In December last year, I had the privilege and delight of hearing form some young artists applying for an Artslab residency, their dreams and visions of their art. It is one of those deeply awe-inspiring positions that I have found myself in, reading, responding and investigating an artists work, before it has even begun to materialise.

Its a terrifying prospect for most – talking confidently and clearly about hypothetical art.

And for me, an exhilarating experience to listen to artists as they attempt to articulate their practice. And it’s tough. Because sometimes applicants say what they think you want to hear. And sometimes a well placed “I don’t know” means much more than an ill-placed “I am certain of this…”

The Artslab Residency is a 6 month residency for emerging artists (under 25 years of age) to explore an idea for a show. For me it is one of the things that Shopfront does best – asks artists to think about what they want to do/say/discover/experiment with… and then facilitate them on that journey. This is, as far as I’m concerned the best way to develop artists. Whilst many courses may facilitate skill-based training, and some residencies leave artists completely alone (to perhaps descend into perhaps disappearing into themselves), Shopfront is artist lead and guides curiosity and pushes artists to risk more, think more, say more.

This showing is a midway point for the artists – an opportunity to air ideas or fragments – set deadlines, engage with audiences, ask questions and have questions asked of them. At the end of the year (and residency) there will be a showing of the final(ish) works. This midway point is traditionally rough, ready and may unlock, uncover a new direction or reassure and affirm the artistic enquiry of the artist. What ever it is – the showing is a great opportunity to air ideas.

I won’t linger too much on my response to the work – as I think I said all I needed to say to the artists – but I will give a small summary of the enquiry.

Lucy Watson – Paper Moons
A window, the moon, light, letters, pinatas, pianos, masks, a puppet, a persona. Watson’s enquiry centres around the idea that our experience of the world fluctuates between creation and destruction and attempts to examine the affect stories (and modes of storytelling) have on us. There is a huge pattern of thinking behind Watson’s work – and she draws on centuries of stagecraft and style in an attempt to attract us to the idea of failure, guilt and destruction. At times naive, at times curious – the narrative of WHAT was being said seemed less important than the HOW of it being explored. Big ideas. Lots of ideas. Lots of beginnings. Lots of concepts and images…

Bernice Ong -Takers
We, the audience is herded into a waiting room. A woman enters, eats some chips. There’s a TV on. Some magazines on a table.
Live performance. Digital recordings. Recorded sound, live sound. Audience. Performer. Expectation, satisfaction. We have permission to watch yet something feels dangerous. it’s us. It’s our fear of confrontation. We are waiting for something – and are we ready for it when it comes?

Rachel Roberts – This is a Birthday Project
Sneaky through the window peering into a world of lanterns and birthday cards and garlands of multicoloured fun – Roberts is beautiful in her dress. Its a party. She vomits something out the window. Only some are invited in. There’s an awkward moment. Blank faced we are told to leave. the presents are left unwrapped. What is social horror? What is social expectation of when manners dissolve due to the hideous, awful truth that birthday parties just aren’t that much fun.

Rachel Weiner – Movement (Flesh/Body x Surface x Texture) + Light + Sound = Untitled Rred
Flesh in space, hard surfaces. Red shoes and a length of carpet. There is something formal and regal in Weiner as her body folds and arcs under light. There is something very scientific about this piece – the mathematical equation of what art/movement/spectacle could be. The result is strangely cold and formal. We are after all, up close and personal with a dancer (usually held aloft on stages in tu-tus) and now we are watching with critical cold eye. I yearn to find the heat or warmth in her.

Erica Brennan -Dythirambic
A mythical woman listens to water in search of a story. Soon she is joined by a tiny, jolly mushroom… trapped and frightened by the audience – her privacy is shattered and before too long an escape is futile. Instead she confesses love or an intensity towards a lover (in the form of a larger mushroom) that seems like love. It feels brave and confessional and classical – but more than that, it seems real. And seeming real is sometimes more potent than reality itself.

Turning on the audience. Moxom turns on us. Turns us on. He turns on us by asking us to be the performer. some are given headsets. The headsets are turned on. (Thank you.) Moxom is a master puppeteer of flesh and mind as he makes direct request for action – the rest of the audience watches. I find myself kissing a stranger. jogging on teh spot. Drawing lines in chalk. Wearing a leather jacket. Trying to find my lover. I’m watching my fellow performers “will I do that soon?” I ask. Moxom instructs me. I willingly surrender. He thanks me. Examing permission and collision and emotion – actions are driving the performers. The audience making meaning when they can, if they want to . Are we free agents? What is the value of free will? Is there anything but synchronicity?

All interesting. All different. All unique. All fascinating. All in different stages of development of the ideas, images, questions…

The important thing to remember in the creation of a work – is that there is often no-end to the creative process (a horrible realization when dealing with a transient art form) – and the audience defines a performance as a performance. The artists are now probably trying not to think about their work- next up they are involved in the creation of Machine Atlas (Shopfront’s major project) and will revisit and refine their ideas when they are creatively topped up.

And I can’t wait to see more.

More about the ARTSLAB program can be found here.