art in the lab

urszula dawkins: cia studios, perth

pvi workshopping resist: the right to revolution, CIA Studios

pvi workshopping resist: the right to revolution, CIA Studios

pvi workshopping resist: the right to revolution, CIA Studios

WALKING AROUND THE RE-PURPOSED CORRIDORS OF THE OLD SCHOOL BUILDING IN NEWCASTLE STREET, YOU GET THE FEELING SOMETHING IS HAPPENING ALMOST BY STEALTH IN PERTH. FROM OUTSIDE, THE BUILDING IS BARELY MARKED; I FIND MY WAY TO A REAR DOOR AND AM LED INTO A SPACIOUS LABYRINTH OF CORRIDORS, OFFICES AND STUDIOS WHERE, HERE AND THERE, RESIDENTS ARE AT WORK. THE CHALK DUST COULD ALMOST STILL BE HANGING IN THE AIR—BUT THE ROOMS ECHO WITH THE SOUNDS OF CONSTRUCTION, EXPERIMENT AND COLLABORATION.

Kelli McCluskey and Steve Bull are co-founders of cia studios, Perth’s burgeoning Centre for Interdisciplinary Arts. They are also core members of tactical media arts group, pvi collective, creator of works including transumer (Sydney Biennale, 2010) and resist—the right to revolution (Awesome Festival, WA, 2009).

R&D is at the core of cia’s brief, with residencies, creative labs, workshops and “mixer nights” enabling interdisciplinary practitioners to develop work and collaborate with others. McCluskey emphasises cia’s focus on the process of making rather than “end product.” What cia does particularly well is provide a fertile environment in which practitioners are directly “informed, invigorated and challenged” rather than working in isolation.

Far from being a glossy government initiative, cia emerged in 2008 via a “window of opportunity.” As founders of pvi collective, Bull and McCluskey knew there was a need to house a growing community of interdisciplinary practitioners and catalyse what was happening in the sector. When WA’s Department of Culture and the Arts provided pvi with a new peppercorn-rent studio space for a year, the collective capitalised on the opportunity that the space provided—developing a two-year business case for cia studios as a co-located entity and requesting seed funding.

“To our complete amazement the department agreed,” says McCluskey, “and provided us with start-up funds as well as key strategic advice…Essentially what they were saying was, start small, find our feet with it and establish support from within the community.”

Having previously served as WAAPA’s production and lighting department, the old school building comes blessed with three-phase power, a sound recording studio and capacious rooms, including mezzanine spaces that allow discreet audience viewing. Long term resident company Hydra Poesis utilises a range of spaces for various projects: in the past year it has produced a durational performance installation, Trademark Manoeuvres #1 with collaborator Aimee Smith (also a cia resident), the performance work Personal Political Physical Challenge (PICA, 2010, see article), a short film for Next Wave and major R&D for its WATDI-funded hybrid work, Prompter Live Studio (RT97).

Hydra Poesis director Sam Fox says cia allows “multiple things on the boil” without the “logistical nightmare” of finding rehearsal, meeting and storage space. The collaborative and peer relationships that develop within cia—“our work connects through a criticality and political consciousness”—are also a reason to hang around. Fox would like to see funding for more intensive collaboration between current and incoming residents, “where we exchange practice, set each other experiments and really capitalise on the connections that are here but limited by time and resources.”

Project manager Kate Neylon outlines cia’s model for “research/practice interrogators,” something cia would like to implement for all residencies. “We would allocate resources towards securing a senior practitioner to work with resident artists, via key Skype sessions, providing input, guidance and provocations that would stimulate that process and expand professional networks internationally.”

“[pvi has] had a few pilot runs of this with ourselves as guinea pigs, first as research interrogators for an emerging artist test lab at cia with Meredith Godley and also with Matt Adams from Blast Theory (UK) working with us on developing our current project, transumer. Hydra Poesis have also used the model to bring out a member of the renowned UK performance group Pacitti company, Dicky Eaton, to work with them on Prompter Live Studio.”

Under the name ololo, “three like-minded friends” share cia’s studio 5 with local cyberpunk Jerrem Lynch, a driving force behind their work with interactive technologies. ololo has been researching hardware and software based systems for performance and installation works, including multi-touch surfaces. “It’s been the first time we have had freedom to explore ideas that were too big to fit on our kitchen tables,” says ololo’s Steve Berrick. Other residents include performer Aimee Smith, currently heading north to participate in The Arctic Circle international creative residency, and performance and image maker Jen Jamieson.

And then there’s pvi collective, now creating a companion to transumer with the working title, the coming insurrection. Like transumer, it aims to ‘fuck it up’, creating on-site interventions to suggest what an “anti-consumerist uprising” might look like. Bull, McCluskey and Neylon cite practical, strategic and catalytic ways that pvi’s interdependency with cia works for them as a group. Bull: “we are able to activate the space from within.” Neylon: “we get space for our practice” (and a small but consistent source of operational income for pvi). McCluskey: “It’s allowed the company to grow in ways that we never expected…it’s inspired, driven and motivated us to keep on truckin’”.

Current challenges for cia include, says Neylon, gaining some studio ‘down time’ and dealing with the organisation’s reliance on funding cycles while trying to sustain an ongoing program. Nevertheless, the next 12 months will include expanded activities including management of a live art season at PICA (hopefully with concurrent residencies at cia by some of those artists) and an expansion of artist talks, work-in-progress showings and collaborations. If funding is secured, says Bull, cia will bring UK performance company Reckless Sleepers to Perth for a creative lab late in 2011.

Bull is ambitious about where cia could go in the longer term: “If all goes to plan—and we are aware a lot could fuck up on the way—we hope cia will become for live and interdisciplinary arts what Perth-based SymbioticA has become for the bio-arts sector internationally. SymbioticA is the place to go for applied research into the life sciences and attracts artists from all over the world to partake of a range of practice-based opportunities. The interdisciplinary sector needs this sort of initiative to spearhead experimentation and look to define an area of practice that’s constantly slippery to pin down.”

In early October, cia studios will be calling for applications for residencies March 7, 2011-February 28, 2012.

cia studios, 480 Newcastle Street, West Perth, ciastudios.com.au

RealTime issue #99 Oct-Nov 2010 pg. 36

© Urszula Dawkins; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

12 October 2010