From “Ratbags” to “Rat Poets” Contribute Your 500 Word Stories – CALL OUT for contributions by December 10, 2016
Performativity cannot be understood outside of a process of iterability, a regularized and constrained repetition of norms. And this repetition is not performed by a subject; this repetition is what enables a subject and constitutes the temporal condition for the subject. This iterability implies that ‘performance’ is not a singular ‘act’ or event, but a ritualized production, a ritual reiterated under and through constraint, under and through the force of prohibition and taboo, with the threat of ostracism and even death.
From Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”, Judith Butler, 1993
“Archiving is in part a rescue mission; the threat of disappearance propels
the thinking behind the archive. Instituting something in the archive
removes it from jeopardy. The legitimacy of a subject—a person, place, event,
practice, organization, community, or movement is designated as valuable,
and positioned on the verge of becoming history. Instituting and inscribing
into systems of history also means that the responsibility of memory gets
consigned to the archive and its future use. So there’s a liberatory dimension
involved, as well as optimism. People, things, and events can seem to come to
life in the archive.”
Julie Ault, Interview
Set against a backdrop of state-imposed repetitions of censure, constraint, prohibition, taboo, vilification and demonisation; “ratbaggery” one of the lesser slurs favoured by the 1980’s Bjelke Peterson regime and its pundits springs to mind, arguably it is the proliferation of a shared performativity that binds together this constellation of cultural production and agencies that in turn enlivened 1980’s arts and culture in Queensland and has since produced immeasurable growth.
From early Brisbane-based artist-run precursors like the 1945 Miya Studio and Barjai group; with both artistic and literary motivations in mind to the highly-organised and biodiverse artist-run ‘sector’ as we know it today, it was during Brisbane’s 1980’s artist-run crucible years; a socio-political and global climate ripe for producing a changeling iterability, when the models and possibilities for artist-run production expanded and sustained unprecedented growth and networking opportunities.
1980’s institutions like the Queensland Film and Drama Centre, its numerous workshops, exhibitions, artist residencies and programs for community access at Griffith University in Kessels Road, Nathan, the University of Queensland Student Union funded and managed The Activities Centre on campus at St. Lucia throughout the 1970’s and 1980s in tandem with the chaotic clusters of lively squats, ramshackle share houses, abandoned spaces, happenings and dada-like “processions” in New Farm, West End, South Brisbane, Milton, Petrie Terrace, Red Comb House and derelict inner city buildings or laneways produced collective domains and networks, and together these institutions and information clusters, meeting places, meeting spaces and social groups, provided a ripple effect that in turn gathered momentum and added cogency and coherency throughout the 1980’s.
When artist-run culture in turn- largely through these iterations and the virus of shared agency- became increasingly more networked, more organised, more formalized, more diverse, polyvalent, interdisciplinary together this culture of shared agency developed an unprecedented measure of social and political clout, arguably the popular attention turned, albeit in subtle ways, from the primacy of traditional structures, institutions, galleries, venues and media and so called sites of power to the sites of artist-runs and small scale arts activities and independent media.
While this blog post is not the place to unpack and examine the philosophies, complexities and nuances of feminism, post-structural theory, identity politics and community activism that loosened the state-sanctioned stranglehold on artistic agency, dissent and oppositional voices, it is worth sketching out here a brief topography of performativity in 1980’s Queensland that in turn enlivened, emboldened, ennobled and reshaped the biodiversity of 1980’s Queensland arts and culture in immeasurable ways into the diverse, arts climate in Queensland we know today. Performing Arts and Visual Arts merged inextricably….
This multi author blog we are gathering together, and its cascading accounts of memory and recollecting, is simply designed to encourage, embolden and ennoble creatives and co-creatives reading this blog, and the modicum of ephemeral traces contained within the word press web site, to remember, to write, to participate, to post, to share and to contribute their own accounts.
Storytelling , ephemera evidence and tracings, testimonies around these crucible years of performativity to add to this artist-run public archive is welcomed. And for digital communities like this one equally passionate about artist-run heritage ( that we also hope and trust is a relevant lo-fi legacy model to be adapted for related artist-run “sectors” anywhere in the world) we are building and growing together here throughout 2015 and 2016 is most fervently encouraged, hint, hint.
