The paradox of the artist is that, while solitude is crucial to the development of creative works, the artist must throw open the doors to community reception and industry critique in order to facilitate that working solitude (via sales, funding or private commissions). Artist Run Initiatives (ARIs) such as Perth’s Paper Mountain are an attempt to reconcile that paradox.
Despite the negative cultural motif of ‘artist as social recluse’ (unruly, clothed in muck wear, conversationally awkward at gallery opening receptions), certain levels of creative freedom and enlightenment might only be obtained in isolation. US social critic James Baldwin posits this not just as a choice, but a prerequisite: “the artist must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid: the state of being alone.” Given the right circumstances, an artist could potentially work alone for weeks or months at a time, hermetically sealed in the studio, interacting with none but suppliers. Many artists strive to reach a point where exhibitions might be done away with altogether, to become the ultimate member of a “functionally lonely class”, as imagined by art theorist George Kubler: “more lonely than ever, the artist today is like Dedalus, the strange artificer of wonderful and frightening surprises for his immediate circle.”
However, as Grabner and Jacob note, “ever since Andy Warhol declared his art space a ‘factory’, artists have begun to envision themselves as the leaders of production teams, and their sense of what it means to be in the studio has altered.” Paper Mountain doesn’t have the illicit substance abuse problems that plagued the Factory (although a recent artist bake-off might attest to some sugar addictions), but with more than 35 creatives (painters, sculptors, illustrators, performance artists, poets and designers) working under its roof, it shares the team mentality and spontaneity of the '60s Chelsea residence.
After a year-long residency at Venn Gallery Studios, artist and Paper Mountain co-founder Amber Harries was alive to the benefits of active cultivation of artistic togetherness. “Being surrounded by like-minded people who shared their knowledge and ideas had an immense impact in furthering my practice, both conceptually and practically.” Harries sought the creation of a space “for collaboration and re-source sharing that was affordable and accessible” and opened Paper Mountain with fellow Perth artists Anna Dunnill, Stephen Genovese, Joanna Sulkowski and Renae Coles on the second floor of an inner city Northbridge building in late 2011.
The initiative encompasses a 64sqm gallery/project area and an open-plan studio space. The studios are delineated by partitions at the artists’ discretion – for some, all that separates them from their neighbouring artist is a chair or table. This is perhaps more deliberate feedback invitation than accident of interior design. For co-director Coles, whose practice spans performance, sculpture and installation (see her recent work with Proximity Festival and Spatula Collective), the alchemic nature of Paper Mountain provides an instant testing ground during project experimentation. “Everyone is really open, clever and insightful in their own way. It’s so great to be able to grab someone at any time of the day or night just to say, ‘hey what do you think of this?’ It’s a luxury really.”
Observing manifold different artistic processes is another highlight for the Paper Mountain residents (affectionately referred to as ‘Mountaineers’). Coles points to Rebecca Orchard as a Paper Mountain artist she’s drawn to. “Rebecca is currently looking at natural specimens in domestic spaces, extending the work she showed in Hatched at PICA in 2011. Her recent experiments are playful and utterly gorgeous, including powdery painted rocks and dreamy collages.”
With greater attention being paid to art spaces as public spaces, Paper Mountain occupies a unique role in Perth as a conduit for community co-operation and engagement with art through their programming and activities, which have thus far encompassed an open studio day, a publication launch, art marathons, and street festival involvement. Performances, workshops, and feedback sessions are on the horizon.
For Paper Mountain’s first exhibition, The Conservatorium, 80 artists each developed an artwork in a glass jar. Despite being enacted on a small material scale, The Conservatorium allowed for a giant confluence of emerging and established Perth artists, in a bid to encourage new artistic connections amongst the diverse Perth creative scene. Says Harries, “this pretty much sums up what Paper Mountain is all about.”
Paper Mountain are currently accepting proposals for July - December 2012, with a deadline of June 30. All proposal and info on the studio spaces can be found on their website papermountain.org.au/proposals.