Get To Know: The Ladies Network
The Ladies Network have grown fast over the last year in their native Sydney, creating a platform for female-artists to share and sell their work. In an industry that seemingly favours their male counterparts, exhibitions run by the Ladies Network, and their online shop, prove a welcome respite and a window into what constitutes 'female art' in this day and age (and if there should be any such need for that moniker). Not So Popular's Jade French met with Ladies Network founder Lara Vrkic to find out more...
Firstly, just give us a quick intro to yourself…
I founded the Ladies Network, and I’m the curator. It sort of started as a project to work on with friends outside of uni and work. It was a way to throw a party and do something creative together. Since the start, I’ve brought on four of my friends to work on other aspects of it – the music night, online store and PR.
You’ve grown quickly, why do you think that is?
I think we create events that are incredibly inclusive. It was something very necessary in Sydney, to have something that was so supportive for emerging and established artists – female artists. We wanted to create something that anyone could get involved in, there wasn't any prerequisite – you didn’t have to apply or prove yourself in any way to get involved. It was very light and friendly.
You specifically create a space for female artists, was there anything similar happening in Sydney at the time?
Not at the time, really. Since then, we get lots of emails from people saying they want to star their own collective. At the moment, lots of female musicians are getting together and making groups which is cool. We don’t have many female DJs that play in Sydney – and in the past year there’s been so many emerging!
That’s great – when you see other women doing things, you always feel that you can do it yourself too!
Exactly, and it just takes us being the first people to do something like this and it’s been so encouraging. A lot of people who didn’t think they were artists are now selling their work and making some extra money out of something they love to do.
Do you consider ‘The Ladies Network’ a feminist project?
It’s inherently feminist but it’s not something that is our message. It’s more about creating a really positive space that’s not as political as certain things that have come before us. Unfortunately, some people have a problem with the whole ‘feminist’ discourse, and it can alienate people (and specifically men for some reason, which I think is pretty stupid) but I think by not labelling it, it’s given men the opportunity to feel included too.
How did you find all the women who were involved in the first event, and how has it grown since?
The first one was all friends of mine. It was supposed to be 10 people, and then they had other friends who wanted to be involved so it grew to about 30 artists in the end. The second one, I got heaps of submissions and some were artists that I asked if they wanted to be involved… The first three shows were all different people each time, so 30-40 new female artists each time, but now we recycle a little bit more.
What kind of spaces and areas do you operate in?
It’s hard in Sydney because rent is really expensive, and to find a space that is bit enough and looks nice (I’m really fussy about that!), aesthetics have to be on point. We rented out spaces and we could only ever afford for them to be one night. At the end of last year we had a show in Ambush Gallery, in Chippendale, which is a bigger commercial space, but they have a good sense of helping emerging aritsts and a focus on local projects, and they had us for 2 weeks. We had another for a night in Surrey Hills, and the next event is again for 2 weeks. Which is so much better – because you don’t have a crazy install/deinstall! The first couple of nights we had over 1000 people there, and it was like a gallery that could fit 200 – and we had to be closed down twice!
Does Sydney favour the idea of an ‘art collective’?
At the moment, the scene is really encouraging – and we’re making an actual network. The plan was always to have somewhere artists could share their work, and people could feel part of the scene even if they aren’t artists themselves. It’s cool seeing people interact and encourage each other. The online community is translating offline more and more through each event, as the numbers grow. Generally, getting 1000 people to an event doesn’t really happen in Sydney.
What’s the most difficult part of networking?
I always had this idea that guys networked a lot better than women, but then I realised there just wasn’t an environment for women to do it. And I think the media contributes a lot to that – making it seem women are competitive, or anti-other women but it’s so not like that. It’s just a myth that’s been perpetuated – and we’re seeing women can be so supportive of each other.
I think it’s part of living in a world that’s so connected. When you put yourself out there, it’s so exposing. Everyone can have an opinion. I think seeing someone have confidence in you is an amazing thing. What I really like about what we do, we try and include established and emerging artists. No one is given more space than anyone else. Everyone has an equal platform.
How has being able to connect with artists globally changed your model?
At the moment, the artist’s in our store are from Sydney and Melbourne, but the next batch are from all over the world. We seek people out on Instagram, and people come to us as well. For the exhibitions, we tend to get submissions and people tell us what they’re doing, and a theme emerges from that. So we are led by aesthetic, and a mixture of work, and I like the whole interaction between the digital and physical. I think being on Instagram means everything links between the two. For our next show, we’ve got this artist from LA who’s called ‘Michelle’ who does selfie art. She’s asked me to put mirrors in, so it’s an installation with her work. I like the idea of having work that you can have an opinion on and engage with.
In this exhibition, there are more artists from overseas – with the internet, you see a lot of work you never get to experience in real life. So it’s amazing to bring these artists to Sydney – they thought they’d never exhibit here, and I never thought I’d see their work – so it works both ways!