The End of Time. The Beginning of Time
After 32 action packed years, that launched the careers of more art stars into the cultural stratosphere than the Apollo Space program, Gertrude Contemporary is on the move. Gerty will join Melbourne’s burgeoning and vibrant inner north where vibrant live music venues like the Northcote Social Club, the Croxton, Tago Mago and Open Studio are thriving. Preston, Thornbury, (Pornbury), Brunswick and Reservoir are home to more talented, out-of-work artists, actors, writers and musicians than should be legal. Meanwhile, Fitzroy has become overpriced and subsequently left to the Boomers. Boomers throw crap parties. They call the cops to break up the fun they’re hosting, when they decide that’s enough now. It’s 10:28pm and it’s time everyone went to one of their homes to sleep. In their OWN bed. If it wasn’t for CCP, Sutton, The Old Bar, The Night Cat and Bar Open there would be no reason to visit Fitzroy anymore. Fitzroy is one of those places people reminisce about as having once been really good. Please Respect our New Neighbours, No Talking, No Laughing, No Singing.
Gentrification, of which art is a leading force, has priced Gertrude Contemporary right out of the Fitzroy neighbourhood it helped shape. It is a story as predictable as: ‘spacious studio warehouse loft conversion with inner city views in proximity of public transport, hospitals and Mario’s’.
Change is inevitable, but don’t be buying that marketing bullshite that all change is good when it clearly isn’t. Then again, the only thing more conservative than change is not changing. Change always causes a stir when life gets real, too real. Change is as real as how much we all miss Blair Trethowan.
Gerty was never sufficiently liquid to have bought themselves a piece of the pie when it could have afforded to, way back when. It must now succumb to market forces, that being to take what you can afford for as long as you can afford it. Australia is in the throes of a rich man’s land grab akin to the ones following European invasion or the Gold Rush. We’re a place fully indulging our obsession with all things real estate. Talking real estate is shorthand for talking money, spoken by people for whom money is the one and only true God. But this is, and always will be, Aboriginal Land, land of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. Fitzroy is a place as central to the formation of the Aboriginal Resistance Movement, as Redfern in Sydney and Southbank in Brisbane, all areas that have involved the ‘creative industries’ starting gentrification that displaced Aboriginal people from significant area’s of gathering and resistance.
Rumours that Gertrude Contemporary had to move have been circulating for 15 years (about 13 years too long but who’s counting). Many had identified Gerty as a perfect fit for the nearby Collingwood Arts Precinct (CAP), the rundown former Collingwood Technical School on a huge (8,396 sq metre) well located site, next door to the Tote, one of the homes of live music in Melbourne. CAP has a great Keith Haring mural on its side. The wear and tear on Keith’s mural was restored by the government at great expense, even when Keith had said: ‘Hey government dudes. Don’t be wasting money on conservators when a good sign writer will do the job proper.’ But governments don’t listen to people and governments love wasting money. Our money.
There’s more confusion surrounding Collingwood Arts Precinct than last year’s census. CAP missing out on bagging Gerty and providing a stable home to such a seminal arts organization is a massive fail. It was the timelines and pesky details, like CAP’s inability to say how much space Gerty might procure for what cost, that put a dampener on the potentially perfect match.
CAP have funding of $4 million from the former Liberal Government, $3 million from this Labor Government plus 4.5 million buckeroos from generous private donors (thank you). That’s a grand total of $12.5 million. Creative Victoria has had the site since 2010, but the joint isn’t slated to open till 2019, so it’s safe to say no land speed records have been set with the delivery of all this creative excitement. http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/melbourne-arts/collingwood-arts-precinct-gets-75-million-windfall-20160727-gqf3v4.html
Shadow Arts minister Heidi Victoria reckoned CAP should have been open in 2015 but current Minister for creative industries Martin Foley told Heidi she was ‘delusional’. ‘A media release is not a creative precinct,’ said Martin, which is fair enough but I don’t reckon men should call women delusional anymore. The accusation of Delusion has a history of being used to silence strong women and this is no exception.
