Three Winter Coats and a Dirty Knife.
With the ‘We Are Here’ international symposium on artist run initiatives running in Sydney during much of this week it seems appropriate to focus on a local ARI (or Artist Run Initiative) for this week’s review.
It is fairly well acknowledged in Australia – namely by the Arts Council who are the major financial supporter of ARI’s – that they play a critical role in the presentation and promotion of Australian contemporary art practice and culture. Nine Lives Gallery in Brisbane is an ARI that receives no public money. It’s run by a group of (you guessed it) nine keen art lovers who come from all walks of creative life. The nine lives – made up of photographers, designers, illustrators and filmmakers – began their Gallery three years ago above a grungy Italian restaurant in Brunswick Street – but opened more recently at a small space in one of Brisbane’s cultural hubs in Winn Street, Fortitude Valley. The space is tiny but oozes a young artistic vibe and loads of cultural energy.
Without funding, the Gallery manages to tread the difficult balance between financial viability and vulnerability on the one hand, and absolute creative flexibility on the other. One of the nine, the personable Matt Rabbidge, plays the everyday roles of permanent curator, organiser and general handy man. Rabbidge is aware that the Gallery plays several roles in Brisbane including a kind of ‘cultural service’. He says, ‘It’s great when 200 people turn up for an opening for the art and the free drinks – but at the end of the day we still have to sell some works to pay the rent’. The ultimate idea is to provide an alternative contemporary space as a platform for local artists to show their work and hopefully move on to national and international artistic forums.
‘Three Winter Coats and a Dirty Knife’ opened last week with its guest curator, Ellie Anderson – also one of the five exhibiting artists in her first show. She and four others: Jesse Olsen, Kylie Spear, Dord Burrough and Dan Ford exhibit illustrations which respond to a poem written by Anderson and inspired by the Neko Case song ‘Dirty Knife’:
‘Cold winters stowed away,
Isolated deep in the woods.
Perspective lost, he’s far-gone now.
Creatures eddy as forlorn moonlight cuts through the window.
Haunts paralyze, as the blood runs crazy’.
The song depicts the tale of a man who, after living a solitary life deep in the woods, is driven to insanity within his own thoughts. If this story line sounds familiar, there are strong links between those lyrics and the Sean Penn film, ‘Into the Wild’ which runs a similar theme. Anderson says, ‘I didn’t want to use the lyrics of the song in the concept outline so I wrote a short poem to spark a bit of mystery when promoting the exhibition. Basically the poem works as a narrative. The artworks illustrate the narrative behind the poem and the gallery space works as a reflection of the story’.
Each of the artists has responded to the theme with a set of ink drawings. The Gallery looks like an intimate wooden cabin – with sculptural pieces of driftwood, vintage lamps, an amazing set of carved buffalo horns and moody lighting to set the scene. It certainly doesn’t feel like Brisbane in here. Of course, that’s exactly what Anderson wants to achieve.
Most of the artists in this show are still studying or are very recent graduates. Dord Burroughs work has gothic folkloric overtones that are reminiscent of scary fairytales, but are occasionally humorous. With a Scandinavian background and currently working in Berlin as well as Brisbane, these different senses of home and histories of traditional folklore no doubt assisted in her inspiration for this show.
Daniel Ford, also sometime based in Berlin, has previously worked on album covers and in video. His small ink drawings in this show – mainly portraits – use the darkness and light of the medium well. His quirky vintage frames of different sizes are perfect for these drawings and add personality to the show. Jesse Olsen has a background as an illustrator and tattoo artist and has done some finely detailed drawings for the exhibition. My favourites were his sea craft – boats and ships evocative of the dual emotions of optimism and fear.
For her own part in the exhibition Ellie Anderson has contributed intricate ink drawings of forest animals – including a wolf, a bear and an owl. The medium of ink allows Anderson to make careful layers of primitive patterns to build her black and white pictures and bring the poetic theme to life. As an intern at Nine Lives, as well as a student at Queensland College of the Arts, Anderson’s debut as a curator is providing valuable on the job experience while she studies.
Working in ‘mark-making’ seems to be popular amongst current art school graduates. Kylie Spear’s practice encompasses several mediums, including video and sculpture, but for this show she has concentrated on laboured ink drawings in the mark-making style. The popularity of the style means that if you are going to do it – you have to be good. Spear’s drawings show a mix of excellent skill and control. Instinctual drawings effortlessly evolve into fluid landscapes with the addition of thousands of tiny gestural marks. The recurrent wolf appears again.
Several years of hard toil on behalf of the Nine Lives team means that they, along with these five and the dozens of artists they have helped support to date, can announce they too are ‘here’. Lets hope they get to stay.
Three Winter Coats and a Dirty Knife
Nine Lives Gallery
Winn Street, Fortitude Valley
Until 11 September 2011.