Interdisciplinary art programme at Metro Arts, Edward Street Brisbane.
Founded by artists Joseph O’Connor and Maryanne Lynch
Metro Arts was originally located in a heritage-listed building, originally a light industrial warehouse and then an arts, artist studios, cinema and theatre complex, at 109-117 Edward Street, Brisbane City, Queensland
Joseph O’Connor trained at QCA with a grounding in intermedia technological practices including video and sound installation and was the founder of Boulder Lodge Concepts an artist-run initiative in Fortitude Valley. Building out from this expertise in his role as director of Metro Arts where many visual arts, theatre and creative practices intersected and cross pollinated in the inner city locale, he described his interest in contemporary ideas being used in performative ways as:
I am interested in the difference between an underground culture and a counter culture. The counter culture is about converting the mainstream but the underground culture is about ideas being hip already but it is not going to beat you about the head.
( Szulakowska, 1997, p.172)
Nurturing Sound Practices
Eye-Phonics is a twelve-month investigation
in Brisbane of multi-media, multi-art
practices, with particular reference to sound
and its relation to performance. The
adventurous program has already featured
masterclasses with New York poet John
Giorno and Lrench sound and visual poet
Bernard Heidsieck with more to come from
performer and writer Kathy Acker and
multi-media artist Ellen Zweig, both from
On a recent visit to Brisbane, Keith
Gallasch visited the Metro Arts Centre and
discussed the motivation for, the progress
of, and the future of the Experimetro
program run for Metro Arts by Joseph
O’Connor. Maryanne Lynch is the co-
convener of Experimetro’s Eye-Phonics
project with Joseph. Academic, writer and
performer Nicholas Zurbrugg has
collaborated on planning and negotiations.
The following interview was performed to
the accompaniment of jackhammers in the
street and a square-dance caller next door,
the latter a reminder that Metro Arts began
as a community arts centre. It still sustains
those activities but also houses a cinema, a
small theatre, Experimetro, Kooemba
Jdarra (at that time performing Murri
Love) and other organisations – it has
become a significant contemporary arts
JO Eye-Phonics is a response to a lack of
innovation in performance in Brisbane, an
initiative of the Experimetro program
jointly funded by the Drama Committee of
the Performing Arts Board and the
Queensland State Government. Experimetro
supports new and developmental
performance and theatre practice.
ML It’s about creating a space for
performance which is being more broadly
defined by the day. So Experimetro is like
the tree from which other projects like Eye-
Phonics extend like branches.
JO The catalyst program we’ll have for
1 996 will be a film and video program
that’s run on the same kind of structure as
Eye-Phonics. It’s like pulling performance
apart and looking at its components and
for defined periods of time, really honing in
on each one of those and developing them
and providing as many opportunities for
artists as we can.
ML Having a diversity of artists means
that the way in which the question of, say,
sound in performance is approached is a
diverse one rather than getting together a
group of people who all come from the
same tradition or school of thought. It’s
already proving interesting to participate in
the way different processes and starting
points jump off one another or jar with one
KG What were the criteria for selecting
the participating artists?
ML They all needed to have some
experience in an art form. It didn’t need to
be sound or performance but an interest in
and a rationale for being involved in the
JO We have film-makers, sound people,
theatre directors –
ML Performance artists, community
theatre people, writers. The program is
aiming to broaden the performance culture
as well as improve the practice of individual
JO There is no school or group of sound
artists in Brisbane. Sound culture is not
something that Brisbane is known for. Part
of the aim of Eye-Phonics is to provide the
fertile soil for that to start to grow. What
the twenty one artists are getting out of it is
remarkable, but if this project ends up with
only five people that continue to work
specifically in experimental sound practice,
we’ll be pleased.
ML I don’t think they even necessarily
need to end up in sound.
KG So a visual artist might use sound in
an installation at a later date in a more
ML Or just approach what they’ve been
doing differently even if they don’t use
sound at all. They’ve been informed about
other processes and ideas.
KG Will this help to create a performance
JO There already is a performance
culture here. I think it’s a particularly
interesting one. You’ve got to be here for a
while before you can start to access it. And
a lot of people couldn’t give a shit whether
their work is given the credibility that we
might think it needs or deserves. They’re
oblivious to the system in a way. A lot of
this is to do with performance in Brisbane
being part of the club scene.
KG Do performers speak and work with
one another? In Sydney, for example,
there’s a lot of cross-fertilisation.
ML My impression is of fragmentation.
There are ‘scenes’.
JO It is fragmented but there’s also a
generosity amongst those practitioners.
KG Where is this work happening?
JO You see it in clubs like Van Gogh’s
Earlobe at West End, The Zoo in Lortitude
Valley, some of the gay clubs up on Spring
Hill and the Roxy, primarily a live music
KG So is it a cabaret format, one-offs or
do people do seasons, or is it in the context
of, say, independent dance?
