Social Structures, ARIs and “the Queer turn”? – Metro Arts
Hi Kinly, Tayla, Anna, thanks for your time today. “Social Structures”, tell me about how you have interpreted this curatorial impulse ?
Hi Paul, At the time Amy-Clare approached me about this exhibition, it seemed to me that her ideas were freely swimming around in a discourse free zone. I remember telling her in one of our meetings that I can’t really articulate what I think she means, but that I felt like I intuitively understood. I was excited to foreground feeling, and to proceed unhampered by words. My work developed slowly, alongside the developing language for the curatorial premise, and in discussion with Amy-Clare. The beauty of being included into this show was that I felt like my practice was curated, rather than any one specific work. In this way, I was unburdened with the pressure to make something “fitting” because the curatorial lines were anchored in methodologies deeper, or in ways of thinking/feeling.
I also feel that I didn’t have to interpret the curatorial premise, but rather was given the chance to progressively contribute to conversations that in term formed the foundations of the show. This I found was a really healthy way of developing an exhibition. When I first sat down and talked with Amy-Clare we chatted about a lot of things, but mostly about a recent performance installation of mine, and the thoughts and feelings that surrounded the work. It was great to have an emphasis on not just the materials and concept but also the actual feelings that surrounded, exhibited within and was the driving force behind the works. This element was a strong theme to the show that felt fabulous to embrace.
The work I’ve created for this show was formed from a number of long and interesting conversations with Amy-Clare. To start with, I was actually going to make a completely different work, a performance work with glass, smoke and spit but was unable to see this work happen due to a number of reasons. What has been made is something that I feel reflects the conversations I had with Amy-Clare during the lead up to the exhibition. As both Kinly and Tayla have said, the experience of talking through my practice with Amy-Clare was really important in the physical outcome of the final work. I always value Curators who show care, and this is something that I think Amy-Clare did throughout this process. There was a care for my practice, a care for time, a care for my final work, a care for the written text, and of course also a care for me, Kinly and Tayla.
Queer, LGBTQIP+ today, tell me about the approach you use in the work in the exhibition and indeed in your art practice, what do you feel the queer turn is today, the queer lens now and why it matters?
I am a 100 foot queer, forever glorious and raging.
I also tend to be careful in the use of “queer” as a term to discuss my works and practice, and in fact I seldom use it. I am cautious because “queer art” is often misunderstood as simply, art made by LGBTIQA*etc people. While it does sometimes mean this, I feel that it is a reduced definition of the term, and one that I do not find useful for myself in an art context, not withholding any respect to those that do use it and find it useful, sincerely, all power to you. I am also forever cautious of definitions, delineations, and drawing lines in the sand. In some situations, I feel that to pin something down with words is to squash the very essence of its thing out of it, so that what you’ve now got a word for is something other than what you meant. We see this very shortcoming in the ever expanding queer acronym, and no it doesn’t mean we should stop trying.
Having said all that, I do very much connect with ideas of queerness as an expanded philosophy, a way of thinking that retains in queerness the possibilities of the indefinite. To me, ideas around queerness as possibility are crucial to the exploration of experience and feeling. To explore something without pre-defined shape is to allow it to have any and all shapes at once. It means that one can arrive at, or at least approach an unencumbered sense of self, for lack of better words. And I guess that too lies at the heart of what it is to be a queer person in this world.
Although my work stems from my personal experiences, it is more about feeling, rather than a narrative. I don’t believe that my feelings, nor the feelings I tap into or want to explore or illicit in a viewer, are exclusively queer feelings that come exclusively from queer experience. I do believe though, that using queerness as an approach to experience is better suited to the research, exploration, and development of feeling, experience, and artworks. Let’s face it, empirical, measurable, quantitative “where’s the proof” understandings of experience are not only unhelpful and stunting, but also totally boring. In this way, I think my way of working (and therefore artworks?) are inherently queer, in that they are produced with this kind of queerness in methodology, approach, and consideration.
In terms of the queer turn today, I think there has been a noticeable shift towards the explicitness of queer narratives in art. This is pretty awesome, because as we know, historically, queer narratives in pretty much any kind of art and media were rendered to subtext at best. I think there is incredible value in not only the visibility of queers and the accessibility of explicit and unapologetic queer narratives, but especially the self-authoring of these narratives. Queers in control of their image, their voice, their story, their identity, on their own terms.
