A platform for innovation and experimentation

A couple of years ago I was selected to take part in a British Council ‘International Young Curator Programme’. As part of the programme I worked in the Northern Ireland Gallery at the Venice Biennale. Myself and a few other emerging artists and curators decided we should make the most of our time in Venice and set up Parallax. envisaged as an arts collective, we wanted to create a platform to showcase and make new work in the exciting and dramatic setting that was Venice. We had no money, and at first the British Council was hesitant at the idea of us hosting events in their gallery spaces, but after a little persuasion and a pooling of resources we held our first event. From pop up exhibitions to art crawls and pecha kucha nights we experimented with different formats and events. Quickly Parallax started to be noticed and our events drew a mix of emerging and established international artists, curators and commercial dealers.

We saw Parallax as a temporary collective that would lead to future collaborations after our time in Venice. However we are delighted that the format we developed has proved to be so successful that a second group of staff at this years Biennale have breathed new life in to it. You can see more information about Parallax 2011 on their blog and Facebook page. I am proud to have been a founding member of Parallax and really hope that it continues to grow into a significant fringe presence for emerging artists and curators at the Venice Biennale.

Handing over Parallax to a new set of artists and curators, and witnessing their approach to what we started has been an interesting lesson in creating an open source format. Parallax was never about ownership, it was instead about empowerment, skill sharing and professional development. It’s open source nature has facilitated a dynamic platform were innovative ideas can be exchanged and tested.

Parallax clearly demonstrates what artists can achieve outside of traditional bureaucratic arts organisations and funding structures. It has left me wondering what lessons we can take from this model that could catalyst innovation within traditional funding structures.

A focus on collaboration, networking and seed funding could be really beneficial. Small pots of money, that require short bursts of activity could provide much more innovative artistic output than traditional funded projects. Indeed it would be interesting to see arts councils looking at how the digital sector is funded and it’s emphasis on supporting start up’s, innovation, and the acceptance of project pivot. Art is a creative journey, and artists cannot know what the outcome will be before they start on their journey. I’m not saying throw money at every artist out there, I’m simply saying that perhaps Parallax demonstrates the benefits of fluid and intense working, something that traditional funding structures do not support.

Lessons from Venice

I was lucky enough to work for the British Council and Arts Council of Northern Ireland at the 2009 Venice Biennale. My time in Venice was professionally priceless; it gave me the opportunity to engage with art and artists from around the world. I came away from Venice feeling inspired and challenged in equal portions.

Parallax

The Venice Biennale presented the perfect opportunity to experiment, network and produce events and exhibitions.  Myself and a group of staff from other galleries decided to put our heads together and start a collective through which we could curate and show work during out time in Venice. Over a few bottles of Prosecco we decided on ‘Parallax’ as the name of our collective. Within the space of a few days we planned our first event a ‘see + talk’ session which we held in the court yard of the Northern Ireland pavilion (and the former home to Vivaldi!)This event was attended by over 30 people from more than 10 different countries, it took the form of a Pecha Kucha style event, with each artist discussing and answering questions about their work. Over the following weeks we curated performance art ‘crawls’, these consisted of site specific performances that engaged with the architecture of venice, we held exhibitions in apartments and palaces, we held making sessions from origami to drawing nights.

Parallax challenged the idea that the Venice Biennale is a place for established artists, it threw the floor open to a new generation or artists, curators and arts managers. Parallax provided us with the opportunity to examine our own practice, to grow professionally and to work in a peer supported environment. Parallax was unique in that it was not a funded project instead it was a collective of like minded people who pooled resources and expertise from printers to projectors, from web design to graphic design from courtyards to bedroom walls. Quite simply we had an idea, and we put it into practice.

Parallax in a Power Point

Parallax After Venice

Since the last Biennale Parallax has remained an active group of like minded individuals. Earlier this year we were contacted by galleries asking about how they could become involved in Parallax at the 2011 Venice Biennale.  It’s exciting to know that a small idea dreamed up over a bottle of Prosecco has made such an impact. 2 years after it was first conceived it has become a source of inspiration and mentoring for those working at this year’s Venice Biennale. Due to funding problems Northern Ireland won’t be at Venice this year, however Parallax will. The Fruit Market gallery are keen to breathe life into Parallax and I can’t wait to see how their invigilators creatively respond to living and working in Venice.



My advice to anyone working at this year’s Venice Biennale?

  • Bring business cards- they will get you free entry and exhibition catalogues
  • Bring Berocca- you won’t get a lot of sleep!
  • Bring lots and lots of Mosquito repellent (Irish art critic Aidan Dunne was so concerned by the size of my mosquito bites that he and his wife delivered repellent to my galley- sweet, but also terribly embarrassing)
  • No matter who you meet in Venice be it a ‘big’ artist, curator or critic, talk to them exchange emails, ask for advice. The sun makes people so much more approachable than at other big commercial events like Frieze
  • Get hold of a free British Council map, they are the best! The official Biennale map is really confusing