The development of Collingwood Arts Precinct is like a script from an episode of ‘Utopia’, Rob Sitch’s dystopic bureaucratic satire. Anything that steers too close to a Government interface is comedic gold, comedy being so often based in tragedy (John Clarke we love you). CAP’s mission statement (ha-ha) is: to provide affordable space for artists who will be priced out of the area, because everyone wants to live in fashionable areas and artists are fashionable. Poor, but fashionable. Problem is, CAP have taken so long with the red tape and Grand Visions that artists have moved out of the area. Meanwhile, CAP have been busy travelling the world looking at arts precincts to form a solid idea of what an arts precinct is. CAP have been doing rebranding workshops and meeting partners and complying to all that building compliance stuff to the highest level that artists don’t need, so that’s why it’s taking so long for the doors to open. And the doors ain’t open yet. CAP have also applied to have the site rezoned into Special Use because the developer Tim Gurner (who used to be on CAP’s board) bought next door and has applied to build a 12 story residential development above the Magic Johnston Cafe. New residents often don’t like the noise artists and musos make. They’re more committed to the silent, suffering romantic artist idea.
This CAP planning application is good to read if you want to go to sleep. It is an interesting snapshot of the use of jargon in town planning.
Meanwhile, in the grounds of CAP, Circus Oz pitched their tent, rigged up the trapeze and have been throwing each other through thin air since 2012. And nailing their landings. If I were involved in delivering CAP’s potential I’d be getting over to Circus Oz for some professional development in how to run a circus. Plus circus folk know how to party.
There’s no Artist representative on the board of Collingwood Arts Precinct. Not a single artist, not even a dancer. Developers are on the board of CAP, very interested in artists and arts precincts are developers. Artists have a dwindling say in the decisions made in our name, but hey these are increasingly conservative, corporatised times so I guess that’s what we’ve got to learn to expect (or not). It feels like something is being done to artists, rather than with us or for us. There are many examples of arts organisations purporting to provide opportunities to artists, but instead use artists as tenants who can pull a crowd (I’d get a studio down at Abbotsford Convent but I can’t afford one, I’d have an art show down at Abbotsford Convent but I can’t afford one).
By comparison Gertrude Contemporary is one of those small to medium arts organizations that punches well above its weight. It provides a dense program that pays exhibiting artists modest fees and offers large, subsidized studios at an affordable rate. Unfortunately the studios are very competitive to get, meaning we need about 100 more studio spaces in and around Melbourne because artists need space to make art. If I were the Arts minister, I’d fund art studios for local artists rather than grant the NGV#cockfest $27 million to run their summer programs for just 2 years. What an unstimulating funding decision.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c53mr1IDPHA&index=15&list=RDBMFumcGBkbs The Divinyls Boys in Town (2.44mins)
If I were a moneyed up philanthropist/developer I’d invest a tax deductible $60 000 in Gertrude studio artists and pay all their rents for the year. Investing in artists, the people who make art, that’s how you create Creative Industries, not with managerialism, red tape and top heavy, trickle down economics that don’t trickle down.
The crew turned out to celebrate Gertrude Contemporary’s last show before the move, The End of Time. The Beginning of Time, curated by Mark Feary. Yelza used to host the Friday night opening after-parties, a bar conceived by naïve potter/come bar baron Noel Fermanis and former photographer turned Funtrepeneur Tracey Lester. Artists make excellent entrepreneurs once they’ve given up their art habits. For us, Yelza was an extension of Gerty. Jerry Saltz talks about his previous life as a failed artist, how he realized that:
‘…staying up late with each other is how artists learn everything- developing new languages and communicating with one other.’
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3iW2_Ec3uEU The Easybeats, Friday on My Mind (2.13mins)
I premiered a commissioned work Sex Tree (2003-ongoing), a deeply penetrative, highly anticipated project that celebrates the art community by mapping who has had sex with who in and around Melbourne art. Years in the making, the salacious work illustrates that sometimes simple ideas can be the most difficult to execute. A bit like getting laid when you really feel like getting laid. The titillating work is infinite in nature, because no one person can know everything that’s been going down (I mean on), no matter how many ‘informants’ were helping. Sex Tree asserts itself as a ‘conversation starter’ of some rigour. This level of stimulation is rarely witnessed within gallery systems without a security guard. The work asserts that the gaps and intimate holes in the assembled data, as they become fleshed out by its audience (who can’t help but play the ‘fill-in-the-gaps game’) in turn becomes part of the work. So what isn’t there, may also be there, if you know it was there. So to speak.
Sex Tree collapses the saucy artist into life and celebrates sexual relations between consenting adults. It is not a National Enquirer or Ashley Maddison Gotcha style work, it’s not a public outing of secret affairs, the type of affairs people can blow their lives up with. Sex Tree maintains a thin veil of decency.
