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"Agitate, educate, organise" may well be the unofficial catch cry of artist run spaces of recent years. These are groups of artists who have banded together in the face of economic adversity to realise a new economy of means, to rock the boat of art's officialdom, to facilitate knowledge/consumption of newer forms of cultural practice and most importantly to increase awareness amongst artists of the ebb and flow of art politics.
Like many of these groups since the prototypical lnhibodress, initiated by Mike Parr and Peter Kennedy in Sydney in 1970, Arch Lane's Directors, Belinda Gunn and David Holden, have established a Gallery space that will call attention to these issues.
Arch Lane is a transformed basement that is now a cool, uncomplicated and welcoming gallery, which opened with an exhibition of work by Brisbane artists entitled Multiple. The Directors hope Arch Lane Public Art, its official title, will be the success John Mills National and That Contemporary Space weren't. Success, explains Belinda, is longevity. Both Directors criticise Brisbane urban planners' "knock em down" attitude and the lack of permanent central space available to low income sectors of the community and particularly artists.
Arch Lane evolves out of a dynamic spate of collaborative activity by artists in Brisbane over the last six years. Through various financial means a number of projects involving groups like O'Fiate, A Room, The Observatory, That Collective and John Mills National have established a significant "unofficial" infrastructure that has been responsible for developing the burgeoning art scene during this time. Importantly, whilst established and official art institutions have been supportive in varying degrees, it is clear that artist run initiatives like those outlined have been empowering and have served to displace the hegemony of dominant art institutions that have historically had the privileged control of art's legitimation.
Whilst Arch Lane is less collaborative in its directorial capacity, it is setting out to achieve an authoritative position that will further the project of this displacement and critique. Unlike many artist run spaces' open exhibition programmes, both Directors favour a more limiting policy and see this as more realistic and as potentially more conducive to a coherent gallery programme.
Arch Lane hopes to be more than just a "white box" and is in the initial stages of organising an artists slide register that will be accessible to the public. Similarly, both Directors feel that Arch Lane has a responsibility to organise lectures, discussions and events around its exhibitions. They are currently seeking applications from artists for their exhibition programme in 1989.
Belinda and David are fervently opposed to a fixed image for the gallery and are keen to adopt an any· thing goes policy for the space. They want "it" before "it" happens. In this way, Arch Lane sees itself as not being restricted by commercial concerns and can more readily accommodate less market oriented work that may not yet be desirable for most consumers. Paradoxically, Arch Lane recognises the power and value of the market place and will operate with its rules and conventions - for instance the gallery will charge a commission on sales. However, both David and Belinda acknowledged that rules were made to be broken; the Fitzgerald enquiry taught us all that.
This new economy of means recognises the conventions of the mainstream and has identified its potential for empowering artists. In this way organisations like Arch Lane, That, John Mills are different from the alternative and countercultural nature of lnhibodress. They rely more on playing the games of the market and entertaining the prospect of compromise. These types of ventures will continue to be important liminal spaces; thresholds of understanding, for public awareness of newer forms of cultural practice as and as demystifying vehicles that will serve to locate and identify changed beliefs, values, and histories of dominant and traditional art orthodoxies.
Arch Lane has set itself a very ambitious project and no doubt the youthful zeal and sincerity of its Directors will carry it through. Clearly, there is a voracious artist community needing space and legitimation. With any luck this need can be reconciled with Brisbane's not-so-hungry marketplace.