I can officially name Franklin Street as one of the most underrated streets in Melbourne thanks to my afternoon spent at contemporary art gallery Dark Horse Experiment.
Despite a childhood centred around the Victoria Market and a residential stint in nearby West Melbourne, I felt positively bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed to discover such hidden worlds behind the inner-city facades.
Involving a wider audience with contemporary art practices is what Dark Horse Experiments does best.
They do so by starting with the very concept of facade.
Take a stroll down Franklin Street any evening after dusk and behold a projection with enough substance and continuity to put the spectacle of White Night Melbourne to shame.
Meeting with the gallery founder, Director, practising artist and current RMIT PhD Student Adrian Doyle was a delight.
Doyle opened his first studio aged 19, and established Blender Studios (currently occupying the rear of Dark Horse Experiments Gallery) in 2001 aged 22.
Twenty-two years later it’s still going strong, continuing to engage the community with a variety of projects ranging from the commercially-structured gallery at the building’s front, daily street-art tours of the CBD, craft markets, and the nightly projection series to name a few.
Recently Doyle has been involved with a lot of large scale murals: from doing mapping projects with local children in Kyneton, to commercial projects with skin care companies.
Next on the cards is transforming a Docklands lane-way.
The working idea is to portrait his parents on the cross, sacrificing themselves for the suburban dream with Frankston in the background.
“My art’s a little bit like the Strokes, you can’t help but dance to it then one day you sit down and actually listen to the words.
“I use beauty and colour to engage the viewer and shock them with a concept later,” he said.
It was an eye-opening afternoon!
On Street Art:
Melbourne has finally become number one culturally at something. Melbourne is at the forefront of street art and public art in general. At different points they’ve opened up laneways for use by kids and we make the most of that. Every second weekend we take some kids down to some of the dogier laneways, give them some paint, take some professional artists down and engage the kids, we try and target kids at high risk of being involved in illegal activity and try and channel that into something constructive with large scale public murals.
The projectors screen on the windows at the front of the Dark Horse gallery. The projectors rest inside the gallery and project on the inside of the windows. We’ve got the screens in reverse, so from the outside the image looks normal. It runs daily from dusk till late. It’s only recently begun screening for free so I really have the pick of the artists and can screen the artists interested in using the space in a site-specific way.
If people come here and think what can I do here? They start to consider the kind of people walking past and the kind of interactions possible. If they respond to that they’re going to have a much more successful artwork.
We had a girl from the VCA, Tara Cook who is interested in pixels as paintings, so she paints using the projector. It’s a simple but very effective technique that produces a beautiful image. At the moment we have the CAKE Industry boys on the windows, basically they’ve gone through Japan with a camera, you get a really weird perspective walking through the streets, it’s really cool.
We’ve had a lot of positive feedback from it, people really appreciate it, it’s such a simple thing to do, we’re helping other people set them up where we can. All you really need is someone to pull a blind down every night and set up a permanent projector system. After the lights have turned off and when the building becomes closed and useless the gallery can still go on, it changes the façade from being a dead space to actually useful.
I see White Night and the Gertrude Projection Festival as design projection, there’s some exceptions of course but generally speaking it’s just all about making stuff look amazing. It’s beautiful, but for me and for the projection space here it’s all about the concept.
On Blender Studios:
I opened the Blender Studios when I was 22, I’d just finished my Masters and was doing a bit of graffiti. Half the guys that moved in here were graffiti artists. I’d already set up a studio when I was 19 on top of the Chapel St Baazar. I knew it was possible I didn’t think much of it, I had the space and needed helping paying the rent. At one stage the building was a dive but it’s gentrified with me. I take a strict role with all the artists, there’s a natural mentoring process. It’s very informal but there is an element to that university idea here, the way the spaces are provided, little tutorials things like that. We have a mix of mid-career and emerging artists here in an open space that creates a natural community.
However the gallery and the rear studio are very separate. The gallery is very high end, and the artists in the studio don’t often show in there but they aim towards it. Each year we do a massive exhibtion where each artist submits a piece. It’s curated quite heavily but we go quite wild and have a massive party called the Blender Christmas Party which has become a bit of an institution-there’s always a naked dude- we’re so fucking bohemian like that.
Coming up in the gallery we’ve got Haha, one of the most famous street artists who does the Ned Kelly stencils. Then after that we’ve got a projection symposian with artists from all over the world.
On the Blender Studio’s Legacy:
I think what the Blender has done is create an alternative to the university structure- of going from Art School, into Gertrude Street Gallery, into ACCA, into Anna Schwartz into Art Basel and the Venice Biennale. I’m hoping artists can come through projects like Blender to the Biennale and not have to go through the Anna Schwartz’ of the world. I think they’re an antiquated idea, one thing street art has done is bring people in, knocking the pretention away from the art community. Street art has really broken down the barriers. In Australia at the moment there’s very much a social realist movement and it’s all entiertwined with street art.
Dark Horse Experiments is located at 110 Franklin Street, Melbourne.
Also, a rather superb design shop is located at the end of a snaking alley way just a little up the street at 126 Franklin Street’s rear.