Celebrating the city’s alternative art scene, and running at the same time as the Biennale, SafARI exists as its unofficial fringe festival. The event was dreamt up in 2004 with the aim of throwing light on unrepresented and emerging artists and curators as well as some of Sydney’s most vibrant ARI’s (artist-run initiatives). The festival has flourished over the past 10 years, and its program of exhibitions, events, performances and talks will add to the swelling roster of brilliant contemporary art-focused happenings in Sydney throughout March.

“This year we have expanded the festival, working with 21 artists and collectives across six venues,” says co-curator Liz Nowell. A fresh set of curators is appointed for every edition of SafARI. For the 2014 program, Nowell is working with Sydney-based artist Tony Albert and freelance curator Christiane Keys-Statham. “The entire festival is reimagined each time,” she says. “This means you get to create something from scratch. There is no curatorial theme and artists are selected via a national call out.”

Artists selected to take part this year include Sam Songailo, whose bright, mixed-and-matched painted lines and patterns trick the eye, and Emma Hamilton, who has undertaken a study of the dry, vast terrains of salt lakes through sculpture and photography. SafARI venues include Wellington St Projects, DNA Projects and The Corner Co-operative in Chippendale, Alaska Projects and The Cross Art Projects in Kings Cross, and The Conductors Project at Museum and St James train stations in the CBD. In An Old Chaos of the Sun Sydney and Berlin based artists Gemma Messih and Ally Bisshop will explore our interaction with the rhythm of the sun, via a performance at sunset, a publication and a series of temporary structures that aim to draw attention to sunlight.

In 2014, the festival will also feature an additional, enriched performance-art component. “The process of selecting artists via a national call out has remained the same, but what was interesting this year was the prevalence of Sydney-based performance artists – it almost seemed like a trend,” says Nowell. “As curators we really felt like we should respond to this and so we created SafARI LIVE, an additional exhibition component featuring the work of seven Sydney-based performance artists who will be presenting throughout the festival.” SafARI LIVE will include performances by Alexandra Clapham and Penelope Benton (2013 Art Month directors) at Wellington St Projects, as well as new, individual works by members of The Brown Council, Kelly Doley, Francis Barrett and Kate Blackmore. Performance pieces will appear at some of the participating galleries over the last few weekends in March.

“We have started installing this week and I am blown away by the artists. Every single one of them,” Nowell says. “I can’t wait to see Paul Williams and Christopher Dolman’s ambitious ceramic installation at Alaksa Projects. It's the first time the artists have collaborated and ceramic is a new medium for both of them.” Indeed, the festival champions experimentation, in the same spirit as the artist-run spaces that inspired its inception.

Also on the program this year will be SafORUM – an all-day symposium held at Kudos Gallery in Paddington. Local and international speakers will discuss the diversity of artist-run initiatives and examine how each operation functions within different social, cultural, political and economic realities. Speakers will be from artist-run spaces in Indonesia, the Philippines and New Zealand. Australian artist Mike Parr – most famous for his self-mutilation and extreme body performances – will also be speaking. Parr was one of the founders of Sydney’s first artist-run initiative, Inhibodress, in 1970.

“It’s grown every year since 2004, which is really testament to the artists and teams running each iteration of SafARI,” adds Nowell. SafARI underscores the importance of the alternate and emergent sphere of art, and has a rich history of supporting the ebb and flow of the scene. “I guess the ARI landscape is in constant flux – they come and go. SafARI responds to those changes and evolves with the scene as a whole.”

SafARI launches on Friday March 14 and runs until April 4.

Full program is available here