Wrapping up the National Experimental Arts Forum

Stories
May 23, 2013
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The Emerging and Experimental Arts section of the Australia Council hosted the first National Experimental Arts Forum on 5-6 May at Carriageworks  in Sydney, facilitated by Jeff Khan and Bec Dean of Performance Space.  Sixty participants including representatives from institutions, presenting venues, arts organisations, independent artists and groups, and government came together to build an understanding of how to effectively support artists working in this field, and to continue critical debate about the value of experimental and emerging arts.

The first day of the Forum set the scene, sharing ideas and practice. Keynote presentations from Professor Jill Bennett, Director of the National Institute for Experimental Arts , and Oron Catts, Director of SymbioticA , provided the context for experimental practice in Australia. Jill focused on the institutional framework provided by NIEA, while Oron offered a sometimes confronting look at the development of bio-art.

An artist panel comprising Dr Sarah-Jane Pell , Lynette Wallworth, Jenny Fraser  and Barbara Campbell addressed the question ‘what are the experiments, emerging forms or contexts that shape your practice?’ The panellists discussed the environmental, social, cultural and personal factors influencing their work, and responded to questions from the audience about empathy, failure and what they’d do with unlimited resources.

In the evening 19 artists gave quick-fire ‘snapshot’ presentations on an aspect of their work or practice, with topics including plant sentience, shopping malls, alien abduction, climate change, social sound making, sheep stations and road trips by bus.

The second day focused on Open Space conversations on topics generated and prioritised by participants, with additional thoughts and suggestions tweeted in from people following the action online. Thirteen conversations were held, covering the definition and nature of experimental work, contexts for experimentation (different processes and players), evaluation and knowledge sharing, and the ways individuals, organisations and institutions could best support experimental practice at all levels.

The Forum culminated with a reception and speeches from Libby Christie acting CEO, and Robyn Archer AO the Deputy Chair of the Australia Council. Both spoke passionately of their support for experimental practice and artists. Robyn advocated the importance of process as well as outcomes and learning from failure, and suggested the arts could also learn a lot from the relationship between AFL teams and their fans!

The Emerging and Experimental Arts section will incorporate the rich comments, suggestions and recommendations into planning documents to shape the Experimental Arts program in 2014 and beyond, and share the results both nationally and internationally – for example, at the International Symposium of Electronic Art in Sydney in June 2013.

Limited resources meant we couldn’t have as diverse a participant list as we would have liked, but it does provide a platform for future development. We envisage a second iteration in the next two years that is led and delivered by the sector, similar to the more established Dance and Theatre Forums. In the words sung by Forum Facilitator Bec Dean on the first night: we’ve only just begun!