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Artrageous: Marcus Canning

Josephine Wilson

Alin Huma, image for L’Eccentricite, a fashion installation event conceived and curated by Dragana Spasich Alin Huma, image for L’Eccentricite, a fashion installation event conceived and curated by Dragana Spasich
Western Australia has a new biennial festival. The name isn’t new; the Artrage festival has been an annual event in Perth since 1983, surviving on hard work and tiny budgets to provide local artists with space to be seen and heard. However, over recent years many in the arts community have felt that the organisation was failing to renew itself, becoming insulated and embattled. Whatever the truth—and perception is everything—it is wonderful to report that, like all good ideas, Artrage isn’t going away, just turning around. And the person behind or in front of the wheel (depending on where you like your directors to sit) is Marcus Canning, 28 and happy to be here.

The appointment of any festival director is an act of faith, signalling support for the preferred models, practises, and affiliations of the newly appointed person. Canning brings to Artrage his experience across a range of artforms and communities. He studied Fine Arts at the University of Western Australia, and has a history in performance and installation. He has demonstrated strong commitment to visual arts through his involvement in the establishment and running of the jacksue gallery, a very active artists’ space that survived through the 1990s. Having worked with both the children’s festival Awesome and the Lookout Network of Regional Festivals, he understands the organisational imperative. And as someone who has performed in Artrage, he knows its core responsibility to local work. You get the idea from talking to Canning that he knows lots of people, lots of people know him, and he likes to talk. In his short time as director, he has been able to re-establish communication with existing art spaces. At the risk of simplification, his ethos seems to be the more art, the better.

Change was always on the cards for Artrage, but the shift from an annual to biennial event is a big move. The recommendation pre-dates Canning’s appointment, but he is right behind the new model. “The move to a biennial model radically challenges the organisation and the annual festival cycle, and it allows us to use that off-year to deepen and grow our role as a support agency and production house.” Along with this new cycle comes another way of programming, including a series of creative partnerships and projects unlike any previously undertaken by the festival.

Perhaps every festival is beset by the apparently contradictory demands that it both stay home and build a centre, and get out and serve the wider community. Canning is very aware of these twin concerns, and keen to demonstrate that a festival can do both. At home in Northbridge, he showed me Artrage’s new multi-purpose venue, The Bakery Arts Centre, secured thanks to core sponsor, local utility Western Power. While only the Breadbox Gallery has opened, the level of activity suggests that there will be no trouble meeting the October festival deadline. Local artists will be well served by this space, which will be managed and operated by Artrage throughout the year.

Canning is keenly aware that change must be articulated to Artrage’s former and potential constituents. “When I first started,” he says, “we had just got the building and I was really keen that we make a statement to the arts community about where Artrage was going, which is why we opened the Breadbox Gallery space.” In my brief stroll through the James Street premises (“Perfect placement”, says Canning, citing PICA on the eastern axis of James Street and Artrage at the other) I saw that much of the renovation of this shell had been completed. Look forward to The Window Box (installation window), and The Black Box (80-seat performance space).

And if you’re wondering where the dough is coming from, or imagining this is another budget-sucking exercise in empire building, there is everywhere a comforting meld of high-energy DIY and low-budget know-how. Along with participants in a Work-For-the-Dole program coordinated by Artrage, volunteer friends and artists are pitching in, eager to see another local multi-use venue for rehearsal, exhibition and performance in a city with a severe shortage of affordable, accessible space. “This is a solid resource,” says Canning, “and we have to make it pay for itself; that’s where we can be entrepreneurial about the use of the space. A space is a very precious thing. We want to drive it so it is about continual activity. When a festival comes about it ends up being the culmination of streams of activity, and this space will be a focus for that, but also a point of departure.”

The heart of this year’s festival will remain the Bakery. Across the road, the local park, Russell Square, will be reborn as the Moon Garden, home to a free open-air festival. However, creative partnerships in 2002 take Artrage out of the comfort zone. The City of Swan will partner a Satellite Festival in Midland (20kms inland from the CBD), coinciding with the UK National Review of Live Art (brought to Australia in collaboration with Brisbane’s Powerhouse, RT 50, p35). Amongst other events, Kate MacMillan will curate Urban Anxiety, bringing together a group of local, national and international artists. It is intended that the exhibition will then travel to each of the participating countries.

New spaces and places dominate. On the Queen’s Birthday, with partner Perth Zoo, Simon Pericich and Thea Costantino’s cardboard caravan (first seen at PICA’s Hatched 2002) will be placed amongst the card-crunching orangutans, high up on their new architect-designed enclosure. “There is an element of awe-inspiring fantasy here,” says Canning.

He is particularly excited about Artrage’s partnership with Pride. Together they will co-produce a range of events, including a one-day forum, Beyond Border Panic, with activist artist Deborah Kelly. She will also work will 10 local artists to develop new work for projection during the Pride parade.

While Canning is keen to ensure that Artrage 2002 is identified as new and different, he is aware that the tried and true processes of inclusion must continue. This year hopeful artists put forward proposals, as they have done for years. But don’t be surprised to see visitors from planets other than Perth mixing with the locals. “One of the ways to support local work”, says Canning, “is to bring people in, but always to give local people access and methods of engaging with those people.” So while Artrage 2002 will bring national and international artists such as Space Invader (France), Deborah Kelly (NSW) and electronic artists Funkstorung (Germany) to Perth, funding for these events is coming from sources outside those committed to the core support of local artists. “From the outset,” says Canning, “we have tried to look at ways to extend Artrage’s activities, and build on the notion that festivals are a time when the arts find ways to renew themselves in unexpected spaces.”

And don’t expect Artrage to disappear when the 3 weeks is over. Marcus Canning hopes that the festival can use that time to grow and feed local work, through seeding events and bringing mentors on board.

It is an energetic, imaginative and above all, achievable vision that is being articulated by a new director—everyone is looking forward to Artrage, and you can’t do better than that.

Artrage, Oct 15-Nov 4, Perth

RealTime issue #51 Oct-Nov 2002 pg. 39

© Josephine Wilson; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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