An exciting new festival has burst onto the radar of Melbourne/Naarm, seemingly from nowhere, with vigour, force and astute consideration—qualities that echo the passionate furore that accompanies all projects undertaken by the festival’s founder and artistic director, Nina Sanadze.
Throughout Melbourne and Kyneton, Collective Polyphony Festival (CPF) celebrates and exhibits the work of artist collectives across seven exhibition spaces, founded on the central notion of artists supporting artists.
“In showcasing such expansive, globally based collectives, the festival centres diasporic voices, varying agendas and different models for co-working.”
The idea for the festival sprang from Sanadze’s own experiences of collective working, and her participation in ShrewD Collective, a group of five women artists. “The collective artists held my hand during times of difficulty,” says Sanadze, “offering unwavering support and guidance. ShrewD Collective provided me with the platform to showcase my debut work as I re-entered the artistic sphere after becoming a parent, reinforcing the idea that having a strong and supportive team can empower you.”
Recently Sanadze exhibited at Gertrude Glasshouse, sharing this opportunity with ShrewD Collective, exemplifying a mindset of co-creation and artist-to-artist support—counteractive to the competition and individualism that can be synonymous with the contemporary art world.
As Sanadze explains of the festival, “CPF developed from this initial gesture. I have been dreaming of big utopian complex ideas, yearning for a more compassionate world, and this festival concept seemed like a step in the right direction. It’s something I could orchestrate with limited resources, yet still achieve a significant impact by bringing the artist community together through kindness, care, mutual support, and the realisation of shared ideas.” In the spirit of collective support, many have given their time and skills to help bring the festival to fruition including photographer Astrid Mulder and curatorial assistants Georgina Loughnan, Thomas Stoddard, Mia Palmer-Verevis, Yuzhen Cheng and Xiaolin Chen.
“Each collective is approaching the task of presenting work together in different ways, through different mediums and forms.”
The line-up features 10 artist collectives exhibiting at seven sites, showcasing both artworks and collective models of working. There is the local Indigenous collective, Pitcha Making Fellas; an Indonesian conglomerate collective, Gudskul, which includes Ruangrupa (curators of Documenta); a local Philippine collective, Saluhan; the Chinese Museum Arts Collective; three collectives in the same gallery with a shared focus on various environmental topics; Collective Agitation; London Alternative Photography Collective; Seaweed Appreciation Society International; two feminist collectives exhibiting in close proximity: ShrewD and LAST Collective; and the culturally diverse In-kind Collective.
In showcasing such expansive, globally based collectives, the festival centres diasporic voices, varying agendas and different models for co-working. Some of the collectives have worked together for many years and others have freshly emerged. For Sanadze, “One of the important goals of this festival is to delve into the operational mechanics of a rich array of collectives, with the goal of comprehending these systems and extracting valuable insights. These could be inspirational contributions as models towards societal cohesion, interpersonal relationships and peacebuilding.”
Each collective is approaching the task of presenting work together in different ways, through different mediums and forms. The Indonesian collective GudSkul “is committed to principles, mechanisms, and the ‘lumbung’ value”. The collective states that they “are eager to explore avenues of regeneration, [with an] ethos of generosity to openly share wealth of knowledge and resources”. They are intrigued by collective practices within Australia and it is this curiosity, with a desire to dismantle individualistic models and learn from one another, that has propelled the festival forward.
“The title of the festival, coined by Sanadze, uses the word “polyphony” to reference our “capacity to create beauty as individuals while harmonising with others, much like choirs or orchestras”
Despite differences, there are many synergies between the collectives’ work and they all share a central attitude of joint responsibility and mutual support. The Pitcha Makin Fellas explain that they “are all different people with different stories to tell”. They work to break down generalisations about Blackfellas. “We are learning about our past as we go. We’re making for a better future for all of us now.”
The title of the festival, coined by Sanadze, uses the word “polyphony” to reference our “capacity to create beauty as individuals while harmonising with others, much like choirs or orchestras”. This is a metaphor for how a healthy artist collective works. Sandaze sees “the festival and each collective as potent forms of resistance, that can simultaneously create a nurturing ecosystem for artistic practices to thrive”. This festival will inspire a proliferation of artist collectives in the years to come.
ShrewD Collective at Gertrude Glasshouse (Collingwood)
LAST Collective at Mary Cherry (Collingwood)
8 September—7 October
The Chinese Museum Arts Collective at Testing Grounds (CBD)
9 September—30 September
Seaweed Appreciation Society international
Collective Agitation + London Alternative Photography Collective
at BLINDSIDE (CBD)
13 September—7 October
Saluhan Collective at SEVENTH Gallery (Richmond)
21 September—13 October
Pitcha Makin Fellas at Daine Singer (Brunswick)
23 September—28 October
Gudskul: Ruangrupa, Serrum and Grafis Huru Hara collectives at Testing Grounds (CBD)
30 September (One-day event)
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