This archival project is for the most part motivated by the idea that somewhere in the interstices of these multiple accounts, artist histories, images, resources, sounds and memory is where a broader account of the truth exists. It is arguably in the spaces between these memories, forgotten, false, blended, conflicted and long remembered, where truthfulness resides.
The Activities Centre, University of Queensland, St Lucia (circa 1975-1991)
Comprising exhibitions, artist residencies, screen printing, poster making, typesetting, graphic design, kiln, photographic darkroom, workshops, educational programs, meeting rooms, community noticeboard and publication facilities this community access resource was an important networking and educational facility for artists, musicians, writers, designers, performers, collectives and ensembles.
Perhaps the most distinguishing aspect of this facility was it’s close proximity to, and interconnectedness with 4ZZZ Community Public Radio then located on campus, an important alternative media and voice for performativity and social change in South East Queensland since 1975 when 4zzz began. The Activities Centre was also interconnected with the student publication SEMPER, also produced by the Student Union, with the Sir Fred Schnoell Cinema and cinema foyer where many exhibitions, happenings and events were held. And similarly the Cement Box Theatre.
The Queensland Film and Drama Centre, Kessels Road, Nathan
Comprising productions, conferences, symposia, artist studio residencies, print making, poster making, design, exhibitions, meeting rooms, community noticeboards and publication facilities throughout the 1980s, this facility, perhaps less community access oriented that the Student Union run The Activities Centre at the University of Queensland engaged creatives and co-creatives in a diverse range of media, new technologies, post structural theories trending at the time and distribution “platforms” possible at the advent of the digital age. It too was an important networking and educational facility for artists, media/ film makers, musicians, composers, writers, designers, activists, collectives and ensembles.
Red Comb House, 199 Roma Street, Brisbane
Comprising squats, artist studios, exhibition, screen and performance spaces, and located near the Police Headquarters of the day, Red Comb House was another important meeting place, meeting space and venue for networking, events and cultural production. It was also a place where the amazing One Flat group of artists; Jeanelle Hurst, Adam Boyd and Russell Lake cut their teeth.
Brisbane Squats, Share Houses, Various Inner City and CBD locations – The Punk Impluse
The Milton squats, the Petrie Terrace squats and inner city squats and the plethora of sprawling ramshackle inner city “Queenslanders” and terraces of the period also provided safe; if somewhat decrepit mouldy and mildewy shelter- ” festooned with rats, silverfish, white ants, cockroaches and pigeon shit” as a number of artists here like describe their 1980s Queensland quotidian world – working spaces, studios, darkrooms, screen printing set-ups and networking opportunities for artists, musicians, designers, activists, collectives and ensembles.
The Proliferations of Performativity
Independent small scale performativity was a melting pot of networks, attitudes, styles, tastes, genres and crossovers throughout the 1980s, writer Robert Whyte has described these deeply entwined crucible years as an era marked by “one degree of separation”; comprising what we now prefer to term multi-arts or multi-platform; bands and music, sound art, spoken word, cabaret, political theatre, dance, visual art and craft, performance art, performance poetry and theatrical ensembles proliferated throughout the 1980’s.
Street Arts, Zip, La Bamba, Raw Roar, The Rock and Roll Circus, Clout, Drippy Taps, Talk It Down, Order By Numbers, the Cement Box Theatre, The West End Arts Factory, Brisbane Inner City Youth Service, Brisbane Community Arts Centre, The Liquorice Lounge, Feral Sound, Leah Cotterell and her many collaborators in voice, Pork, Xero, Closest Thing, The Holy Ghosts, Wondrous Fare, Small World Experience, Dog Fish Cat Bird, Simon Reptile and the Anti-Bad Time crew, the plethora of other Brisbane bands who supported artist-run spaces like Too Green For Summer, Tangled Shoelaces, The Stinsons, The Kents and more . The hundreds of people who frocked-up, donned make-up, uttered the unspeakable, shouted, protested, gathered and walked in the streets for Brisbane’s first lesbian, gay and trans pride marches in the late 1980s at the height of the HIV AIDs pandemic in a violent, misogynistic and homophobic police state. This listing of 198os performativities seems infinite today.
