SOOB 2003: alive and mutating

Molly Hankwitz

Oceania Indymedia Newsreal

Oceania Indymedia Newsreal

“Just do it” was the catch-cry of the Straight Out of Brisbane (SOOB) artists whose work reverberated among locals and visitors from Newcastle, Melbourne and Sydney. The second annual independent and emerging artists’ festival, SOOB 2003, was broader and better this year, characterised by more gaming, tinkering, hacking and awareness of trends in new media. Specific Australian cultures were represented alongside global art/political schisms. The festival had strong curatorial edges and an emphasis in the media arts on new forms and compilations of artists’ work.

Using Newcastle’s This is Not Art model, SOOB is an ambitious 3 days of free panels, exhibits and workshops followed by colourful late night club gigs. Local bands, DJs, VJs and multimedia performers emerge from everywhere. Centred on Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley cultural precinct, the festival began in 2002 amidst a furious buzz about Brisbane’s prolific “bedroom artists”, yet to emerge as worthy of consideration by the Australian cultural intelligentsia. Over 2 years, SOOB has successfully explored and showcased this independent and emerging arts culture. And in a psychogeography of venues which include outdoor, off-limits and illegal spaces as well as parent venues, bright hopefuls from Brisbane’s increasingly wired local scene present themselves in the context of experimental art.

The festival began with a cappella voices from the Turrbal people ringing out over the Brunswick Street pedestrian mall which focused attention on their reclaiming ownership of the area. Land rights, such an important issue all over Australia, has a particularly poignant place in Brisbane, where property development is eating up many of the bohemian and artist-inhabited suburbs and the Turrbal people have recently won a title deed. Incoporating their voices into SOOB acknowledged the city’s past amidst the festival’s themes: art in the city, art’s recombination, re-use and future.

Several ‘independent’ cultures were represented this year. Australian comic book art was explored through panels, with a handout on related websites created by quiz.cat, underground zines curator and prolific poster artist Sean Taylor. There were also stellar sessions on independent television, including screenings, production workshops and panels organised by the Kill Your TV collective (which brought together Access News, Actively Radical TV, Kill Your TV, Undercurrents UK, the Guerilla News Network and the solar-powered Lab Rats). A video competition was sponsored by Kill Your TV, offering thousands of dollars in production support for the socially aware and politicised. Panels challenged the reality TV of Big Brother, the infotainment industry, home renovation and lifestyle programs. Participants included Nathan Mayfield and Tracey Robertson (Fat Cow Motel), Chris Taylor and Charles Firth (CNNNN), Tim Paris (SKA TV) and Jackie Ryan (producer of the pilot, Burger Force). Local filmmaker and activist Belle Budden programmed Indigenous Flix, a collection of activist-related documentary works from Aboriginal communities. All this experimental media was topped off by a screening of the recent video Oceania Indymedia Newsreal.

The interdisciplinary nature of new media art was reflected in the spaces it occupied. A shopfront renamed The Electronode was a hub of activity, featuring carefully selected screen works in several formats and settings. Noteworthy was Fiona Smith’s Flow On, an interactive documentary in which 2 laptop terminals battle for land in the Mekong Delta. Based on the artist’s travels, the work is a CD but not yet online. Sam Whetton’s Gristle Mania, an interactive sound work “meat fantasy” and Ben Ashcroft’s Terror in the (Kitsch)en were quite funny interactive works and a pleasure to play.

Curated by new media artists Thea Baumann and Tara Pattenden, Electronode exhibited about 25 works and several day-long programs of looped films. Other new media installations requiring more room appeared in other shopfronts and were joined at the end of the festival by a screening of the new video compilation, Neopoetry. The new media spaces hinted at more wireless and networked possibilities for exhibition and were a strong component of the festival.

Curator Tim Plaisted’s visual art exhibition, Neocontre, addressed neo-conservative political agendas affecting Australia. Of particular note were works by Brisbane photo-text artist Angel Kosch and James Dodd’s portrait triptych (Gollum from Lord of the Rings, John Howard and the Queen), which was repeated several times on a front wall. These works seemed to encapsulate many concerns debated throughout the festival: street art versus gallery co-option, culture jamming, activism as art and art as activism. How do we brand ourselves? What kind of spaces are we making in the streets and on the walls? For whom or what are we making these spaces? In what kinds of new and old spaces can we intervene? Several feisty discussions were hosted by the underground projection troupe, Pixelbusters, independent media maven Danni Zuvela, Mickie Quick, Emile Zile and others.

Highpoints of SOOB included the sporadic ‘agit-prop’ anarchist pamphleteers and the noisy exclamations of experimental musicians performing at the busy Improv Space. Agit 8, meatwave, unhappy bee person and others played home-made and modified instruments at an excellent closing event, Shit n Stuff.

To paraphrase one of the panels on urban representations, SOOB 2003 “invaded” the space of inner Brisbane with dozens of public projects, defying legal and cultural dictums on what art space is and the definitions of legitimacy and cleanliness that make Brisbane’s public and street life non-existent. Walls, alleyways, empty grass lots and even tabletops were all used as spaces for art as SOOB took culture out of the institutions. Pope Alice Xorporation’s See You No More assured us of a healthy queer presence and the hilarious Clothes Rodeo swapmeet (you had to be there) offset any fashion consciousness. The official space of cyberfeminism was brought to us in a Wired Women panel, and Creative Industries’ “Microbusiness Forum” offered methods and means to young entrepreneurs.

For a few days, the Valley business district was genuinely transformed and Brisbane’s independent arts culture rendered visible as artists partied all night and languished daily in the streets. While sometimes caught in a cultural cringe and driven underground by the crusty old guard, this culture is alive and mutating…and that’s true SOOBin’.

SOOB 2003: Straight Out of Brisbane, festival managers Susan Kukucka, Louise Terry, Ben Eltham; various venues, Brisbane, Dec 3-7, 2003, www.straightoutofbrisbane.com

RealTime issue #59 Feb-March 2004 pg. 28

© Molly Hankwitz; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2004