For me in this work, and within my practice as a whole there is a considerable emphasis on visibility and archiving. I think I am very fortunate that I feel comfortable enough in the Brisbane art circle and wider public sphere, to make work explicitly about my take on queer content. I know this privilege or willingness to execute ‘HI VIS’ visibility isn’t wide spread, but its something I exercise because I believe it can generate important conversation. This conversation I hope to create is not just intended exclusively for the queer community but for those outside and in-between.
I think the term queer is a great reclaimed umbrella phrase that encompasses many identities (LGBTQIP++++) and unifies our community. My works stem/feed off personal experiences, feelings, conversation and collaborations I have with other artists. These undertakings are often habitually minimal, site specific and employ humour as a tactic to communicate the desired message to its viewers. This humour is exhibited through the specific titles of the works and explicit formal constructions that insinuate the use of a subtle sexual pun or visual metaphor. This use of humour aims to break down the serious topics surrounding experiences I have had with lesbian sexuality and relationship politics, further making the occurrences that form the foundation of the practice more relatable. It is through archiving these things that not only helps me keep track of my own thoughts and feelings but also additionally aims contribute to the larger discourse of queer art.
When visiting Artists Run Initiatives and galleries both nationally and internationally I have noticed the queer turn today is fierce, honest and unapologetic… in only the best way. We are seeing the queer lens not only looking in but also looking out, with queer people on both sides of the camera. It can help keep our content unedited, in the limelight and not sidelined which I think this is really important for the next generation of our queer community.
I employ a queer approach in my arts practice because I identify as being queer and I explore personal narratives through my work. Perhaps for the viewer this queerness is most easily identified through the materials I use, but I invite all sorts of readings into my work, and don’t exclusively explore ‘queerness’ through my work.
I know this is an all familiar rhetoric, but there is still increasing expectation in society that leans towards homogenising of life through a capitalist lens. Queerness for me exists within this wave, but in opposition to it. For me, I think Queerness is a political stance, and I think deciding to be an artist is a political stance. Doing these things matters for me because society constantly tries to tell us what we should do or look like or be like, and regardless of time passing and things progressing, this feeling of ideal conformity seems to remain. Maybe this is the queer turn today, but also the queer turn of the past and of tomorrow too?
In saying all of this, I agree with both Kinly and Tayla in their responses about the problematics of using the term queer too. For example, I recently saw an exhibition in a major institution that explicitly in it’s title stated that it was exhibiting ‘queer’ art, and this made me feel uneasy for many reasons. There was something very uncomfortable in the proposal of the representation of a canonical queer art history that then was heavily represented through a white male voice, in an institution that excluded people because of it also required you to buy a ticket to attend. I feel that often queerness is not well represented in these types of spaces.
There is a strong industrial aesthetic in each of the works, tell me about this?
For my work generally, I use the magic combo of what is available to me (for free or cheap), what will get the job done, and what will add the right material tone to the work. Most of the time this means second hand stuff off gumtree and innocuous hardware supplies. The followspot actually belongs to Metro Arts. I was very thrilled when we came across it in the basement and was given permission to borrow it for the show. And of course that in turn informed the work, it meant that I made other material choices to complement the personality of the light. I think, in this way, the cost, function, and appearance of the materials determines indeed what materials are included. So perhaps the industrial aesthetic comes from the availability, and functionality (I can’t speak to the material tone for the other artists) of industrial materials.
I think having an exhibition that presents with a very harsh industrial aesthetic yet is deeply rooted in the artist’s own personal experiences, and conceivably romantic feelings is a really playful juxtaposition. In my work I have employed a set of scaffolding to house the main performance installation. Alongside being honestly attracted to the shiny strong form and easy Lego like assemblage, I think it was important to me to engage with it as an act of reclaiming. In the past I haven’t been able to get too close to admire scaffolding without being cat called so it was very satisfying to get up close and personal on my terms.
I’ve used a blue marine carpet for this work – which is a material that I have used quite a lot in the past. It’s a very interesting material for me because it is meant to get wet, dry and keep it’s form. Is isn’t backed, but doesn’t stretch, and doesn’t have a specific forward facing side. It is a dynamic material – it is soft, hard, comforting, sound proofing, abrasive, resilient. The act of defunctionilising these very functional materials and giving them a new function or meaning or life is a queer act. It is also through a queer minimalist atheistic of co-bodiment or co-presence that I find these materials important and interesting.
And there is also a tension in each of the works, the soft/hard, cool/warm, industrial/organic, tell me about the idea of “dualities” and how it impacts on these tensions?
