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Over forty-six local, national and international artists were invited by John Barbour and Anion Hart to exhibit work in the empty shopfronts in the shopping arcade that leads to the Greater Union cinema megaplex in Hindley Street, in Adelaide's 'seedy' west end. Down town Hindley Street (close to the University of South Australia's new arts/humanities campus, the Lion Arts Centre, and Adelaide TAFE) is currently undergoing an arts renaissance of sorts. The Adelaide City Council and the State Government are intent on promoting the area as an 'arts precinct'. They have planted palm trees and installed funky benches, have relocated the Adelaide Festival offices into an old building in the middle of the strip, and are encouraging other arts organisations to follow suit. But the street is still replete with all-night bars, 'adult' shops, and video arcades. Although,the Council has managed to change the street motorbike parking areas to Loading Zones.
In many ways, the Underbelly project was a focal point in an on-going history of the use of Hindley Street as a venue for
shop-front art. The Hindsite project has presented installation work over the last couple of years, and the City Council 's
Shop Art continually presents works by local artists and craftspeople, displays which are theme-based during festivals such as the FEAST Gay & Lesbian Cultural Festival, and the 'Come Out' youth arts festival.
The Cosmopolitan Centre is a wide double-storey plaza. At the time of the project the facades around the metal tubing and floor-to-ceiling glass were painted classic post-modern pink. Barbour and Hart invited artists to show work, which was placed by the curators in subtle, and happy conjunctions. On the opening afternoon the shops were open so that visitors could go inside, otherwise the works were to be viewed through the glass, illuminated at night for the cinema patrons. Many artists made works especially for the project, some using the big panes of glass as a component of the work, others using the gloomier corners of the shops in similar fashion.
Some of my favourites (in no particular order) were: SallyAnn Rowland's 'studio' table covered with jars of paint-brushes, a telephone , glass and bottle of wine, ashtray and cigarette, etcetera, all the objects fixed to the ceiling with nylon line so that the whole thing appeared slightly suspended in space, or frozen in time; A.D.S. Donaldson's stripes of paint poured down the inside of a glass door like a gluey suburban flyscreen; Marco Fusinato's white-rimmed red posters in a row of windows- blankly declarative and mimicking the advertising (and For Lease) posters nearby; Shaun Kirby's hand-written note stating 'back in 5 minutes' in Dutch, taped inside the glass of the most dilapidated shop, with a pair of weird fluffy yellow shoes on a plinth like baby ducks; Craige Andrae's funny helium-filled balloon with eyes stuck on, and suspending by a string a hovering can of British ale; Hossein and Angela Valamanesh 's black-painted plaster casts of the insides of small -scale packaging (blister-packs for scissors, pencils) so that the objects looked as if they were relics made from solid carbon; Samantha Small's wicker chairs joined by toilet-like PVC pipes (just now they recall John Brack's window scenes of prosthetic devices); Mikala Dwyer's small canvas marked with cigarette burns like a home-made Yves Klein/Lucio Fontana, artfully installed above one of Peter Harding's doormats scorched in kerosene with feminine names as slang words for gay men (Mary, Nancy, Nellie). And there were many more good works, besides.
Barbour and Hart invoked Waiter Benjamin's arcades project in their catalogue notes, but I thought their project worked less as boulevardier nomadology and more as a socially political intervention into this particular part of the city. Even Kristian Burford 's dusty-black headless 'mannequin' on a chair (with hand-written price tags) was more of a weird charred ghost than an item of merchandise. It was as though these objects and 'things' were squatting in the spaces, all sharing the sociability that arises out of a non-violent street demonstration.
Local artist/writer/curator Michael Newall wrote in Broadsheet that had he put a work in Underbelly 'there'd have been no one left to review the show'. He means it as a joke, I think. But his comment points out the multi-skilling typical of artists in Adelaide at the moment. Writing, curating, and making work are interdependent activities for many artists here. And this leaves me in a strange position. My own work, a prefabricated Georgian-style suburban interior door-blank, was spray-painted with the word RIOT, a nod to American artists Robert Gober and Christopher Wool. The curators installed it leaning against the glass in a closed space with Nicholas Folland's portable wall-bracket-mounted TV turned to face the wall and projecting a flickering green light. It was a kind of tucked domestic drama. Peter Harding made a joke about my door, he said one of his doormats should have read TORI.