The twelfth Runway Journal x All Conference Conversation comes from the disorganising project, a joint program initiated by current All Conference members Liquid Architecture, West Space and Bus Projects. disorganising was an expansive, collaborative project conducted over the course of 2021, in which the three organisations looked to experiment with divergent ways of organising and creating. Throughout the project, members from each organisation undertook a series of conversations with self-organised initiatives and individuals based in Australia and overseas. This conversation with Tian Zhang, Rebecca Gallo and Amy Toma from Pari is a part of that series.
Lana Nguyen: Thanks for joining us today, Pari.
Tian Zhang: Well, there was no independent contemporary gallery space in Parramatta, and also no artist-run spaces pretty much in the whole of Western Sydney. It was quite shocking actually, when I realised that, because Western Sydney is such a vast area and there are so many artists that come out of this geographic space. It's also quite dominated by council-run galleries, which certainly have their place within the ecosystem, but there were no independent spaces between the inner west and the Blue Mountains at that point.
Rebecca Gallo: We're motivated by wanting to have a grassroots, community-focused space in this area. And one of the key things was that we wanted to be able to pay artists. I guess we were always looking towards funding to be able to provide that support to artists, in order not to exclude people based on their being able to afford to exhibit. After a very long period of negotiating with council, we managed to rent, with a rental subsidy, a space that's supported by council. So from the start, we were aiming quite big. And so we became an incorporated association to apply for that funding, in order to get a lease. So we were having to organise at quite a high level before we even started, because we wanted to be accessible and didn’t want to be reliant on artists to fund us.
Tian: The point of creating the space from the outset was to support particular types of artists that weren't receiving enough support. We didn't want to have finances be a barrier.
“When people join Pari, in whatever capacity, there’s always room to be involved with more. We’re organised in a way that there's no hierarchy. There's always room for growth and improvement, bringing people up to different roles and fostering everyone's individual interests and the skills they would like to work on.
Amy Toma: People have come and gone depending on how their individual careers have gone and their availability. I found that Pari’s a pretty accommodating space in terms of people's growth. When people join Pari, in whatever capacity, there’s always room to be involved with more. We’re organised in a way that there's no hierarchy. There's always room for growth and improvement, bringing people up to different roles and fostering everyone's individual interests and the skills they would like to work on.
Rebecca: The hierarchy thing’s funny right? Like I'm aware that’s something we definitely want to operate without, but then obviously there are levels of experience and knowledge of the organisation. We're constantly working through these things.
Tian: It's a tension that we're really aware of. While there's no official hierarchy, certainly some of us have been working in Pari for longer, but have also been working in the arts for longer. So we're always conscious of that, and of sharing knowledge to make sure that it benefits everyone. And also acknowledging that people who are younger have a lot of knowledge and skills that we learn from as well.
Rebecca: And having to be an incorporated association means there are these official roles. You have to have a chair, you have to have a treasurer. So there are these internal contradictions that we're constantly talking about and thinking through together. And one of the things that we're still thinking through is to be able to pay ourselves to do what we do here, so that it's sustainable. But we didn't want to create one managing role because then it becomes this imbalance of who has knowledge and who has autonomy within the organisation.
Rebecca: We're still in the pilot phase of a system that we call Honeypot.
Amy: It was previously known as ‘Pari Tasker’ [after Airtasker].
Tian: It's like our own internal payment system where there's the ‘honeypot’, which is a pot of money that is allocated to co-directors performing work, doing certain tasks or roles for Pari. At the moment we're trialling the system where all co-directors are logging their hours, and we’re essentially reimbursing those hours at the same rate for everyone. So regardless of what the task is, everyone's time is valued the same.
“So now that we've made all these decisions in order to exist, how do we exist within all of these structures in a way that feels radical? I don't think that there's room within those structures to be super radical personally, but how can we do things in a way that feels different to what we've seen that we know doesn't work, and that aligns with our values?
Amy Toma is a graphic designer living and working on unceded Darug land. She is also a co-director of Pari, an artist-run space in Parramatta where people and communities come together to talk, think, learn and do. Her ever-evolving practice is focused on building community and finding ways to inspire and delight. Her other hobbies include making collaborative playlists and buying books she will never read.
Rebecca Gallo is an artist, writer and organiser based in Sydney. A former artist in residence at Parramatta Artists’ Studios, founding co-director of Pari and member of the artist duo Make or Break, Gallo divides their time between a range of creative and collaborative projects. As both a solo artist and with Make or Break, Gallo has exhibited in artist-run, institutional and commercial spaces, including at the Yokohama Museum of Art (2020), Artspace (2019), Campbelltown Arts Centre (2019) and Firstdraft (2015). Festivals include Cementa, Next Wave and Kyneton Contemporary Art Triennial. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Art from the National Art School and a Master of Art from UNSW Art & Design. Walking, collecting junk and having slow conversations are possibly the most important parts of their life and work.
Based on Dharug Country in western Sydney, Tian Zhang is a curator, facilitator, writer and collaborative artist working at the intersections of art, cultural practice and social change. Her practice is underscored by conversation, criticality, solidarity and joy. Most recently, Tian was a co-facilitator of Gudskul's collective studies program at documenta fifteen — living, cooking, eating, cleaning and conversing inside the Fridericianum museum for 50 days. Her text 'A manifesto for radical care or how to be a human in the arts' was published online by Sydney Review of Books, with subsequent print editions through documenta fifteen’s Lumbung Press and Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Canada. Tian is a founding co-director of Pari and part of the Artistic Directorate of Next Wave. She is currently a board member of Utp.
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