BLINDSIDE is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Founded in 2004 by four artists originally from Brisbane – Renai Grace, Pip Haydon, Simon Koger and Christine Morrow – the final exhibition for 2014, Curtain Call: the Rough End of the Pineapple, celebrates this primal and it seems ongoing connection with the Sunshine State. Celebrating and exploring these many connections between north and south, the exhibition includes the work of six former Queenslanders – now living in Melbourne – Xanthe Dobbie, Troy Emery, Simone Hine, Ted McKinlay, Melanie Upton and Tim Woodward.
The curators, Robert Heather and Verity Hayward, themselves from Queensland, acknowledge that the original BLINDSIDE board would probably have thought the idea “parochial”. Perhaps this says something about our changing views of Queensland – once considered a cultural desert, “a city of exits” (as one of the panellists at the public forum quipped), or simply ‘the ‘deep north’ – today, it seems, such an exhibition could now be done with no wincing or dodging. On the contrary, with this special Curtain Call there is a sense of pride, humour and straightforwardness as both artists and curators openingly explore their own journeys south and their own experience of growing up in Queensland.
“…it is apparent that from the outset BLINDSIDE has created opportunities for artists from north of the Tweed River to showcase their work in the southern capital through its exhibition and projects. This special Curtain Call exhibition celebrates this tradition…It asks the question whether their upbringing and experience of Queensland has had any effect upon their identity and artistic practice.”
In conjunction with the exhibition, BLINDSIDE held a public forum last Saturday afternoon. The discussion focussed on the relations and cultural connections between Brisbane and Melbourne, with participants exchanging lots of stories about former ARIs and artists, both in Brisbane and Melbourne, as well as a general discussion about the role of ARIs over the last few decades. The main participants on the panel included Andrew Tetzlaff (Moderator), although not from Queensland, Robert Heather (Co-Curator), Peter Anderson (Independent Arts writer and curator) and Ted McKinlay, a participating artist.
Leaving your home, whether it’s exile from your country or simply moving to another State seeking opportunities, or to change your circumstances, always involves adjustment, excitement and anxiety. And feeling unfamiliar or outside of things, people gravitate to who they may know or recognise, perhaps through word of mouth, friends or family. Foreign migrants and refugees are well-known for gathering together in one suburb or area, creating coffee shops or other places to meet and exchange information. It’s rarely that we see so clearly an art space as a place where interstate ‘foreigners’ find each other and support each other. Yet this of course makes sense, as ARIs have the potential to be more than simply places of professional development. They can also be places where ‘communities’ of artists gather, and as Dan Rule puts it so succinctly in his contributing essay, Making Talking Doing: A Possible Archaeology of the Australian ARI, “the artist led organisation’s real potency and value comes down to something far less immediately tangible or quantifiable. Community may be something of a hackneyed term, but it’s also a notion that has been central to the history of art making…that being the simple act of artists hanging out and seeing one another’s shows.”
Accompanying the exhibition and public forum BLINDSIDE has produced a very smart and well-designed publication, To the Left and Back Some, with short essays from a number of current and former BLINDSIDE participants. It contains a wealth of information on BLINDSIDE’s history and many achievements, with lots of fascinating photos documenting the many art projects and events over the last decade. There’s also a sizeable part of the publication devoted to essays describing BLINDSIDE Projects. The Projects are an important and innovative part of BLINDSIDE’s programming, creating a unique approach which ensures experimental and marginal practices space and time within the overall programming. The Projects act as platforms for artists and curators to focus, and give BLINDSIDE its unique identity and place in Melbourne’s complex arts ecology. In broad strokes, the Projects include: Debut, which is intended to “provide a link for young artists between university and the ‘art world’; Curtain Call which is an encore performance by previously exhibited artists; Showstoppers is devoted to performance, in all its forms; Sound Series acts as a “creative lab” focused on sound, in all its permutations; Screen Series, is focused on film and video art; and SummerStudio transforms the gallery space into a studio residency; Play is the online website featuring single channel video, and lastly BLINDSIDE Festival, a biennial multi platform event.
Near the end of the catalogue, Jane O’Neill reminds us that the term ‘blind side’ “refers to a hit or attack on someone without their realising – this is their ‘blind side’. On my own visits to Blindside over the last couple of years, it has often delivered just such a ‘hit’ – with art projects that surprise, delight and engage the senses with provocative ideas and sometimes even attacking my blindside.