Arts

Artists hit the streets

ALEXANDRA NEWBIGIN

April 26, 2012

Art and performance previously contained within Perth’s theatres, galleries and cinemas is breaking out into the open.

Street corners, rooftops and empty buildings are becoming prime venues for artists who are passionate about reclaiming unused space.

St John Cowcher is one of the artists bravely leading the Perth arts scene into the unknown.

“There’s a lot of little nooks and crannies in the city that are unused,” Cowcher said.

A desire to fill Perth’s empty spaces motivated the formation of Please Queue Quietly, by Cowcher and a few like-minded friends.

PQQ held several free events over the past year, including alleyway film festivals and midnight story-telling events.

“We wanted to be outside instead of in a gallery space, which can be really constricting,” Cowcher said.

“Our aim is to foster a community and give people a platform to share their work.

“Public performance can be fun, exciting and also terrifying.”

The shift into unused space has not been a smooth one.

Cowcher said artists working in public spaces were extremely limited by occupational health and safety.

“The amount of red tape we have to cut through can be stifling,” he said.

“We’re so constrained in Perth.”

Cowcher is not alone in his frustration.

Perth artist Ian Sinclair agrees the restrictions accompanying site-specific work in the city are colossal.

Sinclair recently shifted his focus to New York, where he’s working with the Times Square Alliance to bring art and performance to the commercial strip of Times Square.

“Working in New York has made me question whether Perth wants to be culturally alive,” he said.

“Why are emerging or established local artists not allowed to bring life and design to our fair city?”

When the world’s most isolated metropolis does engage with forgotten or hidden spaces, it more than often pays off.

The 2012 Fringe World Festival in Perth saw a strong push to reclaim pubic and disused space, with the transformation of the old treasury buildings, and outdoor venues emerging all over the city.

“The festival director has clearly pushed the public art envelope, and it payed off with 150,000 people attending,” Sinclair said.

After Fringe World, Northbridge-based Artrage teamed up with City of Perth Parking to create the city’s first rooftop cinema, which began screenings on February 29.

Project Co-ordinator Joshua Barrett said there had been a great flow-on effect from the success of the festival.

“People are really embracing new and different options for a night out,” Barrett said.

Rooftop Movies is a great way of activating the city.

“Often a lack of access to space is one of the hardest obstacles to overcome in the arts.

“Sometimes you can find really special venues in the most unexpected places.”

The joy of the unknown seems to be a major drawcard for supporters of public art and performance.

“It’s so powerful because it engages the passerby with the unexpected, pulls them out of their world and enhances how they see a place they work, shop and live everyday,” Sinclair said.

“Allowing artists to fill unused spaces is giving blood to empty veins and arteries that pump life into the heart of our city.”

With support ranging from small organisations like PQQ to bigger industry players like Artrage, our city’s heartbeat is growing stronger by the day.

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