[the following was published in Resistance Through Rituals, to accompany the exhibition project with the same name, curated by Lisa Kelly at WestSpace in Melbourne in 2004]
NUCA (The Network of UnCollectable Artists) is one of those “organisations” that we artists seem to build around ourselves to legitimise, or somehow “bulk out” our puny activities – you know, like The Office of Utopic Procedures, the Pedestrian Bureau or the Organisation for Cultural Exchange and Mishap.
Why do we do this? Why fetishise or glamorise “the office”, when working in one generally involves a series of mundane, brain-wasting tasks? Of course, things would be different if you worked in the marketing department – where all the ideas get cooked up, all the media stunts, all the big-banner splashy stuff. We schleppers can’t stand the marketing department – their ideas always seem so lame-o (and even if they’re good, they’re lame, because we didn’t get to think them up).
But we can be the marketing department, and all the fat-cat execs rolled into one, when we form our own organisations, in our spare time. We think up the projects, we write the press releases, we chair the meetings, we control the budgets! It makes us feel pretty damn important. (Of course, we have to do all the crappy jobs too, but we kinda like that – it keeps us in touch with where we started out, right?)
And – we get to use acronyms! And make websites and letter-heads, and feel like we are part of something bigger. No longer are we just individual artists hammering away trying to make it in the artworld – we are making our own worlds! Finally, we get to feel like we belong.
All of that excitement is pretty far from the stagnated, bloated (but rapidly expanding) art-admin sector, which feeds off the fear-of-failure of some of our great creative souls. But are our small organisations really very different from the biggies? Besides having a chunkier budget and employees, what differentiates the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) (for example) from the grassroots Sydney Moving Image Coalition (SMIC)? Ambition! SMIC isn’t on the move, they’re not full of people who are here this year, and onto another, better paid job next year.
Simon Barney said it right when he said (and he’s said it many times, and will say it again if you get him talking) that his Briefcase Gallery (openings in a Sydney pub every second Tuesday) is an end in itself. Barney seethes whenever he reads the notion (and it’s quite often) that artists’ organisations are a “stepping stone” for emerging artists – an entrepreneurial venture designed to launch young hopefuls to a career beyond this one (and of course, only a lucky few will ever make it).
If this entrepreneurial model is widespread (and in the case of many recent Sydney Artist-Run-Galleries, it probably is) it’s irritating precisely because it’s such a waste of energy for all the losers. Like minor-league baseball, you’ve got to pay to play, precisely at the moment when you can least afford to.
That’s why it’s refreshing to be involved with entrepreneurial ventures which deliberately and directly attempt to establish non-hierarchical (and inexpensive) networks between artists. One of the most inspiring I have come across is the London Biennale, which, since 2000, has linked and nurtured the space-less and the budget-less. David Medalla, the Biennale’s venerable founder, envisions:
A do it yourself free arts festival. This means that artists who wish to participate are solely and entirely responsible for their participation: for his/her show, funding, transport, publicity, insurance, documentation, venue. We do help one another but only through voluntary and free choice. We have no bureau and therefore no bureaucrat.
The people power of the London Biennale is, obviously, a pisstake of the current global Biennale art circuit phenomenon. A Biennale that anyone can be in? But what about QUALITY? (From my experience in London, lack of quality was never really an issue, in the way that overblown, half-baked ideas often are, in the “real” Biennales)
In the same way, the Network of UnCollectable Artists (NUCA) is simultaneously stupidly-outlandish and deadly-serious. This puts us in league with The Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) in Massachusetts, Peter Hill’s Museum of Contemporary Ideas (MOCI) in New York, the multi-national Danger Museum (DM), and Rodney Glick’s International Performance Space Tammin Australia (IPSTA). All share a love of ridiculous yet inspirational propositions, and a penchant for snappy acronyms. They are silly ideas which get talked about so much that they become reality.
NUCA’s first big, silly idea was to publish a magazine featuring Australia’s 50 Most Un-Collectable Artists. As a concept it was immediately oppositional – we wanted to lampoon the Australian Art Collector magazine, which publishes annual lists of artists to look out for on the market. This kind of art market speculation has always been a complete anathema to our desire for a do-it-yourself utopia. We envisioned a roughly photocopied zine secretly inserted into each copy of the Australian Art Collector in every magazine shop around the country.
But as NUCA’s growing core began to think more about the idea, and began to email it around, and as the enthusiasm poured in, we realised that there was a wealth of artists who identified with the term “uncollectable” for all sorts of different reasons – and that our publication could serve a purpose beyond satire – it could become a kind of document of their activities.
Six months later, the Network of UnCollectable Artists hardly even remembers its oppositional roots. NUCA has become a self-legitimised network in its own right. The magazine idea has evolved into a set of (un)collectable bubblegum cards (it will be nigh-on-impossible to collect a full set). These cards were first sold by our itinerant vendors in Melbourne during the 2004 Next Wave Festival.
The meetings and exchanges born during that festival offered NUCA’s “core” the chance to expand and decentralise – and our participation in resistance through rituals will be a coming of age – the moment when we go beyond our bubblegum cards, and enter a richer level of artist-organised activity, (fingers crossed) sans bureaucracy.
Your networking begins here:
Network of UnCollectable Artists:
International Performance Space Tammin Australia:
Museum of Contemporary Ideas:
Museum of Bad Art:
Office of Utopic Procedures:
Organisation for Cultural Exchange and Mishap:
Resistance Through Rituals
Clubs Project Space
Sydney Moving Image Coalition
Australian Art Collector Magazine