Friday, April 6, 2012

Art Is Today - Gang Festival, 2008

Art Is Today - An Oz/Indo Celebration of Art and Urban Life

By Jan Cornall  published in artsHub | Wednesday, January 16, 2008
If you are lucky enough to have gotten a $150 ticket to see Bjork perform on the Opera House steps in this year’s Sydney Festival you might well be pinching yourself with excitement. You might also pause for a moment to muse on Bjork’s beginnings as an artist. Chances are it was in a rundown artist warehouse that has since been converted into million dollar apartments, the fate of most artist run spaces in Sydney in recent years.
But if you think today’s generation of young artists have gone to ground or moved to the suburbs, think again. They may get turfed out of their low rent, prime real estate spots and squats, but they are expert at sniffing out new properties lying fallow right under our noses. Such artist run collectives (isn’t it nice to see that word so in use again) are also expert at running all sorts of events and festivals on the smell of an oily rag, which is how ‘successful’ big fat festivals like Sydney’s own, get their start.

It seems odd in our abundance (compared to countries that have none) of arts funding and corporate sponsorship, that this would be so, but we all know there is only so much arts mulla to go around and there can be a certain freedom in not spending months filling out endless applications full of’ flavour of the month artspeak’ only to be knocked back because you don’t quite fit the latest criteria. You could use that time to MAKE ART for example, or just go ahead anyway, with contingency plans in place - Plan B - if we don’t get all the funding or a Plan C - if we hardly get any, or Plan Z/F – zilch! fuck it! we’re gonna do it anyway!

Gang Festival, taking place this Saturday in the laneways of Chippendale, Sydney is a great example of contingency strategies in action. When a substantial funding portion for their festival didn’t come through they were not short of alternate ideas, and resorting to Plan B, C or Z/F doesn’t mean their festival is diminished in any way. In fact it could well be more vibrant and exciting, as they call in the help of local artist communities and become super creative in finding the resources they need to get the show on the road.

This is a skill well practiced in Indonesia where the Gang team have spent many years as arts workers collaborating with arts communities there who receive little financial support for their festivals and street art events.

Their time in Indo inspired the first Sydney Gang festival in 2005/06 - an ambitious exchange project between Gang and the Yogja street art collective, Taring Pady. Twenty Australian artists travelled to Yogykarta as arts residents and ten Indonesian artists came to Sydney to take part in a number of exhibitions and events including the first Gang laneway festival in Chippendale.

This year Gang is hosting a number of events and exhibitions over Sydney’s summer period. Sisa - an excellent exhibition of Indonesian art with the theme - Reuse Collaboration and Cultural Activism, at UTS gallery has been and gone. Currently showing, another inspirational exhibition at Pine St Creative Arts Centre, Chippendale, is TUK – Works for the Environment .

The Gang festival day, centred around the Pine St Peace Park and laneways or gang (in Indonesian gang means alleyway), is called 'Art Is Today' in honour of the West Sumatran festival Gang participated in last year.

Gang’s partner community this year is 'Tanam Untuk Kehidupan, or TUK (Planting for Life) a dynamic environmental arts collective from Salatiga, Java, Indonesia. Gang took part in their Mata Air festival in December last year - an eight day environment based event centred around a natural spring in Salatiga village.

'Art Day is Today' will feature a sound stage and live sites with a line up of Indonesian artists, performers,and Sydney artists including Gypsy Dub Sound System, CuzCo (WireMC + Choo Choo), and the Uberlingua djays. Along with visiting artists from TUK - Ayok and Rudy Ardinato, the festival is bringing out Nova, who is one half of the rap duo TwinSista from East Java as well as accomplished author and poet Triyanto Triwikromo, and two artists from the environment arts collective Anakseribupulau, Djuadi Suami and Exi Wijaya, plus the breathtaking four-piece percussion ensemble Kuno Kini from Jakarta. There will be a makers market, zine fair, lane way art, writer’s alley, free screen printing (BYO shirt), rubbish workshops, and picnicing in Peace Park.

While the big city festivals trundle on over weeks or a month Gang gives us a short sharp shot of art. You have to be quick or you might miss it - it lasts only five hours, from 3- 8 pm. But as a cross-cultural happy hour fest where families can bring the kids and a picnic, make their own recycled art, taste new tastes, write on the story wall in Gang Tulis, sit down lesehan style and meet Oz/Indo writers and artists, listen and dance to an eclectic mix of sound, noise, music, Indo rap, and percussion and witness underground urban performers trying out their moves, surely it must take the prize for being the most interesting and innovative of Sydney’s festivals.

Spontaneous, alive, new, fresh, inclusive, engaged –the Oz/Indo art mix is alive and irresistible. Not slick and corporate like big festivals that become too big, nor predictably the same as very other suburban festival you have ever been to, neither can it ever be equated with bad art. The new aesthetic being created by artists who exhibit their work in Gang related events in Indonesia and Oz is thrilling and exciting.

Co - directors Rebecca Conroy and Ali Crosby, both passionate art makers, are committed to a process of creating places where people can make and experience art. Any one who has traveled or worked in arts communities in Indonesia will recognizes this special flavour and spirit present in the Gang festival and events. It is a raw, grass roots, people inclusive, engaged art vibe, that has been missing from our lives for too long.

Bjork I am sure would feel right at home in Gang. In fact I think an invitation is being dispatched as we speak - only I won’t tell anyone if you don’t.

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