Design collectives and houses like Jewel Palace, Belltower, Antibody, Glamourpussy, Maria Cleary Designs, Anna Bourke’s Atomic Workshop, Lyn Hadley Design, 2D Design, also engaged direct and indirect collaborations with artists and designers, and these activities multiplied in a zeitgeist that celebrated the permutations of popular culture over high art and blended design with performativity. Together producing mash ups of fashion parades, club culture, performance art, electronica, house music and multimedia and in collaboration with small owner operated businesses that were burgeoning at the time like The Mask and Chi Chi Deluxe.
Similarly, artists and designers focusing on wearable art and functional objects including Barbara Heath, Sheridan Kennedy, Thomas Burless and Sally Hart also have related stories of collaboration and performativity in their biographies.
Cafes like Le Scoops in Paddington and Elizabeth Streets in the CBD, the Aromas cafes, and a myriad of vegetarian eateries, restaurants and bake house around the CBD like Dada Le Tarte in Teneriffe and the MOCA Cafe in South Brisbane also played a significant role in this cosmos of performativity providing an alchemy of sustainable employment, networking, exhibition and events opportunities for artists in their busy small business enclaves.
Media groups including the many 4ZZZ Public Radio collectives like Murri Hour, Arts Roundup and Megaherz Women’s Collective, the Cane Toad Times Collective, S.C.A.M, Versions, the Blunt Focus Cinema Collective, the Film Facts Collective and the Brisbane Independent Filmmakers Collective blended art, politics, identity, documentary, sound, education and social change.
Brisbane based tertiary education institutions including the then Seven Hills based Queensland College of Art ( and earlier again at the Gardens Point Campus in the city), the Kelvin Grove College of Advanced Education and the Queensland Institute of Technology, the Queensland Conservatorium of Music were also important networking and performativity sites for artists, creatives, students, musicians, bands, writers, illustrators, designers and activists motivated by the white heat of social change that the oppressive Bjelke-Petersen regime produced in part.
And so it goes, and then of course are the many diverse artist-run spaces themselves, related venues of infrastructural performativity, cultural production, ritual and vigil; including E.M.U, One Flat/O’Flate and its many iterations, The Observatory, That Contemporary Art Space, John Mills National, Bureau, Interface 88, Outdoor Drive In, Axis Art Projects, Arch Lane Public Art, Brutal. Like many of the spaces and places outlined above the artist-run spaces, were also networking hubs, sites of convergence, where difference, diversity, dissent and performativity had a home, albeit short lived in the advent of EXPO 88 and the culture of demolition, alienation and displacement it accelerated, amplified and espoused.
For many creatives and co-creatives the Fitzgerald Inquiry into Police Corruption (1987-1989) and the change of government to the Goss Ministry on the 7th December 1989 ushered in a new era of hope, national and international favour and celebration.
Arguably the 1990-2000 period, when “the repetition of norms” was overturned, Queensland artist-runs continued to grow and prosper and enabled a greater measure of sophistry to performativities in this new socio-political climate of reforms, social justice, human rights, proliferating public art projects and sweeping legislative changes. Perhaps in some measure they also consoled and eclipsed the collective melancholy and memory wasting that had beleaguered artist-runs and the repetitions of state-sanctioned disavowal of heritage in the previous decade.
Artist-Run Networking in Regional Queensland
Contrary to popular belief and the Brisbane-centric notions that tend to prevail in the mainstream media today, artist-run networking also proliferated through regional Queensland throughout the 1970s and the 1980s.
The ARI Remix Collective is keen to share some of these significant stories of collectives and collaborations too, including:
The groundbreaking work of small scale arts organisations like the East Aus Art School, and then, the Flying Art School founded and run by artist Mervyn Moriarity and operated as a school, exhibitions and artist networking model throughout regional Queensland and at various Brisbane sites since 1971.
