Preview: Notfair Melbourne, by Sophia Cai
WHAT DO YOU GET WHEN YOU cross an artist-run gallery, a commercial art fair, and a curated group exhibition? Something like Notfair, which purports to be all and none of these things at the same time. Founded seven years ago as a satellite event to the Melbourne Art Fair, Notfair has grown in size and scope since its inception. When Anna Pappas announced in early 2016 that the Melbourne Art Fair was to be no more, Notfair found itself in the curious position of no longer being a satellite event, but arguably one of the main attractions dished up alongside other ‘fringe’ art fairs. For its fifth iteration, from 11 to 19 November 2017, Notfair is showcasing even more artists in a larger context. This year also sees the return of the original founding directors Sam Leach, Ashley Crawford and Tony Lloyd to the position of curators. Under their vision, Notfair 2017 will be their most ambitious iteration to date, while still maintaining some of the ‘anarchic’ spirit that defined the original founding. The ethos behind Notfair has always been a focus on under-appreciated and under- represented artists, although what exactly that means has shifted over time. This year, for instance, includes artists who are commercially represented, such as Damien Shen of MARS Gallery, as well as senior artists perhaps facing a lull in their careers. While critics may question the selections, Notfair’s very premise is to challenge the traditional gatekeepers of the art world. Following on from the Melbourne Art Fair fallout in 2016, perhaps one should re-evaluate notions of success measured against expectations of commercial representation. A key aspect of this year’s exhibition is the space itself, which is a disused margarine factory in Windsor. Decisions have been made to retain particular factory parts and fittings, while in some cases there has simply been no option for their removal or re-fitting, and imaginative decisions have been made to make the space workable for the display of contemporary art. The property itself has already been bought by a developer, who is going to convert the prime location into luxury apartments. However, it is the very spectre of future development that has offered Notfair the opportunity for a free-to-use, unconventional venue space, albeit one with a limited lifespan. Before its demolition in December 2017, Notfair can do anything it likes with the space, which leaves ample room for experimentation. This includes an installation taking up an entire cottage-house by artist Robbie Rowlands, or an installation of dripping toffee over two floors, by Skye Kelly. Setting aside the irony of property development actually benefitting the arts short-term, the choice of location will also inform the works on display. In particular, it provides an intriguing setting for installation or sculptural works, as well as an unusual context for the display of video art. What used to be a former cool room will be converted into a video projection room for the artist Claire Anna Watson, whose work fittingly references food culture. The central aim of Notfair is to support artists. One of the most difficult challenges facing artists working at any stage of their career is financial pressure. Aside from paying tuition costs, studio rental fees and material costs, the model of the majority of artist-run spaces or commercial galleries is that either artists are expected to pay gallery rent, or the gallery takes a hefty commission. Art fairs also charge a hefty fee to galleries, which are in turn often passed down to the artists. The National Association for the Visual Arts’ recent campaign for ‘Fair Pay for Artists’ is well intentioned, but the reality is that the arts industry is still one that largely operates on free labour or ‘doing it for love’. Notfair operates within this spirit. Notfair takes a commission of 20 per cent to help cover overhead costs associated with
running the event, but otherwise everything else is done pro bono. The Notfair directors are working free of charge, as are the artists and event volunteers. By keeping overheads low with free rent and by minimising the financial expectations placed on exhibiting artists, Notfair enjoys a lot of freedom and independence in the way it operates. This independence is, however, necessarily regulated by the very networks in which Notfair operates. In a conscious bid to be less Melbourne-centric, the three Melbourne-based curators have reached out to artists and peers in the national industry for the artistic selection. In this way, while Notfair purports to bring attention to under-appreciated artists, it is still operating within the very structure it proposes to challenge. Network bias is inevitable in this instance, as perhaps with any sort of artistic endeavour that is built on personal relationships. That is not to say that there are not exciting things to encounter in Notfair. The inclusion of nearly 50 artists means that there is a great diversity represented in artform and thematic approach, and there is likely to be something here to whet anyone’s appetite. While last year’s Notfair had a loose curatorial theme, this year’s presentation is more artist-driven and -motivated. This more open-ended approach is also evident in the broader direction that Notfair is taking. No longer a satellite event, or an antithesis to more commercial offerings, Notfair is instead taking up the reins and defining itself in its own terms as a major cultural event. With the recent announcement of the return of the Melbourne Art Fair in 2018, it will be interesting to see how Notfair continues to define success for itself.
Notfair 11-19 November, 2017 12 James Street, Windsor, Vic www.notfair.com.au