Sydney is currently swathed in artist run spaces and ecologically concerned art – the Museum of Contemporary Art’s latest show, ‘In the Balance – Art for a Changing World’ is just one of a range of recent exhibitions that explore not just the issue of climate change, but community involvement and participation in solutions to the crisis.
It’s in this context – a rise in concern about ecological and social issues and increase in artists’ collectives outside commercial spaces – that artRiot has emerged. artRiot is a new art collective comprised of Sydney and Newcastle artists whose mandate is to combine art and activism. The inaugural artRiot show (part of the Sydney Fringe Festival) features thirteen multidisciplinary artists who have used their talents to highlight and prompt action on a range of issues – from environmental devastation induced by capitalist industry, to mandatory detention of asylum seekers and the seemingly unstoppable culture of consumerism.
The show’s opening evening couldn’t have been further removed from that of your usual commercial gallery. Forget the art ‘scene’ with its flocks of heavy-lidded, wine-sipping, skinny jean-wrapped hipsters – the rallying atmosphere of artRiot was designed to engage and involve audiences.
The Climate Marching Band opened the evening with a raucous rendition of Born to be Wild, followed by The Lurkers’ acoustic foot-stomping, trouble-making brand of gyspy folk.
Other artists chose to express the values of sustainability and respect for nature through materiality, particularly Fern York’s prints, which used post-consumer waste recycled paper and vegetable inks.
Erland Howden’s colour photographs on canvas expose the impact of Canadian mining company Barrick Gold in Papua New Guinea. Raw-boned locals – many of whom are children – are dwarfed by industrial waste as they pan for gold, scrounging for a livelihood from the discards of rich foreign corporations.
Frances Howe’s hand-drawn, highly linear comics are an unaffected and accessible look at the artists’ “experiences of trying to create social change”, and her zine shows how handmade, grassroots DIY publications can communicate subversive ideas in a way that excites and captivates.
Though many in the art world will doubtless find this overt strain of political art sloganistic and simplistic, it is rare to see such a humble, engaging show, which aims to have relevance outside the art world.
For more information, suss out <http://artriot.org.au/>.
Upstairs at the Annandale Hotel,
17 Parramatta Rd, Annandale, Sydney