Gallery Profile - BSA Project Space
How did the BSA Project Space come to life – did you always envisage the space when opening Byron School of Art?
The short version of the story is that the school came about because funding was being taken out of the arts from TAFE where a number of teachers lost their jobs. Yet we knew there was a demand for art education. We were all working in the Byron Industrial Estate, and classes began out of each teacher’s studio. We already had a history of working and exhibiting together as the Industrialists and this gave us the confidence to start the business.
Once we moved in to our current building in Mullumbimby the opportunity came up to rent extra space. Students could use this for crit sessions and weekly exhibitions, and from there it opened up to the general community and became the BSA Project Space. The development of both the school and the Project Space has always been in response to demand from students and the wider community, so its more a symbiotic relationship and an organic process rather than a preconceived model. Once we situated this ongoing art space within the school we could totally see how they can benefit one another. A visitor to the gallery can walk through a class to get to the space; someone coming to do a course can have the gallery experience.
The space exhibits both BSA students and artists across a range of disciplines – can you tell us about how this space aids your education model?
The reason why the school worked is that the teachers had a strong reputation, this flowed on to the Project Space. From the beginning there was a strong vision within the school to showcase the range of art practices in the region that perhaps were not finding a space to be seen (though this has changed a lot over the last five years). But we were always interested in a dialogue with people from outside the area.
The fact that these two streams are able to flow into the Project Space means that our students are in constant dialogue with the whole process, the delivery of work, install, opening night, exhibition time, artist talk, deinstall, they could engage any time with this. They are developing their own ideas and working with materials whilst also seeing the other side of the process. In some ways it demystifies that perception of the ‘holy grail’ that is having an exhibition. It is simply one stage in the process of making art. They’re also exposed to a key foundation in the art world, and that is support from other artists. The fact that we are still going is a reflection of the strength and breadth of friendship and community. We have no external funding, we have no financial backing, but we have artists of high calibre who are willing to put their work in the space, which in turn attracts other artists, and keeps the community coming back to see the shows. Without that cultural capital we would not be able to run the space.
What are some of the other initiatives supported by BSA Project Space?
We have run the Artist Talk program for a couple of years and that has also ways been a favourite. Artists don’t always find it easy to talk about their work, but nobody knows their work better from the inside. Something about the interaction between the audience and the artists usually conjures something new, some new insight. It certainly helps me to speak about the work afterwards. That we can combine exhibitions, artist talks with our education program and our residency program is a great strength. An example that comes to mind is having Brent Harris and Andrew Browne on the BSA Ralph Woodford Residency last year. During their stay they gave guest lectures, Brent ran a monotype workshop and they both exhibited new work in the space. We had a similar experience with Yvette Coppersmith this year. Our students can access these artists and they can also see how expansive an art career can be.
The success of the Project Space is of course in part to diversification, we are a rent supported model so renting out the space for photo shoots or events may help keep the wolf from the door but it’s not our core business and it never compromises our vision. Rather our strength is the ability to respond to opportunity. If there is the possibility to have an amazing guest speaker in the space and we can accommodate them, we will. If there is the opportunity to work with an artist, group or organisation we admire, we will do our best to support them in whatever way we can. Having said that we’d love to work more with guest curators but the financial constraints mean we are limited in that regards.
So far – what have been your highlights?
In the last five years there have been so many honestly it would be hard to choose. What often stands out are the big leaps, when artists have used the space in a different way Susan Gourley, Constructive Collective’s massive show, last year’s Third Year Grad show, Jess Poulsen’s large rope work, Tory Bauer’s Show Me Your Privacy, Emma Coulter’s wall painting for the WAVE show curated by Brent Hallard, all involved transforming the space in some way, it was like these works were forcing more out of the space.
Then there are the small quiet shows that remind you how good a humble object can be; or the opposite, a show that makes you think, oh god how are we going to do this? Sydney based artist Marlene Sarroff worked with some of our first year students earlier this year to install 365 small works, during this time we took part in the International Slow Art Day and had some great feedback from its founder in the US which was pretty gratifying. Most recently listening to young New York based artist Hayden Richér’s talk in the space was another highlight; her ability to speak to the work in terms of process and content was truly inspirational.
Can you tell us about some of the upcoming exhibitions at BSA Project Space?
We’re pretty excited about the next run of exhibitions, as we will be working with artists we have a history with like Skye Baker, and artists that have never shown with us before. Skye Baker’s The Hunter and the Hunted will showcases a large six-panel painting and explores the impact of brain injury on memory, connection and emotion. After that it’s Rebecca Ross and Byron Coatsup from Gold Coast art space the Walls – we’ve been wanting to work with them for a while as we love the program they run up there so really looking forward to that one. During that time the c.a.s.e. inc Postcard Show will be on as well which is a great community show and celebration of local artists. And then we have a group show curated by Tiana Wallace called Witchy Woman which includes artists from around Australia and the US across a range of discipline’s including the poetic work of Karina Elias, and the performance artist Offerings.
BSA Project Space is located at the Byron School of Art, 112 Dalley Street Mullumbimby.
23 August – 10 September: Rebecca Ross and Byron Coatup Playgrounds
30 August – September: c.a.s.e. Inc Postcard Show
13 September – 1 October: Witchy Woman curated by Tiana Wallace
Image: Install shot from Fundraiser Exhibition. Image courtesy Jaka Adamic