Splendid Think Tank

THIS week Lismore will play host to some of the country’s best-known contemporary art practitioners and festival representatives at the Splendid Think Tank.

This event is an innovative two-day forum that will explore the risks and rewards of embracing new art, ideas and experience within the festival context.

The Think Tank is the result of a shift that is taking place across the contemporary arts world and that is seeing art come off the walls of galleries and out into the community.

Most of us are familiar with art that hangs in the gallery or stands in the environment, but how many of us know about art that just makes you want to play?

This is the revolution that is taking place in the contemporary arts scene, which now covers everything from stand-back, don’t-touch paintings and sculptures to interactive installations that are designed for people to prod, poke and explore.

Take for example Jordana Maisie’s Close Encounters, a result of the Splendid Program. At five metres high and six-and-a-half metres across, this enormous silver disc will hover over crowds at Splendour in the Grass this weekend. Covered in a mirror finish, and fitted with sophisticated electronics, the installation will not only reflect everything that is going on around it, but also invite audiences to engage in a conversation with aliensby sending texts in response to displayed messages.

And then there’s Case Studies, a work that was developed as part of the recent Underbelly Arts Festival in Sydney, where a group of six people were invited to explore what it might be like to establish a whole new society from scratch, and then to create an exhibition.

The artists built an interactive installation, complete with houses and sleep pods, a town hall, a moss garden and waterfall, all miniature in size and perfect for children to explore (and adults too!).

According to Imogen Semmler, Creative Director of Underbelly Arts Festival and Splendid Think Tank speaker, the reactions to the Case Studies exhibition were incredible.

"The installation was an enormous success seen by nearly 3000 people on Festival day.

"While this piece was created by artists, we are seeing a lot of works out there that are created by audiences as they engage with the art. In other words, pieces that simply would not exist without the audience," she says.

As to why this shift is occurring, Ms Semmler believes many factors are at play.

"Art has always been a place for experimenting and has attracted people who are interested in doing things differently. But at the same time we have had enormous shifts in technology and an increased access to the arts," she says.

According to the director of the Lismore Regional Art Gallery Brett Adlington, also an event speaker, art has been morphing for several decades, and changes in technology have contributed to that.

"I think artists have to think more quickly these days and changes in media are partly responsible," he says.

"We are also less connected to place than we used to be. Younger people are more attuned to their place in the wider world, so they are making art that has a life outside the gallery."

Mr Adlington believes that there will always be the need for the civic presence where people can come together to enjoy art, but that the role of a gallery is expanding out into the community.

"Primarily a gallery’s role is to facilitate the stories of the region in the best way it can. And that may be in a gallery, or it may be somewhere else."

The Splendid program was developed by partner organisations Lismore Regional Gallery, NORPA (Northern Rivers Performing Arts) and Arts Northern Rivers, and supported by Splendour in the Grass and the Australia Council for the Arts.

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