Interview w Siying Zhou re: Art On Wheels

September is upon us, which means it’s almost time for Darwin Visual Art Association’s (DVAA) latest project, Art On Wheels, to take over the city’s residential suburbs. Project organiser Siying Zhou says the project is as much an artwork in itself as it is a campaign to introduce Darwin locals to the contemporary art being produced in Australia as well as encouraging the development of the local art scene.

The sense that Art On Wheels is an artwork in its own right is instantly understood, especially since the van that the project relies on to transport, herald and house pop-up exhibitions around town is virtually more art than vehicle anyway. Not only is the interior of the van completely bedecked in Australian contemporary art, but the exterior sides of the van double as a work by painter Lisa Wolfgramm, and beneath the van fellow local artist Tom Halliday plans to construct and install pixelated “shadows.” The immediate area around the van will also be used, quite literally tied to the vehicle via an ornate leather canopy fashioned by Talitha Kennedy. Popular local band Green Stone Garden will collaborate with Leanne Waterhouse for a one-off performance under this canopy.

Despite the myriad of art that envelopes it, the Art On Wheels project is a concept bigger than any simple sum of its artwork parts. It draws much inspiration from the seasonal influx of travellers’ vans and works to explore the social functions of this regular phenomenon. “During the dry season you see so many of those Wicked vans around in Darwin,” Zhou says. “There are lots of travelling nomads turning up in the beautiful, scenic areas of Darwin, and I think it’s a really big part of the city’s culture. We see the vans quite often and within that small space they manage to have a living space, a sleeping space and a cultural space. And, unlike other cities in Australia, Darwin is really set up for those people. Darwin provides this beautiful environment and culture to accommodate those travellers.”

Art On Wheels endeavours to encourage community engagement with contemporary art by following the example of the Kombis and campervans as community-soluble capsules of culture. “I work in a gallery space, and when people come to see a work they have to put in a lot of effort,” Zhou says of the limited ability galleries have attracting the wider public to exhibitions, and the lack of interest many in the greater Darwin community have in art. “They have to find a particular venue’s address, arrange their own time with their opening hours, make the time and make the trip to see the work. I feel like those efforts create a big distance between artworks and people, and do not cater for the lack of pre-knowledge in potential visitors.”

As well as mirroring this inadvertent tendency of travellers’ vans to inject culture into Darwin, the van further explores its potential by expecting to draw together the inspired parties it comes across in its travels. “The track of the van will start to create an art network,” Zhou proposes, adding that the Art On Wheels team has plans to extend this network beyond Darwin, hoping to eventually hit the highway and start building relationships with communities in the Territory’s more regional areas. “It depends on the car!” Zhou laughs. “It’s a really old car so I don’t think it can travel that far at the moment. But to go out to Katherine or even Alice Springs would be awesome. We’ll see how it goes.”

Art On Wheels has accelerated from the brainstorming phase last year funded by the Northern Territory Government’s arts grants program with this year’s successful application for an Australia Council for the Arts project grant. The project is currently gearing up for its program launch on August 31. “By then we will have confirmed the venues and which artist in which venue, and all that detailed information about what’s on with the event so people can follow the van,” Zhou promises. “But really we aim to create random reactions. We want art to become part of people’s everyday lives.”

Published at artsHub, Aug 23, 2012

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Hold on to your hats Darwin, art is busting its gallery shackles and hitting the suburban streets all this month as part of DVAA’s latest scheme: Art On Wheels. The plot involves ambushing hapless locals with art by way of the getaway vehicle – in this case a stripped-back and hulled-out second-hand van.

Art On Wheels aims to raise awareness in Darwin about contemporary Australian art currently being produced, and develop the local art scene. “This van will be a portable art container,” Art on Wheels co-organiser Siying Zhou says. “We can carry the art into the suburban areas in the van, and also the track of the van will start to make an art network out in these areas.”

The van will act as a pop-up gallery space for a few hours each day that it operates, targeting places popular with Darwin residents, including Mindil Beach Markets, the Casuarina Square Food Court, East Point and the Anula shops. The van, purchased by DVAA from a local tradie, will exhibit a wide variety of art not only on its interior walls but from nearly every conceivable angle, including on top, underneath and around the vehicle. The van will be easy to spot around town due to its colourful exterior – another artwork in itself, courtesy of esteemed local painter Lisa Wolfgramm.

Although DVAA will provide an Art On Wheels program with details on its exhibiting artists as well as the times, dates and places that the van will be appearing, the project has refrained from excessive marketing, preferring instead to maintain an element of surprise. “I don’t really want it to be a ‘special event’. It’s like a flash mob thing,” Zhou explains. “We hope to capture people’s responses directly from being there.”

Published in Off The Leash, September Issue, p26

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About aliceannebody

A writer opening her eyes and getting by in Darwin... Follow @alicebody
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