Yeah totally. I definitely feel these contradictions in the works, I feel like they create rupture and feel hurtful. I also feel them as perfect soothing angels of multiplicity, like equal truths. Perhaps that is because of the tension, or it’s part of the tension anyway. The idea of “dualities” I guess feeds back into ideas of possibilities. That there can be multiple and simultaneous and shifting and seemingly contradictory experiences and feelings of the one thing all the time. And just as I think I’ve managed to be at ease with it all, there’s just so many things that I can’t touch, and I’m torn again.
I think this duality and tension was something that really had the works sitting so harmoniously together within the space. Each object and its antagonist promoted an element of playful tension, a kind of action, then reaction, a push and pull or an awareness of mutual trust. To me this element of tension, and the visual metaphor it creates is the most important part of the work. Dictionary.com describes tension as a ‘suppressed suspense, anxiety, or excitement’. I like that each viewer could possibly walk away with a very different interpretation.
Tension is something I think about a lot. These moments in life where you’re not sure if a risk will pay off or fall flat, and in that same moment you’re not even sure if the pay off will be positive or negative – but you try and sort of feel it out. It’s like when you watch a chef cut very quickly very closely to their fingers – there is always this feeling that they might slip and cut themselves. So for me tension is created through a feeling of risk or potential. Dualities also exist as a way of presenting this type of risk too, but I would say that the idea of dualities isn’t what feeds my practice.
Tell me about the artist talks, what question(s) seized you, astonished you and, the answer(s)?
It was really great to discuss in the artist talk some things that are perhaps removed from the actual content of the work, but rather the work that goes on around art making and exhibitions. Some questions that came up a few times related to the people that perform in Tayla’s work. It was really interesting to hear the audience’s concern and empathy for the physical well-being of the performers, as well as ethical, philosophical, and political discussions around the use of women’s bodies in art. There aren’t really any answers, it is instead a complex and important topic to investigate and I think Tayla is doing so through her practice.
… it is tricky but yes once you place a female body in the art gallery things can become quite complex, especially if they are naked. And there are two of them. I often find the level of attentiveness the viewers have on the safety of the performers not astonishing, but interesting and almost endearing. I understand the work can be quite confronting so once we had talked openly about voluntary consent, low pain thresholds and the meditative durational aspect we could delve into the more multifaceted conceptual side of the work. It was the questions and conversation surrounding this that is the most valuable to me, as everyone always has a different opinion (especially when it comes to objectification, which in honesty is something that often seizes me as I also have many different opinions on the topic)…
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to be there for the artist talks! 🙁
Tell me about the queer art scene today , local global, what artists and curators grab your attention and get you thinking and imagining, how so, why so?
To be honest, I am unsure what the queer art scene is. What constitutes a queer art scene, or what qualifies an artist, art collective, curator, etc to be a part of one?
In my experience, entry by queerness is a tricky terrain, in that it leads towards judgement calls of someone else’s queerness, often based on appearance, and assumptions. It happens all the time, in various contexts. This is a problem when we talk about visibility – some queers are not or cannot or don’t want to be visibly queer or “out”. Visibility is also highly subjective, which feeds into this idea of qualifying queerness based on someone else’s definition. A lot of the time these definitions are contextual and they’re often reliant on heteropatriarchal cis-essentialisms. There is the risk of boxing up a singular queer identity – this is what a queer looks like, this is the kind of work a queer artist makes.
I’m sorry that this hasn’t necessarily answered your question.
I agree in saying it’s very hard to define what the local and global queer art scene looks now. All that I can say is that things are readily progressing and opening up as artists continue to make a verity of work that contributes to a wider dialogue of everything and anything queer. Artists who are inspiring me currently are actually right here in Brisbane, but I wouldn’t want to embarrass them. You know who you are.
I’m usually most drawn to artists, or practices that grab my attention because there is some element of the work that I don’t quite understand. I think scenes are a bit tricky, but I think interest and attraction and pull and vortexes of desire and understanding between people is real. I was recently part of a group discussion as part of a bigger curatorial platform called ‘Queer Spritz’ where a bunch of artists and curators and academics in Sydney had a focused discussion on what queerness was doing in and throughout our works and lives. It was interesting that a large part of this conversation was about international dialogues on these topics and how we all felt that it would be worthwhile to start a discussion in a more local context – connecting queer experiences, narratives and practices throughout the Asia Pacific region in the hope to create a new language and dialogue for experience of queerness in our area of the world. This type of conversation expands my thinking and imagining.
I’ve also been lucky to spend time with some queer artists and curators overseas recently. I’ve learnt more about how geography impacts on access and understanding and language through these experiences. I feel as though the horizons of queerness are ever expanding and I think this is really exciting.
