Falling ARI – It’s Goodnight from Peloton
Interview with Adrian Gebers, 2013
Artist-Runs like Peloton in Campbell Street, Surry Hills have existed in a diversity of models and with a plethora of methods since the 1950s, arguably evolving en masse in Australia during the counter cultural 1970’s and anything goes 1980s. They are a DIY global phenomenon. In this 2013 interview Peloton Director Adrian Gebers provides an account of an artist-run with a cross-generational focus during it’s ten years of operations and one of many fallen artist-runs that included a diversity of artists actively engaged in the 1980- 2000 artist-run scenes in Brisbane and Queensland.
While the term ARI defies neat definitions and these spaces are constantly evolving in nature, there are two traits all ARI’s have in common, they are run mindfully by artists for artists and they collectively re-imagine and re-author the physical spaces they use; be it a disused warehouse, apartment, office block, shop front, lane way, postcard or an empty suitcase.
Since opening its doors in 2004 Peloton has supported the work of hundreds of artists, sadly Peloton is about to close. Peloton’s current directors Matthys Gerber, Lisa Jones, Francesca Heinz, and Adrian Gebers are hosting a final exhibition opening this Friday. Paul Andrew speaks to Director Adrian Gebers.
Peloton – Adrian how did the name of this artist-run come about? The idea of a group of cyclists hanging together on the road in a cluster where there is less drag and easier on the road perhaps?
The name is before my time so I can’t answer decisively. It’s a good name, and it’s been great that the name doesn’t give anything away. The gallery is an object defined by how it is used rather than its name. There are certainly more similarities that can be linked to it though.
When did Peloton begin, by whom?
The gallery was started by Matthys Gerber and a student Giles Ryder in 2004.The gallery started at 19 Meagher Street after taking over from Barry Keldoulis’ gallery. Before that it was Blaugrau run by Lisa Kelly and Alex Gawronski.
After a couple of years they were able to take over another shopfront two doors down. In late 2011 there was a fire above the gallery and the water used to extinguish the blaze flooded the gallery. After being homeless for a while and doing a few pop-up shows we found the new space on Campbell Street which we refurbished and turned into what it is today.
I am seized by the large poster on your office wall here, a list of the many artists who have been supported by Peloton, it looks and reads like an honour roll?
The list of artists we’ve shown is something that we’re really proud of. To an extent it’s a snapshot of history, not just for the names that one recognises, but for the names that many won’t.
It’s also great that we’ve been able to show artists before they became famous and well as after achieving significant recognition. There are artists who we’ve been able to foster, connections that have been made and a community that was established, all through the gallery.
The poster really sums up what we’ve been about – that huge list of artists, without priority. I think the strength of the gallery has been that diversity.
Sure there have been some outstanding exhibitions, but what has been great is the ability to look back over an entire year and see a spectrum of art and artists.
What sets Peloton apart from other ARI’s?
I think we run an incredibly professional program of invited artists from all over the world. We show both emerging and mid career artists. As ARIs have become increasingly focused on emerging artists this point has become quite important. As funding became available to the gallery the reduced the costs to exhibit and haven’t charged an artist for several years despite our costs increasing.
And similar to other ARI’s?
The gallery is run by artists and we don’t have as much money as we’d like.
Peloton supports emerging and established artist across the generations?
Peloton chooses its program based on the strength of the exhibitions. Distinctions like emerging and mid-career artists are there for funding bodies. We’ve been the platform for a discussion of ideas between artists, young and old from all over the world.
The richness of that discussion is because of the diversity of artists we’ve shown. There is a great community around the gallery which means that young artists are introduced to more established artists and vice versa.
However, there aren’t enough opportunities for mid-career artists to show in Sydney and we’re happy to have provided a place for that.
Australia has put a huge amount of importance on emerging artists and forgotten about what comes after that. By way of example, The Turner Prize in the UK is awarded to artists under 50 and classifies them as young.
We have a skewed idea of what a young artist is now. It takes years to develop a practice and artists need support all the way through. I think what we’re seeing now is a shift in collecting habits too which further hurts mid-career artists.
Why start an ARI in the first instance, it is about artists being incensed about the commercial galleries 40 percent commissions, the iresponsiveness of contemporary art spaces/ arts institutions/commercial galleries who are lacksidaisical when it comes to presenting artistic and cultural diversity?
I like to think that every ARI has their own reason, that you can have ARIs existing in opposition to commercial galleries, institutions and even other ARI models. They are a little safety valve to make sure things never get too bad and to keep the rest of the art world on its toes.
