By Margarett Cortez
With interviews of Fran Barrett and Tom Smith of Serial Space, and Valentina Schulte of International Noise.
If we were to name only one activity which a huge percentage of modern society regularly engages in, it would probably be nothing. ‘What are you doing?’ Nothing. ‘What did you do last night?’ Nothing, really. ‘What are you going to do this weekend?’ Let me see – nothing.
A fast paced life involving a blur of work during the day and culminating in front of the television or computer at night – with the option of doing nothing while drinking beer at a pub – is an all too familiar scenario. However, there is much to discover in Sydney: from after hours programs hosted by museums such as the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Australian Museum, to free movie nights at various cultural institutions, to live music gigs in little bars – there is something out there for everybody. Those who seek shall certainly be rewarded and at times all you have to do is open your ears and listen to what people are talking about.
Word of mouth has recently been carrying news of delightful exhibits and one of a kind events in independent spaces often managed by artist-run initiatives. One such ARI is Serial Space in Chippendale which has been steadily building a community since 2009, recently mostly through word of mouth. One morning over coffee in Redfern, I sat together with two of Serial’s directors Fran Barrett and Tom Smith to talk about this unique ARI.
Serial Space is an artist-run space, just like its name suggests, focused on the live forms. Its six directors range from varying backgrounds and contribute to the ARI’s direction, ‘we bring in to the space what we actually want to bring in to the space,’ shares Fran. ‘We try and implement what we like in the space or what we think the community needs’.
More than just a gallery, Serial plays host to a variety of performances, talks and exhibits with a view towards delivering unique experiences to visitors. They cater to a diverse range of people who come together in a cross over of different communities. Serial runs a debate program and has hosted them on various topics such as ‘experimental music is boring’, or in regards to the ‘pros and cons of polyamory.’ They have also had an audio-visual performance installation where visitors can participate; a ‘robot wars’ tournament, regular suitcase markets and spontaneous music and experimental film gigs among many others – all of which have seen various communities gather, from polyamorous people to robot geeks. ‘It’s kind of hard sometimes because we can be quite niche but with all the diversity we have with programs that cater to a lot of different people – you know, a lot of communities,’ Fran says about their diverse curatorial offering. They don’t specifically cater to an arts crowd either; their goal is to bring together a community of people with similar interests, whether it be a specific hobby or chasing after new experiences in general.
The Great Donkey Debate at Serial Space, Lucy Parakhina, 2010 © Serial Space, 2010. Courtesy of Serial Space
In attending one of their events, visitors should leave their inhibitions at the gate and be prepared to participate, interact and exercise their curiosity. ‘It might be a bit intimidating at first’, warns Tom about entering Serial Space for the first time – what with its secluded location in a residential area, ‘But we try to make sure that the atmosphere is friendly.’ Fran adds, ‘People can just walk up to it. And once you keep going to the space… you get used to it’.
Offering beyond what most static exhibitions deliver, Serial and its directors and resident artists are focused on process rather than the resulting object or artwork. Everybody is encouraged to ask the artists questions and experience the art works and installations using their sense of touch, hearing, and sight. With its unconventional and dynamic set-up, the interaction between the artist and the audience becomes part of what the artwork is and will be.
At its heart as an artist-run initiative, Serial Space’s main aim is to extend the benefits of a free space, audience and support network for experimental artists to hone their art. Fran also describes their focus on process – as well as conversation with an audience – as a necessity for artists to develop their (art) practice. With the dynamic nature and continuous development characteristic of experimental work, it is certainly important to ‘test it out.’ Serial provides the space so that artists in residency can engage in that process; while getting them to communicate with an audience in a dynamic set up gives them the opportunity to introduce their practice and gather input that will shape their work.
Unlike the stereotypical white cube, Serial Space’s white walls alternatively foster an atmosphere which makes open interaction between artist, object, and audience possible. Events and exhibits held at Serial are surely out of the mainstream and span a variety of fields of interests. However, it is mainly the spirit of and idea behind the space which enables it to deliver unique and authentic experiences. Tom also describes it as a place where life and art converge, where people come together and do what they like to do in their free time. And rightly so, it’s in the resulting shared experience where we find more meaning in what we do.
