Upstairs at the Annandale Hotel,
17 Parramatta Rd, Annandale, Sydney
Sydney is currently swathed in artist run spaces and ecologically concerned art. The Museum of Contemporary Art’s latest show, In the Balance — Art for a Changing World, is just one of a range of recent exhibitions that explore climate change and community involvement in solutions.
It’s in this context that artRiot has emerged. artRiot is a new art collective comprised of Sydney and Newcastle artists whose mandate is to combine art and activism.
The inaugural artRiot show, which is part of the Sydney Fringe Festival, features 13 multidisciplinary artists who have used their talents to highlight and prompt action on a range of issues — from environmental devastation induced by capitalist industry, to mandatory detention of asylum seekers and the seemingly unstoppable culture of consumerism.
The show’s opening evening couldn’t have been further removed from that of your usual commercial gallery. Forget the art “scene” with its hundreds of heavy-lidded, wine-sipping, skinny jean-clad hipsters — the rallying atmosphere of artRiot was designed to engage and involve audiences.
The Climate Marching Band opened the evening with a raucous rendition of “Born to be Wild”, followed by The Lurkers’ acoustic foot-stomping, trouble-making brand of gyspy folk.
Australia’s dependence on coal was a recurring theme in many of the works. Conor Ashleigh’s beautifully composed photographs document climate change activism in Newcastle with an emotional rawness and honesty, and a strong sense of a narrative.
Other artists chose to express values of sustainability and respect for nature through materiality. For instance, Fern York’s prints used post-consumer waste recycled paper and vegetable inks.
Erland Howden’s colour photographs on canvas exposed the impact of Canadian mining company Barrick Gold in Papua New Guinea.
Rawboned locals — many of whom are children — are dwarfed by industrial waste as they pan for gold, scrounging for a livelihood from the discards of rich foreign corporations.
Frances Howe’s hand-drawn, highly linear comics are an unaffected and accessible look at the artists’ “experiences of trying to create social change”. Her zine shows how handmade, grassroots DIY publications can communicate subversive ideas in a way that excites and captivates.
Though many in the art world will doubtless find this overtly political art sloganistic and simplistic, it is rare to see such a humble, engaging show that aims to be relevant outside the art world.
For more information, suss out artriot.org.au.