Tell me about how the artist-run scene impacts on your work, what ARIS you like/collaborate with and what you feel is emerging out of this scene today and why artist-runs matter for you?
Where to even start with this question!
The ARI scene in Brisbane is super crucial to me personally, the work I make, my practice generally, my exposure to new art and artists, my art networks, and socially as well. The majority of shows I’ve had have been presented with a Brisbane-based ARI.
ARIs give me, and so many artists (especially artists still at uni, not at uni at all, or in the super fresh beginnings of their careers) a platform. As you’d expect, this platform is mostly a space to exhibit, but it can also include written essays, opening night events, artist talks and critiques, collaborations, mentorships, workshops, online content, social media promotion- the list is inexhaustible, depending on the nature of the ARI, and the work. But more than that, they create connections between artists, writers, curators, and art lovers, both socially, collaboratively, and professionally. In short, they create community.
ARIs matter because their spaces and formats are so unique and changeable. Often one-night-only style events, but not always, they can take place anywhere, in backyards, share houses, office buildings, parks, garages, hired 3 tonne trucks, or completely online. They can be a flop or turn into a party! But neither matters as long as the artist gets good documentation right? And I love that ARI shows are often fueled as much by the social atmosphere as they are by the art.
Another thing that makes ARIs so very valuable is they can survive and operate without a whole lot of funding from external sources. A lot of ARIs are almost, if not completely, funded by the members of the organising collective and/or the exhibiting artists. On the one hand, this makes ARIs resilient to changes in government funding to the arts, and allows them a complete freedom of programming and operations, which is extremely important. They’re able to foster work that is not only experimental, but risky, not PG, or OHS proof. Along with the varied styles of spaces and formats, it also contributes to a style of inventiveness and resourcefulness, the limits creating possibilities, and we see the payoff of this with the nature of works being produced and exhibited.
Of course on the downside of this is that ARIs can become an immense financial burden for the people involved, or, at the very least, all or most of their labour and time is unpaid. And so, ARIs come and go fairly often, some lasting a couple of years, some not so long. In my eight or so years in Brisbane I’ve seen the tide of ARIs ebb and flow, we are hitting a booming patch right now and it is so frikin awesome. Not only the number of active ARIs but the quality of the shows and work they’re producing and presenting is really next level. Really, where would Brisbane’s art scene be without them?
A couple of my highlights working with ARIs include getting to make a work involving a fire with Cut Thumb in 2014, and just earlier this year, I worked with CLUTCH Collective and their truck and got to hoon around a park for a bit, it was pretty fab.
ARI’s are so important, I love Brisbane artist run initiatives, but I am a little biased. I am fortunate enough to have also had the pleasure of showing with a large handful of Brisbane spaces and am involved in running one myself. It’s hard to find something Kinly hasn’t touched on, but not impossible because there are so many positives. They are all about experience/s. The experience of independently curating a show from whoa to go, selecting the artist, picking the space in which they show, finding a writer to help contextualise and seeing the work flourish on opening night. The experience of working with other local artists in showing work from your own practice and gaining different perspectives, and collaborating in some serious creative problem solving. Alongside the experience of rocking up to a show with a community of people to cheers your beer with and look at great art.
Brisbane especially has a great history of spaces readily available under our own rooftops. Queenslanders make perfect spaces, as they are often easy to get to by public transport, provide a blank canvas for any sort of pop up gallery and the weather is perfect. Ari’s are crucial to the ecosystem that is the art scene, and it could be said that they are almost like queer art in a way that there is not one singular model or mode to go by.
At the end of 2016 I finished my two year Directorship at Firstdraft, which is an ARI in Sydney. It was amazing and exhausting and transforming for me as an artist and person to be part of this community of people and artists. I’ve been overseas for the past six months on residencies and I’ve really felt a deep longing to return to Australia and immerse myself in my community again. I’ve had hectic FOMO.
But the way in which these scenes impacts on my work is pretty amazing. I suppose speaking from my experience at Firstdraft I was in a very privileged position to see hundreds of presentations of work from artists around Australia every six months. There are so so so many practices emerging out there that are dynamic and interesting and new and weird and exciting. There is a lot of risk taking happening and a lot of interesting and important discussions around gender, colonisation, race, intersectionality, disability and experiences occurring in the emerging arts scene. It’s a super exciting mix of all of the topics I feel need the most air time.