‘One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation, compassion.’ –Simone de Beauvoir
‘Heterosexuality is not normal, it’s just common.’ –Dorothy Parker
Sex Tree has had a gestation period that would put an elephant to shame. I wanted it to be perfect, then I took a chill pill and realised that was me, projecting my own anal standards onto the sex lives of everyone else, which I have no right to do. Once I realized that, I calmed the fuck down and got on with plotting name to name, watching and enjoying the intimate web expand, imagining everyone’s joyous, non-hetero-normative relations (like the sex the connected have on Sense 8).
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6f593X6rv8&list=PLaWtnxZPeqpDJUeo4Nluv3PR8Kzc0cwYc Eurythmics, Love is a Stranger (3.50mins)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJwOKyTL23U&index=15&list=RDh9M3b9lh-7s The Saints, Private Affair (2.05mins)
Anyway. Who’s Stelarc been hooking up with?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmJ9jW3wVtE&index=17&list=RDAqdeoxwyvKk X Ray Spex Oh Bondage Up Yours, 1978, The Tube
There are famous unions amongst the many names, famed for the creative outpourings they inspired. Dating artists is an expensive business. 99% of us never make money from art. Artists are so poor, that if someone buys us a drink we’re like: ‘this is an exciting career opportunity.’ The poverty artists live with puts woeful pressure on our relationships. The partners of artists are the great-unheralded private philanthropists of our time and we thank them for their generosity in loving with us and supporting our follies.
Artists dating artists is an idea one should always consider bad. It does seem to appeal to artists interested in investigating their counter-intuiative impulses. But please proceed with caution. The only thing worse than being an out of work artist, is being an out of work artist whose artist partner’s career is going off. That’s a deep, dark pain right there. The not-so-in-demand artist has to watch all the moneyed-people fawning over their in demand artist partner, whilst working as an unpaid studio assistant to their in-demand-artist-partner-who-isn’t-even-as-talented-as-they-are-even. Agony.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miGUnKWcYeo Laura Branigan, Self Control (5.09mins) highly recommended video clip
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BuahGZseUMc Glitoris, Paradise, (1.45mins)
The arts eco-system largely straddles four fields of engagement: government funded art museums and galleries; universities; the commercial gallery sector and the art fair/art auction thing. If a romantic couple can overlay their interests across several of these sectors, then the oyster can pop right open and expose a nice juicy round pearl for those in and around those vested interests. Yep, together they can really hit the G-spot. Anyways, the leveraging of partnered art positions for gain that I speak so loosely of (for fear I’ll never work in this town again), is less about art than about art as a signifier of money, power and influence. The art becomes secondary, irrelevant almost. There are examples of what I’m speaking of on Sex Tree, the most infamous of which is Julianna and her partner Kaye being on the payroll as First and Second in-charge of ACCA for so long. Then there was the legal ruckus around the split between Geoffrey Smith (former curator of Australian Art NGV) and how his position had helped the business of former partner Galleryist Robert Gould. Everyone got aroused by what this court case might have revealed about the partners-in-the-art business-business. The story was a flaccid anti-climax. The lawsuit was settled out of court.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4ErjX8p20s&index=4&list=PLugR_vWSQ9xHLM-3Z-LBKmhQq2azlb4YX Pat Benatar, Love is a Battlefield
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xj_QkLrW3qc&list=RDBMFumcGBkbs&index=27 The Angels, Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again (3.12mins)
Anyway, it’s OK if you choose not to see the other ‘power couple’ dynamics within Sex Tree (2003-ongoing), because then the work begins resembling Mark Lombari’s conspiracy flow drawings. That didn’t end so well for Mark (RIP Mark. We know you didn’t like drinking champagne).
Couples have the potential to wield exponentially more power around the arts than individuals can. This duplicity is funny and transparent except when you don’t have a power couple representing your creative oeuvre and are still trying to enter the annals of art history. Then it sucks. You’ve a better chance of a win with a Scratchie ticket. For all the supposed intellectual rigour, art is a subjective and highly funded, unregulated free-for-all.
I must thank my trusted Sex Tree informants, all of whom wish to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. Sex Tree is based on the deeply rooted traditions of oral, I mean aural histories. It penetrates that thing that unites us all. Art. It undresses love, lust and desire amongst we art tragics, from the past, the present and into the future, and gazes long-fully at the relationships that build, the relationships that falter between us as we share our lives together. Or apart.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuuObGsB0No Joy Division, Love Will Tear Us Apart (3.45mins)
Happy moving Gerty, see you at your new digs for your inaugural show in Preston South in July, curated by Next Wave Director Georgie Meagher. http://www.gertrude.org.au
Moving can be as invigorating as taking on a new lover