Artist as leader
1 November 2011, Performance Space, Sydney. Recording Time: 52 minutes.
As part of Joshua Sofaer’s Artist as Leader research, 3 members of Melbourne based artists’ collective Field Theory discuss cultural leadership in relation to what they do: “In terms of what being a leader in this field [of live art] means, there is no precedent; we have to forge a path.”
Listen to interview
Joshua Sofaer in conversation with Jason Maling, Sarah Rodigari and Martyn Coutts (3 of the 8 founder members of the Field Theory collective)
About Field Theory
Field Theory is a Melbourne based artists’ collaborative of 8 that came together in 2010 as “an informal experiment”, initially with the intention to form a discussion group. Their work extends from visual art to performance and is sometimes considered under the umbrella term ‘live art’. It quickly established an alternative model for funding. Subscribers pay AU$100 per year to affiliate and support the organisation. In exchange they are sent “gifts” of limitededition artworks that are made exclusively for members by supported artists.
Field Theory has supported 8 artist projects in its first two years. In each year, 2 of the supported projects have been proposed and authored by core founder members and 2 have been external projects loosely curated by Field Theory.
In the first year, the subscription was opened to 222 members. An upper limit was set in order to establish a community and to keep the administrative burden manageable. There are no formal roles within the collective. Those that are able to be present take decisions at weekly meetings. Although individual members of the collective have worked together as artists, the group has not worked as an entire collective on a single art project.
At the time of the interview Field Theory were conducting a cultural leadership initiative supported by the Australia Council (the main public arts funding body in Australia). One of a series of grants offered to promote and explore the idea of cultural leadership, Field Theory’s grant, in association with Performance Space, saw them working on a programme of activity in Sydney. Each member of the collective was responsible for mounting an event or excursion that tackled a particular issue relating to leadership and live art. In tandem, Field Theory conducted a series of meetings with key cultural leaders in Sydney (from the park authority to social inclusion workers), to try and promulgate the kind of work they wanted to see happen in the city.
In this discussion 3 of the 8 members of the collective talk about the genesis of the organisation, how it runs, and how they understand the way the issue of cultural leadership operates in relation to what they are doing.
Joshua Sofaer's observations and comments
The premise for the creation of Field Theory is to “support work that could otherwise not happen”. The imperative is one of action and change. Although members found it difficult to identify themselves as leaders, they could easily understand and label their fellow members as leaders. “I see you guys as leaders”, Sarah Rodigari said, “but I don’t know if I see myself as a leader”.
The founder members of Field Theory acknowledged that being in receipt of the Australia Council leadership initiative grant necessarily positioned them as cultural leaders in some respect. They saw it as part of their role to investigate what that might mean. “In terms of what being a leader in this field [of live art] means, there is no precedent; we have to forge a path.” So to some extent the kind of leadership that Field Theory are exercising is determining what leadership actually is in the context of their art practice.
Their investigation meant a “constant questioning” of the terms of leadership but also, the very terms of live art itself. In this way, the ‘exercising of leadership’ became part of their interrogative art practice in and of itself. As was acknowledged towards the end of the interview, Field Theory have felt a bit uneasy about the way in which they have been “led to be leaders” (by the circumstances of the cultural leadership initiative) and this has forced them to try and untangle how the language of leadership might signify for them and their peers. As Martyn Coutts said, “A leader doesn’t need to be on the top of the hill sending the troops to battle.” Rather, they have begun to understand leadership as a kind of interrogative practice that is about shifting opinion and creating change.
Outside of the interview, Sarah Rodigari said to me that one of the main goals of their series of meetings in Sydney with key gatekeepers, was to “saturate and embed the term ‘live art’ in the city to such an extent that we can all just get on with our work”. This model of enabling, both for themselves and their peers, seemed to me a clear demonstration of leadership for the sector.
Joshua Sofaer is an artist based in London.
First published: a-n.co.uk January 2013
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