BUSYBRICK – Interview with artists Jac Dyson and Erena Mercer – Artist-Runs Now


 

PA: 

Hi Jac, Hi Erena. Thanks for your time today. What, Who, When, Why And Where is Busybrick?

 


 

JD & EM:

BUSYBRICK is Jac Dyson and Erena Mercer, two artists living in Brisbane. We are dedicated to providing opportunities for local, national and international creatives, emerging and established. We curate exhibitions and events in Brisbane residential and public spaces which are visual art and performance driven. As an ARI we offer space as a host for creatives to participate in and carry an ethos of collaboration, support and community. We started early 2016 with the simple act of helping a friend and dived head first into artistic event production and creative collaboration.


 

PA: 

Tell me about the name of your group/collective, the story behind the fabulous name busybrick? and something about each of you, as artists and your practice, your methods, media and so on?

 


 

JD & EM:

Ah! the name. We thought the name was important, and we were putting a lot of thought into brainstorming the “perfect name”- there were so many options. We had lists of possible names, conceptual, wacky, fun and professional titles. It was like naming a child. We had the date of our first exhibition, we had the show’s name, we had the space, we had the curatorial rational, we had the artists but we could not settle on a name for our artist run initiative. We had to make a social media page and get the promotional material out for our approaching opening but still we were swaying on the name of our ARI.

 

JD:

I went over to Erena’s “Get the dictionaries! You choose one word and I’ll choose another.” We had two dictionaries, or was it a thesaurus and a dictionary, two defining texts, hah. We opened pages together, at the same time, and the first word we looked at we noted, putting our two words together. We did it about seven times and drew from the list. I had busy and Erena had brick and that was our favourite combo.

 

EM:

Overall BusyBrick is a great platform to support the artistic community within Brisbane, as this open attitude to producing creative events (we are hoping) creates a group or space that is willing to showcase anyone and anything. We also want to provide spaces so everyone can be meeting faces, sparking bonds and generating collaborations to keep our community invigorated and minds working.

 

Jac and I share a similar background in the creative arts but we both are interested and deliver different messages. The collaboration between us provides really potent grounds for ideas on show themes, who to show and exhibition designs.

 

JD:

I studied fine art and animation, both bachelors through Queensland College of Art (QCA). Aside from BUBYSBRICK I’m a practicing artist, and work and volunteer in the arts. At the moment I am a jeweller and animator – already spending quite a bit of time at my jeweller’s bench this year, exhibiting with the Jewellers and Metalsmiths Group of Queensland and collaboratively with my partner, and I’m animating a music video for a local Brisbane band, The Oyster Murders, this month. I work most days as a Gallery and Visitors Services Officer at Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) and volunteer one day a week there with the Children’s art centre public programs team.

 

EM:

Personally, I like to think of myself as a bit of a slasher, artist slash designer slash activist slash illustrator slash freelancer this and that and so on, which I suppose can be thought of as simply a creative or maybe a creative producer. I have studied at QUT for my honours in Fine Arts and then at QANTM for a Creative Media majoring in graphic design. Currently I am excited to be launching my own visual design studio in the first half of this year which will combine all of my passions and skills under one roof.


 

PA: 

Why, in a wee bit more detail did you start an artist-run group/collective, and what type of group/collective is it? there are so many artist-runs in brisbane, what makes yours unique, different, complementary?

 


 

EM:

BUSYBRICK started as an opportunity for Jac and I to produce creative events after a colleague of ours spoke to Jac about a need for a space to exhibit.

 

JD:

I was asking a friend and colleague in the change room at work why I hadn’t seen any of her work on social media recently and if she was still producing. I followed her posts and had previously enjoyed seeing her daily artwork progress snaps. She told how she had been producing a large amount of work and nothing was happening with it. It wasn’t being exhibited and her studio was filling.

My friend had come to the point where she wondered why she was making a lot but not showing any and was taking a break. She dislikes doing gallery applications, struggles to conceptualise her work in writing and hadn’t been able to secure a space to exhibit.

 

EM:

Personally I have always enjoyed the process of developing and executing events and wanted to do so after a few years away from the so called ‘art scene’ and I had already approached Jac with the idea of running an ARI so everything came together rather nicely.

 

JD:

There were plenty of ARI’s emerging at that time when Erena asked me if I wanted to launch an ARI, and I wasn’t sure about starting one then. When I spoke to my artist friend I realised there was still a need for accessible spaces for artists to use. I had the beginnings of a show and I asked Erena if she wanted to do this under an ARI umbrella. As soon as people found out we were doing a show they too asked if they could have a show! And this is how it started, and how it continues.


