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Kandos hosts a post-industrial art revolution

Cementa_13 is a new biennial contemporary arts festival taking place for the first time in the post-industrial town of Kandos (population. 1300) in February.  Over 60 artists will exhibit video, performances, installation, sound, 2D and 3D artworks in venues and locations across the town.

RANSW spoke with one of the three festival directors, Alex Wissar, about this ambitious project.

What kind of festival is Cementa_13? Cementa_13 celebrates the state of contemporary art being made in Australia today. Its an attempt to assess what is happening here on the ground; coming out of the art schools, the ARI spaces and commercial galleries. Experiencing localised art scenes is a very different thing from walking into the MCA or The Art Gallery of NSW because you get more than just the art, you also experience the context in which it is made and in which it circulates. It is about showing work as it relates to the context of its making and its exhibition which is the opposite of the white cube paradigm.


What kinds of artworks will be exhibited? We have managed to bring nearly all the artists to Kandos on residencies and will be installing around 35 new art works. Many artists fell in love with the town and made work that celebrates this encounter.  There are oral history projects like Fiona Davies’s work which collects stories from people who received the ‘cuts’ (corporal punishment) when they were children. Georgina Pollard has collected stories from the cement works and is spinning them into a memorial with a local spinning circle.  Danial Kojta is taking the piss out of the festival’s attempt to use the town as material for its art, comparing it to the exploitative practices of mineral extraction in coal mining. Around the town, Liam Benson is spontaneously performing a song of the glossy black cockatoo. Mark Brown is performing his Metahorn using a range of sounds he has collected from disused industrial sites in the area and Zio Ledeux is displaying photographs of Kandos residents dressed as Andy Warhol. A number of amazing works will create encounters of their own; Joyce Hinterding and David Haines’ haunting 3D environment, Monocline should provide a rare source of fascination and The Spectral Committee will provide an augmented reality experience using the town clock and GPS on smartphones to summon audio “from the other side”.


You have said, that along with contemporary art, Cementa_13 ‘is also a festival about the town that is hosting it: Kandos.’ How have Kandos locals received the project? This is a difficult question to answer, even for ourselves, because it presupposes that one can describe ‘Kandos locals’ as a unified and homogeneous community with a single opinion about the coming festival.  It also supposes that everyone has come up and told us exactly what they think.  We received enthusiastic support from an active group of people who think that an art event of this nature could make a contribution to the life of Kandos.  We are assuming there must be another group of people out there, though we haven’t really heard from them, who think that this is what the end of days must look like.  The vast majority of locals have offered us a reserved, but warm, welcome.  This is a very generous attitude, giving us a go like this, an opportunity to present ourselves before coming to any conclusion about what we are doing.


How have you worked to involve the town in the process? The local bush poets will be a dominant force at our poetry night and we’ve got an entire salon style exhibition of local painters. The support from the town in terms of the contribution of venues, ideas, connection and guidance in understanding the community has been huge. It was hard won and is not yet developed to a sufficient degree. We would love to see better involvement of local youth and more depth of engagement in terms of longer term projects but all that requires trust which we can only develop over time.


Was there an existing art scene in Kandos before Cementa_13? I feel under-qualified to describe the art scene in Kandos/Rylstone before we got here. I know there has been a strong arts community but there are also artists who did not identify with it. We are hoping to bring a perspective or even just a conversation that will expand the context in which they make art. In the country, while there are excellent artists here, distance and isolation make it difficult to come together as a ‘scene’. Cementa might just be an opportunity to permit that. We look forward to developing relationships with regional artists and including more of their work in future festivals.


How many artists are taking part overall and where are the participating artists from?  We have over 60 participants. The majority come from Sydney but we have a good number of local artists. It (the festival) was just an idea we took to our friends who happened to be from Sydney.  We are happy to have found some very solid artists in the area and are very proud to have their work.


How has social media helped, hindered and contributed to the Cementa_13 project? Prior to Facebook you had to go out and poster telephone poles with your message.  It has been helpful in getting the word out there but things are changing. The new paid promotion paradigm they are introducing will have an impact. I paid for an ad for 10 days with great results (results I used to get for free) but when I took it off you couldn’t even find our Facebook event by searching the exact name of it. They are constraining what we see of each other in order to create demand, which is actually quite scary. I am very happy with our blog which, in all its dagginess, has communicated for me the imperfect, haphazard, lived quality of this unreasonable adventure.

$60,000 in funding is quite an achievement. How is this money going to be used? Over two thirds is going to pay the artists.  This is an unheard of outcome because artists usually have to pay in start-up endeavours like this one.  Funding the project is a strong statement by ArtsNSW that the work that artists do is valued and that they should be paid accordingly.  We have gone to great lengths to spend the money in the region.  We are aware that its nature as a regional project played into our getting the grant.


How did Orana Arts assist you? Orana Arts was very helpful in preparing the grant and Alicia Leggett was especially encouraging.  Having her on board was confirmation that what we were doing was possible.  She was helpful in guiding the grant writing process,  especially regarding the budget.  Orana was helpful in connecting us to people in the area like Mudgee Tourism and our wine sponsor, Robert Stein, as well as local arts organisers like Virginia Handmer.  Orana’s is staging Creative X-change and a children’s workshop at the festival, and are handling all of our budget.  To mount a project of this scale without the support from Orana, it would have been difficult to see it coming together.


What kind of turnout do you hope to attract? We are hoping for 3-400 people at least but we can’t really tell.  We have had ‘what if’ conversations about getting crowd of 1-2000.


Now that the wheels are in motion, what do you hope could Cementa_13 become in the future? What I’m most excited about for 2015 is that we will have two years to develop the festival. There were artists who could not participate in this festival and we have offered them places in the next with support towards developing long-term projects or major works. Like everything that is at its beginning, we are working with hypotheses and the first festival has been a mad dash to get them out into the world to see what they might look like. We will have to make serious decisions after February. I might not know what it will look like but I am excited by the prospect of it.



Friday, February 1 – Monday, February 4, 2013

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Interview by Estelle Pigot