Arch Lane Public Art + Shared Recollecting

By Belinda Gunn & David Holden

arch lane PUBLIC ART written by Belinda Gunn

Below is a bit of a “shared recollection” of the time we spent working on arch lane PUBLIC ART, an artist run space we initiated in the 80’s located off Macrossan, Off Adelaide Street from 1988-1991.

Background…the question of the 70s 80s art scene…

We (artists) were definitely very marginalised in society and regarded ourselves as ‘sub-cultural’ at the time, part of an “underground” scene, not really by choice, but because it was very right-winged politically in Brisbane in the 80’s. There was a big divide between what was widely accepted, what was accepted as mainstream and contemporary art practice. This subculture and its way of life, was very reactionary to a very conservative Brisbane, as so of course the art was a mirror for these values.

The music we listened to and made, the condemned buildings in which we found so much beauty and lived in because we had no money… made way for many more widely accepted politics and tastes today (beliefs, design, even the food we ate). We hung out/lived in West End, where the Aboriginals and other culturally marginal groups lived; we shopped for our clothes at army supplies and op shops; bought our furniture from seconds; drank at the Royal Exchange: we made left wing choices. It was us and them: they were Billy Joel, we were Nick Cave.

We were post-punk really and more interested in alternative lifestyles, multicultural food, and ‘living’ our art with earnest integrity, and they were interested in making money.

Artistically, the city of Brisbane was going through a massive growth spurt – there was an underground hotbed of passionate energy for music and art that wasn’t represented in the commercial realm. The art was a reaction to the suppression of cultural diversity by a conservative corrupt government. There was not much room for us in mainstream society.

We were post-punk really and more interested in alternative lifestyles, multicultural food, and ‘living’ our art with earnest integrity, and they were interested in making money.

Artistically, the city of Brisbane was going through a massive growth spurt – there was an underground hotbed of passionate energy for music and art that wasn’t represented in the commercial realm. The art was a reaction to the suppression of cultural diversity by a conservative corrupt government. There was not much room for us in mainstream society.

I loved the idea of making art installations in an alley way or a garage, as opposed to the slick art galleries. One show I did in the ‘annex’ (garage) next to That Space in Charlotte Street was an installation of my worn out boots, chalk drawings – markings on the floor and a single candle burning on a raised plinth, a kind of religious homage to our kind. It was most important that this artwork wasn’t seen as a commodity, it couldn’t be bought. In a group show at Mils (a supportive commercial gallery) my work incorporated an oil painting 10ft tall on tracing paper… A throw-away installation piece. It was a time of ideals, money wasn’t of major importance.

The question of the Bjelke-Petersen regime…

I actually spent the last two years of high school in Kingaroy, Bjelke-Peterson’s home town 83/84, in his heyday – he would come to our assemblies and give us a holiday (just for our school) a couple of times a year – he thought he was god. He had a lot of power, and he yielded it.

The Art work we exhibited at arch lane ?….

At arch lane, we were interested in supporting artists in our community, work that pushed boundaries and represented our ideals. We were as selective as we could be.

Dave’s background was in graphics and technical drawing, but from a left wing stand (post-punk) and then drawn to the alternative art scene. David had a big musical interest as well, and I recall it being a vitally important element, a background for the art…. the music was grungy, poetic, anti-societal eg. Nick Cave, the Saints, the Go-Betweens, the Riptides. Many were Brisbane bands and we were their audience.

We met at art college in 1985, we were the first year to be offered a Bachelor of Fine Art in Qld.

Why open an artist-run space?

There was no other forum for us…nowhere to ‘show’ our own work. The glossy commercial art galleries of the 80’s weren’t interested in our brand of art which wasn’t always sale-able, and/or there wasn’t a big enough market for all of us. We saw a ‘need’ at the time for artist-run-initiatives, coming from a large artist community living in Brisbane.

The living was affordable in the 80’s – derelict, squats, cheap rent – Brisbane offered it in abundance (even with city views!), so we were all over the inner city. That Gallery, Mils, the community galleries and IMA weren’t able to cater for us. We were too many, so two of us decided to embark on this ARI idea.

Dave and I found an unused car park across the road from the waterway workers union club (?) in Arch Lane at the dodgy end of the city and around the corner from Bellas Gallery. It was filthy, but had a certain beauty about it with large pylons down the centre and huge old wooden doors, which gave it character. Most importantly, it was large and cheap – $100 a week I think. We hired a gurney and cleared it out, bondcreted the crumbly walls and gave it a white facelift. We called it arch lane PUBLIC ART.

In November 89 we sent out our first flyer using the IMA mailing list (and a very generous Sue Cramer, the Director at the time) inviting people to our first ‘show’ – Multiple, a group of of artists including Diena Georgetti, Hiram To, Eugene Carchesio and ourselves.

We wanted to support installation and performance art, without excluding the painters and photographers. We were very interested in photography and indeed spent many hours in the darkroom experimenting. There were many group shows too, like “the TRUTH”, which was an exhibition of about 50 artists, with a criteria of text on A4 paper.

Artists included Diena Georgetti, Ray Cooke, Lucinda Elliott, Allen Furlong, AXIS Art Projects, Scott Redford, Luke Roberts, Hiram To, Brenda Lewis and many more

And so it continued for a couple of years…until the end of 1991 perhaps..

The big guys in the Brisbane art scene (MCA, IMA, Peter Bellas) were as supportive as they could be – always monitoring and coming to our openings, and also financially supportive on odd occasions.

There was an underlying question, though, of when we were going to ‘get a little more serious’ and show commercial art. In hindsight I suppose this was realistic as it might have provided a means to continue. As it was, this was not the modus operandi and we closed after 2 years, probably due to the difficulty in consistently finding high caliber artists willing to pay the rent. So without funding and being poor artists ourselves, we moved on.

arch lane allowed me to make a show consisting of a pool of water, a neon light and a powdered chalk drawing of a ship with poetry written straight onto the wall….and I am grateful for that. I seem to remember Peter Bellas commenting that if I ever started painting, I should come and see him. Ha!

Be Gunn, February 2016

Postscript:

And if you have any artist’s names and archival resources to kindly add, send us a message below, thanks 🙂

RELATED LINKS

Artist Websites

www.begunn.com

Artist Profiles

The Ephemera Interviews

Related Archival Resources