Biennial Lab: a new market for public art

‘Public art can inspire and confound’. So says Natalie King, the Chief Curator of the City of Melbourne’s inaugural Public Art Melbourne Biennial Lab.

The inaugural Biennial Lab will bring 10 artists together, along with local, national and international public art experts, to work intensively on the development of ideas for temporary artworks in June.

The finished artworks will then be installed in the Queen Victoria Market precinct and unveiled during the Melbourne Festival in October.

‘It has been thrilling to take up the privilege of curating within the city itself’, said Natalie. ‘My role has been multifaceted, from selecting a site, orchestrating a conceptual framework, assembling a national and international curatorium and building an array of partners who will contribute to the program’.

A senior research fellow at Victorian College of the Arts at the University of Melbourne, Natalie’s past curatorial credits include numerous exhibitions in Australia and overseas, including TarraWarra Museum of Art in the Yarra Valley, Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo’s Metropolitan Museum of Photography, the National Museum of Art, Osaka, and the Singapore Art Museum.

She also distinguished herself as the Creative Associate for the 2014–15 program at MPavilion and has been appointed to the prestigious position of curator for the Australian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2017.

As a curator, Natalie sees it as her role to cajole and incite. ‘I try to provide artists with resources, both intellectual and monetary, to realise their dreams. Artists are the guardians of the imagination and their ideas are precious’.

She is also passionate about the role public art plays in the community. ‘It is important that artists occupy the public realm with ideas that provoke and contest our understanding of place and situations. Artists help us see the world through a different perspective’.

Arts and Culture portfolio Chair, Councillor Rohan Leppert, said the Biennial Lab is the centrepiece of Public Art Melbourne’s experimental program, which supports the development of artists.

‘For Melbourne to create great public art it needs skilled, confident and high-calibre artists working in the public realm. The Biennial Lab takes early mid-career artists who already have a proven track record, gives them time and space to work intensively with recognised experts and then helps them create the resulting artwork in the heart of the city for the enjoyment of the people of Melbourne’.

With a strong focus on experimentation, Biennial Lab is designed to complement and feed into Public Art Melbourne’s other main branch, known as Projects, which oversees the delivery of major public art commissions. These major commissions involve the careful and integrated planning of major larger-scale works of enduring quality with appropriate public sites.

Artworks that fall under the Projects umbrella are permanent and designed to enhance Melbourne’s public places. Enduring examples include the red granite Public Purse in Bourke Street and the giant white scrolls of the Great Petition near Parliament House. In coming months a new piece will be installed in Franklin Street to commemorate the first Aboriginal men to be executed in Melbourne, titled Standing by Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner, while public artworks will be commissioned alongside the upgrade of University Square in Carlton.

In contrast to the permanent artworks created, the Biennial Lab artworks will only be on show for a limited time. When they are unveiled in October, the finished artworks could last a day, or up to a year, encouraging the public to see them quickly before they disappear.

‘It is important that artists occupy the public realm with ideas that provoke and contest our understanding of place and situations. Artists help us see the world through a different perspective’.

This connection between the artwork and the public will be extended through various public events staged during the Lab’s workshop phase in June and again in tandem with the Melbourne Festival in October, ensuring the market will be a key destination for festival crowds.

‘Melbourne is a densely complex city inhabited by a plethora of communities. I am keen to ensure that multiple voices are audible during the Biennial Lab through active public programs including talks and tours’, said Natalie.

Titled ‘What happens now?’ after an anonymous paste-up program by New York artist Jenny Holzer, Natalie said the Biennial Lab will help us ‘to question where we are and imagine future possibilities’.

The community response to the Biennial Lab artworks will also help inform thinking about permanent art, which might be considered for the market when the renewal is complete, creating an enduring link between the Lab and the next phase in the market’s long history.

‘In addition to giving artists the freedom to imagine new possibilities in public art, the Melbourne Biennial Lab also encourages them to delve into the history of Queen Victoria Market, one of the city’s most popular gathering places since its establishment in 1878’, said Cr Leppert.

‘Melbourne is a leading creative city and there is no better place to launch the Melbourne Biennial Lab than the Queen Victoria Market, which is much-loved by Melburnians’.

For more information visit Public Art Melbourne.