interdisciplinary artists & publics

keith gallasch: daniel brine, artistic director, performance space

Daniel Brine

Daniel Brine

Daniel Brine


Now that he’s settled into his new role and is deeply immersed in creating the organisation’s business plan for 2010-2012, it seemed timely to ask about his developing vision for Performance Space, including his thematic approach to programming, a public program for building the artist-audience-Performance Space relationship and publishing possibilities that will expand and deepen our responses to artists’ work.

But I also wanted to ask Brine about the origins of his fascination with and commitment to interdisciplinarity, not least because it gives us a stronger sense of him as curator, programmer and director working closely with artists in a range of circumstances here and overseas, but also because his career is tied intimately to the recent history of interdisciplinary and hybrid practices. Brine’s responses to my questions follow in this edited version of our conversation.

vision, practicalities, discourse

Vision is a difficult word. I think the challenge is making things happen. In the last few years Fiona Winning (former Performance Space artistic director) focused on the transition to CarriageWorks. I think there’s a real challenge to match vision with what’s actually practical and possible within the constraints of where we are.

The way I’ve imagined things happening has been flavoured by what I’ve heard people talking about since I’ve arrived. I’ve found them really interested in the way discourse and discussion can be central to work. This is something that I’ve said I want to make central at Performance Space. So part of the vision is about trying to integrate discourse and discussion much more fully with the program, not just tacking an artist’s talk on the end of a show. I’m interested in ways that we read work, the ways audiences come to work and how that can be informed by things other than just sitting on a seat and watching it.

This is partly about how we understand programs of work and, specifically, the four discrete seasons Performance Space has at CarriageWorks. The four seasons idea is a practical solution financially but it also offers us programming opportunities in the ways we curate performance, finding threads of interconnection between the works. In a season we’ll have, say, four performances in Bay 20, plus an exhibition and a couple of residencies. It’s not big, so different sorts of discussions around different sorts of works can come together at one time. The loose thematic is the structure that we’re beginning to play with. But the works will inform the thematic rather the thematic dictating the work we select.

Were starting with umbrella themes. For instance, in 2010 we’re calling the first one You Are Here. Essentially it’s about location. We’ve been looking at works that make sense within that, gathering them together, going back to look at the theme and see if we can tighten it, re-define it and maybe call it something else. So we’re seeing how work and theme inform each other, which is our process of curating performance. Of course, questions of interdisciplinarity and risk, inclusion of practice that might be excluded by other critical frameworks, these are founding principles within which Performance Space works and these remain core to what we’re doing.

The second theme will be Generations—what it means to be part of a generation, a group of people of the same age and experiences. But also it might be about rejecting traditions or passing the baton between generations. The third Theme is Live Works—questions of things that happen in the world that you don’t really quite understand—with a focus on small works of performance art or live art. The final season we’re calling Rights and Responsibilities, drawing a little on the Performing Rights work that was done with the Live Art Development Agency and the Queen Mary University of London. They’re the four areas we’re looking at. For early 2011 we’re thinking ahead about sci-fi, utopias and distopias, all rolled in together.

the art life

I was born in Melbourne, lived in Edinburgh until I was six years old, then in Adelaide from 1972 until the early 80s. I did the full Architecture Degree, but I knew towards the end that I probably wasn’t going to practice and that I would be going down the route of architectural historian or architectural critic of some kind. But I couldn’t make a penny writing about anything and sort of fell into a job at the Australia Council. My very first job was working on a scheme called Community Environment Art and Design. That was looking at the intersection of visual art, public art and architecture. As soon as I was at the Australia Council I felt very much at home, really interested in practices and what was happening with artists. I was very lucky to work on the international program. It was a fantastic introduction to the visual arts in Australia. I was there for about three years.

At that time in Australia there was a movement in craft criticism, looking at questions of interdisciplinarity. A university, gallery and craft association consortium won one of the tenders in Australia Council Contemporary Craft Curators Scheme and I got the job. For me it was really interesting because it was about interdisciplinarity. I ended up writing my Arts Administration Masters on questions of interdisciplinarity in craft. My first show was called Homocraft (1995). I still think it was quite a good show. It was about the ways that artists’ sexuality was informing their practice using signs and symbols—signifiers and codes with a history, especially in gay communities.

I didn’t do that job very long because my partner was offered a residency in New York so I went to New York and did a stint at the American Craft Museum. And I enjoyed New York. I felt really liberated. I very much enjoyed the research at the museum. I liked being part of the institution. The craft wasn’t necessarily the sort of work I was interested in but I was learning a lot about collections, management and patrons.

In Australia I’d been offered the job as curator of the Tamworth Fibre and Textile Biennial so I was finishing that off while in New York. I’d selected the show before I’d left, did the catalogue in New York, came back to Australia to hang the show, went back to New York and started to look for jobs in the UK where I had family connections. I applied for a job in what was called the Combined Arts Department of the Arts Council of England. I got that job, principally I think because I could talk about interdisciplinarity.

from combined to live arts

The Combined Arts Department was a really weird mix—it was where arts centres, disability arts and multi-disciplinarity arts were housed. But the department had an Interdisciplinarity and Live Art wing and I found myself working on that. It was great, introducing me to a whole range of practices—including new media. Digital dance was particularly interesting at that time, a whole range of motion capture stuff going on. Live Art was sitting alongside new media but other artforms were also beginning to dabble in these areas. It was a great scheme to be working on and I got to know a whole lot of artists . Blast Theory, for example, had a strong performance practice in theatres but was just beginning to really push new media boundaries.

