This weekend Sydneysiders have the opportunity to immerse themselves in a bustling artists’ bazaar. For the fourth year in a row the public is invited go behind the scenes of one of the largest collections of Australian art in the world at the Artbank Social Club.
This year the event will incorporate the much anticipated Artist Flea Market, an Australian first which will transform much of Artbank’s Waterloo headquarters into a hive of activity that is part jumble sale, part open studio, and dotted with roaming performance art.
Guests can enter through the frivolity of the Flea Market; stroll into a self-supervised tour of more than 5,000 artworks in Artbank’s collection store; and flow into a pop-up garden party swimming in AstroTurf, beanbags and umbrellas where Rolling Records truck shop will be spinning vintage vinyls as Cantina Movil serves up Mexican street food.
Of the more than 30 artists involved in the Flea Market, Artbank Director Tony Stephens is reluctant to pick favourites.
“…All those different concepts, approaches, histories and personalities all within that one space is going to create a very interesting and enjoyable picture for people on the day,” said Tony.
“I think Caroline Garcia and her ‘twerkshops’ are going to be a bit of a crowd favourite,” he offered, also adding that Big Ego Books will be really embracing the traditional market approach.
“One artist [Angela Tiatia] isn’t even turning up, she’s just going to have a screen on her desk and she’s going to be live-skyping herself exercising at the gym…”
As Stephens explained: “It’s about demystifying the artist and maker and showing that there’s layers behind the creation of artworks – there’s narratives in the actual artwork, but its also narratives of people’s lives and how they’re getting to make the work they make.”
This idea could not be better portrayed than by artist James Nguyen’s contribution, he will be offering freshly brewed green tea and conversation to passers by.
This ‘tea and sympathy’ approach is a calmer deviation from the striking multi-media work Nguyen is becoming known for, but it is no less entrenched in his family history and experiences as a Vietnamese-Australian. The branches he will be plucking tealeaves from throughout the day come from his mother and auntie’s garden, these plants were in turn grown from a handful of tea seeds from his grandmother’s plantation that a teenage James smuggled into Australia in his shorts pocket.
“For me this piece is kind of important because it’s a personal connection to my grandma and where I come from,” said James. “[However] even this simple drink is kind of transgressive…”
James hopes to start conversations on ideas including the movement of people, what it means to create and establish your own home and community, and the environmental and social context of where food is produced. If that fails – he’s just happy to share a cup of tea.
He looks forward to retuning to Artbank Social Club after bringing his performance interventions to the scene last year: “Basically its just like hanging out with a bunch of other artists and meeting people who want to come for a good time and to be challenged by ideas.”
Another participant happy to be returning is Studio A Director Gabrielle Mordy. “I was excited to participate again because last year was so enjoyable, and it seems to have quite a cross section of people coming to interact and see the work,” she said.
Studio A provides professional development for artists with intellectual disabilities. They’ll be presenting a curated market stall selling paintings, textile works and prints showcasing three of the program’s artists:
“They’re all really strong graphic artists. Jeanette [Scanes] is mainly a painter…an abstract, expressionist, gorgeous painter; Arunan [Dharmalingham] has this fantastic, quirky, lyrical line work style… and Emily [Crockford] has a range of art practices but she’s mainly a painter and a textile artist [her latest collection focuses on a ‘punk queen’ character of her own creation].”
Gabrielle believes that Studio A’s invitation to participate at Artbank Social Club is a profound statement about the calibre of the program’s artists:
“There seems to be this perception in society that if you are a person with an intellectual disability you can’t also be an artist, that the only way you can engage with art is as a form of therapy… The artists that we work with at Studio A, they just simply make great art.”
The Flea Market owes its diversity to burgeoning curators Léuli Eshraghi (VIC), Kimberley Moulton (VIC), Anna May Kirk (NSW) and Miriam Kelly (NSW).
“It’s always important to engage with…curators from culturally diverse backgrounds because they’re part of the community,” commented Megan Cope, a participating artist.
As a Quandamooka woman from S.E. Queensland, Megan’s artistic work draws on her indigenous heritage, and for her Artbank Social Club debut she will be constructing a modern ‘midden’ out of oysters hand-carved from concrete:
“The middens are Aboriginal architectural forms that were really much like shell monuments… I’ve been looking at rebuilding the middens out of concrete because the reason they are not as visible as they once were is because they were extracted and burnt and turned into the lime to build the establishment. I’m really trying to connect the form with the material and the final object.”
Cope’s middens have been exhibited as far afield as Al-Ma’mal in Jerusalem, and at Artbank Social Club she offers punters the chance to own their own piece – “If people want to buy a dozen or half a dozen, they can pick them out of the midden and take them home”.
“What I want everyone [to get out of Artbank Social Club], from the artists, to the art world, to the general public, is this idea that art doesn’t have to be exclusive,” Stephens elaborated.
“You don’t have to know a lot to really engage with [art], you can stand in front of it and feel comfortable to go ‘I don’t like that’ or ‘I really like that’ but you don’t have to explain yourself…you can just be who you are and that’s valid.”
The beauty of this event of course is if the art gets all too much, you can steal away to the garden, sip on a drink from the gold-coin-donation bar and enjoy some vintage tunes.
Saturday Nov 19; 10am-4pm. Artbank Sydney, 222 Young St, Waterloo. Free admission. Info: artbank.gov.au/socialclub
BY ALANNAH MAHER