Can you tell me a bit about this event, your penultimate exhibition?
At the moment we’ve have two exhibitions in the gallery. Daniel Maudie Cunningham has a video of a performance called Take My Breath Away. It reifies breath into the object of a balloon which is shared between the two performers. It’s a recreation of a performance by Marina Abramovich and Ulay. The work itself straddles the line between serious and humorous, intimacy and perversion.
Cherine Fahd uses the balloon as the focus for a year-long meditation practice. Again using the balloon to manifest breath into an object. The object then becomes the focus of the year-long photography exercise with the great sculptural objects taking the focus of each image.
And your closing exhibition, GOOD NIGHT?
The final show is going to be a big group show of all the artists that were included in our 2013 program that now won’t get their chance to show as well as various people closely connected to the gallery like volunteers and previous directors. I think more importantly than the exhibition we’re trying to join our community together one last time and thank everyone that’s been involved over the years.
Adrian, sadly, Peloton is closing, why?
We’re closing for a number of reasons. Despite putting in the grant application in the first half of the financial year, the decisions are only announced in December, so we were left with three weeks to find an alternative source of funding for 2013 or close the gallery. Three weeks is not a long time and to get the kind of money that we would need (30k) we would need more time.
Although there may have been the possibility of sourcing a grant from somewhere else, there is no way any of the directors could have been expected to sustain the gallery in the mean time. We tried several times to appeal Arts NSW’s decision but this was declined. Ultimately they gave us a little money which will mean the directors are not out of pocket in closing.
Charging artists to exhibit is something we’re against, and we did not see it as an option for 2013.
Peloton is against auctions as fundraisers.
We’ve tried our hardest to prioritise art and artists. Giving artists the chance to exhibit for free and sometimes being able to provide further financial assistance has been a matter of pride for us.
Artists perform an incredibly important role in society and it’s great that we’ve been able to give something back. A fundraiser would mean that again artists were bearing the burden or being taken advantage of to support the program. There is more to be said on Fundraisers, and while they can be effective, I think they have some serious negative consequences too.
You recently mentioned to me during a visit here, about the difficulty in sustaining an ARI like Peloton?
I think what I was talking about was the importance of longevity when it comes to ARIs or any institution. The current model is generally providing annual funding with no guarantee of funding the year after. The biggest costs for a gallery are in the first year – putting down a bond for a space, setting up a gallery, buying equipment etc, not to mention the logistical fact that most commercial leases are 3-5 years.
After the first year the costs will decrease, so the funding bodies would get better value in their second year of funding an organisation. So that’s one reason why I’m all for lengthening funding terms.
Another is the effect on history. Galleries as they exist longer cement themselves institutionally. The benefits to this far outweigh the downsides. The whole point of running these galleries is to exhibit work and get people to see it, and this takes time.
Over time these galleries develop a conversation and a context too, and they continue to serve an important function long after they have closed.
Unfortunately this is not the case for galleries that come and go. We ran Peloton under the assumption that we would get funding for the following year, planning a program of events etc. It allowed us to be more organised and staged more ambitious projects often organising to get artists from overseas for example. You could not do that efficiently on a smaller time scale.
I wonder if it’s a leftover from the 1980’s that the term ARI’s still seems to somehow infer a short term prospect, a limited shelf life, at least to the funding bodies and “establishment” arts institutions?
Perhaps historically this has been the case, although it largely depends on how you define an ARI. Something like the Contemporary Arts Society was started in 1937 and staged exhibitions of members.
It still exists today perhaps having lost some of its political clout. A lot of the 80’s ARIs solely hinged on the one or two people that ran them, N-Space, Q-Space, Inhibodress etc. The people that run them are bound to suffer from burn out. The way to avoid this is to set them up as institutions – First Draft’s continually revolving board of directors is a good example of this. However it means that although the institution exists, it develops a personality of its own rather than that of the directors.
Perhaps it is time to collectively reconsider what an ARI means today?
The history of ARIs in their various forms has been reactionary. Artists were against what the standing institutions were doing so they did it themselves. In this way I think the definition has changed to fit the circumstances.
In a perfect world ARIs wouldn’t exist because the institutions would be doing an adequate job on their own. Funding ARIs is almost an acknowledgement of this.
To be fair the institutions must include commercial galleries and it’s interesting to note that a couple of ARIs have managed to turn themselves into commercial galleries recently.
