Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I Know What I Like/Don't Like

Without sounding like a pisshead, I've always felt at home at The Tote Hotel in Collingwood. It's a space where I walk into and immediately feel comfortable. I rarely, if ever walk into any place and feel that way.

I tend to feel a creepy sense of history whenever I walk through Melbourne's older buildings. This isn't the case with The Tote, which is strange 'cause most of the people I know who've worked there have had an experience with the 'ghost of the Tote'. Apparently it's a friendly one. Considering the history of the area, I doubt it.

Originally opening in 1876 as The Ivanhoe Hotel, the current building was erected in 1911 and was made famous (in fictionalised form) in Frank Hardy's "Power Without Glory" (1950). Myth has it that the pub's cellar led to an underground tunnel running across to John Wren's Tote across the road.

I've thought about why this is my favourite space many times before. I concluded that it's similar to spaces I make for myself. Ordered chaos. The Tote is famous for it's sticky carpet and faint musty smell, yet it's quite neat. It feels very 'lived-in' and seems to pride itself on remaining true to it's punters and bands that drink and play there. As corny as it sounds, I'd say that it's what I'd look like if I were a building.

As a response to the space, I created a scaled version of a plastic champagne cork in recycled cardboard and installed it behind the bar amongst all the other detritus collected on the shelves.

This work is in effect a study of Walter Gropius' Bauhaus philosophy and how it has resonated with me since discovering the Staatliches Bauhaus at Art School. The key element I've applied to my practice has been the absence of ornamentation and focus on the harmony between the function of an object and its design.

I usually like spaces that I don't like. I'm attracted to badly-designed shopping centres, shitty parks and boring rooms. That's where I draw most of my inspiration from!
For the 'I Know What I Don't Like' component of this research, I thought I'd choose a space that I didn't know how I felt about.

My family lost their house, pets and some close friends in the Black Saturday fires in Kinglake on February 7 this year. A few days after the event, a friend reminded me of the two major sculptural works I had installed there in November, 2008. I was so wrapped up in what was going that I'd totally forgotten, which was weird. I thought I was more selfish than that.

Today, I made the trip up the hill for the first time since the fires. I really wanted to be there earlier, but I didn't wanna get in the way or appear like a nosy tourist sifting through the ruins of these peoples lives. It was my life too, but I felt I had to get in line.

I have a fond memories of Kinglake. In particular, the last time my entire family were all together. It was Christmas Day, 1988 and we had lunch in the National Park. Everyone was happy, which was rare. I remember being well-behaved, which was even rarer. I saw a Lace Monitor in a hollow log, cracked open bon-bons, danced around and got the best presents ever.

When I drove up the windy hill today it was all gone. I knew what to expect as I'd seen the aftermath of the Ash Wednesday fires first-hand, but still it got to me. When I reached the town, it was exactly as I thought it would be. Empty lots. Some with houses, most without. I didn't spend much time there as I felt like the nosy tourist I didn't wanna be. I took photo's of our block of land. Found a small piece of plastic where my sculpture once was and a half-blackened stump up the back.

I've just begun working on ideas for a public sculpture for the town. It's gonna be a community-based project with me acting as the facilitator. I feel like an outsider, despite having a strong connection to the space. Hopefully that feeling will subside as I head deeper into the project.