JO All of those. What is missing is an
independent dance movement, though Clare
Dyson, Avril Huddy, Rachael Jennings and
Brian Lucas are setting up The Crab Room
which could make a big difference. Then
there are groups like Nude Productions
who’ve done some interesting movement
work. I see popular music as the catalyst
for a lot of these things. The Livid Lestival
has been a major showcase each year. Last
year’s Livid, the ninth, pulled about 12,000
ML Apart from clubs, performance
happens in some of the fringe galleries like
JO We used to have Brutal and Space
Plenitude but they no longer exist. These
galleries support the sort of performance
that IMA (Institute of Modern Art)
supports, mostly solo works with an
intellectual or theoretical base, whereas
places like The Sitting Duck and The Zoo
support the Brink sort of performance – the
puppetry, the mime, the ensembles –
ML Community companies. I think the
performance scene in Brisbane is
fragmented. I do find it amazing that in a
city this size one group will not even know
KG In Sydney the Performance Space
provides a focus. Sooner or later most
people seem to perform there so you see
one another’s work. Is Eye-Phonics a way
to draw some of these people together?
ML Yes. I think we’ve got quite a
disparate group in terms of where they
usually work and who they normally work
JO The group includes Linda Milani –
visual artist, Doug Leonard – theatre
director, Natalie Lynch – performance
artist, Damien – a contemporary classical
composer, Hugh Watson – community
theatre writer, Komninos – poet, Kylie the
lead singer of a techno-band, performer
Keiran Knox …
ML Diverse in ages too – the bulk in their
mid thirties but also 20’s, 40’s, 50’s.
JO It’s an open-ended project. The only
fixed things are the CD at the end, a
compilation of works created as part of the
project, and a magazine. There is a
structure but it’s open ended so we can pick
up on interesting things that happen along
the way. Along with the international
guests we are having visits by interstate
artists to give people here a sense of what’s
happening elsewhere. There are also artists
in the group who are working on projects
of their own. We have monthly meetings
where people get together and decide
what’s needed. Last month we had a
technical workshop in the morning and in
the afternoon presentations of people’s
works in progress.
KG What sort of resources do they have
to develop work?
JO That’s the question they’ve been
asking. After looking at what the artists are
ML And our options, given our ‘vast’
JO Most of the money for this project
from the Hybrid Arts Committee has gone
on artists’ fees and airfares.
ML It’s now apparent that it will be more
useful to have fewer artists coming and
more time with equipment. That’s part of
the responsiveness to this group.
JO So we’re buying some equipment that
will be compatible with other stuff we can
hire on a long term basis and there’s a
room on the second floor which we’re
converting into a recording studio.
ML The artists will have access to a DAT
recorder, a sampler, a reel to reel, some use
of computer. At other times, when the need
arises we’ll bring stuff in. A couple of
people in the program are happy to share
their own equipment up to a point.
JO It’s very important that people in this
program place demands on the program
and Experimetro and the Board of Metro
Arts. It’s got to enable them to realise
whatever ideas they have in mind.
ML We’ve also got space on the internet.
We have a web page for each artist.
KG What about broadcasting some of the
JO 4ZZZ are interested and it’s possible
we might strike a deal with the ABC. We’ll
distribute the CD through our membership
and data base but it will also be distributed
nationally by Valve Records which is a
Brisbane based outfit.
ML And because it will also have the
international and interstate artists – that’s a
bit of a hook.
JO It might be hard to sell aCD with
local soundwork by Brisbane artists but
someone might want to buy a Kathy Acker
piece – that’s what we’ve asked them all to
KG Are there are any signs that Eye-
phonics is already having an impact?
ML Doug Leonard is using sound in an
interesting way in his piece lONALYMPUS,
a performance about Eve Langley.
JO When I saw Keiran Knox’s piece last
night, I was dead proud. I loved it, work
that I’ve never seen Keiran do before. It
was called This Is Not A Revolution in
Choice and it dealt with the introduction of
pay television. It was the second of three
performances I saw on the Wharf down by
the river. He just got up and talked with
this big projection, lots of white noise, very
funny in his very dry way.
KG Does he usually use a talk format?
JO No. He generally makes noise like
this tape recorder was before we started the
interview. It’s the work that keeps you
going, especially when you can see results
from what we’re doing. I’d like to think the
organisation could become a production
house, offer its resources for longer periods
of time to specific but diverse projects.
ML In Brisbane people complain about
lack of venues. It’s important that a
program like Experimetro and the Eye-
Phonics project are attached to a place, a
venue. Like the Performance Space.
JO I find at times being in Metro Arts an
amazingly stimulating experience. You
walk up the hallway and the door will open
and you’ll just get a glimpse of something
like square dancing and you think, I’ve got
to do something with those people. Then
the Indian classical dancers move in.
ML I hate to say it, but it’s so “hybrid”
JO I wonder who thought up that term?
ML That’s the first time I’ve used it
‘spontaneously’ in conversation.
JO I try consciously not to use it.
Metro Arts 07 221-1527