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5° & CLEAR SKY ON SATURDAY 20 JULY IN SYDNEY
By Natalie Freeland
January 29, 2016
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Le Petit Bateau

Wander into Bondi's backyard art space.
By Natalie Freeland
January 29, 2016
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There's a gallery in Sydney's eastern suburbs whose artists and curators never pack up and go home. They are home. Welcome to Le Petit Bateau, an eastern suburbs art community with a backyard that's a grown-up culture playground.

Without knowing the location of this little art haven, you could easily assume it was nestled in the streets of Kreuzberg in Berlin or Montmartre in Paris, rather than tucked away in the sunny streets of Bondi Beach. Just around the corner from the main road is a little sign welcoming you to Le Petit Bateau. Blink and you’ll miss it.

Le Petit Bateau celebrates local creatives, housing art, dance and cooking classes. Home to 25 people residing in six flats, it functions as both a communal living and art space. Anne-Sophie Ridelaire is the curator behind this venture. Six months after coming across the space in Sydney and settling into the life of the complex, she and her boyfriend, Gaetano Russo, decided to convert an old garage into a multipurpose art studio and gallery, open to everyone in the community who wants to view and participate in art, with an emphasis on combining the cultural and social.

“When I was in Paris, I was working for an art gallery, [and] my dream was to open a space like this where people can come and feel free to see the artwork,” she says. Everything you see is recycled, from the couches to the decorations — all bits and bobs collected from the street. Fitting in perfectly with the community's nautical name, an old boat donated by the Pyrmont Heritage Boating Club stands prominently at the entrance. “All this we found stuff on the street, so we don’t spend much," she says. "[We wanted] to show people that you can build something with nothing.”

Art being accessible is at the heart of Le Petit Bateau, evidenced by the open door policy. The classes, the jam sessions, the art — it’s all for free. Anne-Sophie sees it as important to overcome the dissonant idea that art is reserved for the upper classes. She sees Le Petit Bateau as an important opportunity to reach out to people through art and to encourage dialogue across cultures.

In keeping with that, the current exhibition is The Big Picture, an international photography exchange as part of the Month of Photography in Denver, Colorado. The Big Picture involves photographers from all around the world displaying their prints inside galleries and on the streets. Anne-Sophie has been working on this project for a year now. Along with five talented local photographers, she has recently returned from six weeks in Europe, in which she and her team pasted their photographs all around the streets of Lyon, Strasbourg, Rome, Sicily and Milan. Sydney is among many other cities participating in the project, alongside Perth, Paris, Vienna, Portland, Denver, Berlin, London, Mexico City and Buenos Aires.

“It is an exchange of culture through photography, and the idea is to go around cities and to pass these pictures along,” she says. Working with a gallery in Sicily, the team pasted a photo of a shark at the local fish market, which attracted a crowd of observers. “The fishermen were like, 'What is that? Is it a shark? Is it real?'” she recalls. “This kind of conversation starts, and this is exactly what the project is about.” At the moment, the photos are pasted around the gallery. Her next step is to post some of these attention-grabbing works around the streets of Sydney.

The success of Sydney’s Le Petit Bateau has inspired a similar projects in Anne-Sophie’s hometown of Lyon in France, as well as in Sicily in Italy. Despite that, she is not sure if the current Bondi Beach site will remain the home of Le Petit Bateau; she views its current form as a trial. Mindful that Bondi is a residential neighbourhood, she hopes to expand somewhere where there are fewer limitations.

Watching Le Petit Bateau inject a bit of Paris into the streets of Sydney has been very welcome. And it would appear that the admiration is mutual. “Sydney is a sharing place, and there’s so many different cultures in Sydney, it’s beautiful," she says. "It’s a cosmopolitan city, and it’s important to create connection between each culture, to not have gates.”

To keep up to date with all their events, check out their Facebook page.

Images: Bodhi Liggett.

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