The importance of supporting emerging practice - Art Collector

SafARI 2016 curator Louise Dibben, 2015. Photo: Hamish McDonald

As SafARI 2016, a series of events, programs and exhibitions supporting and celebrating emerging practice draws closer, Camilla Wagstaff talks to 2016 co-curator Louise Dibben about what audiences can expect from this year’s iteration and the importance of supporting emerging arts practice in Australia.

Timed to coincide with the opening weeks of the Biennale of Sydney, SafARI has become an important showcase for the work of unrepresented and emerging artists in Australia. What was your curatorial approach to this year’s program?

SafARI celebrates emerging artists and the spaces that they develop to show work. We try to work with spaces rather than just use them as venues, in the same way we work with artists in developing new works for SafARI 2016. We wanted to draw focus to Kings Cross and its surroundings; as a micro hive ecology of spaces surviving in an increasingly expensive and spread out city. Our approach was to draw out and magnify channels of practice and thought that are already there informing emerging artists by focusing on Kings Cross, its history in the arts, proximity to major arts institutions and its current lock out laws.

SafARI 2016, because of the artists, features a lot of subtle networked events with an underlying questioning critique of current systems being tuned into constructive action and dialogue. An example of this is in Hana Hoogedeure’s
Ground Control, which draws out social mapping as a political act of sovereignty in independent arts communities through interviews and reviews producing a video archive during the safARI 2016 program.

SafARi is a zeitgeist driven program, meaning that it supports the current and critical channels of thought and practice that emerging and independent artists are working in. Can you outline some of these current channels?

Maps, connections, critical analysis of the internet, Archives, forced and organic engagement, the question: what is performance?, political and social anger and confusion, political and social change and development, community appreciation, commercial visual communication, value vs money vs economy…

In short, SafARI 2016 focuses on the lines of connection that form a network rather than its key outcomes and goals. So every artist and space brings with them a series of communities and histories outside the SafARI 2016 program that is important to the Zeitgeist SafARI model. Some of our artists explore this directly by discussing grant systems (like Dominic Kirkwood’s
The Market) while others reinterpret existing communities as joyous homages (like Philppe Vranjes’ NOISE PLATTER). I think I can confidently say that all of the SafARI 2016 works explore connected communities as a core infrastructure to current practice and its relevance outside of arts communities.

Is this zeitgeist Sydney-centric or reflective of national or even global modes of thought?

SafARI is based in Sydney but does aim to represent national modes of practice and thought. SafARI has an Australia wide call out. Ten of our 26 artists aren't based in New South Wales. However even of the New South Wales-based artists, a good handful are currently working and involved with spaces, studies and shows overseas, from Hong Kong to New York to Berlin. I moved back from Melbourne at the beginning to 2015 after living there for more than five years. The spaces I worked with in Victoria involved artists and directors from Queensland, New Zealand and beyond. Purely pragmatically, the directions of thought SafARI 2016 are working with have one eye on the horizon and the other on Sydney as a context representative of wider Australian arts engagement internationally.

The SafARI 2016 website is impressive. Multiple sources of information about participating artists, events and venue can be accessed at the click of a button. How important is it for an artist’s work to be accessible online today?

It is very important for not only open access and dissemination but also for autonomy. Like Artist RUn INitiative, web presence gives artists the capacity to control how they are presented and in what way, independently from universities, gallerists or agents. Considered online access allows arts events and artists the choice to be as transparent or opaque about their profile, practice and processes as they want to be. Freedom of information as well as the right to privacy is a subject very much at the heart of SafARI 2016.

Our website sits somewhere between usability and play. The site allows the viewer to direct their own engagement with the program as it references a messy computer desk top. KK+JLD designed the site's look and functionality with Benjamin Forster, who was an artist in SafARI 2014, who programed the site. Forster in a co-founder of the developing ARI Front Yard in Marrickville. All of our SafARI 2016 team bring to the organisation their own art practices, agendas and sensibilities, this is another facet of SafARI 2016 that connects it to ARIs.

SafARI 2016 often brings web presences into critique while seemingly embracing it. The Internet is a medium for artists to use as art, not just as a digital context for CV’s and documentation. For example, through Runway Jesse Dyer is presenting a pointless messy online library of superfluous information and on our site Peter Nelson’s
Grottspace is a dystopian Olympus like alien digital gallery space in which you can destroy and manipulate representations of others artists work for SafARI 2016. This isn't simply constructive use of the Internet, it is critical, playful and appropriately cynical of online tropes. So too, in many ways our website represents a network or folder of too much information that will build during the program of events in March.

SafARI 2016 showcases the work of 26 emerging and unrepresented artists working in Australia across the full spectrum of contemporary practice. What were the selection criteria for participating artists?

SafARI has a classic ARI call out model with a nationwide sweep. SafARI 2016’s program was very much informed by this process, reading through all the proposals is a good litmus test for wider channels and directions that can be represented in a zeitgeist event like SafARI.

The program came to us new curators, with two basic requirements: that the artists should identify as emerging and unrepresented. Beyond that we chose work that was representative of conceptual directions that were evident throughout the varied applications.

For SafARI 2016 we really wanted thoughtful and evolving presentations of performance and interactivity, which we saw as expectations of most current art practices. These active words are used to read the most stationary artwork by current audiences.

Can you name an artist involved whose work/practice you’re particularly excited about?

