First Stop: Newcastle’s The Lock-Up for Experimenta Make Sense

 In February 2018 Experimenta Make Sense will hit the road for an extended national tour. Our first stop will be The Lock-Up in Newcastle where we return for a second time with the support of Director Jessi England.

 Why did you decide to program Experimenta Make Sense at The Lock-Up?

 The Lock-Up’s partnership with Experimenta started in 2014 when while we were still in the process of revisioning the organisation to become a multi-disciplinary contemporary arts space.

Experimenta’s aims and the kinds of work presented through its programs perfectly aligned with the new direction we were taking. We worked closely with the Experimenta team to bring Experimenta Recharge to Newcastle in 2015 and it was a great success. The works translated beautifully into our unique spaces. Audiences loved experiencing the work and the associated public programs were really embraced. The partnership built between our two organisations made it more than a straight touring exhibition and we were definitely keen to continue working with Experimenta and the programming opportunities presented by what they do.

 The exhibition hosts Newcastle artist Andrew Styan. How big is the media art scene in Newcastle?

 I’m so please that Andrew’s work, two pieces in fact, have been included in the tour. The two works were initially developed for an exhibition here at The Lock-Up called Every Breath that showed from December 2016 to January 2017. Andrew’s inclusion has been a direct result of the partnership between our two organisations and a seed planted back in 2014 with Experimenta’s Director Jonathan Parsons’, for us to help identify artists working in the Hunter Region who could be considered for inclusion in future tours.

 Traditionally Newcastle and the Hunter more broadly has not had a strong media arts scene. Artists working in these areas have tended to leave and develop their careers elsewhere. Also, arts institutions here haven’t tended to have a focus on presenting this kind of work. This is slowly changing and there are increasingly Hunter-based practitioners working across media and utilising technology, science, engineering and screen-based practices in their work. I also think that through The Lock-Up providing a space and focal point for diverse, experimental contemporary arts practice and as the Hunter’s only independent public contemporary art space, we have opened the door for more of this kind of work to be developed and presented.

 The Lock Up has been open in its current form since 2014, what changes have you seen in the Newcastle arts sector in this time?

 Newcastle has always been a home to many emerging and professional artists and there is a vibrant art sector here. What has been challenging is artists finding opportunities present their work here as they professionalise. Many artists who have commercial representation lived here but their work was rarely seen locally. This is changing as the number of small commercial spaces grows and larger cultural institutors in the Hunter Region are increasingly focused on presenting the work of Hunter based practitioners within their programs. Since it reopened, The Lock-Up has established itself locally as the preeminent contemporary arts destination, and by showing the work of artists and curators from around Australia is also building its national reputation.

 Artists and makers are also now taking the lead and there has been a blossoming of new shared studio space complexes being established in a number industrial areas within the city. This has been combined with the general increase in the number of people returning or relocating to Newcastle, including creatives, to make the most of the region’s still relatively (though not for long!) cheaper property process and great lifestyle options.

 Drastic changes to tertiary funding and education models continue to play out and have had pretty significant impacts on the sector here, particularly for artists who had been employed by both the Newcastle Arts School Hunter TAFE and University of Newcastle, and for the students hoping to start a career in the arts. The University School of Creative Arts ended as of 2017 with Fine Arts students now moved into a new School of Creative Industries. This may well open up opportunities for more media, technology and collaborative practice to evolve but it’s still early days. The need for visual arts to be part of the innovation agenda being set by the University and Newcastle City Council is something we are continuing to assert.

 Is there anything special about the space that you think will bring something new to the exhibition?

 The Lock-Up’s spaces are unique and definitely bring something different to all works that are brought here. The building was the city’s original police station and lockup for 121 years and is a heritage listed building that includes the original cells and exercise yard, as well as purpose built gallery space that was built in 1988. The architecture and history of the space is incredibly dense and loaded so we have to carefully consider how works read in the spaces. The heritage listing also provides a host of challenges to how works are installed. Because of its challenging nature however, The Lock-Up is well suited to thought provoking and challenging work. The cells become beautifully contained spaces for installation and screen-based works which plays against the white cube space of the main gallery.

 Photo: The Lock-Up launch of Recharge 2014, Photo by Alexandra Talamo

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