Renovare

Jacina Leong 

Brisbane has a paucity of decent spaces to exhibit in so ambitious and motivated artists just graduating from art school are using their domestic residences as independent art spaces. These galleries provide an alternative platform for works and practices that are not always supported by the commercial gallery system. A recent example of the genre is the artist-run initiative Accidentally Annie Street Space (AASS), which operates from the founders’ weatherboard Queenslander home.

This unassuming residence was the venue for Renovare an exhibition curated by Stephen Russell (co-director of AASS). For one-night only the house was cleared of its contents and fitted with the works of four emerging Brisbane artists (including Russell). The idea behind the show was to present site-specific works that experimented with the idiosyncrasies of the space.

On nearing the house from street level one came upon Russell’s Love, which was a kind of shopfront sign that was placed on the roof. It consisted of an illuminated set of letters (L O V E) made from fibreboard. It resembled Robert Indiana’s 1976 pop sculpture of the same name and was based on the style of the equally iconic Hollywood sign. Without the profile of the Hollywood hills to publicise his idea Russell made do by aligning his version with the peak of the home’s (corrugated) roofline. The luminous silhouette of this structure created a striking contrast to the night sky and elicited an awesome and theatrical chiaroscuro-like effect. Given this powerful visual effect, Love also captured the attention of neighbouring residents whose curiosity led them to survey the exhibition.

After negotiating Love one encountered the oneiric video work Slushie by Cait Foran. This video piece was projected into the streetscape from behind an open set of bedroom windows. These windows acted as a variant of the frame and alluded to art’s voyeuristic engagement with its environment. The video showed a hypnotic revolving wheel, which was accompanied by a repetitive soundtrack of a frog’s call. The constant calls of the amphibian enhanced the mesmeric tone of the work and produced a meditative and soporific state that seemed to communicate an escapist message about otherworldly dreams.

A much more direct and robust engagement with the space of this domestic structure was offered by Courtney Coombs’ Canal. This work was made up of a calico sheet that had been strategically positioned to form a passage and ran from the home’s front entrance to the kitchen area. On entering the installation one felt quite physically oppressed by the heat generated by lights at the end of this passage. A slope in the ceiling of the structure did little to alleviate the claustrophobic environment, as to exit one had to progressively stoop towards ground level. It actually resembled the shrinking-room in Mel Stuart’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and triggered apprehension and some nervous laughter. As inLove this work evoked a sense of the marvellous and the surreal for one became immersed in an experience that temporarily eliminated a conscious awareness of the domestic context.

Artist Jose V’s piece also attempted to transform the otherwise mundane ambience of a suburban Brisbane house into a highly imaginative zone. To reach this work one had to traverse the rutted, shadowy backyard to find a confining laundry-cum-storage space beneath the home. In this space a cluster of artificial flowers rested languidly on the cement ground. The arrangement revealed an apathetic response by the artist and despite its candy coloured palette, the work was overshadowed by the area’s dank atmosphere and the spectral presence of nearby whitegoods. Unlike the other works, it did not use the ‘marvellous’ to strike a chord in the viewer, and indeed, when the context of the work was discovered it seemed to rely on a rather morbid elaboration of the curatorial theme. (Rumour circulated that the flower’s had been pilfered from local burial grounds). Potentially by operating on the climate of this unsettling space – as well as raising this moral ambiguity – the artist succeeded in addressing the curatorial directive of Renovare with work that had a slightly Gothic undertone and gestured towards the film noir-ish.

Renovare was a meritorious show given the spatial difficulties a Queenslander home can present. At a time when floating and extending are common practice in home renovation, it was quite refreshing to enter a lived-in suburban receptacle that operated as a site of public intrigue and supported a display of works that – rather than compromise its vernacular – sagaciously negotiated the physical structure and domestic quirks of this inner-city home.


Renovare was presented at Accidentally Annie Street Space, Brisbane on January 8 2009. This review was originally published in Eyeline: Contemporary Visual Arts, Issue 69, 2009.