Octopus 17: Forever Transformed marks an auspicious moment in Gertrude Contemporary’s history, the first exhibition at the organisation’s new home in Preston, Victoria. Having spent 34 years at a converted textiles factory at 200 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, this relocation and first show are symbolic of the strategies of adaptability employed by artists, curators, writers, organisations and institutions, undertaken to ensure continued existence in the contemporary landscape. This landscape is shaped by uncertainty and volatility at both a local and international level. This is not to say that adaptation and flexibility aren’t advantageous, but the mechanisms that demand such responses—economic, cultural, political, social and environmental—require identification, investigation and critique.
Curator Georgie Meagher, also Director and CEO of Next Wave Festival, centres the curatorial rationale of Octopus 17: Forever Transformed on the term resilience and the factors which evoke such conditioning. Meagher expands on this idea in the catalogue essay, suggesting resilience is a process simultaneously enabling and justifying ever-increasing demands on people, diverting attention from the causal factors at play.[i] As the 17th iteration of Gertrude’s Octopus series, Octopus 17: Forever Transformed seeks to investigate this phenomena in the work of participating artists Tony Albert, Rushdi Anwar, Sophie Cassar, Liz Linden and Tabita Rezaire that traverse installation, photography and video. This selection of work presents direct and more nuanced ideas on resilience. Sophie Cassar subverts resilience by ‘ceasing to resist’ in Little girls love to cry so much I have known them to cry in front of the mirror in order to double the pleasure (2017), while Tony Albert’s Optimism #1-10 (2008) embodies resilience in its pure form; Albert has depicted his cousin’s use of the traditional basket, Jawan in his everyday life, at university, at football training, at the shops.
Gertrude Contemporary’s departure from its namesake location in Fitzroy also marks a significant shift in the local area. Gertrude Street today is a condensed street, packed with eateries and commercial stores. Former Gertrude Director Samantha Comte recalls working there when there were vacant lots across the road and the police were a familiar presence on opening night as people spilled onto the street and surrounding area. One of the last artist-run spaces that remain on this street, between a shop and a bar, in the words of Mark Feary, ‘bunkered down with dogged determination’[ii] is SEVENTH Gallery, an artist-run space that has been in operation since 2000.
As a board member at SEVENTH, to stay at the terraced building along Gertrude Street near luxury apartments currently under construction, requires flexibility and informs many of our operational decisions and strategies. Reflective of Meagher’s articulation of resilience, a significant portion of invisible labour is undertaken by all those involved in SEVENTH and organisations like it, to reduce or offset the financial burden and maintain operation.
The economic, social and environmental changes seen on Gertrude Street are symptomatic of the challenges facing the sector, with Meagher noting that art has become not a point of intersection of perspectives, but a luxury.[iii] The idea of art as non-essential consequently reduces the value of art into pure economic terms with immediate and tangible outcomes.
Gertrude’s relocation to Preston has enabled them to create not only a new gallery space and artist studios, but also a central, accessible common area, something that was not possible in the Fitzroy building. Realising what Creative Director Mark Feary identified as the inevitable,[iv] Gertrude’s move to Preston is an example of resilience. These strategies and approaches of artists and their supporting organisations affirm the role of art as an intrinsic and critical part of the contemporary landscape.
Alyce is Assistant Curator at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne and board member at SEVENTH Gallery.
Octopus 17: Forever Transformed 28 July – 9 September 2017 at Gertrude Contemporary 21-31 High Street, Preston South.
[i] Georgie Meagher, ‘Forever Transformed’ in Octopus 2017: Forever Transformed, Gertrude Contemporary, p. 3, accessed 1 August 2017, <http://www.gertrude.org.au/docs/octopus_2017_forever_transformed.pdf>.
[ii] Mark Feary, introduction to Octopus 2017: Forever Transformed, Gertrude Contemporary, p. 1., accessed 1 August 2017, <http://www.gertrude.org.au/docs/octopus_2017_forever_transformed.pdf>.
[iii] Meagher, p. 3.
[iv] Feary, p. 1.