I was at the Arts Council when it was restructured, moving Live Art from Combined Arts back to the Visual Arts. The Combined Arts department was scrapped, although there was the creation of an Interdisciplinary Arts Unit. It was an interesting decision to separate Live Art from Interdisciplinary Practice. There are a whole lot of arguments as to why that might have happened, but it was simply a rationalisation and I went with it to Visual Arts. It was an old-fashioned understanding of what live art was [seeing it as performance art].

My ambition at the time was to be working in the field. There was a really good festival in the UK called the Now Festival run by Andrew Chetty. I left the Council and Andrew and I job-shared the Now 2000 festival. It was a great experience. The festival gave Gob Squad some of its first outings. Lone Twin and Blast Theory performed there.

live art development agency

In 2000, Lois Keidan had set up the Live Art Development Agency with Catherine Ugwu. They’d both been at the ICA. London Arts put out a tender for an agency to develop live art. Lois and Catherine bid for the tender and the Live Art Development Agency was formed. Catherine moved on to a very successful event-management business and I joined as Associate Director in 2001. At that point it was quite difficult. We were both working part-time. The agency was very small. We were working two or three days a week, but it was really fascinating. I knew the sort of artists that the agency was working with and it just made sense.

Lois had seed funding to raise the profile of performance in the visual arts field with a plan to hold an event at Tate Modern [Live Culture, 2003]. It consumed Lois and I for a number of years—a fantastic project to work on. And there was always the core of the agency’s work: professional development for artists including a bursary scheme we ran for years. The way we worked at the agency was that each project was set up with a different set of partners. China Live [with live art works from China] was officially a project of Live Art UK, a national network of live art promoters. We selected works as a curatorium, trying to be as inclusive as possible. At the same time, the agency drove it. I put the screening project together. There were other projects: a collaboration with Bluecoat placing performance within the Liverpool Biennial, linked in with working with Guillermo Gómez-Peña who was part of the international program of the biennial, as well as ours and the Tate program. We used his work as a springboard to ask questions about cultural identity in the UK, trying to get away from simply looking at cultural diversity as a question of race, asking broader questions about cultures and coming to the UK.

The fantastic thing about the agency is that we were small and we did everything. I even kept the books for many years. The nice thing about being small is also that you can focus where you want to focus. Lois and I were both interested in publishing so we did as much as we could there. We also established The Study Room, basically our library, for artists to use. It was something that happened organically, providing people with the opportunity to see stuff. I feel really proud of that. It was about cataloguing and saying to everyone we met, “Will you give us a DVD of your work.” We were trying to keep the room practice focused. We didn’t want it to go down the academic route. We wanted artists at the centre of what we were doing. And that’s why that space was really for artists or people who were studying the work.

I think we’ll start some form of library here. As things get going in 2010, we’ll collect material, pinch the Study Room idea and do it in our own way.

the attractor: performance space

I was attracted to Performance Space because there are very few organizations around the world specifically focused on questions of interdisciplinary performance practice, risk and innovation. That’s where I want to stay in terms of the artists I want to work with. After eight years working at the Live Art Development Agency, the model that we had was working extremely well. We’d also decided that the best thing for the organization was to remain small and focused and fleet of foot. I was personally looking for the challenge of working with a slightly bigger organization. There’s something right about coming back to Australia—interesting things are happening here, and I thought it’d be good to come back and be part of it.

programming the public

I think we’re going to try to create a physical space within each season, locating it in Track 12 where we’ll create public programs in the broadest possible sense. Existing events might happen there, like Reeldance’s Cinemoves, where artists gather to watch DVDs. Others will be artist-run discussion groups and other activities. They might be very, very simple. If an artist goes overseas, meets other artists and is interested in their work, brings a DVD back, we provide a space where they can hold a night, show the work, bring people together to discuss it. So it’ll be a mix of us instigating things and hopefully artists saying I want to use the space to do this.

This can also provide a space where audiences can meet. It might be academics from across Sydney who want to discuss performance in some way and want to set up a network in a neutral space. Or it might be local people from Redfern or Newtown coming together around our program. I’m imagining we’ll look at popular forms of engagement, like book clubs, and ask how we might use them. I’m imagining that this is also the space in which the library would happen, so in one corner there’ll be a little shelf that will grow to big shelves over time, where people will deposit materials and others will come and look at them. We’ll have screening and internet services as well and the capacity for small, impromptu performances.

We’re lucky enough to have funding from the Australia Council for a young and emerging producer who will run our public program, a full-time post for 18 months allowing us time in 2010 to experiment with the concept. It’s a risky strategy and we have to animate it to be successful.

publishing & connecting

We want to start to publishing on the web. It’s publishing in the loose sense, providing different ways for audiences to engage with work. I’d love a very short film for every single show we put on with the artist saying why they made the work—a little talking head or a tiny interview, whatever is comfortable for the artist, just to begin to suggest different ways of engaging with the work. I want to find ways for artists to write other sorts of texts. I’m hoping too that for every show we put on we’ll have an artist’s page published on our website—it might be an image, it might be an interview, or a critical text they’ve commissioned, something that they think provides audiences with another way to enter their work. I’d love to keep publishing these and at the end of the year, print them all off in some very cheap and cheerful way, bind them all together and make them publicly available.

a bright future

Sydney’s performance scene has long had a strong sense of community. Daniel Brine’s careful planning holds the promise of opportunities to strengthen and expand it, to develop a sense of its history, especially at a time when a potent new generation of performers is emerging, and to engage more closely with its audiences through conversation and publishing.

Performance Space at CarriageWorks, Sydney, www.performancespace.com.au

RealTime issue #91 June-July 2009 pg. 19

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2009