Regional tertiary educational institutions including the Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education in Toowoomba and their popular Summer Schools and the Townsville College of Advanced Education produced many artists who in turn travelled to live, love, work and exhibit in Brisbane and Sydney, many who were active participants and key protagonists in 1980’s artist-runs in each of these cities.
Artist Dianne Heenan took up the role as Queensland’s first woman Gallery Director role, and indeed first woman Regional Gallery Director role at the “reimagined ” Gladstone Regional Gallery and Museum in 1985. It was here that Dianne initiated a visionary and inclusive community access program in the region, that has become a familiar feature in regional arts and culture programs today. Dianne’s program was motivated largely through her collaborations at the East Aus Art School and The Activities Centre in the late 1970’s and in her capacity as an artist and collaborator in 1980s Brisbane artist-runs including Red Comb House in 1982, the influential No Names exhibition at the IMA in 1983, A Room in 1984 and That Contemporary Art Space in 1985.
Artist Ann Marie Reaney collaborated with Mornington Island communities for her 1986 That Contemporary Art Space and Chameleon installation, From The Margins and in turn helped in immeasurable ways to forge new and unprecedented networking opportunities for Mornington Island artists and crafts makers, as did artist Micheal Eather, who since 1985 has continued to be one the many artist mainstays of the well known Campfire Group who today still produce many extraordinary artist collaborations, exhibitions and publications. Micheal is also the artist and the director of the Fireworks Gallery located in Teneriffe.
The Tropical Artist Guild established in Grafton Street in Cairns in 1985 was an important meeting place, theatre, cafe, exhibition, artist studios and performance venue for artists and young people living and working in far North Queensland. Artists and designers at TAG including Robert Munday and Colin Baker produced the post punk zine Son of Tag, a modest way of informing and connecting with artists living in the region and providing a sense of social cohesiveness, social change and environmental awareness in a region experiencing escalated development. Development unfolding at the expense of heritage areas like The Daintree and the Great Barrier Reef in an era of accelerating privatisation and corporate greed, a double whammy of 1980s Queensland climate of hubris confounding to so many, a democracy markedly bereft of community consultation and social engagement.
Many of the visual artists directly involved in the 1980-1990 artist-runs arrived in Brisbane from Queensland regional centres far and wide, from Roma, Mt Isa, Muttaburra, Dalby, Gatton to Emu Park, and the soft lure of modernity, that Brisbane, then a “big small country town” offered at the time at the 1980’s cusp of postmodernism and the awakening digital era.
Community Contributions Welcomed:
Yes lets together address the jeopardy of disappearance and institute an artist-led archive:
We would love you to contribute and help grow this archive of artist-run diversity here.
There is a $150 artist-fee available for ten memoir accounts by new contributors, and non-paid contributions are most welcome. An artist agreement will be emailed to you to sign and return on completion of your post – the OPEN feature is designed as an inclusive multi-authoured blog.
Simply write an email a 500 ( or up to 15oo words if your prefer) word story/memoir account by the first deadline September 15, 2016 or by the final deadline December 10, 2016 at the very latest and kindly attach an image or three and share here:
ARI REMIX Project Co-ordinator:
Are you too an active participant of the 1980-1990 artist-runs? Contribute here:
If you are an artist, poet, writer designer or creative in any sense of the word who was actively engaged in the many 1980s artist-run spaces outlined on this word press site and would like to create an artist profile, kindly send a 100 word bio, your one to two page resume and accompanying photos or ephemera resources to cut, copy, paste and share here:
Top: Dada Do, 1986. Brisbane School of Arts. Photographer: Jose Macalino.
The Dado Do was an artist-run event fundraiser for the newly formed Eyeline Art Magazine, Queensland’s first magazine, with a gaggle of guest editor’s at the time, dedicated to a critical engagement with contemporary art.
Middle: Performance Week, 1986, That Contemporary Art Space. Pictured left to right, artists Eugene Carchesio, Christine Chance and Michelle Andringa. Photographer: Paul Andrew
Bottom: White Noise Dog, Performance collaboration by Geoffrey Karl Schmidt, 1987, John Mills National. Photographer: Jose Macalino