Verbatim ARIs 2021 – Doors Opening, Celebrating One Year In – Interview with Nextdoor ARI @ Boxcopy
The Nextdoor Artist Run Initiative exists to champion the experimental practices of early career contemporary artists. Founded in 2020 by five emerging Brisbane (Meanjin) based artists, we endeavour to be the ‘next door’ for aspiring artists, providing opportunities for artistic development and personal growth. With a current focus on Queensland artists, our aim is to generate new and authentic art experiences, by facilitating the creation, exhibition and discussion of contemporary art.
This interview took place at Boxcopy ARI in West End, Brisbane Meeanjin in December 2020. Artists and Nextdoor ARI members Ella Callander and Abigail Rutter spoke with artist and DIY coordinator Paul Andrew about emerging artists starting and sustaining an artist-run in the spectre of the global Covid-19 pandemic.
I – Interviewer
R – Respondent – R Ella, R2 Abigail
I: …great to meet you Ella and Abigail, as you may know and we often do interviews about artist-run activities at ARI Remix, this year you’re making and doing Nextdoor ARI, congratulations.
R: thank you
I: How exciting, how is it going so far?
R: It’s doing great
R2: I think despite the year we’ve had we’ve kept it alive which is nice.
R: And it was a weird year to start as well because you know we only launched in January of 2020. Only had one exhibition before this global pandemic. And I think despite that we managed to do a really good job of it, like keeping up with things and people and each other and I think we pumped out a lot of good stuff this year so proud of that. It was interesting to see how we could adapt to like online spaces as well which is interesting. Because we did a few online exhibitions.
I: I’ve been following you on the socials..
R: Yeah oh amazing yeah.
R2: I often see your comments.
I: Well I don’t comment all the time because where I live I have very poor internet but I do as much as I can. And so actually that’s just I was going to ask you both a question about this online engagement stuff for this year. Did you intend to have a physical space when you formed your group?
R2: Yeah I think that was kind of the goal for this year. But funding and being able to get money to hire a space as well as everything kind of being up in the air at the moment. So that is the end goal to be able to have a space. But we’ve been very fortunate that we’ve had people like Boxcopy who loan these spaces out to us, it’s very nice of them.
R: Yeah very thankful for those opportunities because I think anyone in the art world would know how difficult it is to find affordable gallery space. Especially because a gallery space is so specific in the type of requirements needed for exhibitions and we’re lucky to have been able to float around a bit this year. But we do hope to eventually have a space.
I: When you say space do you mean a white cube space?
I: … I’m intrigued…
R: but not necessarily. Like we’re open minded but …
R2: ….I think if it suits the artist then I think it’s a nice neutral space to have. Like obviously Lyle’s work showing at the moment is like critiquing that type of space which is interesting. But I think if we’d always be willing to work outside the gallery space as well if it suited the artist. But I think the white space allows them the best opportunity …not always the best opportunity but like it allows them an opportunity to learn how to exhibit in a professional setting. I think that’s kind of what we want to offer.
R: Our goal with making Nextdoor ARI was to be that sort of step between university and like university run exhibitions and then you know Boxcopy or IMA or Outer Space you know that sort of approach…
R2: The gap I think…
R: …yeah there’s a gap that can seem really daunting to students. And you know it feels nice to be the people who fill that gap. And I think there’s a point with the white cube being the easiest type of space to work with for that purpose. But we do love spaces like House Conspiracy or suburban kind of spaces we’ve talked about and we’ve definitely looked into you know renting houses or shop fronts or things like that. Yeah.
I: Yeah the house ARIs thing, its important here and has been around in Brisbane for over thirty, almost forty years although back in the day the rent was really cheap. To do it now, as a share house setting where people you know, the like-minded souls would band together and rent the property and then have a gallery space? You know maybe not unlike Stable Art Space, under the house.
R2: That’s interesting I don’t know how we would find a space a like that.
