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Next Wave

Next Wave's Melbourne metamorphosis

Jeff Khan

Matchbox Temporary Art Space Matchbox Temporary Art Space
Melbourne's Next Wave Festival has a strong history of supporting the contemporary visual arts and, even more importantly, its hybrid mutations with other artistic forms. Under the moniker "Unpopular Culture", the 2004 Next Wave Festival illuminated alleyways, squeezed into window boxes, and occupied car parks and warehouses. The festival momentarily possessed the city and provided a glimpse of the transformative potential of the rich and complex artistic practices developed by Australia's so-called "youth culture."

LAMP, a performance/installation duo originally from Tasmania, staged a series of works entitled Loading Zone, which took place in the ubiquitous alleyways of Melbourne's Chinatown. Exploring the dislocated emotional state between 2 protagonists and the quiet, unspoken spaces within relationships, the works compellingly combined live performance with projected imagery and site-specific installations. Each 15 minute performance took place on a different night and in a different laneway, for an audience of around 15. This made for a satisfyingly brief encounter, yet one which momentarily transformed the audience's relationship to the disused urban spaces in which the performances took place, reanimating neglected, overlooked corners of the city.

Meanwhile, in a residential house on Fitzroy's Gore Street, Arlene TextaQueen held her fittingly-entitled exhibition Textanudes: postcards from home. Using her well-known textanude portrait format to focus on women in domestic environments, the drawings were launched at a spectacular opening event which lay somewhere between gallery opening, performance installation and house party. Reconfiguring the domestic as a site of feminine empowerment may not be a particularly new idea, but its redeployment in drawings unusually ornate and decorative for TextaQueen, combined with the refreshing context of the exhibition, provided an important insight into a new generation of feminist aspiration and practise. TextaQueen continues to move from strength to strength, remapping the boundary between performance and the 2-dimensional richness of drawing.

Also in Fitzroy, in what might be one of the only remaining unrenovated warehouses in the inner north, the popular Fort transported an old garage space into a parallel dimension in which colourful kitsch met a fantasy landscape resembling a Louise Weaver installation on acid. The minute attention to detail, from mutated trees to sparkly spiders, provided a level of intricacy and intrigue which undercut the throwaway kitsch aesthetic of the installation, making Fort a fascinating space to contemplate, ponder and explore.

Perhaps most representative of the Festival's theme of "Unpopular Culture" was Matchbox Temporary Art Spaces, installed in a public art space known as Platform 2 in an underpass at Flinders Street station. This space comprised a series of window boxes, with each box allocated to an artist as a studio for the duration of the Matchbox exhibition.

Each artist periodically squeezed into their miniature work space and proceeded to plug away, with the passing commuter traffic by turns bewildered, intrigued, engaged and outraged. A critical response to both the exclusion of "youth" from public space and the plight of the artist in an increasingly commercialised economic and urban landscape, Matchbox Temporary Art Spaces spoke to the festival's loaded theme in an accessible yet critically engaged manner.

This type of project is what festivals do best, actively dissolving boundaries between public and private space, artistic practise and institutions, and between art forms. There are precious few outlets or opportunities for this kind of vital, risky work.

The Centre for Contemporary Photography presented a solid, well-realised series of exhibitions by Paul Knight, Marcia Lochhead, Julie Vinci and Isobel Knowles, but they were, in effect, indistinguishable from the CCP's regular, year-round exhibition program (which admittedly does support young and emerging artists on a regular basis).

New gallery venue Spacement, which opened during the festival, held what amounted to a fairly run-of-the-mill series of exhibitions which only served to highlight the vitality of the other, more experimental projects in the festival's calendar.

Notwithstanding the important resources which institutional partnerships bring to any festival, what was really exciting about this year's Next Wave was its successful reach beyond the established paradigms of contemporary art practice. The festival opened up, if only momentarily, some inspiring new physical and conceptual spaces. We can only hope that other organisations will follow suit.

2004 Next Wave Festival: Unpopular Culture, various venues, Melbourne, May 18-30

RealTime issue #62 Aug-Sept 2004 pg. Onl

© Jeff Khan; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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