 

PA: 

Tell me in some detail about one or two of your most memorable BUSYBRICK artist-run projects so far, what you truly loved about them, and in all honesty what was challenging and groundbreaking about them from your point of view, how did you meet/solve the challenges?

 


 

JD:

The first show, almost a year ago now, is still vivid. It grounded and established us so it will always be a memorable show for me. We ended up having six artists in that show. We had a coffee cart, the top floor of my house, verandah, the internal stairs and the alleyway out the back filled with a great array of artworks – a large sculptural work on a tall post roped up to the fences with projections beaming off it, a projection inside with a mapped life plan printed and laid out utilising the existing shelves and dining room table, body fluid strung up in the stairwell, prints, collages, works on metal, wood and paper, and a solo performance in the alley way, and a supportive and brilliant group of people, friends and new friends turned up to celebrate.

 

Exhilarating and exhausting. We started early installing and just finished placing the didactics as the first people started arriving. Things take a lot longer than you ever expect. Fairy lights untangled and hung, carrots and cucumber cut into soldiers, more 3M required from the shops, furniture rearranged and walls cleaned, zip tying of lighting and all of the house’s normal cabling unplugged to allow for more extension cables for artwork use, rooms blocked off, spaces cleared, time lapses set, tasks delegated. It was ridiculous and wonderful. Jumping over balustrades to get into the room with the fake wall because things that had been tucked out of sight were needed.

 

Towards the end of the show my housemates arrived home to find the human spit from the stairwell installation dripping onto the ground floor and the nurse insisted that it be disinfected immediately. At midnight we had coffee connoisseurs chatting on the balcony as we started de-installing.

 

EM:

After the huge success of our first opening I wanted a show that was dedicated to political engagement and community building through a collective comment on the current state of western politics. It’s a heavy subject but we would be remise not to include a show that comments on the current climate that we are working within. We developed Wo(kin) with the intention of creating a space for conversation and a crossing of opinions and was delighted by the response from the artists and everyone attending. We were fortunate to have interstate artists involved and the use of my entire house and yard. We believe it became truly groundbreaking when composer Luke Jaaniste presented his work ‘Intense. Intimacy’.

 

It required everyone attending to lie down on the floor, close their eyes and create sound together. It was half an hour of strangers sharing a very intimate space at a place that was considered public for the night. Watching the work unfold was like running a gauntlet of different emotions and thoughts.

 


 

PA: 

Tell me about one or two of your current artist-run visions/ projects in the pipeline for 2017?

 


 

JD & EM:

We are keen to present more events this year: readings, workshops, picnics and musical gatherings run in conjunction with but at separate times to the art shows. We are also interested in in hosting a fortnightly critique group for people that want/need feedback about their works and ideas.

 

Erena remembers the often harrowing experience from her time at QUT but always gained so much from the feedback and honesty of the studio critiques. By providing a space outside of the institutions it offers a chance to meet new people and see other ideas than a core peer group. We’re hoping to start running these in the very near future.

 

JD:

BUSYBRICK’s April show, PRICK, invites artist to make in the medium of embroidery. We’ve had a great response so far, already over 30 artists, local, national and international, and BUSYBRICK is currently talking with a local fashion designer about the night’s performance. For previous show venues we have alternated between our homes: a show in my house and then Erena’s. It is my turn to provide the space for April. I’ll be moving house just before the show and some kind friends are lending us their shed and garden for the night.

 

The show will be up for one night on Thursday the 20th of April and there will be an embroidery picnic in the Dornoch Terrace park for everyone to participate in. That will be held on the first weekend of April. I’ve just ordered a whole stack of different coloured threads for everyone to use, wehoo.


 

PA: 

There seems to be an abundance of new artist-runs unfolding/generating in brisbane in the last eighteen months, what is happening, why and how and where? new graduates emerging from universities? tell me about two or three aris you like heaps and why so? and the thing i have noticed this year and last is just how different are these aris are and how supportive and nurturing the scene is right now why is this so do you think/feel?

 


 

JD & EM:

We feel its a natural response to the current climate of the arts in Brisbane and Australia. Spaces are often priced well out of range for artists, competition is high and our local and federal governments do not provide even adequate support for artists on any level. We hope the fact there are so many artist-runs continues to happen because it means a community is building and strengthening itself.

 

There are so many wonderful ARI’s at the moment, and it’s exciting to be operating in Brisbane at this time with a rich and great community of artists and initiatives. Every ARI is inspiring and it makes us, as artists and directors of an artist run initiative, develop and respond. It is also awesome for the collaborative and resource opportunities- already we’ve been sharing equipment.

