no longer in the background, but are shown as objects in their own right, objects fit for our attention. For a list of the contributors see the The Wandering Room website.
Nearby, Aggregate Projects was showing ‘I’m Sorry The Letter Is Late’ with Romii Fulton-Smith, Zoe Knight, Madeleine Stack and Jarrod Van Der Ryken (a collaboration with Fake Estate) The project engaged with ‘mail’ – both online and offline forms, using postcards on the one hand and on the other, email/facebook communication. It seemed to play with our current over-communication behaviours, mixing and displacing the different forms that we all engage with daily, sometimes minute by minute. Mixing up the official with the intimate, the public with the private, and thus disturbing the usual borders of these communication lines. On entering the foyer, I found a wall of pigeon holes, the sort of structure that institutions like universities have to distribute mail amongst staff. If you work in a public institution like a university, you will be assigned a pigeon hole much like this one, with your name on it. The perfect symmetry of pigeon holes, with their narrow rows lined up one after the other, in a pleasing seriality, lends itself well to an art context. I walked over to find that these pigeon holes held lots of postcards. All of the postcards I picked up were free postcards announcing an event of some sort – but written or scribbled over with intimate messages. The other form of ‘communication’ that this project was concerned with entailed guests registering online (Facebook) that they were “attending”. On arrival at reception, after giving their name, they received their “mail”, a white envelope. As I didn’t register with Facebook, I didn’t have any mail waiting for me. Zoe later explained that the mail each registered guest received was an envelope which contained a single A5 page with a short typed phrase on them… ” Reluctantly explaining the mystery of the letters Zoe revealed that “The phrase on each letter was some kind of a soft apology (e.g. “sorry to pester you…”) taken from a list of “sorry” phrases we each collected from our email account history (sent and received).”
Lots of people gathered around the wooden pigeon holes reading the many postcards — I was struck with how people were intensely focused on the postcards, reading with quiet concentration. Zoe also explained, that “we asked fellow artists/people to write a postcard for us (we did some too) with an intimate message of some sort of emotion, be it longing, lust, anger, friendship or humour, as long as it was sincere. These were then collected and displayed in the pigeon holes…” and people interacted with them.
Aggregate Projects is itself a delightful and provocative use of space pointing to the endless possible forms/ways that an artist-run initiative could be. It’s situated in a commercial building, in the foyer, under the stairs . To have a space ‘under the stairs’ conjures all sorts of flights of fancy and imagination. I’m immediately back with the little people in The Borrowers. It’s something about the miniature, the small and the found. And I’m reminded of the artist who created an exhibition under his hat. “In 1962 the Fluxus artist Robert Filliou started walking around with a traveling miniature gallery in his hat, which he called La Galerie Légitime (“The Legitimate Gallery”) It was an exhibition under his hat.” There’s a fantastical dimension to the idea of ‘under the stairs’, a bit like under his hat – it’s an idea that can transport you. Aggregate Projects is directed and curated by Zoe Knight, who I was lucky enough to interview for my project. More on this later. The first day I visited Aggregate Projects the exhibition under the stairs was the work of Alrey Batol, titled Obso-tele. The artist has been collecting obsolete technologies, especially old analogue TVs that people simply abandon on streets and pavements. It’s a found object and a solid announcement that the owners have bought something new, something to replace it. They no longer value this old and useless thing. It’s hard to believe that analogue was so recent. Looking at this huge cumbersome monster of a set it’s like looking at another historical era, a ruin or a remnant from another civilisation. But hang on, I only got rid of my own analogue TV ten years ago. How quickly all is forgotten. How quickly we accustom ourselves and our bodies to these new technologies, with little thought to what it all means in terms of materials, energy, the real cost of labour to build these new technologies — and all done in ‘third world’ countries. This work, Obso-tele, creates a moment to pause, to contemplate our habits of consumption, to ponder the constant change that compulsory obsolescence brings. Yet it’s complex too. Even the magnet on the front of the TV giving it the distinctive pattern, is mysterious. As someone commented to me as I stood gazing at its mezmerising pull, the analogue frequency has been turned off. What is this old TV picking up? what does the invisible electromagnetic frequency vibrating on this screen, mean? Can such an old piece of technology still communicate with us? On Thursday I took a ferry down the river to the West End to visit The Hold Artspace, a gallery space above an art supply shop. The exhibition in the first gallery was The View From Here a show by two Brisbane painters, Kate McKay and Angelica Roache-Wilson. Their ways of painting are radically different. Although one commonality that ties the exhibition together visually is the size of the pictures. On the most part they are small jewell-like pictures. In the catalogue essay Eileen Abood writes that the exhibition “is about the process of slowing down and reflecting upon our experiences and reactions to the constructed, civilised world in which we live.” Kate McKay’s paintings are strange, otherworldly landscapes, painted in a pared down palette using just one or sometimes two colours with a perfect tonal facility. This monochromatic colour range created a very ethereal and dream-like feeling. The influence of the German Romantic painter Casper David Friedrich permeated each picture. Yet the monochromatic colours also created a break from that romantic tradition, as if something has been drained away from our world. The sense of beauty in these pictures teeters on the edge of something else.
Angelica Roache-Wilson’s paintings on the other hand are abstract and expressive, the flattened surfaces giving a satisfying sense of the worked-in paint. Each small painting an intense and intimate moment of felt experience.
InHouse ARI is a collaboration between Jenna Baldock and Meagan Streader. They have a singular vision, which is to pair local artists and writers to create opportunities for dialogue and critical engagement. This sort of artist/writer collaboration is not about writing a catalogue essay or promoting an artist, rather it is a recognition of the contemporary situation where discourse and text are essential sites for art and its production. As yet InHouse ARI doesn’t have a dedicated space, but uses either their own house or other temporary spaces and opportunities. On Saturday night, October 18, InHouse ARI opened their show CTRL + SHIFT + SPACE’ — unfortunately I was already back in Melbourne, so I can’t report on the show itself. But before I left I did get a glimpse of the enormous space they were working with – an empty office space, right in the centre of Brisbane.
CTRL + SHIFT + SPACE is the outcome of a collaborative curatorial project with three local writers – Lisa Bryan-Brown, Nicola Scott, Tara Heffernan – who were invited “to generate a shared critical discussion surrounding relevant issues present within local artistic and cultural life. From this dialogue, each writer was asked to curate two artists that reflected the overarching conversation.” The minute-type notes of this conversation and process, which begins with the very first meeting between the writers and InHouse ARI (Jenna and Meagan) can be viewed on their website. Here. It’s a fascinating read, and takes you through the whole process of how they first identified the theme of ‘control of space’ within the context of the G20 Summit that is being held in Brisbane this year, to the discussion and choice of artists. It was also really wonderful to read the amicable, sophisticated and lively discussion and watch it unfold, and to get an inside view of the process of making an exhibition. For more info on InHouse ARI and specifically on their current show CTRL + SHIFT + SPACE, you can visit their website, here. (http://www.inhouseari.com.au)