Sydney Laneways Art Program 2010


The Council of the City of Sydney

Collaboration: Melika Aljukic, Simon Maidment (Satellite Art Projects, National Gallery of Victoria), Annie Walsh, Janet Chappell (NSW Urban Growth) and artists commissioned for the second stage. 

Sydney Laneways – concept and program overview

The last fifteen or so years have seen a marked shift in the thinking around the civic use and expectation of the urban centres of Australia’s capital cities, a shift that seems to be accelerating along with the population. This rapid growth conicides with increasing sensitivity towards environmental consequence, and a wide sense of unease about how change will manifest. The same fifteen years in contemporary art practice have also been marked by a shift, largely in the way art works engage with the viewer, and in the social context of their presentation.

These days there are a number of practitioners who pursue ways of questioning our world by imbedding their work within the social fabric, and often creating work about the social, and with the ‘public’[i]. At the same time the notion long held by almost all artists, writers and creative practitioners that they were working towards a progressive social future, has come to an end[ii]. This shared project and projected future has been stymied and perverted, in part by the impact of neo-liberalism, the individualisation of identity, and the fragmentation and explosion of community from geography in the information age.

This program would take this context as its point of departure, in order to question and propose new social structures and engagement for the contemporary, and future, urban centre, a program that considers both the process and outcome of this public space being converted into a space that has a societal function.[iii]

Within the over-developed laneways of Sydney the program will incorporate installations in the public sphere, street level performance, and shared umbrella components. The umbrella program will include a discursive program of forums and workshops and screening program, taking place in a temporary structure that will act as a ‘Visitors Centre’ during the opening week and during the Sydney Festival, a publication as a platform for further engagement by artists, architects, philosophers with the concepts raised by the theme, and a temporary artist-in-residence space, imagined as hovering above a laneway situated on gantries, converting the site into one of production, as well as presentation.

As a starting point, the artists will be asked to construct a number of social ‘organs’ that are missing from the pedestrian aspect of the Laneways specifically and the central city more broadly. These will fluctiate between the propositional and the functional, and may include: a market garden/farm, a playground, urban ‘lawn’ bowls, a creche, a tiered/elevated/vertical park.

Three commissioned performances will lead an audience through the laneways, incorporating the other projects and installations as the stage, and touch on social norms and public behavior.

Many of these projects will destabilize our low expectations for the public realm, shift inactive ‘public’ space into an active ‘social’ space, and challenge assumptions of how public space should and can be used. The discursive program and publication will encourage the discussion around, and perhaps development of, a new, shared, progressive social project.



[i] Claire Bishop’s excellent, though contentious, essay in Artforum, ‘The Social Turn: Collaboration and its Discontents’, charts this shift well, describing it as ‘the recent surge in artistic interest in collectivity, collaboration and direct engagement with specific social constituencies’. Claire Bishop, ‘The Social Turn: Collaboration and its Discontents’ in Artforum, February 2006: 179-185; Grant Kester’s response to Bishop and Bishop’s response to Kester, in Artforum, May 2006.

[ii] This well articulated by Anton Vidokle, when discussing future plans for e-flux. Email conversation between Hans Ulrich Obrist, Anton Vidokle, and Julieta Aranda, July 2006, published as Ever. Ever. Ever. in ‘The Best Surprise Is No Surprise’, JRP|Ringier press, 2007.

[iii] This continues Satellite’s approach to cultural placemaking, concerned with the effectiveness by which a community is formed from of a group of people, by those people using, rather than passing through, spaces, and specifically by using those spaces to engage with one another.