R: Yeah and afford that…
R2: Because…oh, all of us are kind of living in different areas of Brisbane. So I don’t know …
R: And outside of Brisbane. So we’re, there’s five of us and two of us, one is really north and one is really south so finding a sort of central space for that purpose might be a bit difficult. But yeah we have thought about that and I hope that one day maybe one of us happens to move into a Queenslander that has a good downstairs space that we can steal for gallery purposes.
I: And a Queenslander because?
R: oh I don’t know.
R2: it kind of shows the history of the space almost, it’s maybe…I’m from Canada but maybe in Brisbane it’s the Queenslander. I think a lot of house ARIs kind of do develop from those kind of spaces. Like House Conspiracy and so on.
R: For sure and I feel like you know the good things about a white cube don’t exist in a Queenslander but a Queenslander has its own sort of charm in a way that you know modern house might not. And you know if you’re going to stray from the white cube why not do it with some charm, yeah.
I: and in Canada are there house artist-run spaces, domestic places in Canada?
R2: I think because I was like oh like 13 when I moved here. So I wouldn’t have known too much about that kind of scene. So but I’d be really interested to go back and see if there are many like artist run initiatives or anything.
I: I mean the great thing about Canada from an artist run perspective is there’s been support like official, explicit and funding support, ongoing support for artist run initiatives or ARCs as they are named there; ‘artist-run centres’ and since the early 1970s.
I: The Canadian government was very proactive in encouraging artist-run centres. ARCs in Canada which are huge and been going since I think ’71 or ’72. And often in ongoing physical sites, physical spaces that have gathered archives and collections and have become meeting places that are fixed and secure, sort of. And so have that more permanent quality about them. So in Australia it’s different in each state but there’s not been that sort of level of support that you guys have in Canada. But that’s, which just creates a different type of sort of ecology really. And so Boxcopy, is this like an ARI take-over? How are you describing it, what are you doing?
R: Boxcopy, thanks! I guess they’ve been lending us space periodically which we really, really appreciate. Yeah they just had some room for us to be able to use it and we asked and they said “Sure” and we asked again and they said “Sure” again. So here we are.
R2: They’ve been supporting us I guess like that it’s like yeah just to you know artist supporting ARIs I think it’s a nice thing to do.
R: Yeah and we’re really lucky to have had a lot of support from the beginning from lots of different people, from lots of different ARIs and are really, really thankful for that.
R2: Yeah definitely.
I: And just to finish, thanks guys that’s great intro overview and reflection. Daunting, talking about from your perspectives you’re both still students.
R2: I just graduated this year.
I: Oh congratulations.
R2: Ella graduated last year.
I: Yeah, yeah.
R: Yeah last year yeah.
I: So when you were talking about the idea of this sort of white cube model being useful from a younger, from a student’s perspective what’s daunting, like what is daunting for you guys setting out as artists at this early stage of your careers, what is daunting for you, for you both?
R2: I think I’m very much in that position right now where I feel a bit of like got to dip my toes back into showing my work again. I think maybe people are just afraid of rejection or it’s a vulnerable thing to put your art out in the world. And I think well what we hope to do is create a space where people feel supported by that and welcomed. And not like “Oooh I can’t go there” and yeah I think that’s the goal of Nextdoor is to be able to create that environment yeah.
R: and a lot of this started from us being students, especially in our earlier years of uni and you want to go to exhibitions but you know everyone else knows each other and you don’t really know anyone. And you feel way too awkward to go in alone and stand alone and look at art while everyone else chatters. Because they’re always very like social events almost. Yeah sometimes they’re even less about art than you would think, they’re almost more about just catching up with the people who are in your profession. It’s…and that’s not a criticism that’s lovely, I think it’s great to get to chat. But all of us tended to find that that was a really scary thing. And once we all started going together we got a lot more comfortable going and nowadays we’re quite comfortable because we know that every show we go to there’s going to be one of us there. And it’s nice to know that maybe we can be a staple group of students or recently graduated people that other students and recently graduated people can latch onto a little bit. And have some support in a way that maybe we wished we’d had earlier in our university life.
