Northern Lights

Art Life Oct 20, 2010 1 Comment

Sharne Wolff sends us a postcard from Brisbane’s artist run initiative festival…

If I told you that Brisbane had almost as many artist run spaces as Melbourne –you might have been doubtful. The Brisbane Artist Run Initiatives (BARI) Festival has been in full swing since the beginning of October. It’s a month long festival which not only legitimises the smaller and less well known places and spaces of art and culture in Brisbane but provides more evidence (if it was ever needed) of the vibrancy of culture in a city which has long ago left behind it’s ‘country town’ reputation. This is the third year of the BARI Festival which, according to Creative Director Megan Cope, involves 18 artist-run initiatives and over 70 artists.

Below is a selection of the works I saw during the week at various spaces around Brisbane city:

‘Top Ten Box Office Blockbusters of All Time’ – Daniel McKewen @Metro Arts

Daniel McKewen is a PhD candidate at QUT. He is interested in popular culture via his digital media studies of celebrity, artist and fan. Previous works have involved histories of magazine covers and album covers. His digital video work showing this week at Metro Arts is almost impossible to watch in one sitting as it plays each blockbuster movie through in its entirety. Whilst the movie is playing, however, McKewen has overlaid each film with two layers of figures that constantly count upwards – one representing the movie production budget and the other the worldwide gross profits. It is a time consuming and labour intensive process for the artist but provides added drama to the film.

The movie is watched through the light cast on the film by the counting numbers. Whilst in the gallery I was watching Kate Winslet and Leonardo Di Caprio in Titanic with eight figures behind the dollar sign laid over the top row and nine figures (representing hundreds of millions of dollars) running along the bottom of the film. As you watch the movies it is impossible not to be seduced by the constant counting of the numbers, despite their silent work behind the soundtrack of the film. McKewen’s film insists that we think about our attachment to the movies, why they are so popular and how we engage with them and their cast of actors in an emotional sense.

Kristy Morgan ‘The Talisman Collection’ @Jugglers Art Space (in space + ship)

Jugglers Art Space was founded in 2002 and is now one of the better-known artist run spaces in town, supporting many local emerging artists over several spaces. Dangling from a large dead twig at space + ship this week was the work of Jugglers’ artist and jewellery designer Kristy Morgan. Morgan works generally in metal, leather and precious stones sculpting striking and extraordinary pieces of jewellery, often cast from the real skeletons of the birds and animals with which she works. Her materials are often recycled and in this exhibition, include the brass from 9 and 22mm bullet castings.

According to the artist, this particular collection is based around the cormorant – a large black water bird that must stand still and hold its wings out in the sun to dry them. The birds are also used for fishing in China where a gold ring is inserted around their necks to prevent them from swallowing the fish they catch. These ideas have been carried through into the collection.

The work on display ranges from the more traditional earrings and necklaces – to leather neckpieces and other more unusual adornments. Morgan is interested in the mythical, in elements of transformation and metamorphosis. Her jewellery pays quiet homage to the spirit of the creatures who inspire her.

‘Being Towards Nothing’ – Haruka Sawa @ Boxcopy

Haruka Sawa is a young Brisbane artist aware of her own mortality. At seventeen she apparently encountered a near death experience around the same time she left her homeland of Japan. She has trained in photography, so often works with installations that capture moments in time and explore the ephemeral. Sawa has produced a special installation for BARI which explores this notion of the transience of life, and perhaps the contemplation of death as the ultimate experience of life.

The small white room studio at Boxcopy has been arranged as if someone had been quietly sitting at a table eating their lunch. The scene is a strange mix of something disturbing, but simultaneously quite peaceful. The installation includes wax casts of the artist’s leg (as the leg of a chair) and arm placed on the table as if reaching out to eat. They add a somewhat surreal element to an otherwise everyday setting. The title of the exhibition “Being Towards Nothing” refers to the writing of German philosopher, Martin Heidigger whose theories included studies of time and mortality.

The viewer is also involved in the contemplative moment of time and death – Sawa invites viewers to light or distinguish candles on the cast until the chair collapses into a pool of melted wax.

Psychedelictribal Doublefistism @Spec (space +ship)

A sign outside the Spec exhibition issues a warning ‘The content of this tent may cause OFFENCE! Enter at Your Own Risk! For Mature Audiences Only’.

I wonder if this is indeed a warning, or perhaps a bigger temptation to enter. The space is also covered by a sheet which Helen Rogers, one of the founders of Spec, tells me is there to provide another ‘soft’ barrier to entry for those who might be offended. It seems, however, that Brisbane is a truly grown up city these days and even though space + ship is located right in the middle of King George Square in the centre of Brisbane’s lunch time crowd, only one or two people have murmured any complaint.

Psychedelictribal Doublefistism is the name given to the small space occupied by Spec where visitors to the space can sit down on comfy cushions, relax and make their own zine (hand made or informal magazine). On the day I visited, Rogers and two male friends were busy drawing and cutting out pictures from the photocopied pages of magazines and books, containing the suggestive, the lewd, erotic and the downright smutty. Books lay around the table and the floor for inspiration and included titles such as Delta of Venus, Art and Obscenity and Into Me Out of Me.

According to Rogers, the idea of the obscene zine-making workshop was a celebration of profanity and the politically incorrect, allowing anyone to become artist for a day. Zines have more widely been seen as a form of artistic revolt. Rogers is personally interested in the symbols and forms that we, as a society, find suggestive.

Spec hoped that people would have a bit of fun with the idea and it seems that was the general reaction with people generally enjoying the notion of ‘finding their inner child’ within the space. Spec has no permanent exhibition space but intends to continue one night only and short term exhibitions in the future.
Thanks to Megan Cope for her assistance with this story.

‘space + ship’ in King George Square Brisbane runs as part of the BARI Festival until 16 October when it will finish up with a screening of a new film by Brisbane indigenous collective ‘Proppa Now’.

The BARI Festival continues with a full program of exhibitions until 30 October 2010 culminating in a closing party at Brisbane’s heritage listed Gasworks. Full details can be found on the BARI website and BARI blog or on Facebook at BARI. or

Sharne Wolff

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