Visitors to Redfern, and locals alike, were treated to something very special on Saturday. Bats in a boat, brightly coloured men of steel standing ten feet tall, fig trees laden with golden fruit, mysterious words, and all sorts of strange people wandering about. It was, of course, the inaugural Redfern Biennale!
Curator Damien Minton, whose gallery has been in the area for nine years, came up with the idea when his photographs from the area started to grow in popularity. The idea of sharing these with the locals arrived some time this year, caught on with friends and supporters, and two months later, on a couldn’t-be-more-perfect Saturday, the Biennale came to life!
“We thought ‘Let’s just do this!'”, said Damien today, “…and people loved it. Not everyone, of course ( that’s art! ) – in fact we found one artwork in the trashcan, much to the amusement of the artist in question. But some locals helped us install the art spontaneously, and that’s what it’s about.”
“The two great things about the area are the residents of the housing commission, and the local indigenous artists, who will always keep Redfern anchored in reality. They, and the Biennale, are a counterpoint to the obvious gentrification in the area.”
And the counterpoint couldn’t be more pronounced. Quiet streets played host to some odd characters, and odd creations, on Saturday. One artist, Emma Wise, created an endless game of hopscotch on the typically Australian footpaths in the area, spending the day on her ‘sort of ‘purpose built footpath trolley. While Neil Evans’ piece ‘Hedgewok’ used found materials to re-purpose a parking sign.
Fruit bats hung from the well used hull of a boat, while abstract shapes decorated a corner beside a church, and milk crates formed a monstrous character on one corner, with one local claiming “If I told you what it makes me think of, I’d be charged five hundred bucks, so I won’t!”. He was joking, of course, and loved what was going on. When asked his name, he replied “Ratbag!”
I saw children on bikes checking things out – unphased by the absurdity of it all, they were wondering why local artist Scribla’s piece used the word “Bullshit”. A good thing or not? An insult, or a cry for joy? In the end, they thought it was pretty funny, and accepted the artist’s unintended invitation to claim a piece, made unwittingly, said Scribla, when he wrote the word ‘free’ on one of his five works, titled ‘Experiemnt I – V’.
“I guess the experiment was successful!”, he said “And now I’ve made some new friends!”
Which, according to Damien, is what the show was all about. Giving something back to the community, inviting them on board, and building something for the future.
“I’m delighted with the response,”, he said, “It went beyond my base, and when you’re talking about art, a strong reaction, whether it’s positive or negative, is better than none at all. I was totally surprised by the willingness of the artists, and the locals, to participate. And that’s what it’s all about.”
I agree, Mr Minton. And so, I’m sure, do the locals.