R2: yeah absolutely.
I: Sorry, forgive me thinking about unis, which university are we talking about?
R2: QUT yeah.
I: but did you, so when you say what do you feel, so do you feel like things have changed, the culture has changed at QUT and now it’s way more supportive say to when it was when you guys started in first year? Is that what you mean?
R: I don’t think that QUT was ever unsupportive. It’s more about going to exhibitions outside of university.
I: I’m with you.
R: And not knowing people yeah.
R2: Not a member of the community yet. Not knowing who to talk to or things like that. I definitely had like a conversation with one of my tutors one time. We were like “How do I approach these spaces, what kind of a…how do I interact in the space”? And it was very helpful.
I: What did they say, do you remember? You don’t have to mention anyone’s names.
R2: laughter but they said like even they themselves felt that sometimes so yeah that was very reassuring to see such a like prolific artist being able to say “Oh yeah even I feel that” and it’s alright just to like pop in and leave. You don’t have to like linger and worry about speaking to the right people or anything. So yeah I think that was reassuring to hear that stuff. Yeah.
I: I mean I think the other thing, look I’m a middle aged artist and there’s a humble book called Art and Fear that I encourage artists to read, I can’t remember the author’s name, it’s called Art & Fear written …by authors David Bayles and Ted Orland, 2001 from memory. But in a sense it’s about all this stuff you mention now, it’s all the same stuff and it doesn’t matter whether you’re young or not…I mean for example when I was a young artist so I went through two things. First I was coming out as an artist and I was also coming out as being queer. So I didn’t know how to do either and I was sort of in tangles. Like, so being queer and this is in Brisbane when I was sixteen or something. And there were some gay clubs, queer clubs in the Valley actually, The Terminus was the fave one. But even then I remember going to another gay bar in Brunswick Street in the Hacienda Hotel, the hotel which is still there today, and I went along one night and everyone was older. And there was no one sort of my age and somehow I found it through Time Out which was a Brisbane street press publication at the time. And I went there and I just felt like I didn’t belong and I didn’t know what to say. And I guess because I was young and was aware that people were more experienced and, I felt the same in the art sense. So it was all the same sorts of things. I go to the IMA and the other thing is I think often when you’re not familiar with a social scenario, social setting it feels cliquey. It feels like the people sort of…and you can feel quite lonely because you don’t know how to well how to engage, how to start with a conversation, how to interact. Let alone what to talk about. And also when you’re young you sort of feel like you maybe, you don’t know stuff that you can’t talk about but of course you have your perspective which is just priceless. So there’s so much that you could talk about because of your experience with your zeitgeist you know that’s specific to your experience as young people. That’s fabulous you know. So that’s how I see it and that’s how I saw it back then but of course whether people are interested in what you have to say…laughter
R: Totally yeah. And the thing is like those moments where it does feel really intimidating or you go and you feel so lonely like it would I would just hate to have that be a moment that discourages someone from continuing to engage and like the art scene, like the queer scene. Like imagine if that had been like a stopping point where it was like “This isn’t for me”. That’s like such a terrible waste of something so good. And so yeah I really aim to make people feel comfortable.
I: Well I feel very comfortable. I’ve never met you before and I know who you are, and here we are now..
R: I’m glad so do we.
I: And I’m just mindful maybe, well thank you that’s probably great. It’s also quite windy today here in West End and this, I didn’t bring my wind sock possum for the audio recorder so hopefully we can understand this recording. And if not I might just write a couple of questions and email them but it should be fine. Thanks Ella, thanks Abigail. Congratulations on one year at Nextdoor ARI, thanks Boxcopy too! Good luck in 2021 HNY:)
ARTISTS: JOAQUIN GONZALES. AMELIA MCLEISH. KIMBERLY STOKES.
