State of Alaska

Jai McKenzie

Alaska Projects 'Empty Gestures'  Open night

Brian Fuata, Empty Gesture (installation view), (2012). Photo: Heidi Pultar


Jai McKenzie: What is the significance of the name Alaska Projects?

Sebastian Goldspink: It came from my love of the Velvet Underground song Stephanie Says (1968). In the song her friends describe the title character as ‘Alaska’ because she is so cold and distant. I liked that idea of the space being beautiful but cold and distant like some Warholian ice queen. Geography is interesting. The space sits in the basement of a car park in the most densely populated neighbourhood in the country, yet it feels removed from the neon strip of Kings Cross. It is simultaneously close but distant. We were also aware that we weren’t opening a shop front and that in order for people to visit Alaska they had to seek us out and make a journey to come see us.

JM: Less than a year ago Alaska Projects launched with Lorem Ipsum, what did you set out to do with that first show?
SG: The first show was really about this idea of announcing the space and saying this is what the space will look and feel like, but not necessarily what it is. This is where the title of the show Lorem Ipsum came from, the idea of placeholder text. The first show was designed as a sketch. A sampler of a possible future. We were saying, in effect, that we hadn’t made our minds up about the direction of the space and that we were open to possibility. We were also aware that this first show would form the basis for the first year’s programming with most of the artist involved re-exhibiting or doing solo shows at Alaska over the following 12 months.

JM: Lorem Ipsum was really surprising; it took the normal, everyday experience of parking a car and transformed it. By doing so it changed people’s perceptions and expectations of that space. Does this element of surprise appeal to you?
SG: When we opened it was very important. That sense of the unexpected. Having said that, we knew that you could only play that trick once. After that you can’t really rely on saying, ‘Yes… and it’s in a car park!’. The solution is to keep evolving the space in interesting and transformative ways. Similarly with programming, keeping it fresh, interesting and diverse.

JM: At Alaska I’m often drawn to the works that actively engage with the physical aspects of the gallery. Is this something you have in mind when selecting artists and work for each show?
SG: Not specifically, we have always selected artists based on admiration of their work. I think a natural bi-product of showing at Alaska is that artists often tend to develop site specific or responsive work. I think this is because it’s a really fascinating environment. A dingy dark car park in Kings Cross with a questionable history and an art space with a tiny 5×5 m room. Everything is going to be informed by the environment. In the same way, the project space is so small that all works within it are forced to ‘talk’. Everything becomes an installation of sorts.

JM: Why does Alaska Projects only use disused spaces and what do you think they allow the artist or exhibition to achieve?
SG: I think disused space is all about access. It’s accessible. We can’t afford to rent beautiful warehouses with polished concrete floors so we improvise. For artists it is also about access. Alaska is a space where artists are free to experiment and deliver exhibitions without commercial or aesthetic expectations. Alaska is a project space. A place where experimentation is encouraged. There is also something amazing about creating a space where once there was nothing. Our space had been disused for years and when you think about how hard it is for artists in Sydney to access studio spaces or exhibition spaces it’s incredibly satisfying to create one out of nothing.

JM: What was your initial desire for repurposing disused spaces around Sydney for artistic activity? And what do feel this activity offers the broader community who might happen upon these exhibitions while, say, parking their car?
SG: Given how hard it is for artists to access space, disused space is particularly frustrating. It sits there and is ripe for activation. In the case of our car park space, it is a really interesting interaction. We are open late on Thursday and Friday nights by design so that we catch people parking their cars for a big night out in Kings Cross. People park their cars and come over to the space and wonder what the hell we are doing and end up checking out the show and having a chat. We love being here on those nights.

Art Gallery, Event

Ben Terakes, The Bright End of the World (installation view), (2012). Photo: Heidi Pultar


JM: By bringing otherwise unused spaces to artists it allows them to work directly within the city space. Recently, safARI curated their biannual exhibition in this way. What was Alaska Projects involvement with safARI?
SG: We were approached by the curators of safARI to use the space, which we were very excited about. I think that the physical nature of the Alaska space reflected some of their curatorial interests around space. We were lucky enough to get to show the works of Dara Gill, Drew Pettifer and Chris Bennie. It was great to have a mix of local and interstate artists on show.

JM: Do you see these projects as small encounters confined to certain spaces, or perhaps part of a larger ethos that should continue throughout the city?
SG: We are up for anything, truly. Through the process of establishing Alaska we have had a lot of opportunities come our way. We are really interested in collaborating on interesting projects just helping other artists activate disused space. We’ve recently been the subject of a few case studies so we would be super proud if the Alaska model served as an inspiration to other people in Sydney or beyond.

JM: What plans do you have for the future of Alaska Projects?
SG: We have our first touring show in December at the Good Children gallery in New Orleans. Beyond that, looking forward to our second year of programming and developing tours to Berlin, Tokyo and Melbourne. We would also dearly love to open some more spaces with a focus on taking over disused retail spaces.
We just love what we do and want to keep getting better at it.

Jai McKenzie is an artist, writer and educator based in Berlin. Her practice is preoccupied with creating experiences and artistic processes that determine new models...


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