 

EM:

The three ARI’s I really like are Boxcopy, Level and The Laundry. Boxcopy is like the grandfather ARI in a sea of seedlings and has always been a fantastic facet of Brisbane. The calibre of their shows are always exceptional and I would say they set a great standard for the Brisbane creative scene. Level has been an ARI I have always loved and admired. Providing space for feminist and women based thought and work is essential and they provided events like banner making that coincided with the context and history of what they presented. As for The Laundry I just have to admire their stamina and commitment to their events. They work so exceptionally hard and I’m excited to see what they bring to Metro Arts (another essential facet) with Cut Thumb.

 

JD:

I have a special affection for In residence and The Laundry Artspace, and they have both been really supportive of us as an ARI from the beginning.

 

I love the concept of In residence and the shows coming out of their spaces. One of my favourite parts of the BARI festival was going to Home 2 in that wonderful Teneriffe warehouse. Each of the four rooms in the show resonated with me and transported me to spaces in the Queenslanders my partner and I have lived in. The smell of a burning mosquito coil and the sound of dripping water in the garden, the unforgiving heat of the closed room with the heater and the magical patterns of light from the textured glass projected on the sunroom walls, the jumble of personal belongings on the bedroom floor, the interactivity and play of discovering the hidden treasures in the bathroom drawers and laundry basket were perfect.

 

I went to Home 2 by myself, scooted around to other BARI events that night and when my partner was free I picked him up. I was so excited by my experience of the works at the In residence show, when I spoke to him of my wonderment, for my second time, we dashed over before it closed.

 

I was at QCA at the same time as the girls from the Laundry and have been a supporter of theirs from their earliest shows, admiring their growth and development. I love, love, love what they are doing, and their genius responses to current circumstances and climate: GAS Leak, the Laundry national emerging art prize and their recent fundraiser with Cut Thumb. I’ve been lucky enough to be a performer in a show at their space and we’ve had Naomi in a BUSYBRICK exhibition.


 

PA: 

And so many different ari models and methods being used today all around the world, tell me in a bit more detail to above about your ari collective artist-run model/methodology ( locations, artists, types of events/projects, networking/publicity/media etc) in relation to two or three other artist-runs happening in se qld, brisbane toowoomba, gold coast etc?

 


 

JD & EM:

We think our methodology is evolving as we go along; originally it was a vessel to create the shows that we wanted to see but as other ARI’s spring up and as the scene keeps developing I’m sure our goals and methods will change right alongside it. We do have an ethos of trying to combine all different types of creative pursuits in the events we hold and this is best exemplified by always having an interactive/participatory element to our one night events. We try and break up the night by disrupting the expectation of the crowd and the flow of how people are being within the space.

 

Overall there is an essence to ARI’s that allow fluidity and change to exist in a manner that’s exciting and innovative and contributes to how art is developed, showcased and consumed. We are interested in the possibilities behind guest curators coming in, continuing one night events and offering services such as critique groups and ways for artists to support each other.


 

PA: 

Why do you feel artist-runs matter? what new knowledge do they bring to the knowledge base?

 


 

EM:

Artist runs are run by artist for artists so I feel like their motives would rest more with the community than trying to appease sponsors and meeting guidelines. The focus is on the art being made and seen rather than what sort of crowd participation can be garnered in the next there months. Even though this is definitely a rose coloured way to look at ARI’s it is also true of the space. Interpersonal connections and moments are easier to achieve in spaces where social attitudes and frameworks can be suspended or altered. I believe that is what ARI’s bring to the knowledge base, an opportunity to exist outside of an expectation or social construct and the ability to navigate and experience that space however you like.


 

PA: 

Did you manage to visit the Ephemeral Traces: Brisbane artist-runs in the 1980s exhibition about 1980s Brisbane artist-runs at the university of qld art museum april- july last year, about an era when artist-runs and diverse models proliferated in Brisbane and in some measure in regional Queensland as never before, what did you love or indeed not love about this exhibition? What was astonishing about the exhibition for you, what did you learn, did it inspire you or challenge you in some measure perhaps?

 


 

JD:

Yes, I visited. I remember a long wall collaged with wonderful ARI ephemera: great hand drawn posters, wild happenings, soup races!!, photographs of pushing QAG and a notice that the gallery was closed because it was in the Brisbane river. Amusing works, exciting, wild and wonderful happenings. Go with the flow, experimental, parties for artists. Different to how we operate now. With so many fine ARI’s at the moment the standard is high. There is an expectation to be professional, focused and organised in our presentation. We are ambitious as well, and document our events as professional development.

 

EM:

Unfortunately I was not able to attend the Ephemeral Traces exhibit but the feedback I got from others was entirely positive and many boasted of the significance it held and how important it was to have such an exhibit.


