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Written by Lucy Hawthorne
The MOP exhibition at Constance coincides with the 10th birthday of both Artist Run Initiatives (ARIs). In February this year, Inflight ARI was relaunched as Constance to indicate a change in focus. Although some might argue that Constance is yet to turn one, it builds upon the solid base established by a decade of Inflight committee members and thus is not a new organisation, regardless of the new name. This inaugural Constance blog post will explore broadening definition and ‘lifecycle’ of the ARI in Australia, and look at changes to the Hobart ARI scene over the last decade.
Like Inflight, MOP was originally established at a different site – a small former ragtrade workspace tucked away up four flights of stairs in Redfern – before moving to its current location in Chippendale in 2008. Many years ago I wrote a rather tongue-in-cheek guide to Hobart galleries, describing Inflight’s former location as ‘challenging to find … Inflight is hidden behind the toilets, which are behind the garbage bins, behind the carpark, behind Kaos café…’ Still, there’s something romantic about the secret ARI, the exclusive ‘did you hear about…’ nature of the hard-to-find new arrival on the art block. But as ARIs mature and become integrated into the local art scene, there is a tendency to move to a new, more visible location. This is often because funding enables the move, but it also signals, as I noted, a maturity, a sign that the ARI will run a little longer than the norm. For Inflight, the move occurred seven years after its establishment, and MOP five years. I use the word ‘maturity’ because the ARI lifecycle is often described as a ‘phoenix’: one ARI dies and another rises from the ashes. The analogy is beautifully descriptive, because rather than mourn the ‘death’ of the ARI, it’s commonly acknowledged that ARIs don’t need to last forever to succeed, and that the dynamism that new ARIs bring is quite different to a ‘mature,’ more established organisation. This is not to say that the new ARI is superior to the old ARI – they’re just different, and serve different purposes. When 6a opened in North Hobart in 2007, it filled a gap in the Hobart art scene. Simultaneously, the siteless ARI, 10% Pending (of which I was a part) was formed. With its raw interior and kitchen gallery, 6a encouraged site-specific work, hosting exhibitions such as Tristan Stoward’s live-in performance and Josie Hurst’s bathtub video. 10% Pending ignored the gallery space altogether, preferring to create temporary clandestine exhibitions in public spaces. The three ARIs worked well together, and when 6a and 10% Pending wound up a few years later, Hobart definitely lost some key exhibition opportunities for emerging and experimental artists. Just prior to 6a’s closure in 2011, Inflight moved to its current location at Goulburn St. Although expensive, the gallery now has a streetfront and is visible to passers by (a sign of that before mentioned ‘maturity’?). The 6a building is still used as artist studios, and while I mourn its closure, I also see it as an opportunity for another ARI to sprout up.
It’s pretty well accepted that ARIs cater for emerging artists and experimental art practice. Most importantly, they provide alternative opportunities to the larger public institutions, such as the state galleries and the CAOs group (interestingly, many of the CAOs institutions originated as ARIs, such as Hobart’s CAST and Sydney’s Artspace). The subversive or independent nature of the artist cooperative is key to their success. Australia’s first artist run spaces, such as Inhibodress (1970-2), were established at a time of significant change in the national art scene and were a significant alternative to the then very conservative public state galleries and commercial galleries (with a few exceptions, notably Pinacotheca in Melbourne and Watters in Sydney). ARI boards are, as the name suggests, artists, and therefore it is appointed members of the local artist community who dictate the type of art exhibited. The agendas and aims of these artist groups are obviously very different to those of the large state gallery boards who have to cater for a far broader and arguably more conservative audience. However, older ARIs risk moving towards conservatism. We see more paintings on the wall, fewer mad experimental installations or performances, fewer artists with little or no exhibition history. Yet, they also move towards more diverse programming. MOP, for instance, has a commercial counterpart run by its two directors, George Adams and Ron Adams. The 20-year-old West Space has multiple arms, including writing and education programs; and Firstdraft has extended its reach since it opened in Surry Hills in 1986, more recently establishing studios and a publishing coop in Woolloomooloo.
As I noted earlier, Hobart’s art scene from 2007-2011, included three quite different ARI models. 6a and Inflight were rented spaces, and while Inflight was a more ‘neutral’ white-walled gallery, 6a encouraged art that responded to the former slaughterhouse space. Inflight has always hosted a number of programs outside the gallery space, mostly travelling exhibitions, whereas 6a had a broader program on site, supporting studios, markets and the occasional music event. 10% Pending on the other hand was site-less, which allowed it more freedom in terms of the board’s curatorial vision, event dates and sites, and most significantly, it was almost exclusively financed by cake-stalls. Siteless or mobile ARIs such as 10% Pending and the recently launched Tarpspace, reflect the broadening definition of the cooperative exhibition space, and also help explain the popularity of the term ‘artist run initiative’ as opposed to the older ‘artist run space.’
The renaming of Hobart’s now sole ARI from Inflight to Constance earlier this year was designed to communicate a significant shift in programming, specifically a new emphasis on off-site exhibitions in addition to its gallery program. However, Inflight’s excellent (pre-emptive?) satellite exhibition in Queenstown late last year, demonstrated that the name change was perhaps unnecessary because, like all older ARIs, Inflight has developed and expanded its focus over time. Inflight/Constance has supported hundreds of artists over the last decade, reflecting the commitment of the dozens of past and present board members to the organisation, as well as the support of funding bodies, writers, critics, and the local arts community. ARIs provide opportunities to emerging artists; they offer exhibition spaces that lack the ideological restrictions of the larger galleries, and their smaller, more focussed audience means that artists can present more provocative and experimental work without the rallying cries of ‘think about the children’ or ‘the Oxford English Dictionary [of 1973] defines art as…’ We need ARIs. Hobart needs ARIs, and I stress the plural. We need ARIs that work together to plug gaps in the local art scene, particularly with the recent closure of the Carnegie Gallery, and the Plimsoll Gallery’s lack of funding-induced hiatus. Over the years, Inflight has become a significant player in Australia’s ARI network, hosting exhibitions from dozens of other ARIs, including MOP (now for the second time). Regardless of the name change, I see Constance continuing this network while expanding its program to include not just off-site exhibitions but this new writing program, and this can only be a good thing.
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