November 19, 2003

Why are we doing SOOB?

To our eye the Brisbane arts scene is very institutionalised. Sure, you can gain access to many large art galleries, catch touring theatre performances at the cultural centre, see contemporary international music at the Powerhouse and attend major performing arts festivals every year.

But take to the streets of Fortitude Valley, Brisbane's recognised "cultural precinct", and things looks less cultural than sadly overdeveloped. Where are the local artists? Where are the independent artist-run spaces? Some suggest that local art practise is not visible in Brisbane because it does not exist, or it is not good enough.

This perceived lack of local, quality cultural production is an illusion that SOOB seeks to expose. For instance, not only is our program bursting with exciting new work being produced right now by our local community of independent and emerging artists, but there is much, much more where this came from.

While visible and supported art and culture is important to the identity of a place, there are some hard facts that face local independent art production. Noise laws and poker machines threaten our cultural fabric. Accessible spaces for art, music and culture in Brisbane's inner city are being inexorably squeezed out by rising property prices and the investment property boom.

And despite all our efforts, Brisbane still remains gripped in its own cultural cringe. Talented people still leave town for Melbourne or London. Queensland still does not receive its fair share per capita of the Australia Council pie. Many here still find it hard to believe in the quality of their own local art. Straight Out of Brisbane is a response to all this.

It is a new kind of arts festival, run by artists themselves. It is a new form of community cultural development, whose community of focus is a particularly disadvantaged and disempowered community - our own. Far from throwing our hands in the air and surrendering, this festival is a concrete effort by literally hundreds of independent Brisbane artists and thinkers to try and improve the cultural climate for ourselves. Roughly 3 full-time volunteers, fifty part-time casual volunteers and 350 artists and participants have mobilised forces to contributed to the delivery of this year's festival program. And what a program it is, with over 150 different festival events.

SOOB has its intellectual roots in D.I.Y culture and artist-run events and initiatives. It is dedicated to Brisbane art and culture that is not produced for profit, is created outside of the framework of multinational corporate enterprise or large-scale government-funded arts organisations, or is excluded from mainstream public debate.

Last year we came up with a rather pithy name to sum up this brand of arts practice: bedroom art. It seemed funny at the time. But the more we think about it, the more it makes sense and seems prescient. Most art is created in bedrooms nowadays because the spaces to bring it to greater attention aren't there, and neither is the infrastructure to support emerging communities. Instead we have a rich folk culture of participation: photocopied zines, 4-track albums, burnt CDs, projector events, empty space shows and stencil art. Which is not to say we can't aspire to something more elaborate. Or even corporate. But SOOB celebrates the community of contemporary art and thought first.

SOOB also exists to remind people of Brisbane's rich history of independent practice. Digging through Brisbane's past reveals a rich history of artist-run initiatives, spaces and events dedicated to more diverse and experimental arts practice. For example, Clockart, The Loft, Grunt Space, Bolder Lodge Concepts, Galarie Brutal, ISN'T, Experimento, Modus, the Odyssey's Pink Palace, and dozens more. All were innovative, all experienced temporary local success and all have disappeared. More often than not these names are evoked with nostalgia rather than examined critically for the role they played in defining present-day Brisbane culture, and the reasons why such spaces find it almost impossible to exist in a long-term sense in this town.

Sadly new initiatives such as these continue to be sucked up and spat out in the whirlwind of local development. There exists fewer and fewer opportunities for independent and emerging artists, thinkers and media-makers to create vehicles that are genuinely their own. As Brisbane's inner-city becomes increasingly gentrified, affordable space for studios, galleries, collectives and venues are now as rare as proverbial hen's teeth. The advent of pokie machines has made it more profitable for venues to cater to gambling than art or live music. While Brisbane it proving itself as a contemporary city, right under our noses sit some of the most exciting cultural goldmines, waiting for a space to show themselves.

As Lindy Johnson, a former director of the Queensland Artworkers Alliance has said, "[Artist-run initiatives] provide not only a social focus and point of entry for emerging artists but also allow them the means for professional development in a familiar environment which is peopled by their peers."

A final, really important reason for SOOB is the sheer spectacle that the festival creates, a temporary and at least semi-autonomous zone of art and culture that is locally focused in the face of a multinational corporate media onslaught. That?s why SOOB has again sought out new spaces in the supposed ?cultural precinct? of the Valley, creating temporary spaces for art and culture where none previously existed. The TC Beirne Centre, the Valley Centre Plaza and our festival club in MacLachlan St are all spaces reclaimed for local art.

In the process, we've discovered a new perspective of urban development. Which is that artists, thinkers, media makers - the so-called creative classes as we're being told - make a very visible difference to the urban environment. In the long-term, we create many types of wealth - including the cold, hard economic variety.

Now it's up to us to share it between each other.


Susan Kukucka, Louise Terry and Ben Eltham
The Festival Management Team

The SOOB organisation acknowledges the Turrbal people as the Tradition Land owners of Brisbane. SOOB recognises and respects their cultural heritage, beliefs and continuing relationship with land.

