No Show

In mid-2020, when Carriageworks went into administration during NSW’s COVID-19 lockdown, ‘Now Show’ may have echoed, eerily, as a prospectus for the venue’s future programming. Instead, the institution has weathered the season, and emerged with a showcase of contemporary arts practice which both examines and evades the difficulties of living and working in the arts, in Australia, in this moment. Across the show, eleven Artist-Run Initiatives reflect on the precarity which affects equally themselves as organisations, the artists whose labour makes them run, and even the host institution in which they’re currently exhibiting and working.

Carriageworks CEO Blair French notes that ARIs ‘run largely on the volunteered time and support of their community but operate at the heart of experimental and critical practice.’ Precisely this dynamic, in which artists labour, imagine, and build communities without guarantee of financial security for their efforts — and are yet venerated as crucibles of critical creativity — is the subject of much work across the show. Especially, Camperdown-based initiative KNULP’s ‘Good Will Hunting’ stands and takes a cartography at the intersection of art, labour, funding, and philanthropy. 

Other forms of precarity, too, punctuate the thematic scope of the show. Prototype’s moving-image presentation ‘Radical Ecologies’ positions the human, especially with camera in hand, as an ecological being. In this vision, we navigate the anthropocene era into which we are woven with a documentary eye, seeing that we are at once the catalysts and the victims of an increasingly erratic climate, thrown into a precarity of our own genesis. Ella Sutherland’s solo presentation for Ankles also examines the weather – and the climate – and how their powers and patterns are made intelligible to us.

Elsewhere, Our Neon Foe’s video sequence Bad Internet’ documents a performance series given by artists of the collective. The video is glitched out of any indexical function. Pixellated images, jerky pauses, and heads slightly misaligned with bodies draw attention to the tenuousness of our attachment to (and, attachments through) the internet. What part of the performer slips, mercurial, through the flashes and gaps of a bad internet connection? 

Through this consideration of precarity, however, also shines an insistence on the reparative potential of artistic communities. Many of the ARIs represented in the show present surveys of their last year’s activities. Celebration of persistence, of invention, and of knowing evasiveness feels — in the aftermath of the previous year — essential. Parramatta artist-run space Pari presents the work of an artist from each of the shows they have hosted since opening in late 2019, while regional initiative WAYOUT Artspace’s ‘Bitter Crust’  is offered as a memento mori for the challenging year just passed. Firstdraft and Boomalli each present fresh work by five associated artists, and new collaborative work between Studio A’s Skye Saxon and Running Dog’s writer-in-residence Chloe Watfern attests to the resilience of independent artists. 

Perhaps Amy Claire Mills’ presentation, ‘Have You Tried,’ most neatly captures the intersection of critique and celebration at which ‘No Show,’ as a whole, sits. Even while acting as a coy call-out, picking at what Mills identifies as structural ablism, the sequinned, embroidered, and floridly ruffled pillows are fun, against all the odds. ‘No Show’ attests to the perseverance and staying power of Artist-Run Initiatives in Australia’s contemporary art landscape, but never loses sight of the critical impulse from which these organisations emerge, and the critical conditions in which they operate.

No Show
12 February – 7 March 2021
Carriageworks, Sydney

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