Space 44: Young, Free, Alright!
The Rad and Creative Youth of Australian Surfing
Presented by Arnette
Interview by Dan Caban
Do you remember what you and your best mate were doing (or plan on doing) at 23? Going to festivals, seeing cool stuff and having a hell time? That’s basically the vibe of Aaron Girgis and Jack Irvine – the two young Cronulla surfers behind the Space 44 Art Gallery – only difference is those festivals and gigs are organised by these two themselves. Space 44 was born in July 2011 out of a disused backroom of a ramshackle house in Cronulla. Since then the space has seen roughly 28 shows, exhibiting over 200 artists (only 20 of which have come from outside the Sutherland Shire) and has come to represent a new guard of creative community in the southern end of Sydney’s suburbs. On top of that they put on the SMAC award nominated Sounds of The Suburbs music festival last year and are about to run their second annual Bad Seeds foamie surf comp. Who better, then, to be a part of Coastalwatch’s Young, Free, Alright! presented by Arnette.
CW: What was the initial passion to start Space 44?
AG: Jack is an artist and was approached by someone who owns a vintage clothing store in the building, this crappy old shack, and told that if he wanted somewhere to paint or to put on a pop-up gallery night, feel free. So we did that and about 30 people came. We were pretty stoked by the response and there were some other people there who were like, “Can we do a gallery too?” We were just, “Well we don’t know, this was just a last minute thing…” but we approached the owner and it went from 30 to 60 to 250 people a night.
Before Space 44, we used to throw illegal parties in the bush until the cops would come and shut them down. They gave us the word that if we did anything again we would cop huge fines, so we just went under the radar a bit until this space popped up and we thought, ‘Okay, this is what we’re gonna do, and we’re gonna do it well’.
What was the response from the local area of Cronulla?
We’ve always had cool people in Cronulla. Whether the media and the rest of Sydney have known it or not, they might just see it as Cronulla Sharks and that stuff, but it’s been brewing, we’ve got good venues and we popped up as a place where people could come and hang out. A lot of young people just go to the city to hang out, and so did Jack and I because we wanted to go see art galleries and stuff, but when we opened we discovered a massive local crew of people that were into the same things.
And you support the local artists?
Yeah, we always run galleries of local artists, most people we exhibit have never had a show, they may have been in a group show but 99% of the time it’s a person from Sutherland Shire and it’s their first exhibition. The way we meet these people is just, like, our friends show us stuff on our phones and whatever and we ask them to email us. The ones that do become our friends, and our family just grows from there.
And Ozzie Wright’s influence has been huge for you guys.
Ozzie is this dude who has been on our computer screens for how many years now? Like, everyone loves him, but when we became mates with Otis (Carey) and we had this skate exhibition going on we were saying how rad it would be if we had Ozzie Wright. And he was like, “Hell yeah, I’m keen.”
Going from Ozzie being a childhood hero, to having him involved in your projects would have been wild. How have you managed all this at such a young age, to actually be organising all the things you do?
Well we are by no means millionaires (laughs), we’re just having fun. It happened completely thanks to the fact we have a crazy support network. You know, we have Mike Jennings, this guy named Rob Russo, who used to be at the head of Insight. When we were younger that dude opened our world up. He said you guys will do cool shit one day, and he took us into the office and blew our minds. Since then we have Chongy (Chris Chong) and Blakey (Vaughan Blakey) and Ozzie and that’s the key I think, having that crew we can pass on to the Space 44 family in Cronulla. That support network is key and that means we have so much to thank them for. It’s definitely not just Jack and me, it’s everyone.
Talk us through the foamie comp coming up.
Yeah it’s the 2nd annual Bad Seeds. We just thought how great it would be to have a fun comp on foamies, give a free t-shirt on entry, have a bbq on the beach and have bands and stuff. Then we opened the Space and we were like, “Screw it, let’s do it,’ and it was sick so we’re doing it again. We are in the waiting period now; we have a one month waiting period, just to keep it fun, we are always down the beach anyway so we may as well pick the best day to have it. We have that soon, and then the festival again in September, which should be pretty huge. Then of course we have a gallery once a month which is always really good fun. It’s like house party vibes, but with an art show.
The Sounds of the Suburbs festival was met with such good feedback too.
Not only everyone that turned up, but the council was so behind it, so yeah that’s going to be annual now too. We’re going to make it bigger and better and bring out international acts this year, so were looking forward to that
Would that festival be the highlight in the life of Space 44 thus far?
Seriously, it’s like every month something epic happens and we think, “We can’t top that.” And then something crazy will happen and we‘ll sell heaps of art, but then the month after that we have the festival and think we can’t top that either. So I think we don’t really have highlights because it is all so sick. It’s just fun. In 3 weeks we have a huge art gallery in Cronulla Mall, which gets like thousands of visitors a week, so there’s another highlight, you know?
What are the different roles that are played between you two?
It works perfect; I don’t think we’ve ever disagreed on anything. Jack does all the artwork and creative direction. He does have a business side too, he knows what the hell he’s doing. But the sponsorship and business side and money, I’ll do a lot of that, while Jack handles all the bands and artists and whatnot. Artists use the left side of their brains, so together I think we have one full brain.
What else is going on in the brain of you guys?
Tonight we actually have FBi Radio’s SMAC Awards, Sounds was nominated for best music event. I guess if we win that September will be even bigger
Unfortunately the SMAC award for best music event did not go to Space 44’s Sounds of The Suburbs, it was won by the Secret Garden Festival, but to find out more about the happenings of Space 44 check out their website.
Young, Free, Alright! is a fortnightly editorial series presented by Coastalwatch and Arnette showcasing and profiling young and up-and-coming photographers, filmmakers, bloggers, artists, musicians, shapers, surfers or whatevers that we've been digging. The rad and creative groms of Australian surfing. Alright!
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