 

PA: 

Brisbane has such a wellspring of artist-run heritage since the late 1970s, in a similar way, what are your enjoying about ari remix project, artist-run archives 1980-1990, or indeed not enjoying about the archive as it develops now, and do you feel it is useful today in some way(s), how so, why so ? is it making an impact, if so how so, why so do you think?

 


 

EM & JD:

ARI Remix Project is an amazing initiative and resource. The richness that is showcased on the site is really heart-warming and completely inspiring! We are also of the opinion that more is more so the more accessible these resources are, especially historical resources, the better. Both of us are loving the attitude we’re getting from the 1980-1990 archive, having always loved the DIY, radical nature of that period and we are excited to see it digitally preserved and harnessed by new artists.


 

PA: 

So are you hopeful for the future of artist-runs, how so, why so, what value do you feel they bring (that certain something that is of value) to the knowledge base, to arts and culture heritage that institutional spaces like the IMA or GOMA don’t offer, imagine, create or provide? and an artist-run festival like BRI festival a festival that feels to be an important part of today’s Brisbane arts and culture scene – i am imagining a BARI/GOMA collaboration, that could be good?

 


 

EM & JD:

Creatives will always create opportunities if they are lacking, as artist we are kitted with a spectrum of ideas to make things happen. If there aren’t artist run initiative there will be something else to fill the gap. But for now we don’t see the significance of ARI’s dropping at any time, often it can be the first rung for an artist to climb and an intimidating step at that.

 

Artists need to be aware of how to exhibit, talk about their works and developing a professional manner and often sites like IMA or GOMA feel completely wrong as a site for development and just frankly completely out of reach for artists of all levels. ARI’s provide support and exposure to creatives that many not have many networks or contacts in place or who are even battling the ever present loom of anxiety and performance of social contracts. Without a base to start from and a community to support you, tackling the long road of creative production would feel even more perilous. ARI’s provide a space for experimentation, for anarchy, innovation and support from the community you are working within.

 

This idea has been exemplified by BARI and 2016 was an incredibly well put together festival. So a BARI and GOMA collaboration would really be an amazing thing to occur as it would show that GOMA (read institutions) acknowledge the position it holds within the creative sector and by supporting an artist run festival such as BARI, it can lend support by creating exposure and celebrating the spaces, creatives and works that make up the creative community of Brisbane.


 

PA: 

Lobbying & advocacy for artist-runs is an important issue, can you tell me something about how you advocate on behalf of artist-runs?

 


 

EM & JD:

We advocate for artist run initiatives through BUSYBRICK, as artists, and as people attending and supporting the initiatives and events of current ARI’s (locally and when we travel), bringing our friends along, donating and celebrating.

 

We promote the wonderful work of artist runs by speaking at openings, participating in panel discussions, art festivals, exhibitions and performances, and we make sure we are aware of what is happening in the arts in Queensland and Australia.

 

We are currently following the campaign through NAVA that is advocating for artists to be paid a fair and equitable rate for their work. We provide action by giving feedback to government inquiries and advocacy groups like NAVA and through direct support by attending community talks and protests and through participation in community events, marches and information sessions. We understand that providing consistent support for better funding programs and policy changes is so important for keeping the arts in QLD and Australia going.


 

PA: 

Chatting about arts advocacy and lobby groups, professional associations like NAVA and the recently folded QAA, Queensland Artworkers’ alliance initiated in 1986, is there a need now for a new advocacy/lobby group for artists in Brisbane? and if so what might a group like this look like today, what would it do/address and develop? how might it tap into a national organisation like NAVA?

 

 


 

EM:

I think we can draw a lot of inspiration from other places like Canada. Organisations such as ARCCO and ARC have been operating for over 40 years and have formed an autonomous network of galleries, artists, curators, presentation spaces etc that support cultural workers and provide improved access to affordable facilities.

 

ARCCO’s advocacy has gained accomplishments both federally and provincially including increasing professional development opportunities such as conferences and networking with substantial funding to attend such events. ARC also promotes an ethos of self-organization which validates the production and presentation of art through peer-assessment rather than catering to the market or institutional priorities.

 

For Brisbane we would like to see an accessible network form that extends throughout the different spaces, ARIs, creative producers and cultural workers and is led by the community it seeks to help. We have been experiencing different moments of this happening but creating a lasting and effective structure and network is really the next step. We like to dream that the collaboration we are seeing now could develop into a 40 or 50 year long collective.

 

 

https://www.facebook.com/BUSYBRICKARI

BUSYBRICK- Erena Mercer + Jac Dyson. Sporting our packs as part of our Shift/Work artwork for BARI festival 2016. Photograph taken by Samuel Lintern
BUSYBRICK- Daniel Sala / You am I 2016 / Projection, cardboard, paint, glue, screws, wood. Photograph taken by Luke Bonham.

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