I don’t think it’s anyone’s role to be defining what an ARI means. The governmental organisations would have an interest in defining this however because it allows them to protect the institutions that ARIs are critical of.
It’s not a new idea, but what truly happens is ARI’s provide vibrant ongoing programs- on breadcrumbs, in good faith, immeasurable pro bono work- and that this creates a culture of complacency for the CAS network; Artspace, IMA, ACCA and so on, and in turn an even greater complacency for the big daddy’s like AGNSW, QAG, NGV and NGA who focus on blockbusters and so on – what are your thoughts about this?
I think it functions the other way around. The Contemporary Art Spaces were all started in the 70s and 80s because of the perceived failings in the institutions and to an extent that comes across in the names – Adelaide’s “Australian Experimental Art Foundation” particularly pushing the point. They are almost ARIs turned institutional.
A lot were started and directed by artists at first and are now on triennial funding programs with boards that have less and less to do with art and programs that are certainly more conservative than what they opened with.
Interestingly, one of the criticisms Peloton received was that our board was not diverse enough. It’s made up of arts professionals rather than doctors and investment bankers because we believe they are more qualified to make decisions on behalf of the gallery, unfortunately they don’t bring with them an elite network of philanthropists.
I don’t think the institutions are aware of their complacency though, because there is often an overlapping in the roles that each institution is performing.
How has Peloton worked towards being self-sustaining?
We’ve never intended to be self-sustaining and have been very grateful for the funding that has sustained us over the years. That said, we’ve worked incredibly hard to consistently produce a program of exhibitions that we are very proud of, in a professional manner on a very limited budget.
Until now that voluntary had been enough to consistently receive funding from one year to the next. No one involved in the running of the gallery gets any money for their work, and wherever we can cut costs we have while still maintaining a high level of professionalism.
It’s always been about showing art and we’ve done everything to further that. We’ve invested in creating good gallery spaces close to the city where artists don’t have to pay.
We didn’t want to complicate it by commercialising the space or the work or putting our already stretched resources onto managing studios. That should have been enough.
Are sustainability funds needed to help ARI’s become more sustainable?
Patronage is a huge problem in the arts in Australia and really does need to be encouraged. I think that’s a cultural change though and will take generations to complete.
Again I would go back to the idea that we shouldn’t be looking to institutionalise ARIs and rather focus on addressing the bigger issues that are causing all of the ARIs to exist.
That’s a huge area to tackle and something I don’t think we can get into in this short interview. To answer your question then – I think longer funding terms that allows galleries to plan a bit further ahead would be good.
Creating the possibility for the longer term and getting ARIs to think that way would create a bit of change.
I’m cautious about the idea of ARIs making money – the risk is to slip into a government subsidised commercial gallery that would more and more cater to the market rather than the artists.
I think Arts NSW and the Australia Council get great value for money funding ARIs that it’s not something that needs to be shifted to independence. They’d be better off using their resources to boost audiences for ARIs through increased awareness, incorporation into school and university curricula etc.
Seed funding afforded to ARI’s by funding bodies doesn’t reflect the true climate of inner city (or even regional centre) rentals, human resources, tech/equipment and so on, and that in this reappraisal these things need to be addressed too, an audit perhaps, the truth as it really is type audit?
I’ve said a few times in the last few years that we should publish our budget online so that people can see the true costs going on, and that wouldn’t even include all of the in-kind that you see. Alas we take what we can get.
It’s a known fact, ARI’s help to create vibrant precincts, tell me about the ways in which you feel Peloton has revitalised the precinct you are located in?
Chippendale really did change after the galleries moved in. The list of Chippendale galleries is impressive – Blaugrau, GBK, MOP, Serial Space, NG Gallery and now White Rabbit, McLeMoi and the Commercial and those early galleries really are to be thanked for getting people into the suburb and charging it with a bit of life. It’s a story that has been repeated countless times all over the world though.
We used to keep the door closed here in the beginning because it was unsafe. By the end of it we had been out-priced and could no longer afford to be there.
Do you think city councils and funding bodies simply focus on short term revivification and veer towards economic benefits as their bigger field of vision – allowing artists to move into forgotten dilapidated areas make them dance and sing and inspire -these areas become gentrified real estate increases in price, the boom happens and councils make loads of money in rates. Artists homeless again, momentum lost. Gentrification in its most abject form perhaps?
I think it’s expected that city councils would do this, but you’re right, what’s unfortunate is the lack of a long term plan for the artists.
