Every space is a Performance Space
SYDNEY: With PSpace Social, interdisciplinary arts organisation Performance Space is set to prove once again that every space is indeed a performance space. As they prepare to take over Darlinghurst and Surry Hills, curator-at-large Bec Dean speaks to Garrett Bithell.
The Performance Space of today is very different to the arts collective that was founded in the early 1980s and housed at 199 Cleveland Street in Redfern. Back then, Performance Space operated much like a conventional gallery or theatre venue, with continuous programming and exhibitions throughout the year. Since moving to Carriageworks in 2007, the interdisciplinary arts organisation has not only focussed more on programming around particular moments in time – such as the You’re History festival last year, which celebrated Performance Space’s 30th anniversary – but programming works in unconventional contexts and public locations.
The latest example of this ‘every space is a Performance Space’ philosophy is PSpace Social, a curated festival of site-specific works that create informal and social connections between artists and audiences. The program includes free daytime projects in public parks, and ticketed evening events at National Art School.
“We started doing focussed and commissioned programming around off-site spaces in 2011 with a program we did called Walk, which commissioned nine artists to lead walks and tours around the Sydney metro area,” Bec Dean, Performance Space’s Curator-at-Large Bec Dean. “Following on from that, we’ve had a dedicated program that goes into different kinds of space each year.”
Last year, Performance Space’s Artistic Director Jeff Khan curated an initiative called Micro Parks, which was attached to Sydney Festival, where a variety of artists co-opted tiny public parks throughout Erskineville. Now under Dean’s curation, Micro Parks is back as one of the key four events of PSpace Social.
Above: Justin Shoulder. Micro Parks. Photo by Lucy Parakhina. Top image: Ensemble Offspring. Micro Parks. Photo by Chris Frape
But this time, the small parks that dot Surry Hills will be transformed into outdoor galleries by five artists: Joan Ross, Ensemble Offspring, Justin Shoulder, Fondue Set, and Malcolm Whittaker will all stake their claim on tiny patches of greenery to create free works. Some will be interactive, some immersive and others performative, but all will make art public, accessible, and fun.
The other free daytime event of PSpace Social is Soapbox, where four artists will stand and deliver orations in the Surry Hills Library Park. Some may speak short and sharp, others deliver a filibuster, but all will be public. Soapbox is a return to the tradition of the ‘speaker’s corner’, where everyday citizens were given a platform to speak what was on their mind. Performative prophets, crackpots, and visionaries will tackle ideas, discourse, and the spoken word.
Micro Parks and Soapbox will run alongside two ticketed night-time events at National Art School: ClubSingularity, which is a contemporary cabaret that will turn the Cell Block Theatre into a lonely hearts club exploring the big questions of the universe; and the latest instalment of Performance Space’s Nighttime series, Talent Quest, curated by art collective Friends With Deficits.
“Nighttime is one of our open-core programs, which is artist run and artist led,” Dean tells. “It’s one of the programs we hand over to some of the artists we know to basically encourage artists we don’t know into our programming.”
As Dean asserts, artists that focus on interdisciplinary practice are what interests Performance Space. “We look to artists who are sitting on a threshold of some kind,” she says. “Nighttime has a very strong history of attracting artists that are at this really nascent point in terms of thinking about new ideas, and it gives them their first opportunity to present works.
Above: Nighttime. Photo by Lucy Parakhina
“Nighttime isn’t curated around a particular artform, so there tends to be a real crossover – audiences really get to experience everything from performance art to contemporary music. It’s also an audience builder for us as well – to introduce people in a lighter way to the broader range of what we do. It’s one-and-a-half hours of entertaining work, there’s a bar, it’s not a huge commitment on the part of people coming, and they have an unusual really one-off experience with a whole range of artists.”
Happily, Sydney generally is embracing unconventional artistic canvasses more and more – including the opening-up of established, traditional venues such as the Museum of Contemporary Art with their Artbar initiative, and the Australian Museum with Jurassic Lounge.
“I feel like it’s changing a lot,” Dean says. “And it’s changed a lot since I moved to Sydney, which was almost ten years ago. At the time there were venues like LanFranchi’s Memorial Discotheque, which were artist-run spaces presenting this interdisciplinary work, but at the really DIY end of the spectrum. Now, a lot of those artists are presenting in the institutions around Sydney.
Above: Clubsingularity. Photo by Heidrun Lohr
“So the big change over the last ten years has been the expansion of interdisciplinary work, and the expansion of venues in the way of MCA’s Artbar. It’s introducing people to a whole lot of artistic practice they might be unaware of. It’s really exciting.”
Performance Space: PSpace Social, May 15-24, various locations in Surry Hills and Darlinghurst. Go to performancespace.com.au
May 16 – 24, multiple parks in Surry Hills
Nighttime: Talent Quest
May 17, Cell Block Theatre, National Art School
May 23 – 24, Surry Hills Library Park
May 21 – 24, Cell Block Theatre, National Art School