Amelia, Kim and Joaquin added these personal reflections:
I think moving our program online when the pandemic hit was the right move, as it helped maintain our community and gave us something to work toward, keeping our minds occupied during a depressing time. I think the biggest difficulty was doing the art justice on a platform already saturated with content.
We launched Nextdoor ARI at the start of 2020, unaware of the strange and difficult year ahead. Being only at the beginning of our ARI journey when COVID-19 hit, we had the flexibility to adapt quickly to the changes happening around us. We spent a lot of time on Zoom calls; where we held our weekly team meetings, POTLUCK’s (our artist meet-up and feedback sessions) and Trivia night’s. We did struggle at times; attempting to plan a future program without a set gallery space or consistent funds coming in. However, despite these challenges, we were able to make the most with what we had. This is thanks to a great team, passionate artists and supportive art spaces.
Launching Nextdoor and then immediately being hit with a global pandemic was an interesting experience to say the least. We opened up our exhibition call-out weeks before Queensland went into panic-buying mode and it was weird to be like “Hey! Congrats! We want to work with you and give you a show! We’re not sure it will ever happen, but congrats anyway I guess!” to our successful applicants. So in that perspective, 2020 was a terrible year to start an ARI, but at the same time maybe it worked to our favour. We had to get really creative, but once we had a plan of attack we were able to roll out a few programs online. With everyone stuck at home and glued to their devices, we were able to grow our audience online and reach beyond our local art community. And by the time restrictions eased and we were allowed to have physical exhibitions, everyone was itching to see art and each other. I feel as though the absence of in-person exhibitions made our community stronger and we are excited to continue to establish and cultivate that community in the coming year! Also, we didn’t have to patch and paint walls for our online exhibitions.
Caption: The opening event for the ‘Hey Neighbour!’ Exhibition and official launch night of Nextdoor ARI. Held at Wreckers Artspace in Meanjin (Brisbane) on the 27th of February 2020. The exhibition consisted of works from Nextdoor’s five Co-Founders; Ella Callander, Joaquin Gonzales, Amelia McLeish, Abby Rutter and Kimberly Stokes. Photography by Joseph Fraser.
Image description: Group of three people viewing projected artwork in industrial gallery space.
Caption: Bella Deary’s exhibition ‘Organism’ held at The Walls Art Space on the Gold Coast (Yugambeh Land). Held on the 24th of July 2020. The exhibition explored the role of the human body and a return to nature, through an environmentally concerned lens. Photograph by Chris Bennie.
Image description: Range of pink latex artworks in an industrial gallery space, including a latex-draped bathtub, two hanging latex forms, a projected video installation, and a projected text work installation.
Caption: Our Zoom Trivia event, held online via Zoom on the 4th of June 2020, during COVID-19.
Image description: A grid of 12 webcam images, each including an attendee of the Zoom Trivia event. Each person has replaced their background with one of their favourite artworks and are posing for the screenshot.
Caption: Isabella Cantenaro’s performance ‘Birthright’ for their exhibition ‘from the dew of heaven’. Held at Boxcopy in South Brisbane on 16th of October 2020. The glass vials contain frankincense, myrrh and spikenard as surrogate queer blood, which substitutes the blood of Christ. They pour the fragrant oils onto their face and into their eyes, inducing tears.
Image description: The artist wears two light pink nightgowns tied between their legs, with girded loins. They squat beside a stark white sink with exposed pipes to retrieve a pair of white gloves.
Caption: A still from Darcy Gilmore’s Behind Every Door interview with Nextdoor ARI member Amelia McLeish. Filmed during COVID-19 lockdown and posted on the Nextdoor ARI website in 2020.
Image description: A screenshot of two artists, Darcy Gilmore and Amelia McLeish, discussing art-making via Zoom call. On the bottom of the image, the closed captions alert the reader that both people are laughing.