helpless romantics on turning their share house into an ultra inclusive art space

Fed up with the insular creative community, they’re taking back the art world, one party at a time.

by Hilary Bourke
25 November 2016, 1:50am

Melbourne based art collective, Helpless Romantics are here for artists. Not the chin stroking, head nodding kind that have already made a couch groove in the contemporary art world. But the young creatives who are starting out, and trying to work out where they fit into a community that can be intensely insular.

Founded by recent graduates Caitlin Murphy and Shelbie Lloyd, Helpless Romantics is their way to take the intimidation out of art culture. They've rejected cool minimalism and elegant restraint, by literally opening their lives, work and communities to anyone who wants in. Bypassing galleries and institutions altogether, they offer up their Northcote share house as a canvas for young artists, free of charge. The intimate space regularly hosts exhibitions, installations and parties where participants in this community-minded experiment can show their work, network and generally find a second home.

As they set to work on their third instalment we caught up with Caitlin and Shelbie to chat about how Helpless Romantics is taking back the art world, one party at a time.

You guys have just wrapped your second show, The Pleasure Party, that looked at facets of sex through art and music. Tell us about it.
Shelbie Lloyd: With our shows, we basically create a theme. We hosted The Break-Up Party a few months ago and it was about relationships. For The Pleasure Party we thought it would be good to do something surrounding the different facets of sex. Basically we bring the artists into the space, which is our house, and let them choose a room to respond to with a different work of art. Some people did things involving nudity, others did things involving the sensual side or masturbation. We had one piece from the point of view of the observer, like an outside sexual experience. The artists always have freedom to do anything they want as long as it's within that blanket topic.

Caitlin Murphy: There are absolutely no restrictions of how people want to present the way they feel about the theme, as long as the theme is present within their work.

Why start a gallery in your own home?
Shelbie: We're both artists and Caitlin pretty much came to me when we were out of uni and trying to figure out how to show our work. She was like, "Let's turn my house into a gallery" and I was like, "Fuck yeah!" There is such a stigma surrounding the gallery scene, and paying to show your work, we're both really against that. We thought, Why don't we create a group of young people that are all doing these cool things but give them the space where they can do what they want and not have to pay?

Caitlin: It's so expensive for an artist to present their work. I know so many people that create amazing things that don't see the light of day. We just want to provide people with the canvas.

You're getting ready for your third event, how have the parties evolved?
Shelbie: It's become more important to really express this as a safe space. I think this (The Pleasure Party show) is such a sensitive topic and there's a lot of really raw work. You have to boost the level of maturity because it's not like some really whimsical topic. It's a bit in your face.

Caitlin: It's kind of nice that we have something to refer to because of The Break-Up Party. We've already proved to ourselves that it does work. Because we have that experience we've got a bit more confidence this time. Plus people who went to The Break-Up Party already know what to expect, so they've been building it up to their friends and in a sense it feels like our latest exhibition has a bit more of a culture around it.

As you mentioned, sex is a loaded topic. Tell us about exploring it in this way.
Shelbie: There were three factors to sex the artists could touch on: intimacy, fantasy and psychology. My thing was I want what we're doing to always be a positive thing and sex is not always seen in positive light. That's why pleasure is a good term to use rather than sex. Pleasure is always the positive side to sex, what turns you on, what you fantasise about, and what you love about sex.

These are very much presented as "safe spaces" for artists. That phrase is used so much at the moment it can be hard to define its meaning. What does it mean to you?
Shelbie: No one needs to be embarrassed or scared to do this crazy outlandish thing because it's not a board of gallery directors critiquing and deciding whether or not your aesthetic is good enough for a gallery. You literally can do whatever the fuck you want and that's so beautiful to have that open floor as an artist.

Caitlin: The main thing we want people to get out of this party is being able to stand next to the artist and have a beer with them and be like, "Why the hell did you do that?" To break down the walls. We don't want people to feel like we have to put on a persona whilst they're looking at art. We just want people to be completely real. Come and have a boogie with us and celebrate it.

Ultimately, what is Helpless Romantics trying to achieve?
Shelbie: Our goal is to create a community that has no stigma, bias or any sort of hierarchy. A culture that is about being rebellious and taking back art and making it theirs. Our house is their house for the events and we just love being able to do this, it feels like a dream.

Caitlin: At the end of the day it's really an opportunity for people to network. We also want to connect with like-minded people, so if there's anyone out there who are interested in working with us for the next one get in touch with us. 



Text Hilary Bourke 
Images courtesy of Helpless Romantics

gallery space
helpless romantics