Rewind: Contemporary art at home in the regions

David Rosetzky, Nothing like this (film still), 2007. Courtesy the artist and Sutton Gallery

By Hannah Mathews

Little known fact: most of ACCA’s staff grew up in the country! It’s not entirely clear what that says about us but it does show that the regions are growing individuals with an active interest in the contemporary arts and the ability and wherewithal to work closely with artists to support their creative and critical visions. That’s no mean feat and is certainly good news for the health of culture in a country this vast.

Since 2006 ACCA has been working with regional Victorian galleries to bring major contemporary art works, previously only seen at ACCA, to all corners of the state. Through its partnership with the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust, ACCA commissioned several ambitious and exciting new projects from artists, including Callum Morton, Rosslyn Piggott, Daniel von Sturmer, David Chesworth and Sonia Leber, which were exhibited in galleries as far-flung as Bendigo and Mildura and later gifted to these institutions.

Brendan Lee, Proving Ground, 2009. Courtesy the artist

In follow up to this program ACCA then initiated its ART (ACCA Regional Touring) program. Taking place over 2010-2011, with project funding from Arts Victoria, this program saw ACCA partner with a number of regional galleries throughout the state to develop site-specific and community-responsive exhibitions and art works. ACCA wanted to shake up the conventional practice of touring pre-packaged shows by working in conversation with a selection of galleries to devise exhibitions and programs designed specifically for each host’s space, collection interests, audience demographics and desire to grow their expertise and knowledge in presenting contemporary art.

ART#1 was the first cab of the rank and drew together three host venues in close geographical proximity to each other. ART#1 consisted of a series of purpose-created exhibitions and took place simultaneously at the Benalla Regional Gallery, Shepparton Regional Gallery and Wangaratta Art Gallery. Local audiences, tourists and supporters from Melbourne could follow a trail of art openings and events over the Easter weekend, visiting one venue after another to experience a range of contemporary work including video, photography, installation and sculpture. In Shepparton a number of artists made site-specific works that interrogated the gallery spaces while in Benalla, Brendan Lee created a major installation that commented on Australian identity and hooligan culture. In Wangaratta audiences were welcomed into a historical community hall to watch a program of new video works screened on stage.

In 2011 ACCA set its sights on Victoria’s Western District, establishing partnerships with galleries in Horsham, Hamilton and Warrnambool. This time a program was devised for each regional host and scheduled to occur throughout the year. ART#2 opened in Horsham with support from the Natimuk Brass Band who played at the exhibition opening and participated in one of several community projects initiated by the ART#2 artists. Artist Nathan Gray recalls: “I especially enjoyed getting to know the Natimuk Brass Ensemble who I worked with to create a performance titled Rural Infrasonics. For the performance I joined the band for a brief time, processing the sound of the ensemble and expanding them into an otherworldly digital cacophony. What surprised me most was how unsurprised they were. They took the whole thing in their stride as did the audiences we played to at the local footy game, farmers market and at the shops on a Saturday morning”.

Artist Gabrielle de Vietri also spent considerable time in the area, undertaking a residency in Horsham that saw her work with children to explore the pedagogical potential of games. Screened at the Natimuk Town Hall, her video was part of the opening weekend celebrations that also included Agatha Gothe-Snape’s balloon climb of the nearby Arapiles and Laresa Kosloff & Andy Thomson’s audio guide to lawn bowls at the local bowling green. Gothe-Snape’s work continued to permeate the community over the coming weeks with weekly headlines, generated in conversation with Horsham identities, appearing in the local newspaper.

As a counterpoint to the frenzied and site-specific activity of ART#2 in Horsham, the program in Hamilton offered a collection-focused and gallery orientated platform for exchange. Here artists Kate Daw and Alex Pittendrigh both spent time with the gallery’s decorative arts collection while also researching local history and landscapes. Pittendrigh undertook an open residency at the gallery where audiences could watch his innovative and knowledgeable approach to the fine art of filigree using the no-nonsense medium of Blu-take. Pittendrigh also led local students in a number of workshops, resulting in a large-scale, highly detailed relief that filled the gallery walls.

ACCA’s ART program stood alone in its activity of embedding contemporary art in regional Victoria. The series not only brought contemporary art and artists from the city to the country, it also brought contemporary art and artists from the regions into conversation with their metropolitan peers. Mentorships were developed between ACCA staff and some of the regional hosts, opportunity for new art writing was extended to young writers, audiences for contemporary art were grown just a little further.
ART#1 ACCA REGIONAL TOUR: Shepparton, Benalla and Wangaratta
17 April – 30 May 2010
Exhibiting artists: Jen Berean, Nick Devlin, Pat Foster, Shaun Gladwell, Nathan Gray, Justine Khamara, Anastasia Klose, Laresa Kosloff, Brendan Lee, David Rosetzky, Daniel von Sturmer, Darren Sylvester

7 May – 3 July 2011
New commissions: Gabrielle de Vietri, Agatha Gothe-Snape, Nathan Gray, Helen Johnson, Laresa Kosloff & Andy Thomson
Exhibition artists: Stuart Ringholt, Nicholas Mangan, Bianca Hester, Joshua Petherick, Fiona Abicare, Benjamin Armstrong, Matthew Griffin, Damiano Bertoli, TV Moore, Laresa Kosloff, Justene Williams
23 July – 18 September 2011
Artists: Kate Daw, Alex Pittendrigh
Hannah Mathews is a contemporary art curator who started working with ACCA as an Associate Curator in 2008.