Last Sunday, 22 September 2013, I was lucky enough to catch the second instalment of My House is Too Small Project, that Julia Powles has initiated in her family apartment at 13/51 Stawell St North Melbourne. Andrew McQualter is the resident artist and he had been living with the family of 4 for about a week. The minute I open the door to the apartment I am struck by Andrew’s dramatic sculpture of silhouettes – arranged on the dining room table, as if a very large table centre piece. It is made of plywood – a light and airy sort of material with splashes of bright paint partially covering the figures. After being received warmly as a guest, with offers of drinks – wine, beer, water or steamed wontons, I settle down to chat with Andrew and Julia, while gazing on this wondrous piece of work. I walk around it. I talk to Andrew – Peter Westwood another resident of the apartment, himself an artist, wanders in to have a drink. Dave the dog welcomes me with curiosity and then decides to sleep on the couch for the rest of my stay. It’s worth quoting the text on the website here, to give you an idea of this inspired and timely project.
“Framed around the concept of the houseguest, the artists are offered a fold out couch to sleep on and given the keys to the apartment, to use as they will.”
As an audience/visitor to the project, I too am a houseguest, and this too has an effect on my own response to the work, to the site of the work, which in this case is the dining room in the apartment and to the others who arrive to participate in this intriguing experiment with where art is made and seen.
MY HOUSE IS TOO SMALL puts forward the proposition that art can exist in any context and that art may possibly be the conduit that links all aspects of life.
The figures in Andrew’s work gradually become visible to me. It is the family, Julia’s family, folded together, intimately intersecting each other, figuratively speaking. Their bodies fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw, each separate yet facing different directions. They are entwined, even locked together, and it seems to me the way that Andrew has joined the figures together is meaningful. They are not nailed or glued, neither are they traditional wood joints like tongue and groove etc. They are slotted together with deep grooves that fit perfectly. One of the figures, one of the young boys, stands upside down on his head in the centre of the array of figures – a very suggestive position, which only now I realise is quite a pointed observation and one I wish I had discussed further with Andrew and Julia.
I’ve been to the apartment before, on the occasion of the opening of the first Residency with the artist Mathew Berka who made and showed a mesmerising yet quiet video work underneath the kitchen bench space. On that occasion the dining room table was moved for the event and people sat and happily watched the slow zoom movements of the camera as it filmed the room that we were then, and now sitting in. I was reminded of the Box With the Sound of its own Making – that eponymous work by Robert Morris. The apartment is familiar and I’m becoming almost a familiar guest. A repeat performer.
Julia Powles project is an important project. It seems to me that My House is Too Small may be pointing to a shifting ARI landscape – where the ‘home’, a seemingly private domain, has become another site for art and its presentation. Let’s not forget there is a long and chequered history of homes as art galleries. Heide Museum of Art, for instance, started out as a home, and before Modernism’s white cube spaces, the gallery itself emerged from the home spaces of wealthy patrons. Artist’s have often used their homes to present their work, and in the last twenty years there’s been a long and sometimes invisible history of artist-run initiatives that used the artist’s home. And Powles project does share with these former ‘home’ galleries the use of a domestic space as a site for presentation, yet there is something intriguing about My House is Too Small that gives the idea one more turn.