Subsidising the rents impermanently to these areas just exacerbates the problem because it reduces the time frames so much. It’s OK that councils use art as cultural capital, but it would be better if art was seen as an integral part of society and helped to find a permanent place in every community.
Councils could do that by forcing developers to provide a certain percentage of housing to artists at cheaper rent similar to the rent control of the Soho lofts.
The Pop-up shops that run for a few weeks or months between developments are great and might help exposure, but a more genuine move would be to create permanent spaces for this to happen that could include artist studios etc.
What’s next, will Peloton regroup, relocate, reopen?
I think we all need a break but I’m sure something else will come about eventually. Francesca Heinz has been able to secure a venue for her Performance Month so that will at least continue in the mean while.
For artists passionate about starting an ARI, what should they be mindful of?
I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from pursuing it so I won’t say much – just know why you’re doing it. Australia has an incredible history of ARIs which you’ll become a part of, it’s something good to be mindful of because you don’t want that history to be lost.
What is most satisfying to you about your work at Peloton over the years?
Opening up the new space on Campbell Street was really rewarding after what had been an incredibly hard few months. I’ve also been really touched by the things people have been saying since we announced the closure of the gallery.
The artists that I’ve met and worked with. The community that I’ve become a part of.
8-10 March 2013
Friday 8 March
A.D.S. Donaldson, Adam Norton, Adrian Gebers, Alan Johnston, Albert Chan, Alex Gawronski, Alex Lawler, Alex Martinis Roe, Alex Pearl, Alex Powell, Alex Pye, Alexandra Clapham , Alison McGregor, Alyson Howland, Amy Towers, Anahita Razmi, Andre Hemer, Andreas Reiter Raabe, Andrew Newman, Andy Hutson, Anita Fricek, Anke Stäcker, Ann Brennan, Anna Finlayson, Anna Kristensen, Annabel Dover, Anne Zahalka, Anne-Marie May, Anselm Reyle, Anthony Farrell, Anton Pulvirenti, Aoife Milson, Athena Politis, Barry Lewis, Ben de Nardi, Ben Terakes, Biljana Jancic, Billy Gruner, Bob Levene, Bonita Bub, Boyd Turner, Bronia Iwanczak, Brooke Wagstaff, Bruce Barber, Callum Cooper, Carla Cescon, Carla Liesch, Cate Elwes, Charlene Davis, Cherine Fahd, Chris Bennie, Chris LG Hill, Chris Meigh-Andrews, Chris Paul Daniels, Chrissie Ianssen, Christian Edwardes, Christie Sciberras , Christoper Dean, Christopher Dalhausen, Christopher Hanrahan, Claire Morales, Claire Taylor, Clare Milledge, Clint Enns, Craig Easton, Dan Argyle, Dan Levenson, Dani Marti, Daniel Gottin, Daniel Mudie Cunningham, Daniela Butsch, Danny Lacy, Dave Griffiths, David Burrows, David Kefford, David Lawrey, David M Thomas, Derek Allan, Derek Kreckler, Donna West Brett, Douglas Kean, Drew Collett, EGGVEIN, Eleanor Avery, Eleni Xintaras, Elisa Trufanoski, Elizabeth Day, Elizabeth Hobbs, Elizabeth Nagy, Elizabeth Pulie, Elke Varga, Eloise Kirk, Emily Keys, Emily Richardson, Emma Davidson, Emma White, Erica Scourti, Ernesto Burgos, Estelle Ihasz, Esther Johnson, Eugenie Lee, Eva Rudlinger, Ex-Trendy , Fil Ieropoulos, Fiona Kemp, Flora van der Ree, Francesca Heinz, Francesca Mataraga, Gabriella Mangana, Gail Kenning, Gary Peploe, Gary Warner, Geoff Kleem, Geoff Newton, George Pizer, Georgia Kaw, Gernot Bubenik, Giles Ryder, Glenn Maltby, Gordon Dawson, Grace Turtle, Greer