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Collaborative Innovation: Underbelly Arts

Starting this Thursday, 100 of Sydney’s brightest musicians, installation artists, theatre and film-makers, puppeteers, publishers and aerialists will unite under one roof to create something truly and mutually inspired. The artistic experiment better known as Underbelly Arts will throw the creative process of emerging artists under the public viewfinder – and undoubtedly encourage them to develop work that will set the bar for colloborative innovation.

photo by Fabian Foo

Launched in 2007, one of the core facets of Underbelly Arts is entitled The Lab, where for 10 days, the public is welcome to mosey on in and gaze upon unconventional artists at work completely free of charge. The final showcase aims to provide a new understanding of motion sensors, magazines, movement and, well, art. For the festival’s creative director Imogen Semmler, the event is all about “bringing artists together in a mass residency and seeing what happens”, even if the final projects are “not necessarily all polished and finished”.

In its first year, Underbelly Arts (devoid of funding and driven solely by coffee, red bull and passion) featured more than 40 projects and was encouraged by Imogen’s attitude of “we’ve got the venue for free, so let’s use it”. The project took a year off to nab a well-deserved dose of funding and bravely embark on a new “sustainable” approach, and it’s now back and streamlined as a subtly subversive artistic venture.

photo by Prudence Upton

This year, the event attracted “artists in their first year of practice … [as well as] more experienced artists who wanted to push themselves in new directions, groups collaborating across mediums and cross disciplinary projects”. The decision to ditch any frustratingly rigid selection criteria has resulted in 26 challenging, audience-driven and utterly alluring projects. While all daring ventures defy convention (or at least question it a tad), liberate emotion and unleash Sydney’s arty side, it’s “works where people can participate” that excite Imogen the most. Groups like I Can Draw You A Picture and Applespiel “uniquely revolve around the audience deciding what will happen”.

Applespiel’s show motivates audiences to ponder subterfuge, ethical dilemmas and everything in-between, while I Can Draw You A Picture ambitiously aims to capture Underbelly’s collective consciousness in a live publishing installation that’s anything but ordinary. The event seems to have a penchant for diversity.

Nevertheless, Underbelly Arts is settling quite comfortably into its new home in the ever so inventive Chippendale with The Lab set to unfold at FraserStudios, an industrial building that has sneakily reemerged as a rehearsal space for artists that runs its own residence programs and workshops.

photo by Fabian Foo

Be around on July 10 for Lab Saturday, a celebration of The Lab’s halfway point, which will be filled with free talks and events at The Chare Hotel – Underbelly Art’s trusty watering hole. Lab shenanigans finally culminate on July 17 with The Festival, a ticketed exhibition event exploding across existing and pop-up spaces around the temporarily pedestrian-only Kensington Street.

Imogen is quick to point out that Sydney’s growing experimental and process-driven art scene owes a lot to new licensing laws: “Until quite recently licensing laws kept everything underground. There was always really great art but it was hard to find. This created a do-it-yourself ethos towards making art … [which] made the arts universally strong.” With current laws re-defining venues, hours and audiences, she insists “Sydney is a pretty cool place to be at the moment for independent arts”.

To catch the installations, films, sounds, performances and projections temporarily lurking in Chippendale’s hidden corners and almost forgotten side streets, you’ll need to snap up one of the extremely limited tickets. So buy pre-sale, get there early and prepare to make your arty mark in the most dadaesque way possible.

photo by Fabian Foo


words: Liz Schaffer

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