Last week’s Independent Convergence was intended as a critical reflection on practice, and succeeded in bringing together a group of artists passionately committed to our practice and keen to stay connected with others. In part the political events of the week hijacked its agenda, necessitating a strong focus on constructive advocacy rather than indulging in the politics of frustration. This only strengthened our resolve to see our practice as creating the Australian culture.
Independent Convergence was conceived by Bek Berger, Dan Koop and Kieran Swann as a full day devoted to examining what independent artistic practice means today. Our curators had framed the day as a generous space beset by provocations and the desire for disruption. Ten key principles got us thinking: Transparency. Quickness. Rigour. Precision. Living work. Courage. Sustainability. Community. Difference and diversity. Disruption as a strategy towards progress. Soon we were up on our feet locating a position along a continuum between independence and dependence, rapidly exposing the many ways of thinking this through: from working a day job, to craving the ability to say no to new work, to understanding the deeply nurturing role of other artists as collaborators and confidants, and thereby seeing independence as a necessary symbiosis. We thought at length about ecology, system and complexity, ultimately seeing independent practice as a kind of committed determination, a creative resilience.
Short sharp keynotes by Danny Butt, Dagmara Gieyzstor, Joseph Chetty and others kept us on our toes, connecting the personal and the political in important ways. Come lunchtime, the generosity with which our day was framed extended into the sharing of our prepared meals. While some of us headed south to dance for #freethearts, others took part in an impromptu arts advocacy discussion. I spoke about the need to distinguish between advocacy, activism and lobbying, understanding the various audiences for each – and understanding advocacy as a long-term ongoing project aimed at influencing the Australian culture positively and creatively. We spoke animatedly about constructive responses to current issues, and committed to championing the arts with our own voices and from our own perspectives in all the ways we can. Especially beyond the arts.
For the afternoon I offered a workshop on negotiating the tension between deep practice and experimental practice – a negotiation which is in itself constitutive of independent practice. We asked ourselves where we’re at right now in our practice: are we heavily immersed and craving new connections, new modes of play? Or are we readily finding collaborators and experimental modes, and craving instead the space and time to find real rigour and focus? Having identified this no matter how tentatively, we broke into three groups to exchange techniques on how we currently achieve this and how and where we’d like to push ourselves. Deep practice can be hard to experience: it involves a clear consciousness of what you’re trying to achieve, as well as the means for distilling that consciousness into a set of focuses, activated by the techniques that work for you. These of course change over time and are often discovered experimentally, bridging the written and screen-based ways of working with the tactile, the present and indeed the visceral. Striking a balance between the two is independent practice itself: the commitment to responsiveness, the need for nourishment, the quest for flow. I found these discussions immensely rewarding, challenging and quite delicious in sparking new ways of working, and I very much look forward to continuing them.
Open platforms for creative connections are few. They are rare, special and always timely. Wisely, Bek, Kieran and Dan committed to never presenting Independent Convergence again, throwing down the gauntlet to us all as the custodians of an independent arts community that thrives on collaboration. I keenly anticipate the next Convergence and will once again do anything and everything I can to help make it a success. It spoke volumes on the nature of the event that these three curators were able to present with no budget that the feedback at the end of the day seemed more suited to an event with a big budget and resources at the ready. I thank Bek, Kieran and Dan wholeheartedly, and I also thank and acknowledge Angharad Wynne-Jones who offered several Arts House spaces at no charge for the day, eschewing any formal acknowledgement. Generosity inspires generosity: who will next take up the gauntlet?
Friday 22 May 2015 at Arts House North Melbourne Town Hall
Convened by Bek Berger, Dan Koop and Kieran Swann
Track back on #convmelb to follow the flow of the discussion
All photographs by Esther Anatolitis.