Rochford, Greg Fullerton, Guido Munch, Guy Sherwin, Hamish Carr, Hany Armanious, Heath Newman, Heidi Linck, Heidi Nowak, Herbert Brandl, Hollington & Kyprianou, Howard Arkley, Huseyin Sami, Iakovos Amperidis, Ingrid van der Aa, Iris Zogel, Jacob Cartwright, Jacobus Capone, Jacquelene Drinkall, Jai McKenzie, Jaki Middleton, James Avery, James R Ford, James Snazell, Jan Kammerling, Jan van der Ploeg, Jan Williamson, Janet Burchill, Janicke Reksten, Jasmin Vrachas, Jennifer Mccamley, Jennifer Ross, Jenny Watson, Jeremy Kibel, Jess Johnson, Jessica Evans, Jim Shirlaw, Jodie Wiggins, John Aslandis, John Bloomfield, John Butt, John Cussans, John Nixon, John Turier, Johnathan Moss, Jonny Niesche, Jordan Marani, Jordon Spedding, Judith Duquemin, Julia Davis, Julia Gorman, Julia Rochford, Julie Fragar, Julie Harris, Justene Williams, Justin Stephens, Kate Jessop, Kate Scardifield, Kate Williams, Katherine Meynell, Kathy Temin, Kayla Parker, Kenzie McKenzie, Kerry Baldry, Kevin Platt, Koji Ryui, Kristi Arnold, Kusum Normoyle, Kyle Jenkins, Lars Breuer, Laure Prouvost, Lauren Brincat, Leah McPherson, Leahlani Johnson, Leister/Harris, Lesley Dumbrell, Leyla Stevens, Liam Garstang, Liam Wells, Lily Hibberd, Linda Brancato, Lisa Andrew, Lisa Jones, Lorna Grear, Louisa Minkin, Louise Palmer, Luis Nobre, Luke McMaster, Luke Strevens, Lumiere et Son, Mahalya Middlemist, Man Bartlett, Manya Ginori, Marie Le Lievre, Marita Fraser, Mark Brown, Mark Siebert, Mark Titmarsh, Mark Wigan, Marni Shindelman, Martin Pickles, Marty St.James, Masato Takasaka, Matt Hinkley, Matte Rochford, Matthew Deleget, Matthew Leslie, Matthew Lysaught, Matthew Rowe, Matthys Gerber, Max Holdaway, Melissa Laing, Meredith Frances Lynch, Meredith Turnbull, Merric Brettle, Michael Cousin, Michael Szpakowski, Michelle Zarro, Mikala Dwyer, Miranda Parkes, Mireille Astore, Mitch Cairns, Mona Ryder, Nadine Christensen, Nana Ohnesorge, Nate Larson , Neil Tomkins, Nicholas Folland, Nicholas Hardy Clements, Nick Herbert, Nick Jordan, Nick Mangan, Nicki Rolls, Nigel Milsom, Nina Ross, Nuha Saad, Nynke Deinema, Ola Vasiljeva, Oscar Yanez, Paul Cullen, Pauline Plumb, Paulo Menezes, Penelope Benton, Peter Barnes, Peter Burgess, Phil Williams, Philip Sanderson, Phillip Warnell, Phillipa Veitch, R. O., Rachel Scott, Renee Cosgrave, Reuben Paterson, Riccardo Iacono, Richard Dunn, Richard Glover, Richard Kean, Richard Tuohy, Rishin Singh, Rob McHaffie, Robin Hungerford, Rochelle D’Sa, Rohan Wilson, Rolande Souliere, Ron Adams, Ron Diorio, Rose Butler, Rosita Holmes, Ross Sinclair, Rowan Conroy, Ruark Lewis, Sach Catts, Salvatore Pannateri, Saffron Hewey, Sam Renseiw, Samantha Clark, Samuel Moffat, Sangeeta Sandrasegar, Sara Givins, Sara Shera, Sarah Goffman, Sarah Napier, Schleimgurgeln, Scott Miles, Sebastian Freytag, Shane Eastwood, Shane Haseman, Shaun Morrow, Shaun o’Connor, Silvana Mangana, Simon Hollington, Simon Ogden, Simon Payne, Sophia Egarchos, Stephanie Curtin, Stephanie Quirk, Stephen Hodge, Steven Asquith, Steven Ball, Street Talk, Stuart Bailey, Stuart Moore, Stuart Pound, Sue Pedley, Susan Buchanan, Tamara Mendels, Tansy Spinks, Terry Burrows, Terry Ricardo, Teunis van Zanten, The Destructors, Thomas Loveday, Tilman, Tim Shultz, Tina Keane, Tom Glenn, Toni Warburton, Tony Hill, Torben Giehler, Tracey Clement, Travis McMicking, Trevor Fry, Trevor Richards, Trish Hickey, Vicky Browne, Vicky Wilkes, Vilma Bader, Virginia Hilyard, Viv Miller, Warren Taylor, Will Cooke, Will French, Wrongsolo, Yasmin Smith, Yvonne Boag, Zhel Vukicevic, Zoe Robertson