Exhibition review Tasmania art co-op: recent works from Australian Artist-Run Initiatives The Long Gallery, Salamanca Arts Centre, Hobart Tasmania 15 November - 8 December 1996
ArtCoop, curated by Sara Lindsay under the aegis of the Salamanca Arts Centre, brought together a variety of works from nine disparate Artist-Run Initiatives or 'ARIs' (the term encompasses both self-sufficient co-operatives and more commercial enterprises). While not attempting to be a comprehensive survey, an enormous task given the plethora of ARIs in Australia, ArtCoop revealed the wide variety of activities that are undertaken in diverse locations throughout Australia. Many prominent artists began their careers in ARIs, many are still avid supporters who enjoy the often unpredictable state of this less institutional world. Curiously, there has been little interest in exhibitions that bring together a selection of these energetic initiatives, or perhaps the interest is there but the task is too daunting to contemplate beyond an idea.
ArtCoop represented every state: Salamanca Arts Centre, Tasmania; Gray Street Workshop, Adelaide; Artist's Foundation of WA, Watch This Space, Jukurrpa Artists and Jilamara Arts and Crafts, Northern Territory; Kick Arts Collective, Cairns; Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative, Sydney; Megalo Access Arts, Canberra and Red Planet, Melbourne. Many of these organisations have little in common in terms of their structure, some being quite grassroots in their approach while others have a well defined hierarchical structure of management. What they all share is an emphasis on access for artists to facilities and support that enable more ambitious projects to develop than would otherwise be possible as an isolated artist.
The artworks that result from such disparate origins and philosophies could lead to an exhibition with little cohesion in the absence of curatorial direction. Three categories defined the territory of selection: body as source (referring to contemporary theories of the body), landscape as source (political or environmental) and equipment as source (the sharing of resources). While not necessarily thematic, these categories pervaded the exhibition in a subtle way linking, for instance, the politically topical posters of Red Planet to Annie Trevillian's ironic tea towels with their tips on 'How to be a woman', to the construction of gender and cultural identity in Rea's If one green bottle should accidentally fall... triptych, to Rosemary O'Rourke's A mon seul Desir corporeal tapestry. The continual cross referencing made for a cohesive show through content and/or materials.
Most of the work had to be easily transported due to budgetary constraints, which meant it could be neither too large, fragile nor bulky. When you consider that ArtCoop brought work from as far afield as Melville Island, Perth and Cairns to Tasmania, this must reflect on the eventual look of the show which featured predominantly portable works such as jewellery and textiles. Any rigid two dimensional works were smaller scaled or modular in design.
The large scaled works were predominantly textiles: lengths of screenprinted fabric from Jan Mackay of Watch this SPACE and the marvellous 50s inspired Spotty Cups screenprinted length from Annie Trevillian of Megalo. Lesley Duxbury's modular piece Transit stretched pale blocks of enigmatic text and sky across the length of one wall. This piece along with Holly Story's The Body Suite (created with the assistance of Duxbury's etching press) made two elegant inclusions from the Artist's Foundation of Western Australia.
Whereas AFWA, like the Salamanca Arts Centre, operates as an arts complex with a number of different activities under its roof, other ARIs are more specific in their aims. The jewellery produced at Gray Street Workshop shows the exciting possibilities of working in an environment where not only equipment but commitment is shared; the work reflects each artist's individual interests and yet reveals a collective interest in the body as a sculptural site. This work successfully combines commercial viability and good design with substantial content.
Jukurrpa Artists, Jilamara Arts and Crafts and Boomalli Aboriginal Arts and Crafts represent three regional aspects of Aboriginal ARIs: the arid central desert around Alice Springs, tropical Melville Island and urban Sydney. The work produced reflects each of these environments, be it through inherited stories transcribed onto silk (Jilamara), paintings and decorated carvings created mainly for the tourist trade (a vital part of the environment at Jukurrpa) or the contemporary Koori issues dealt with by Rea at Boomalli.
The predominance of women artists in ArtCoop perhaps reflects the state of ARIs in the 90s, the necessity of certain artforms to collective teamwork (eg. screenprinted lengths of fabric) or the particular bias of the curator. The reason however, was more prosaic: when asked to meet the curator, many more women expressed interest in doing so. It seemed men were interested in a shared studio but not necessarily in extramural activities: the boarding house approach as opposed to the shared house.
ArtCoop intentionally included artists whose works would not be dealt with by other institutions: being too arty for craft exhibitions, too crafty for art exhibitions. Many more obvious omissions (Roar, for instance) have had and continue to have a voice within the institutional framework that enjoys watching the margins. The curator agreed that a comprehensive show was neither possible nor desired and that certain omissions occurred either through lack of information (many ARIs didn't respond, possibly reflecting the lack of administrative support necessary to do so) or curatorial decision making: 'Another curator would have produced an entirely different show. I hope they do. It would be great if there were many more exhibitions which reflect the variety of work being produced in co-ops.'
A world wide web site has been established to extend the audience for ArtCoop and expand the information on ARIs. Details can be sent to Salamanca Arts Centre, 77 Salamanca Place, Hobart 7004. The website address is: http://www.tased.edu.au/tasonline/sacinc