One evening earlier this year, I was feeling bored.
I was at home with my beloved. There was nothing on the television.
If I was on my own this would be no problem – re-runs of Batman or Ali G on SBS On Demand, or maybe one of my favourites, The Doctor Blake Mysteries on ABC iView if I was lucky enough to have an hour to kill.
But these shows are on the banned substance list with my beloved, so I had to dig deep and find something a bit more discerning.
So, I found myself on ABC iView, looking for something to help improve the mind. Where better than the Arts menu where I stumbled across a show called Art Bites. They only run for six or seven minutes each, so what harm could come of that?
I’m drawn to strange names, so what better than Art Bites: Home: The Art of Ian Strange? Within a minute I was hooked.
The scene was set with a series of small photos of houses that were familiar, like homes dotted all over suburban Melbourne – Californian Bungalows, post war austerity, 1960’s and 1970’s. Haunting music echoing the possibility of decay. This was great stuff.
Ian Strange is an Australian born, New York based artist whose work investigates the theme of “HOME”.
Originally a graffiti artist under the tag name Kid Zoom, Strange explores the vulnerability of the home in the suburban context:
Strange: “I’ve always been fascinated by the home. It’s something that sits in everyone’s imagination. It’s a powerful symbol that we take with us. The act of painting on a house, or drawing a cross on a house, or putting a black mark on it reveals the home as this incredibly vulnerable object. HOME represents all these ideas of stability, family, community, the economy all built into something that is this very small piece of architecture, but in reality it’s so unstable”.
“I think when you see a home, when you see it through the lens of a film, what I’m trying to access is that familiar sense of the home in people and I want them to react to that”.
There’s also that sense of impending doom for the home. Strange’s works focus on condemned homes.
This got me thinking – yes we all have different memories and experiences that we can relate back to the place where they occurred. Some for better, some for worse.
There was an episode of Inspector George Gently that also delved into this theme, perhaps not in a cheerful way. A lady who grew up in an orphanage in Durham had made good as a property developer despite her upbringing. With her savings she had purchased the orphanage she had grown up in. She wanted it demolished.
There was a disturbing story line – I could understand why anyone with bad memories or connections to a home would want it demolished.
For many, homes have more happy memories. Recently I took my father’s cousin on a road trip to Bamawm in Northern Victoria. Up until the age of three Gladys had lived there and she wanted to see the home and reconnect with her childhood. The house was just on one hundred years old and is currently occupied by a bachelor. It wasn’t in the greatest of shape but the front room with its pine dado boards and double hung windows looking out onto a lovely veranda and garden was original. This front room displayed some of the character that would have been throughout the home.
My cousins Adelaide, Kaye, Miranda and Gladys. My parents, Alan and Nancy and their dog Monty outside the old house at Bamawm where Gladys started off.
Not that I’m that house proud, but personally I was saddened by the condition of the home. Gladys was a bit more sanguine about it, not really having any great expectations. There’s plenty of work to be done on this home, or it could potentially be a project for Ian Strange.
Gladys’s father was in the army and the family moved to Bendigo near McIvor Road on a small holding. Most of her childhood memories were at Bendigo with her mother and younger siblings. Older siblings were involved in World War Two. But the house she grew up in has been demolished as the property formed part of a new housing estate. All that remains of her memories was the large granite rocks that remained on the property that she was able to identify.
But the idea of home and the houses that she grew up in were very clear memories for her. That goes for all of us.
The art of Ian Strange is about the vulnerability of houses, valuing them for what they represent. Other episodes of “Art Bites: Home” looked at homes in different parts of the world scheduled for demolition. One episode features Christchurch, New Zealand where houses that had been so badly compromised by the earthquake of 2010 had to be demolished. In all approximately 16,000 families lost their homes. For each of those families, there’s a story.
Before demolition occurred, in conjunction with the local community, Strange altered and painted some of the homes. He lit them internally and photographed them in different lights at different times of the day in order to document them. It was a bit like a mortician dressing a body for its final journey.
In early October I learnt that Strange was coming to Melbourne. There was a house in Richmond scheduled for demolition. Just near Swan Street, it was a 1970’s home built for new Australians – the brown bricks and the balustrade to the front entry gave it away. Further hints as to the nationality of the people who built the house was the extensive tiling inside to the kitchen and hallways. While the house was quite livable as it was, it was scheduled for demolition as in reality it had no intrinsic value over and above the site value.
The strategically placed red paint indicates that the house, located at 25 Clifton Street, Richmond is targeted for demolition.
This is an evolution of the streetscape over time. Indeed, Richmond being one of Melbourne’s early suburbs has houses dating back to the 1850’s. The house itself had clearly replaced an earlier home. But there were hints as to how the previous house may have looked. There was an early letter box on the footpath and the laundry out the back was from the 1920’s.
The letters on the word Letters and the exposed brick types give this away as having been constructed in the 1920’s.
At the rear of the property was this laundry door with further hints of the 1920’s. The distinctive corbelling under the shelf on the door is part of the style of that era.
Original laundry – the cement trough and “Footscray” Copper were a feature of many early Melbourne Laundries. But it’s missing a mangle.
Other hints to the past included a Hill’s Hoist – but this one’s a David’s Hoist. Same telescopic principle, different manufacturer. Clotheslines often doubled up as play equipment for those with sufficient imagination like this childhood genius, who just happens to be my Grandson.
Careful of the miasma – a sewer vent still found in many Melbourne backyards, particularly older suburbs and a familiar site.
The street itself mainly consists of Victorian Era homes. So could the 1920’s home have replaced an even earlier home? On the north side was this double storey imposing home.
At some stage the upstairs balcony and downstairs veranda has been cladded to add extra accommodation. It’s a bit of an ugly duckling at the moment but there is hope for the future.
On the Southern side was a beautiful double fronted home with slate roof which you can just make out on the below photo.
Strange’s work is fascinating to me. It’s about the vulnerability of homes, the fact that they can be here one day, gone the next. In a world of disposable everything, what does it say about society when homes can be essentially throw aways and end up in landfill?
In all there were six different episodes of Art Bites: Home. So we binge watched them, me and my beloved glued to the Television for about forty minutes.
So thank you my beloved, for helping me expand my mind to the thought of HOME.