Serial Space is located in 33 Wellington Street, Chippendale. They are open depending on scheduled exhibits and events. Visit their website at www.serialspace.org or add them on Facebook to keep track of events they have lined up.
Keep an eye out while walking around the city, you never know what you might see while walking under a bridge; those strategically pasted up sheets of A3 paper that strangely feels like an exhibit might actually be an exhibit. International Noise is a guerilla artist-run initiative that has been bringing art to the streets since 2006. ‘We would consider ourselves to be guerilla artists but (we’re) not just about putting the art out there, it’s more about utilising space in different ways and making art available to everybody in the street,’ explains photographer and International Noise co-founder Valentina Schulte.
Uncontainble exhibit by International Noise at University of Sydney © Valentina Schulte, 2011
While a lot of established galleries get funding for space and give a call out for residents, International Noise does not have a gallery space and does not hold a residency program. ‘For us it’s more convenient that we don’t have a space because the three main contributors, including myself, all have day jobs.’ Their guerilla approach to art exhibits takes out the responsibility of having to constantly manage a physical space, while the lack of a residency program makes involvement more fluid and accessible. True to what their name suggests, artist involvement also goes beyond Australia, ‘Sometimes we’d put up a call for entries and for our last exhibition we had about 35 people submit work from around the world so that’s good, more people are now hearing about it.’
International Noise’s first exhibit was called Copy Cats, wherein works by home-grown and international artists alike were printed on A3 paper and bill posted in an area in Paddington. It was a one night only show which saw a second follow up, Copy Cats 2. Their biggest project to date was 9 x 5” a roving gallery in the back of a truck featuring artworks which measure exactly 9 inches by 5 inches – taking inspiration from traditional cigar boxes, and quoting the famous Australian Impressionist artists of 1889. Valentina explains that with this truck show, ‘We wanted to challenge the white cube – well at that time since we were all at the end of our university years it was hard to get into a gallery space so we thought well we’ll just take one with us. That’s a white cube but that white cube moves.’ The truck was parked in three different locations for an hour or two: at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, in front of the Australian Centre for Photography and at Dank Street Depot. Reflecting on the exhibit, Valentina concludes that it was well received and people were really open; the only sign of apprehension from the audience was from the first few people to approach the truck and go in.
Their exhibits, which highlight the way the installation is carried out as much as the content, combine both a theoretical concept and practical street art approach. For example, in looking at photos of their first exhibit Copy Cats, one might as well be looking at a regular gallery opening with a similar crowd gazing at art works on a wall – except visitors were under a bridge in Paddington looking at paste ups on a concrete wall. This accessible and comfortable set up creates a more relaxed atmosphere while trying to challenge the notion of art always being tied to galleries. “From a viewer’s point of view galleries can be a little intimidating to walk into on your own. Sometimes a little bit daunting if you’re not used to it.”
While pre-conceived notions attached to the idea of being ‘guerilla’ might generally by negative, International Noise is more innovative rather than subversive in their challenge of the white cube. Rationale behind their exhibits are worded in eloquent briefs that almost read like discourse tidbits that are easy to understand and make perfect sense. Whereas Serial Space challenges the static notion of the white cube by utilising that very space as a field for ideas exchange and the development of processes in art practice, International Noise challenges it by taking art works out of the white cube context. In the end, the exhibits are successful because the society is, to a degree, educated or informed about what art is – therefore allowing them to see these objects, or performances, as works of art despite having been taken out of the white cube. Consequently, the nature of this object in relation to its surrounding – is it displaced or does it belong there? – prods viewers into rethinking space.
International Noise recently concluded an installation this September at the University of Sydney’s Verge Festival, Uncontainable, which showcased shipping containers filled on the outside with their signature paste-up style exhibit and juxtaposed with a more formally presented exhibit inside the containers.