In the lead-up to Underbelly Arts 2017 (UA17), Runway hosted Late at the Lab which invited a collection of UA17 artists to crack open the Runway Experimental Art journal archives and reimagine a piece of writing from the past. Runway board members Luke Letourneau and Tessa Rex sat down with Make or Break (Connie Anthes and Rebecca Gallo) to discuss their project for UA17 and how they reimagined Elizabeth Stanton‘s article ‘Media Release‘ published for Runway issue #21 [Expectations].
Can you explain your project for Underbelly Arts 2017?
Rebecca Gallo: For our project titled Merch Stand, we have collaborated with each of Underbelly’s 20 other artist and collective’s to produce a limited edition line of merchandise related to each project. The results range from traditional merch like t-shirts and stubby holders, to more ephemeral and experimental things.
Connie Anthes: Some of the items we are manufacturing include a series of inflatables printed with Honey Long and Prue Stent photographs for the work they are making with Amrita Hepi. This work will ask the buyer to inflate the balloons with their own breath, requiring an embodied process to the function of the work. We will also sell Eugene Choi and Marcus Whale in miniature form. We have 3D scanned their bodies and turned them into a gothic black wick candle.
RG: For Laurence Rosier Staines merchandise, we had to consider how we translate what is a one-on-one immersive interactive theatre piece. Because this work has an element of ‘choose your own adventure’ there will always be element where audience’s experience of the story will remain, to a certain extent, totally unfinished. So, for this merch we are working with the artist to film alternative endings or directions the story could go in once the audience has left the experience. The merchandise we sell then becomes a series of USB loaded with these different filmed endings.
CA: We are also working with Benjamin Foster to produce the second element of our project which is an online store for the merch. As Benjamin’s practice sees him hack existing programs, we have utilised him in the building of our online store using the platform Shopify. At first glance, our store will mimic a standard online shopping experience, but Benjamin has manipulated the platform into one that will always be evolving. For instance, in this shop prices will always fluctuate, and there will be different ways the shopper’s prices will be negotiated, for instance there will be the option to offset your white male privilege by a percentage to each purchase.
RG: The prices will always vary so you’ll have to make sure to get on the site at the right time. At the end, all income will be pooled and then equally distributed to all of the artists.
CA: We will also have Benjamin tracking our labour on the site. We have been thinking about all of he seen and unseen labour that goes into producing this merch and so we want that to be an element informing how a shopper navigates that experience.
RG: Our plan was to respond to the article ‘Media Release‘ written by artist Elizabeth Stanton for Runway issue #21 [Expectations]. In that article, Stanton reviewed the exhibition Session_13_Press Release, where the curator Joshua Simon invited artists to create the works that the press release described. Both Connie and I liked the idea of bringing attention to the artifice of this particular kind of arts writing and how it is used for the creation of hype around something that hasn’t happened yet.
It seems like, in very basic terms, Session_13_Press Release is an exhibition that is building itself in reverse: the first point of action is the curators celebrating the successes of the project and then the artists are tasked to build this imagined product. Why did this project resonate with you and your practice?
CA: While we really enjoy making things, like what we are doing for UA17, live writing and collaborating on the creation of documents and texts has been a constant in our practice. The performance for the Runway Lab was a way for us to tie in the themes of our merch project – how it is an attempt to reveal the problematic structures of artists who make ephemeral and experimental work – and connecting that with the artifice of framing the measurable success of a festival like UA17, as well as how the language itself is quite hyperbolic.
RG: The language of a press release is so formulaic. In essence every press release has already been written. So we took a crack at writing the UA17 post-festival press release and we we thought we would write our version with a live audience. We hadn’t really considered just how subversive or critical that would be.
A lot of what you two do is poke at art speak. How do you talk about your own practice without using art speak?
RG: We don’t. It’s pretty ironic. We try to be very clear about how we talk about our practice, but art speak can be pretty hard to avoid. That is particularly true when we are applying for funding because these are formulas that are expected.
We do run workshops to help artist re-think how we can all write about ourselves. Last year in Melbourne, we actually ran a workshop titled Revolutionising the Artist Bio (conducted as part of Trade School by The Mechanics Institute) and we will be running another one at Carriageworks later this year. But to the question of how do you write about your practices without art speak, we don’t really have an answer yet. However, what we do do is to always be transparent and open about the processes of labour and the expenses that go into our works. That’s why for this festival it has been important for our work to be a part of reflecting and revealing the larger art systems at play.
CA: While each of our projects to date has been critiquing institutions and the frameworks that we operate within as artist – and which we are arguably complicit in by virtue of operating within it – there is a hopeful element to all the works that we make. We are pushing the idea that there is an alternative.
While Bec and I may be cynical about how the artist functions (or dysfunctions), we are also hopeful that by critiquing and exposing the systems we can consider alternative way of working in this environment better and together.
RG: After all, we are still making work in this environment, we haven’t opted out all-together. But through our practice, we are talking about the ways we think the system isn’t working, and we are still trying to look at ways of opening it up and explore where there is potential for it to improve. And thats because we want our artistic communities to healthy, and to be sustainable and viable into the future.
Underbelly Arts 2017 runs 7 – 8 October at the National Art School with the Opening Night Party held Friday 6 October 6 – 10pm at The National Art School, Cell Block Theatre Forbes St, Darlinghurst, 2010. Buy tickets: here.
All photos taken by Tessa Rex in Make or Break’s studio during Late at the Lab hosted by Runway, 26 September 2017.