Preparatory Notes for BARI Festival Forum One 13th October 2016
By Dianne Heenan
Here are my preparatory notes for the BARI Forum on 13 October 2016 in the Graffiti Room at the Brisbane Powerhouse.
Preparatory Notes for BARI Forum One
13th October 2016
Graffiti Room, Brisbane Powerhouse
Organised by Meg Slater (In Residence Artist Run Initiative)
Forum Topic: TRACKING CHANGE: BRISBANE ARIS PAST PRESENT AND FUTURE
This panel will look at the evolution of the Brisbane ARI scene, from the tough cultural climate of the 1980s to its re-emerging waves in the ‘90s, ‘00s and now. With representatives from various generations, the panel will question how each era impacts the next.
Chair: Jenna Baldock (curator and writer)
Dianne Heenan (A Room)
Franz Ehmann (Soapbox)
Elizabeth Willing (Accidently Annie Street Space)
Rachel Haynes (Box Copy)
Dirk Yates (The Farm)
There is a lot of talk about ARIs filling the gap in opportunities or critical output that the larger institutions or commercial galleries often don’t provide.
When starting up an ARI was there something that ignited your interest or a need to fulfill something that wasn’t available in the local scene at the time?
A Room was established as a model for an alternative art space which gave members a high degree of artistic and operational freedom. Barbara Campbell and Ted Riggs were the driving forces behind the establishment of A Room. Barbara and Ted ran the IMA for two years under the “guest curatorial program” which came to an end with the appointment of Peter Cripps as a full-time director in mid-1984.
Ted and Barbara used their experience of running the IMA to form A Room as a workable model for an alternative art exhibition space. A Room’s strategic objective was to develop critical appreciation, acceptance and support for contemporary visual arts practices. The idea behind A Room was to be unencumbered by ‘committee structure, constitution, [or] responsibility to membership or government grant’. It was economical for members in terms of time and money.
The space was rented on a six month lease. It was in good condition and didn’t require a lot of work to make it suitable as a gallery space. Member meetings were kept to a minimum and the gallery was only open Wednesdays and Saturdays. This model was perfect for me because I had a body of work for exhibition completed in early 1984 and was working full-time on a theatre project with the Queensland Arts Council.
Brisbane has a vibrant long running ARI scene that has been developing and evolving over time. I am interested in the influence each ARI has on the next and how this might slowly change the scene over time. Was there a project that influenced you and do you think it impacted the model, aims or the goals you had?
Dianne, you started A Room and That Space during a time that a lot of people look back on as an influential point in the formation of the ARI scene in Brisbane. How do you feel the ARI activity of the 80s impacted the local art scene?
The ARIs of the 1980s provided the foundation for an ongoing artist-run scene in Brisbane in several ways:
1. The ARI scene established a peer community of artists, writers and musicians who were known to each other and visible in the community through activities and projects. This community is intergenerational and active on social media.
2. ARIs offered opportunities for artists to develop arts practice and build professional skills and to create and take advantage of opportunities to advance their work themselves rather than through gallery representation.
3. ARIs fostered the emergence of non-commercial art forms including video, installation and performance works.
4. ARIs offered opportunities for news ways of working artistically including collaborative and cross disciplinary projects including poetry, writing, theatre and music.
5. Art magazines including Art Walk in December 1982 and Eyeline in May 1987 emerged out of ARIs and covered topics of artistic, theoretical and political interest to them.
6. Queensland Artworkers Union and Artworkers Alliance were forged by ARI members and represented employment, legal and moral rights of artists for the first time.
7. Commercial galleries including Peter Bellas and Michael Milburn grew out of the need for ARI artists for representation as their careers evolved.
8. The ARI sector had friends and associates in tertiary education. Urszula Szulakowska, academic and art historian at the University of Queensland participated in ARI activities. In 1998 Urszula published the book “Experimental art in Queensland 1975 – 1995” documenting the era.
According to this account, poet and theorist Nicholas Zurbrugg, “lecturer in comparative literature at Griffith University …worked collaboratively with experimental groups”. George Petelin and Graham Coulter-Smith at Queensland College of Art were supportive of ARIs.
9. ARI artists gained positions in mainstream institutions and used their influence to promote ARI artists and principles. John Stafford curated the Observatory’s “Demolition Show” which was toured by the Queensland Arts Council to venues in regional Queensland including the Gladstone Regional Art Gallery and Museum. John joined Arts Queensland in the mid-1980s and was to influence arts policy and funding programs for nearly 30 years.
I took up the position of inaugural director of Gladstone Regional Art Gallery and Museum in February 1985. From this position, I organised exchange exhibitions with That Contemporary Art Space in 1985 and 1986. I applied the principles of visual arts practice and management from my ARI experiences and from this basis, developed an experimental model for public art galleries in Gladstone.
10. In 1989 the newly elected Goss Labor government developed arts policy and funding structures which recognized and supported artist-run activities in a broad innovative program which included regional arts development.
Special thanks to writer and artist Meg Slater and In Residence ARI for inviting me to speak.