Positive Negative Space

From June to September 2019, the doors of Adelaide’s Minor Works Building were thrown open to the city’s broad communities thanks to an international collaboration between artists from Australia, the Philippines and South-East Asia.

The resulting project-in-residence Negative Space was a four-month open studio facilitated by Alycia Bennett, Florian Cinco, Christian Tadoyo and Orlando Castillo Jr as part of ART WORKS, a program of residencies and creative engagements delivered by Guildhouse in partnership with the City of Adelaide.

Negative Space replicated the DIY-approach to creating art and community hubs found in places like the Philippines (known as ‘info-shops’) within the Minor Works Building. Examples of previous info-shops in Adelaide include a number of art spaces in the city’s CBD. Such info-shops are active, open spaces, in which artists provide a place for people to come together, share skills, food or resources, collaborate and create outcomes that open discussions on social and community issues.

This is information as art. Gathering and generosity as art. Conversations, collaboration and community as art. In which the process is as much the art form as the finished product.

Through evolving residencies that took place from Thursday to Sunday each week, that process included: baking, print-making and self-defence workshops, crafternoons, open mics and jam sessions, film screenings, art sharings, a Filipino Saluhan (an opportunity ‘to eat and drink with others’) with artists Aida Azin and Lou Javellana, and a regular ‘really, really free market’ where goods were offered and exchanged.

Through simple acts of generosity, of giving things away for free, Negative Space not only promoted a culture of sharing but triggered a chain reaction – providing others with the opportunity to share and to take part in an unseen relational performance, imagining the futures that their gifted goods might find with someone else.

Sharing is a form of resistance. It resists capitalism, debt and social alienation. It resists the damage that consumption can do to the environment, and the assumption that knowledge can only be distributed through institutions. It resists the assumption of giving as a one-way exchange: the idea that art is created by artists to be passively consumed by audiences, that goods and resources are gifted from the have to have-nots.

Instead, Negative Space used dialogue, collaboration and social engagement to create a community space where artists, activists, musicians and thinkers could come together, share and learn.

“The culture of sharing is quite different,” Adelaide-based Bennett was quoted in the Adelaide Review, “it’s not about the individual. Many artspaces in the Philippines are centred around social engagement, uniting community through collective action.”

As a site specific response to the Minor Works Building, Negative Space’s open studio model aimed to bridge the three communities that surround the site: apartment owners, community housing tenants and the local homeless community.

Due to the lack of human services in the area (particularly on weekends) Negative Space became a site for local communities to access information.

Homeless people found a safe space to access power or wifi while they waited for their beds to open at Whitmore Square. Local community housing tenants found free clothes, food and furniture. Older community members found technical help with internet, computers and cameras. Community groups found a space to create banners and placards. And Stand with Hong Kong Adelaide found a space for the city’s first Lennon Wall and a site for others to offer solidarity for the current protests in Hong Kong.

By being present, welcoming and having positive interactions, Negative Space worked to combat social alienation and to create a space where everyone could get involved.

The project was formed through number of collaborations in the Philippines in 2017 and 2018, which explored how stereotypes and cultural profiling could be questioned and broken through playful resistance and by pushing back against imaginary barriers.

Now instantly recognisable as a symbol of both anonymity and solidarity, the multi-coloured squares of the Minor Works Building Lennon Wall have continued this practice of using local work to have global conversations, including about the ongoing fight against oppression, censorship and control.

This is a fight that we are not immune to here in Australia, with community feedback resulting in some of the Negative Space artists’ work being removed from the walls of the Minor Works Building during the residency.

The idea of social practice and active participation as an art form clearly challenged the idea of what art can look like for some community members, perhaps unused to the idea that DIY and collaborative art-making is just as valid as an elite gallery exhibition.

Negative Space’s poignant and political work was designed to trigger dialogue and response. It is our role as allies and supporters of the arts to match our generosity to theirs, and to help turn objections into conversation, not silence.

ART WORKS is a program of residencies and creative engagements delivered by Guildhouse in partnership with the City of Adelaide.

Negative Space would like to thank Guildhouse and Adelaide Central School of Art for supporting this project and believing in them.

Author: katelarsenkeys

Arts, Cultural & Non-Profit Consultant. Reader. Writer (Our Hybrid Future, The Relationship is the Project). Researching the art of arts governance. larsenkeys.com.au

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