I’m about to start a residency when I return with Frontyard Projects in Marrickville (Sydney) with an amazing artist and human Nina Dodd. I’m excited to be working with Frontyard as they label themselves as a ‘Not-Only-Arts Run Initiative’ but a ‘pro-active, flexible space for practical skills sharing, community cultural engagement and critical research’. We have been supported through a Inner West Council Independent Artist Grant to produce some new and exciting work in this space, as well as to hold some open discussion forums around our particular area of interest.
I would say that Brisbane perhaps has the most interesting ARI culture I’ve experienced in Australia so far. There are so many exciting ways that people are finding and creating to show work and to make communities together. It’s really exciting and I wish I could spend more time there to understand the mechanisms of these ARI’s more deeply.
I suppose though to then answer your question – ARI’s matter because they champion risk. They allow new ideas to be presented in an environment that is supportive and nurturing, and establish space for the start of future arts practices to occur.
Perhaps also a wee bit of detail about the Cut Thumb ARI residency this year, the current show and how Metro Arts is helping grow and diversify this ARI/visual arts ecology?
Yeah so I think the ARI in residence program that Metro Arts is running is super great in that it provides a gallery type space for ARIs to curate how they see fit. It brings the spirit of ARI programming to a more institutional space, to a new audience. It increases the height of the platform for the exhibitioning artists, and I like to think, somewhat destabilises the hierarchy of exhibition spaces. Last year FAKE estate ran an excellent exhibition program and this year The Laundry Artspace and Cut Thumb ARI have teamed up for the ARI in residence spot. The current show, Torin Francis’s Lapsed, is a remarkably considered material exploration of the weather balloon. My personal favourite part is the video work. The video features a weather balloon, inflated, and anchored on a line among humbly crashing waves. The sky above the ocean is so painterly and quietly dramatic, the audio just the sound of the waves. I watch the balloon buoy and scuttle away from the blows of the water. The halved landscape, the undertow of an accepted fate yet to arrive. Lineality doesn’t live here, it’s sublime in its suspension of time. It was wonderful to hear Torin speaking to his work and detailing his processes of acquaintance, sensitivity and limit pushing with the material. I look forward to catching the rest of Cut Thumb Laundry’s ARI in residence exhibition program.
Cut thumb Laundry have definitely raised to the challenge on filling Fake Estate’s boots in the lovely ARI gallery at metro arts. The current show lapsed by Torin Francis occupies the space very well. The works them self hold a lot of tension, especially as one large weather balloon is squished between a main pillar and the gallery wall. This works very well with adjacent social structures exhibition and creates its own unique dialogue with the works in the show. I think by having this space run by a local Artist Run Initiative in an art institution like Metro Arts absolutely helps to bridge the gap. The distinction between high and low places of showing is unhealthy, and I think other galleries should follow suit for its impact to be more widespread.
I’m not so aware of what is happening in Metro Arts right now (as I’m in Berlin) – so I’m not sure I can offer much detail on this. What I can say is that the Metro Arts residency program is super important as it allows space for ARIs to emerge and for artists and curators and writers to emerge out of these ARIs. Space is always the hardest thing to access. And from what I have seen of the current Cut Thumb ARI residency this year it’s a really kick arse program.
Curated by Amy-Clare McCarthy
Artist/s: Kinly Grey, Tayla Haggarty, Anna McMahon
Delicate yet robust, large in scale but intensely intimate; the works in Social Structures have an inherent duality. The exhibition brings together artists who use industrial materials, common hardware supplies and found objects to make works that explore social concerns and personal relationships. Integral to each is a precarious balance and tension, in the meeting of disparate elements but also in their suspension in space. In some cases this is heightened by performance or participation; bodies that both disrupt and create equilibrium.
EXHIBITION / 7 – 24 June 2017
METRO ARTS GALLERY, Level 2*
2017 / Metro Arts – Exhibition Program
Extended Gallery hours between 8-10 June: Thurs & Fri 10am-8pm, Sat 2-8pm
IMAGE CREDIT (TOP) : Kinly Grey, between us (2017) (installation view)
Exhibited in Social Structures, curated by Amy-Clare McCarthy at Metro Arts, Brisbane. June 2017 PHOTO: Kinly Grey
Read about Parallel Park- Artist Collaboration Tayla Haggarty and Holly Bates
Video Documentation – Performance
Tayla Haggarty, WELL HUNG (2017) (detail)
Exhibited in Social Structures, curated by Amy-Clare McCarthy at Metro Arts, Brisbane
View Video here
First Draft is one of Australia’s long term artist-runs alongside DVAA in Darwin and in 2016 First Draft celebrated it’s thirty year anniversary, you can view the anniversary archive here:
Read more about DVAA here: