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Showtime Night Market isn't like your average art gallery

So, you’re headed to an art exhibition. Likely, your mind goes first to an art gallery, picturing images of what’s in store. 

No doubt it will be interesting, and likely to be a stimulating day, punctuated with a coffee here and there. It is a place though, where the lines between artist and audience are usually firmly drawn, and any form of tangible relationship between the two is seldom explored.

For those who aren’t artists, this is generally how visual art is consumed and experienced. But for Arie Rain Glorie, program director and curator at Testing Grounds, this is a preconception that he’s all too enthusiastic to challenge.

“I’ve always been in a funny spot. I mean a curator and an artist, I’m supposed to love art. But I often find exhibitions quite boring,” Glorie laughs. “So I’m always searching for a new way to kind of engage audiences in visual art, because it is so great.

“Galleries can be great. I’m just interested in my point of departure as a curator, which differs from a lot of other curators, which is that I am deeply interested in audiences and often I’ll put the audience experience as the absolute most important thing that I’ll deal with, in front of the artist’s experience and also in front of the integrity of the artwork itself.” 

Glorie, is the brains behind a new venture from the team at Testing Grounds, called Showtime Night Market. He describes it like a Trojan horse: “Everyone understands what a night market is. So we’ve become really interested in how they can really grab people’s attention,” says Glorie. “And essentially once they get down there, then we trick them. There’s lots of strange things they can get involved with.”

Far from the cackles of an evil scientist, Glorie’s excitement stems from something of an experimental bent, enjoying breaking down the traditional narrative of artist-audience relationships.

“It’s something very much based around stripping the idea of the artwork away, and replacing it instead with the idea that the artists are doing demonstrations, with the unique and unusual skills that they have. I think often it’s that moment in a gallery where you go, ‘Oh yeah, that’s a really nice artwork’. But it’s when the artist tells you more about how they made it, and you get that behind the scenes look, that I find it becomes much more interesting,” he explains. 

“Showtime is really about that, exposing the behind the scenes. With this different format I’m hoping to prolong and deepen people’s engagement with ideas.”

Crucial to this was ensuring a thread of simplicity across all the demonstrations. In doing so, keeping things inviting for the audience. “We were really looking for quite analogue experiences and being interested in audience engagement you’re looking for the types of demonstrations where you’re asking very little from the people who want to get involved.”  

One such example is artist Jen Rae’s demonstration on how to make Chiko Rolls with crickets – a piece where Rae will fry the crickets on the spot and then eat them. Stalls like this are key to the imagination of the event. “With these demonstrations I was kind of looking for things that would get people pretty excited and give them a little bit of a story to tell afterwards,” Glorie says.  

It’s easy to see that for Glorie, the audience remains firmly in the fore in his mind. Founded by a deep appreciation for their experience and to that end, he is wholly invested in ensuring that the average punter walks away from Showtime Night Market with something totally unique. 

“I want people to describe it as something that they’ve never experienced before. I want people to walk away from Showtime feeling like they had the agency to be creative and that they were really a part of the event. That their actions helped shape it.” 

Showtime Night Market comes to Testing Grounds at the Melbourne Arts Precinct for two instalments on Friday February 1 and Friday March 1. Head to the Testing Grounds website for more information.