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SafARI 2014

Get in at the ground floor of emerging Sydney art at the unofficial fringe to the 2014 Biennale. This instalment is splayed across six of Sydney's ARIs, spanning venues in Chippendale and Kings Cross, as well as one car park and two railway stations.
By Zacha Rosen
March 10, 2014
By Zacha Rosen
March 10, 2014

Alternative art fest SafARI takes over galleries around Sydney this month and will be laying out live art all through the remaining March weekends. It's a festival celebrating independent artists, as well as an important kind of art space that many of them hold dear: the ARI.

Sydney's art ecosystem runs from big galleries to smaller non-profit art institutions, past independent commercial galleries and through underground art spaces. Along its edge live Sydney's Artist Run Initiatives (ARIs) — one financial step below commercial, one legal step above underground. These are the focus of SafARI, the Biennale's unofficial fringe.

ARIs are galleries where the artists are in charge of managing the space, not just the art. That can mean less bureaucracy and quicker art-making. "The organisation can be more responsive to cultural trends as they happen, on the ground, so to speak.  They're grassroots, rhizomatic" " says SafARI co-curator Christiane Keys-Statham. And people tend get excited about these spaces. Why? "People probably get excited about them because they're awesome."

Freelance curator Keys-Statham has taken the helm of the festival for the first time this year, co-curating with Tony Albert studio manager and fellow SafARI first-timer, Liz Nowell. This has become SafARI's new normal: a fresh take at every festival.

For Keys-Statham, the artist-led passion at the festival was part of the appeal and Nowell leapt at the chance to get involved with Sydney's arts community "from the bottom up". But both were also drawn to the curatorially "DIY" nature of SafARI. "The entire festival is reimagined each edition." says Keys-Statham. Adds Nowell, "it's not often [that] you get to create something from scratch. Although SafARI has existed for 10 years, every festival is completely different from the last."

2014's revision is splayed across six of Sydney's ARIs, spanning space in Chippendale, Kings Cross, one car park and two railway stations, with March 14's opening night roaming most of the Chippendale contingent. Weekends, SafARI LIVE's performances include work from the likes of Brown Councillors Frances Barrett and Kelly Doley and Underbelly Arts star Beth Dillon. At the galleries, Paul Williams & Chris Dolman probe self-portraits, Gemma Messih & Ally Bisshop explore twilights, Nikki Lam scopes the classic sunbather and Victorian Platform stars ACAB Collective and Emma Hamilton bring their work up north.

Artcycle also plans a March 22 bike tour around SafARI LIVE and there'll be a who's who of ARI experts discussing the form and function of awesome art spaces Sunday March 16, at discussion day SafORUM. (Both are free, but bookings essential.)

Like so much ARI art treasure, it's fringe stuff. But it's not like it'll necessarily stay that way. Artists at SafARI 2014 could just as easily be Biennale artists of the future. (2014 SafARI performance artists Alexandra Clapham & Penelope Benton already have the curation of last year's Art Month under their belt.) According to Nowell, SafARI is a place to get in at the ground floor of emerging careers: "I liken it to watching a teenage Paul Kelly play to seven people in a smoky suburban pub — SafARI is all about discovering and celebrating the next wave."

SafARI exhibitions will be open Wednesday to Sunday, 12-6pm March 14 to April 4. Image: OK YEAH COOL GREAT, Untitled from EVERYDAY (2011)

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