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.not­



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