Brunswick becomes an epicentre of art

A new project combines exhibitions at six spaces, including the Counihan Gallery.

Words: Mark Phillips
Photos: Aidan Halloran
Friday, May 7, 2021

Louise Paramor’s High Society series was created during the Melbourne lockdowns in 2020 and blends found object assemblage, and constructed honey-comb paper into human-like sculptures. Photo: Aidan Halloran


RT and artists are everywhere in Brunswick, it’s just a matter of knowing where to look for them. That’s the concept behind a new exhibition at Counihan Gallery and an accompanying mobile phone app.

The Space We Live, The Air We Breathe brings together seven artists who have gained national and international recognition while living and working within Moreland.

To coincide with the show, one of the first at Counihan Gallery since it reopened its doors, is a mobile phone app that showcases six galleries in Brunswick open to the public and reveals virtual artworks not available in the physical space.

Co-curators Jan Duffy and Matthew Perkins began work on The Space We Live, The Air We Breathe well before Covid-19 as a celebration of the talent and diversity of visual art in Brunswick.

As the curators say in their exhibition notes: “This exhibition explores the way people, histories and spaces intertwine, continually transforming one another. It celebrates the incredible artists and performers who live and work in Moreland. Their histories and the spaces they inhabit create a living, thinking and textured place that nourishes people through time and space.”

The Counihan Gallery itself celebrates the acclaimed artist and political activist, Noel Counihan, whose arrest in Phoenix Street in 1933 was a pivotal moment in the history of the free speech movement in Australia.

“There’s thousands of years of culture in the ground here but because it’s been a working class suburb we haven’t elevated the arts until recently,” said Duffy.

“But there’s just a staggering number of world-renowned artists living here in Moreland.

“You might bump shoulders with them in Aldi but there’s not much fanfare about them so it’s good to acknowledge them. It makes you feel great to be surrounded by so many really creative people and we wanted to celebrate what we have in our midst.”

Perkins said Brunswick was going through a visual arts boom for the same reasons it is one of the centres of Melbourne’s live music scene.

“Places like Fitzroy and St Kilda were popular some time ago but as they were gentrified and people moved in, rents got expensive so artists started to move further north to have accessible places to work. Space is important too and there is more of that available.

“I think if you googled Moreland, you would find it is among the highest density of artists per capita in Australia.”

Click on the image to see it full size.

Conceived in 2019, the show is finally seeing the light of day after it was postponed twice in 2020 because of Covid-19.

The show’s title was originally a reference to art being in “the space we live, the air we breathe”, but it took on a new and deeper meaning during the lockdown.

Featured artists are Naomi Eller, Raafat Ishak, Louise Paramor, Helga Groves, Taree Mackenzie, Steven Rendall and Leslie Eastman.

The show was originally planned for late-autumn in 2020, then postponed to December before it finally opened on April 17 in the newest of the Counihan’s three gallery spaces.

“Our original idea was to use the whole gallery and we had twice as many artists in the show, but then Covid struck and some people dropped out for various reasons, but also we couldn’t fit them all into the smaller space now,” Duffy said.

The featured artists work in a range of mediums, including projected light (Lesley Eastmen), video (Taree Mackenzie), oil on canvas (Raafat Ishak and Helga Groves), ceramic sculpture (Naomi Eller), found objects (Steven Rendall), and shapes constructed from colourful honeycomb paper (Louise Paramor).

The exhibition spills into the foyer, where one of the first works visitors will see by Lesley Eastmen is a deconstructed mobile phone whose parts are projected by light onto a round card below. Rendall is also displaying dozens of small sculptures composed of objects he has found on footpaths around Brunswick.

Some of the works on display were produced during the lockdown, although most pre-date Covid-19.

Perkins said it had been difficult for many artists to maintain their normal practice during the lockdown if their studio space was shared or not at the same location as their home.

A series of live events — including music performances, poetry readings and even a progressive dinner — had been planned to go along with the original show and while it was frustrating that the concept could not be delivered in full, both Duffy and Perkins say it is gratifying just to finally be able to go on show.

“It’s just a sense of relief in a way,” Perkins said.

Duffy says the day when the artists came into the gallery to install their works was emotional.

“They were hugging each other and saying how fantastic it was to be doing things together and to be in a gallery again.”

The Space We Live, The Air We Breathe is part of a larger project, Fertile Fields, which brings together current exhibitions at the six galleries that hug Sydney Road.

The Fertile Fields app contains hidden surprises throughout the art trail. Photo: Aidan Halloran

The five galleries — Neon Parc, Tinning Street Presents, Negative Press, TCB Art Inc, and Blak Dot Gallery — along with the Counihan are featured on the Fertile Fields augmented reality app that not only guides the audience through the streets of Brunswick to each of the galleries, but on their way reveals hidden virtual artworks that can only be seen through the use of the smart phone.

The app can be downloaded via the iPhone App Store or Google Play by searching for ‘Fertile Fields Contemporary Art Brunswick’.

The Space We Live, The Air We Breathe runs until May 30 at Counihan Gallery.

Want more stories like this? Click here to sign up to our mailing list to get the latest from Brunswick Voice delivered to you.