Two exhibitions are giving new meaning to the tag ‘artist-in-residence’.
Phip Murray sits in the cluttered lounge of her Collingwood house. “I’m one of those people who drags stuff home from markets or street corners,” she says. Two stuffed squirrels crouch in a small cabinet. The walls are a patchwork of paintings. “And I’m looking forward to more artwork coming in. It’s going to be great.”
Her small home is one-seventh of House Proud, a Next Wave Festival show constructed by artist and festival assistant producer Tai Snaith. Every second day from 17-29 May a different house will open for a one-off viewing, each with artwork specially made for the occasion.
Visual artist Rowan McNaught is working at Murray’s home. “I’m just going to fill it with even more stuff,” he says, looking around with a shy smile. “Just to exacerbate the situation.” With cardboard and scotch tape, the 23-year-old artist is building a colourful range of sculptures, including a microwave, an anvil and a full-sized rickshaw.
To mimic an open-inspection, Snaith has made flyers and flags (with the help of real estate company Hocking Stewart). “The artists are responding to what they see in the space but also to the person that lives there,” she says. Audiences will be invited into each house and given a floor plan and an artist statement.
But you won’t see musty rooms and peeling paint. House Proud features an eye-catching range of artists and mediums, from video work to a food-infused project. Two illustrators have created a giant octopus-like toy slithering down a spiral staircase. Elsewhere, a sculptor is working with thousands of bouncy balls and helium balloons.
The concept for the show came from Snaith’s interest in creating art outside the galleries and also her fascination with the line between public and private life. “People have this bizarre, morbid fascination with personal spaces that they don’t know,” she says, counting herself among those who fancy a sticky-beak over the neighbour’s fence. “So I thought, why not explore that and put some artists into personal spaces and encourage people to look at the stuff rather than just the real estate?”
Surprisingly, Snaith had no problem finding homeowners willing to bare their walls. Initially, she contacted friends and soon found too many takers. “I ended up calling the project House Proud because I realised that there is this group of people who are really proud of their houses, almost like it’s their baby,” she says.
Jeff Khan, Next Wave’s artistic director, is excited about the exhibition. “It’s a wonderful idea. It’s really playful and brings down the austerity of a gallery environment,” he says. “Even though it’s an unusual context for art to be found, audiences might feel less intimidated about going into someone’s home than going into a gallery.”
That’s one reason House Proud rests snugly under the festival theme, ‘Closer Together’. Khan also believes the show breaks down “the barriers between art and everyday life” and twists the way audiences experience art and interact with artists.
He’s attracted too by the closeness of the artists and homeowners. “Some people are getting along better than others…but that is all part of the process. It shouldn’t necessarily be smooth sailing. Sometimes the best dialogue comes out of the awkwardness of that interaction and…might lead to a result that neither the artist nor the homeowner would have anticipated – strange and wonderful things,” Khan says.
At her Wellington Street cottage, Phip Murray is happy to let McNaught do as he pleases. “That’s how it will work,” she tells him. “You’ll get the key, make some tea, put on some music and get to work.”
McNaught thinks it will take about a week to install his creations. To begin with, he was nervous about intruding on someone else’s space, but now that idea is framing his show. “It’s about making things that invade a house but are necessary to keep the house going,” he says.
Murray is curious to see the new additions to her collection and to think about the way, in this project, art responds to life. As for hundreds of people crashing her home, she’s relaxed. “It’s like having a party,” she says. “And house parties are the best parties.”
A university student is challenging our notions of land values.
“The saying ‘Dirt is cheap’ doesn’t hold anymore,” says David Short. The 25-year-old artist speaks with authority. He knows the city’s soil like the back of his dusty hand.
For his exhibition, Land Inspection Now Open, the RMIT Media/Arts student ploughed the earth of 99 suburbs, plucking 10cm-cubed samples from the yards of surprised homeowners right across Melbourne. The show is “a massive reaction to my generation…not being able to buy our own property,” he says.
During the Next Wave Festival, from 20-31 May, Short will bring the samples together as a grid at Seventh Gallery on Gertrude Street, Fitzroy. Every petite plot will carry a price tag based on median land values for each suburb. The Epping cube costs only $4.94 while South Melbourne makes the bank manager happier at $17.12.
“You can’t distinguish between each suburb,” Short says. “The only distinguishing thing is the price claimed on it.” During the exhibition, he will set the gallery up like a real estate agency, complete with leaflets and A-frame signage out the front. A performance artist-cum-settlement agent will even be on hand to assist interested buyers.
Short gathered his lumpy harvest by door-knocking residents at random. In return for their earth, he invited the land donors to the exhibition. As an upshot, Land Inspection Now Open is set to bring people together from all parts of the city.
The lean-framed artist, who sports a pierced nose and scruffy stubble, was pleasantly surprised with the supportive response to his unusual request. “Everybody’s been great,” he says, grinning as he recalls his only chastisement. “A really nice Italian lady told me ‘You should take this [nose ring] out’”.
The exhibition will culminate in a closing night faux-auction. But there’s bad news for anyone hoping to buy a tract of Toorak. “The samples deteriorate over time,” says Short. By the end, they will crumble together. “We’ll auction off one pile of dirt.”
According to Jeff Khan, the festival’s artistic director, it will be a fitting finish. “The idea of putting a value on a neighbourhood or a suburb is so arbitrary and will probably be completely different in another two years time.”
Khan says Short’s concept highlights the social and financial differences that separate the city, leading to lopsided property prices. But it “strips that idea back to its most basic element, in that the object of all this economic and cultural discourse is actually dirt.” Short agrees. “It’s just dirt we are sitting on.”