An eye on the future: ACCA and Next Wave

Simon Toobee, Test Series: 4 Experiemental Data, 1999. Courtesy the artist and ACCA Archive

By Hannah Mathews

In 1984 Melbourne welcomed two game-changing organisations into its burgeoning contemporary art landscape. ACCA opened the doors at its first location on Dallas Brooks Drive in The Domain and would eventually become Melbourne’s leading contemporary art space and the only major public gallery in Australia focused on commissioning rather than collecting. That same year the Next Wave Festival was established as a biennale event for young artists with a focus on presenting new and multi-disciplinary works in a range of spaces and formats.

Since their inception both organisations (although different in scale and structure) have shared important things in common. ACCA and Next Wave both foster bold ideas and experimentation, create space for critical conversation and career development, and provide presentation opportunities for a range of artistic practices. They share a focus on the new and a maverick organisational spirit of getting things up and out there.

The two organisations have also worked together. During the 1990s ACCA played host to a number of exhibitions that were presented as part of the Next Wave Festival’s visual arts program and responded to various festival themes. Exhibitions such as Static (1994), Serial Kids (1996) and Ruth Hutchinson’s Gadgets Gizmos Giveaways Marital Aids (1998) acknowledged the Festival’s response to the growing use of technology in art, while Return to Sender: An Exhibition of Contemporary Irish Art via Air Mail (1998) fell in line with the Next Wave’s early and ongoing ambition to bring the work of international peers into conversation with young Australian artists.

Flower Show, an exhibition curated by Melbourne artist John Meade in 1996, was presented in the gardens surrounding ACCA and included sound and installation works by David Chesworth, Noni Nixon and the up-and-coming David Rosetzky. Like many Next Wave projects it sought to present art in unexpected places and featured the work of tomorrow’s most exciting artistic talent. In 2000 Next Wave heralded the new millennium with the theme ‘Wide Awake – Dreaming at Twilight’. ACCA responded to the Festival’s ideas of collective dreaming and slipping between subliminal states of alertness by presenting the group exhibition Blink. Curated by ACCA’s Stuart Koop and Vikki McInnes, and presented in the format of a video lounge, the exhibition brought together a survey of over 70 short video works by emerging artists including Guy Benfeld, Daniel von Sturmer, Lane Cormick, Simone Slee, Renee So and Dell Stewart.

Simone Slee, Form Connotes Action_yellow agitate, 2000. Courtesy the artist and ACCA Archive

In 2010 ACCA played host to Wall Work, a Next Wave project by Sydney artists Kate Mitchell and Michaela Gleave. In this performance the artists built and then dismantled a wall, brick by brick, every day over five consecutive days at five major public and pedestrian zones in Melbourne’s CBD. Wall Work “intervened into the urban environment, blurring the lines between art and labour and altering our use and perception of the city landscape” and was presented under the Festival theme of ‘No Risk Too Great’.

With its long and lively history Next Wave has offered early career opportunities to many influential contemporary visual artists and curators. Similarly, on the occasion of ACCA’s Our First 30 Years program, a review of ACCA’s history reveals a who’s-who of Australia’s contemporary artists, performers, curators and writers. Over 30 years nearly every artist of repute has participated in the programs of one or both of these organisations – like a rite of passage. ‘From little things big things grow’ and over the past three decades both organisations have grown up and into themselves, significantly shaping not only Melbourne’s cultural life and activity but Australia’s. Next Wave has been the starting block for many important artistic careers and ACCA continues to be a space for nurturing and sustaining practice as these careers develop and mature.

30 April – 29 May 1994
Curated by Ben Curnow
Artists: Sandra Bridie, Vincente Buron, Sophie Coombs, Julian Dashper, Marco Fusinato, Stephen Little, Kate Mackay, Patrick Pound

Serial Kids
4 May – 16 June 1996                       
Curated by Neil Emmerson
Artists: Emil Goh, Helen Kundicevic, Patrick Hobbs, Helen Lim                                                                      

Flower Show
4 May – 16 June 1996
Curated by John Meade
Artists: David Chesworth, Noni Nixon, David Rosetzky

Return to Sender: An Exhibition of Contemporary Irish Art via Air Mail
1 – 31 May 1998       
Curated by Annie Mulroney, Mark McCaffrey
Artists: Jeanette Doyle, Blaise Drummond, David Godbold, Finola Jones, Alice Maher, Caroline McCarthy, Padraig Murphy, Maurice O’Connell, Paul O’Neill, Nigel Rolfe, David Sherriff and Anthony McAteer, Theo Sims

Ruth Hutchinson: Gadgets Gizmos Giveaways Marital Aids
1 – 31 May 1998

12 May – 28 May 2000
Curated by Stuart Koop and Vikki McInnes                            
Artists: Guy Benfeld, Meri Blasevski and Daniel von Sturmer, Martin Burns, Lane Cormick, Lisa Grocott, Stephen Honeggar, Jennifer Mills and John Luker, Justine Poplin, Dominic Redfern, Simone Slee, Renee So, Dell Stewart, Simon Toobee, Jaqui Valdman, DB Valentine, Melanie Velarde, Kylie Wilkinson, Carlo Zeccola

Hannah Mathews a contemporary art curator who started working with ACCA as an Associate Curator in 2008. She worked as an associate producer for the 2004 Next Wave Festival.