Paper Visual Art has begun commissioning a series of texts, interviews and writing about alternative and artist run spaces, questioning how they function, their role and meaning. In the first installment of this project P.V.A conducted an email interview with 55 Sydenham Road, Marrickville, N.S.W, 2204 Australia, about the politics, aspirations and challenges for this new venture.
Q: 55 Sydenham Road, Marrickville, N.S.W, 2204 is a new alternative art space based in Sydney, can you talk about the ideas central to the project?
A: There were several heated discussions had with friends before the core ideas for this artist run space took shape. These conversations revolved around vocation, exhibition practice and the futility felt when circulating within the confines of careerism. It became apparent that the obstacle to re-imagining art was less about the type of art to be made, lack of opportunities, support or the constraints of the white cube, but rather with the protocol that informs all contemporary art production and reception; self-promotion. To dismantle this, the most pervasive and omnipresent ideological pretext in contemporary art, the distortion or complete erasure of names would be required.
Initially, it was proposed that artists would operate under pseudonyms and numerical systems of identification. But after much deliberating, these systems seemed to obscure the desire to remain anonymous. A final decision was then made to remove all manner of names or systems of identification from the exhibition format and reduce everything to time and space, namely exhibition date and full (non-abbreviated) address as the sole referents for the shows.
Q: The policy of artist anonymity is of major significance; this means the removal of the artists’ authorship from the way in which the art objects are read. However, in this model the structure of the gallery is preserved as a mode of authorship. Could you discuss this dynamic?
A: The policy is not just limited to artists but also applies to the space. So both are permitted to produce texts, provide details on their work or operation and conduct interviews, but must exclude names, pseudonyms or biographies that could give shape to their identity. Arguably then any mode of authorship you refer to resides not just in the space, but the artists and art objects. Despite this trace of authorship it can be argued that the protocol of anonymity still prevails, given its power to foreground context, content and form above all else.
What we’re up against is an institutionalized compulsion for visual artists and institutions to gain greater public representation and acknowledgment in a rather docile belief that all our campaigning leads to the empowerment of art, the content we produce and ourselves. Straightforward and just? Not quite. What is performed in pursuit of individual success is a disavowal of art as a material force in its own right and the potential for collective agency among artists and arts professionals. To invoke anonymity will therefore seem to many as self-defeating, given that the cult of personality is now the most endorsed ideological movement in contemporary art.
Art may have escaped the clutches of church and state, but its institutions, advocates and practitioners have since come under the ideological rule of corporate-capital individualism. What matters most to this patronage system is the regulation of art by staking claim to our names, ideas, actions and any sense of individuality we have. Anonymity is the antithesis of this; it’s a secret pact that opens up a field of autonomy.
Q: Would you regard the 55 Sydenham Rd, Marrickville, N.S.W, 2204 ideology as an institutional critique? I refer here to the diagram that is used to describe the remit of the space, where it is positioned on the periphery of the ‘orbital radii of autonomy’. Is it true to an extent that engaging in the critique of a system serves to further validate it? Or would you regard this artist run space as creating an entirely new structure for the presentation of, and distribution of, emerging art practices?
A: It can be read as a form of institutional critique and within that we can also detect the failure paradox you mention. However this articulation of institutional critique as mere replicator or validator of systems is somewhat lopsided. It seems the artists take the flack when their propositions fall flat of the reform they aspire to. But what of the lethargy of institutions that only superficially get behind the critiques they purport to stand for? Isn’t this the real failure? The institution’s failure creates a disjunction between context and art, a rift that belies the fact that if they absorbed the propositions more than superficially, both artist and art space could create enormous changes. The envelope of anonymity that defines this particular artist run space is perhaps then a very modest attempt to perform institutional critique as it should be done, as a joint proposition between artist and art space at a structural level.
As for the diagram, no comment.
Q: 55 Sydenham Rd, Marrickville, N.S.W, 2204 appears to be rejecting the model of the artist run space as an adjunct to, and feeder apparatus to the broader commercial gallery system. Could you discuss this with particular reference to the Sydney artist run initiative scene?
A: There’s a very strong aversion on our part towards the standard ARI (artist run initiative) model in circulation both locally and internationally and with that a deliberate effort to reform and reclaim the idea of what an artist run space is. To take a term used in your previous question as a starting point in case; 55 Sydenham Rd, Marrickville, N.S.W, 2204 has no interest in ‘emerging’ art practices, none. The very concept of emerging and established presupposes a readymade ARI model and artistic vocation that we choose not to invest in. These seemingly innocent categories propagated by artists and arts professionals are not without consequence. If they remain uncontested, artists and their support structures willingly honour hierarchy, singularity and competitiveness above and over all else, reducing art to nothing but a campaign prop.
Arguably, the negligence on the part of artists to claim their own definitions has disempowered them in a very discreet and insidious manner. This is just one example of why artist run spaces need to take serious the seemingly innocent rhetoric they exchange with others.
Sydney’s artist run space scene wouldn’t be that different from those found in most cities, apart from the fact that this city is now one of the most expensive in the world. Despite and in spite of this fact, artist run spaces such as Institute of Contemporary Art Newtown, ATVP, Serial Space, Locksmith, Plump, Oh Really and more recently Articulate and Index, provide a much needed point of departure from the generic ARI model and the cultural vacuity created by the gentrification of this city.
Q: Since the word anonymous comes up so frequently in this text I would like to refer here to the etymology of the word, derived from the Greek ‘without’. This implies a void, a space where there is a removal or erasure. Could you talk about the possibilities and problems this presents?
A: As mentioned earlier, in the absence of names and self-reference, power is conferred onto context, content and form. This is perhaps where without comes to mind; there’s a lot art could do without. It could do without the smokescreen of misinformation we receive through the media about contemporary art, its support structures and its prescribed roles for art and artists as individualized commodities. Without these ideologies to hide behind, we move closer to an alliance with the mysterious force of art. This is the void we encounter.
Problems and potentials will remain mostly unknown until the space opens 7/4/11.
Q: How are the artists 55 Sydenham Rd, Marrickville, N.S.W, 2204 is working with responding to the remit and this new model of presentation of art?
A: It too remains a mystery.