I arrive outside 11 Lonsdale Street but no one’s around. Peering through the window I can see that this dormant shopfront is in the process of becoming Degenerate & Six. In a couple of days, it’ll be a pop-up art gallery brimming with work from local artists and designers.
A car pulls up and Tegan Garnett hangs out of the window. “Want to come get some soup?” she asks.
Garnett is the gallery’s Creative Producer, a title encompassing more than just that of a curator. She’s preparing to fill the space with not only visual art but music, networking ops and unique arts experiences.
Christina Held is driving. She’s Degenerate & Six’s co-manager. Together, they, along with a rotating cast of local creatives, are the heart, soul, and brains behind various underground arts events including last month’s Renaissance. In the car, en route to soup, they tell me about their plans for the new gallery and discuss possible avenues to decorate it with potted plants.
Breathing life into a dormant space
Half an hour later, we’re back at the gallery, sitting down on the solitary couch in the middle of the room. After a few false starts, as the pair lovingly greet the various artists arriving to move in their work and help out with sweeping and paint touch-ups, we all finally sit down together. I ask how they came to be residents of such a lucrative space. They look at one another knowingly.
“This is actually not a question that can be answered,” says Garnett.
“No comment,” adds Held.
It’s clear there’s a level of secrecy to how this all came about, but the mystery drops when they start talking about what they’ll actually be doing with the space.
“We’ve always had a passion for visual art, design, music and exhibiting work in general,” says Held. “Helping local artists especially. But we didn’t necessarily know we were going to have a gallery space.”
“One of the common themes in our projects will always be to highlight the universal nature of art and make sure it’s inexclusive,” says Garnett. “Making sure everyone and anyone can feel comfortable to come to these events and can exhibit.”
“I think something that we both share is that we want Canberra to be a funner, more energetic place,” adds Held. “We’ve thankfully grown up with Canberra becoming bigger, with more events, and we want to show other young people that you can run a giant party at the Hamlet and it can be that successful. Because it’s not like we want to run everything ourselves, I want to be able to go to really great parties that somebody else throws because I want that in my city.”
A space for local creatives
The gallery’s first round of artists will be exhibiting until April 17, featuring Astrid Barta (embroidery), mixed media artist Faith Kerehona, painters Izaak Bink, Isaac Gibson, and PAW, and photographers Emily Ianno and Hannah Axelsen. With a launch party set for Friday, April 13, the space itself is the common thread.
“Degenerate and Six is the name of the gallery,” explains Garnett. “‘Degenerate’ was inspired by the term that Nazi Germany applied to modern art during the Second World War, because modern art challenged the values of the Nazi regime, with its very expressive, free qualities, and they were scared of that. And so they had to find some way to beat this art form down and prevent it from continuing.
“‘Six’ refers to the Six Gallery reading in San Francisco in 1955 where Allen Ginsberg read ‘Howl’ for the first time. I think both those concepts are really important and powerful in the history of art, so we wanted to bring them together to shape the nature of the space.”
Held gets up at this point. “I’ve got to go,” she says, checking her phone and making to say her goodbyes.
“Oh, the plant,” says Garnett. “Is he going to message me?”
“I’ll send you the address.”
Degenerate & Six is open 9 am – 5 pm at 11 Lonsdale Street until the end of April. Follow the gallery on Instagram @degenerateANDsix.
What would you like to see happen in Canberra’s disused spaces?