I think I will discuss the work of Angela Garrick, because I see it as possibly representative of the entire group. Garrick’s work Weather Vent is in its rawest sense a call line for anyone to complain about current conditions. Weather Vent does not tell an audience what to think or present a conclusion but acts as a catalyst for conversation and to me asks participants to think about accountability and the privilege of being heard. In installation Weather Vent at Cross Art Projects will be a small archive of the process of setting up this call line and the incoming data will be presented as documentation.

This work will be exhibited alongside works by Emily O’Connor (NSW), Catherine Clayton-Smith (NSW), Eloise Kirk (NSW), Jana Hawkins-Andersen (NSW). Through painting, installation and text works together all these works discuss current conditions with a depth and subtlety that becomes loud en mass. The reason ARIs are not simply a stepping block up to commercial practice is because they represent a wider dialogue and conversation that the occasional star artist is plucked from for representation.


Angela Garrick, Weather Ventm 2015. Text on paper, dimensions vary. Courtesy: the artist and SafARI 2016

Also Matthew Linde, in his practice organically and unapologetically operates as a curator, gallerist, artist, musician and administrator in a way that I think is representative of current channels of thought and development. His work as Matthew Linde (vs CoS) references fashion, curation and installation in beautiful dystopian decaying takeovers featuring meticulous details beside an equally deliberate found and appreciated dirty high heel. Networks and connections, both personal and conceptual, are not a product of his practice but an essential facet of it.

Matthew Linde, Self portrait series, hats, 2015. Courtesy: the artist and SafARI 2016

What are the highlights of this year’s program? What’s not to be missed?

The works I think shouldn't be missed are actually the most missable, blink and they will pass works! Megan Hales’ work Two to Toot will be scooting around Kings Cross with her meticulous posters/paintings housed in the back of advertising scooters traveling around our mapped precinct during exhibition openings. While Jamie Lewis’s work 来,吃饭 (Come, eat) is a series of three dinners that are both exclusive and inclusive as they can only be fully experienced by the first 15 or so people who book seats at the table.

Megan Hales, Draft for Daddy Came First (Painting), 2016. Collage on paper, 21 x 30cm. Courtesy: the artist and SafARI 2016

ALASKA PROJECTS and the new ALASKA PROJECTS WILLIAM ST. will be exhibiting a varied presentation of different networks and links through film, moving installations and live feed works. However all these links sit still for one moment in Ben Chadbond’s The Beekeeper. As the only photographer in the program his work shows the moment of a bee biting the beekeeper: in one moment of stillness the entire network and its risks are written large.

Why is it important for collectors, curators and the wider community to support emerging practice?

Emerging artists and their Artist Run Initiatives represent what is coming. Supporting and allowing these artists to continue developing work is so important. A lot of emerging artists are interested in talking to commercial, creative and community representatives as their work itself investigates these sides of arts ecologies and social impacts.

Funding models are changing, the arts as a market is changing, Australia is changing. We have received amazing support for SafARI 2016 but more varied support is becoming necessary for the arts. As a result emerging artists and ARIs are looking at new modes of commercial practice, new dialogues and at repositioning themselves in communities to continue. New and thoughtful art is such an important thing and artists’ relationships with collectors, curators and the wider community are going to become more important to keep the ecology fluid.

How do you see ARIs interacting with the rest of the art industry? Why are they important?

If art is a product, or an economy, it does have to be tested and pushed outside of market pressures. This is a very flat view of an art ecology, but does inform the commercial arts market. ARIs give artists the space and support to take risks to make and develop work. Every culturally important or bankable artist has come from a community of Artist Run Initiatives and programs that have informed each other and developed social, aesthetic and political channels essential to the entire matrix.

ARIs foster arts practices beyond universities and into social, market and community ecologies. More importantly ARI’s are a point of contact between the art industry and communities they work from and engage with.

How does SafARI mimic how independent art practices and spaces operate in Sydney?

SafARI is itself an Aritist Run Initiative that has to evolved and progressed on to be relevant and operational. We run over the vernissage and opening week of the Sydney Biennale so we hope to show off what is currently happening in Australia to wider audiences. SafARI, like RUNWAY is an ARI without a specific location, because it is run by artists. We are using RUNWAY as an online venue for that very reason, as spaces become unaffordable for independent practitioners in Australia, the artist’s connection to physical space is being assessed. Similarly we do not use ARIs as a venue only, and work to curate so that the exhibitions in their spaces as a part of SafARI are related to the style of work they normally show. SafARI, like broader ARIs, has to change regularly and be adaptive to keep on track, relevant and engaged.

How can collectors and community members support Australia’s ARIs and independent art spaces?

Come to the shows, talk to the artists and organisers about what you think. Call the Weather Vent for a whinge. Join the Mailing lists and follow the websites of these spaces throughout the year beyond SafARI 2016 and the Biennale. This is so important and appreciated.

Think about affordable real estate and housing. Utopian slumps in Melbourne was supported through a development company with the use of a space for six months while they worked out planning, resulting in SLOPES. Similar things have happened in Sydney. This kind of cultural memory and impacted city planning is exciting for everyone, come check it out.

SafARI 2016 runs from March 11-26 around Sydney and online. The 2016 program has been executed by Louise Dibben working alongside Katie Milton (PR/marketing), Del Lumanta (PP and publications) KK+JLD (Kailana Sommer and Jack Dunbar, design) and Benjamin Forster (web development). Visit safari.org.au for more details.

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