Institute of Modern Art: First Thursdays


Michelle Xen & Shane Rudken / Institute of Modern Art. Photo: Savannah van der Niet.


Held at the Institute of Modern Art (IMA), First Thursdays is a monthly program showcasing participatory art experiences. The IMA commissioned me to produce the October project. I have a fascination for two-fold words, so I themed this project around the word skirt/skirting—a complex term that serpentines the fields of fashion, architecture, sociology, politics, and feminist theory.  I collaborated with artists, writers, and musicians, whose practices tend to ‘skirt around’ art-form conventions: Michelle Xen, Shane Rudken, Bianca Mavrick, Rebecca Ross, Danni Zuvela, Emily McGuire, and David Spooner. Together we presented an evening featuring new sounds, visuals, taste, words, and fashion.

Mariam Arcilla / Institute of Modern Art. Photo: Savannah van der Niet.


Sancintya Simpson with Mariam Arcilla / Institute of Modern Art. Photo: Savannah van der Niet

As a garment, a skirt—in appearance and function—serves to border, cover, and wrap a person, object, or surface area. It’s also a tool, particularly within womenswear, to conceal or disguise (knee-length skirts), or to reveal and provocate (mini skirts). In social systems, to skirt around is to bypass or circumvent certain places or situations; it also pertains to the sidestepping of controversy or the avoidance of feelings. The provinces and suburbia outside a central district are often anointed as the outskirts, a term that could also suggest an outlier thought, a fringe concept, or the periphery of the unknown. This crucible of terms and habits were folded together by the First Thursdays artists during the evening’s proceedings.


MINI SKIRT zine / Institute of Modern Art. Photo by Savanna van der Niet.

The evening kicked off with a tasting session. Audiences were served a ruby liquid concoction that I had cooked onsite, with 13 bittersweet ingredients inspired by high school crushes, handwritten notes, and secret codes. As people sipped my ‘Skirting Tea’, they were invited to reflect on and exchange personal secrets, and decipher the drink’s contents through a home-made alphabet code I invented at 13 years old, which I still use to write my shopping list today.

The event continued with a live performance by Skullgrabber (featuring artist/curator Rebecca Ross & anonymous bandmembers). The electronica trio dispensed a perked-up dose of analogue noise, home economics, and chakra-shaking sounds, with lyrics that dealt with the fashions of domestic life and personal hygiene. The second act, Michelle Xen & Shane Rudken, serenaded audiences with a sonic juncture that was part experimental beats, club lights, visceral synthetic textures, and deconstructed pop.

Skullgrabber / Institute of Modern Art. Photo: Savannah van der Niet.
Skullgrabber/ Institute of Modern Art. Photo: Savannah van der Niet
Michelle Xen & Shane Rudken / Institute of Modern Art. Photo: Savannah van der Niet.
Michelle Xen & Shane Rudken / Institute of Modern Art. Photo: Mariam Arcilla.

Acting as ‘skirts for the neck and ears’, pieces by Brisbane-based jeweller Bianca Mavrick adorned our performers. To conclude the evening, audiences were invited to take home copies of MINI SKIRT, a PowerPoint-designed zine I produced containing words and images by Emily McGuire, Bianca Mavrick, Danni Zuvela, David Spooner, and myself. Also leafed within this zine was the ‘Skirting Tea’ ingredients accompanied by my code-breaker alphabet.

Bianca Mavrick necklace and MINI SKIRT zines / Institute of Modern Art. Photo: Mariam Arcilla.
Institute of Modern Art. Photo: Savannah van der Niet
Mariam Arcilla / Institute of Modern Art. Photo: Savannah van der Niet.


Since 1975, the Institute of Modern Art has been Queensland’s leading independent forum for art and its discourses. Their innovative and diverse programs embed the international in the local and engage the local internationally. The IMA has museum grade, climate controlled gallery spaces in which we present an ambitious program of free exhibitions and events. They concentrate on commissioning new works by Australian and international artists at pivotal points of their practices, as well as connecting underrepresented artists with wider audiences.


Mariam Arcilla is a writer, curator, and researcher who profiles luminaries in art, design, fashion, and architecture. She has a background in placemaking projects, commercial galleries and artist-run initiatives, and she written for leading Australian art publications like VAULT, Acclaim, Runway, and Broadsheet.

Michelle Xen is a music producer, singer-songwriter, and visual artist. Xen and Shane Rudken have performed internationally with multiple acts including in New York, Singapore, Tokyo, and across festivals, mainstage venues, and experimental spaces in Australia.

Equipped with a vault of synthesisers and a sample bank of weekly deposits, Skullgrabber (featuring artist/curator Rebecca Ross and anonymous bandmembers) return after a few minor renovations and are once again ready to render themselves public.

Bianca Mavrick is a self-titled jewellery label whose playful forms, eclectic motifs, and exuberant colours have been kindling imaginations since 2013. Approaching kitsch, irony, and distortion of scale with aplomb, Bianca’s designs are dynamic, site-specific sculptures that explore the link between individual expression and shared visual language.

Emily McGuire is a London-based writer, designer, and researcher who focuses on fashion and digital culture, and the role of fashion in shaping female identity in the 21st century. She writes for several publications, including ADDRESS Journal.

Danni Zuvela is the Artistic Director of Liquid Architecture and Deputy Director of The Walls. Working as a curator, writer, and researcher, Danni’s academic research is informed by feminism, activism, and neologisms.

David Spooner still lives in Brisbane and is still an artist.

 Images below by Savannah van der Niet.