Posted by shazam at November 19, 2003 12:39 PM

Congratulations...great article people...I've personally been involved in independent run art spaces/squats for neigh on 22 years now and was unfortunate enough to witness first hand the takeover so to speak of the Fortitude Valley/Newfarm area by none other than arts qld way back in 1992.At the time i was involved with the fourth flaw a loose collective of artists living and working on the fourth floor of the t.c.bierne building.It truly was an amazing period of Brisbane art history.With no issues of public libility the place was literally seething with art ,in fact i remember there being too much work ,but alas they say all good things must come to an end and they did.The i.m.a was the first to jump the vibe by moving from Edward st in the city to Anne st the Valley ,but to their credit promoted the local scene as much as they could whilst sustaining their funding ,a brave move but one backed by a brave man in Nickolas tsoutas who actually paid the artists proffessional wages.
Looking back i feel the status quo felt a bit threatened by the number of independent organiations doing well in a socially hostile enviroment.Hence it being imperative for the govt to plough millions into developing their own spaces whilst picking up the profile of the area in a sense to accomodate the masses.Let it be known that the Valley/Newfarm area was artisticly developed by the independent artists and organizations operating at the time. Arts Qld were basically waiting in the wings with the chequebooks and corporate sensibility,waiting ,i believe ,for the more adventurous artists with vision to uncover potential realestate.


The powerhouse would have to be the prime example of this sort of mentality.If i remember correctly it was 1993 after the second brisbane fringe festival that Tracy Ginsberg ,myself and the omniscient crew got together and made the application for Transplant.We'd been utilizing the space for years as a rehersal studio ect and thought it a great space to develop into something really dymnamic kind of like an underground art headquarters.It became obvious to everyone involved on an organizational level ,that arts qld were planning to step in and take all the credit without even offering employment to those involved from the grass roots.The writing was on the wall ,for a similar thing had happened to me only a couple of months previous ,when a space i was developing-in fact had talked the owner into becoming a patron-
was whipped from under me by none other than Artworkers Lindy Johnson who at the time seemed comfortable enough over in Westend ,but alas the Valley was the place to be and those connected with the inner circle of Arts Qld would be the first to benefit.Ahhh cronyisim dont ya just love ta hate it.
These two experiences as well as what i saw going on around me was enough forme to make the decision to relocate ,first south and then overseas where due to a larger population the underground scene flourishes.

I dont believe for a moment that it's the responsability of nightclub venues and coffee shops to provide space for the emerging/alternate/underground arts.This has to be addressed by the governing bodies who need to step out of their institutionalized comfort zone and provide for what they know is truly needed.For starters a space that doesnt inflict crippling costs upon artists to exhibit ,a space that nurtures fringe and isnt afraid to challenge the dominant paradigm ,a space that isnt inhibited by a few who desperately crave the power and glory not to mention the kudos and financial rewards by staying at the helm.

When i returned to bris after a 10 year absence i was initially impressed by the structures set in place. Unfortunately it was only a matter of months before i realized the crises' the arts and artists are truly in.Seriously who can afford to exhibit in these spaces other than those who remain the flavour of the month and can easily access funding.
One of my first experieces of this catastrophe was the forum for ,believe it or not brisbanes 'first' fringe festival at the powerhouse earlier this year.It very quickly became apparent to me that people and organizations were too concerned about their funding to truly voice their concerns and in fact it wasnt until Di ball and one other brave person spoke out about the crap we were hearing that the general consensus that David Hincliffe is still a wanker ,was mooted ,which leaves me to believe that all of these organizations are at the mercy of their funding and simply cannot afford to rock the boat.

The underground has gone online in this city,one of the final ,affordable ,spaces artists have to freely express themselves.In the 12 months i've been back in Brisbane i've noticed many independent online arts organizations / collectives ,producing some quality stuff that i feel should be in galleries and accessible to the mainstream.Regardless the work gets done and through the organizational prowess of a few dedicated individuals, festivals like soob will and continue to act as a showcase for the wealth of talent that inevitably will find a way to be seen and heard.

Posted by: simon marsh at November 26, 2003 05:18 PM

Wow, Simon, great comment. This kind of historical perspective is fascinating, and all too easily forgotten or not known in the first place by so many emerging artists. Thanks for your insights ;)

Posted by: Ben Eltham at November 26, 2003 07:25 PM

Significantly for me, I arrive at SOOB as a volunteer this year, only after years and years of exposure to art through the internet.

I haven't really been to many galleries, exhibitions, studios or opening nights and most of my "realworld" exposure to art practice has been at dance parties, raves or doofs (which I must say are brilliant places for it ... party decor in particular).

An interest in art grew, as a lot of great art found me, through the internet. In the time I've been online I've viewed, listened to, and experienced, hundreds or perhaps even thousands of digital artworks. Internet art is really thriving, and like a lot of online activity, demonstrates what is possible in the presence of abundance.

Having a sheer abundance of the necessary resources makes all the difference. There are abundant art spaces, abundant artists, abundant audiences and most importantly abundant tools have been made to create the works, share the works and find the works of others. Logically of course there is also an abundance of "bad" and "derivative" art but equally there is an abundance of virtual art "critics", so it all balances out quite nicely. The lesson is that Abundance rules (as if you needed to be told).

In the "realworld" (gotta love that term) we are inclined to think that abundance is rarer, but perhaps this isn't always the case.

What I like is that SOOB has recognised the abundance of grassroots art practice and is seeking solutions for the lack of other resources in both practical and fun ways. I especially like that I have been invited to contribute to, and pursue my own art interests, in SOOB's temporal abundant art environment.

W00T! CU at SOOB

Posted by: Adam Frederick at November 27, 2003 01:04 AM

Both dreams and people crash down.

Posted by: Samuels Michele at January 22, 2004 05:03 PM

Sure, people die...but dreams will always remain a part of the collective consience, merely waiting to be dusted off and re-presented when the time reveals itself appropriate And of course there will always be humans prepared to take it on.
This is quite simply the way in which the safety of the status quo is affected,how mediocrity is revealed and eventually dealt with and how positive change is manifested.

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