Rendezvous at Wrongtown – Saturday August 7, 2010
Artists: The Agents, Tom Civil, Hotham Street Ladies, Andy Hutson, Ash Keating, Bonnie Lane, Jonathan Leahy and Vexta, Matt Morrow, Simon Pericich, Kiron Robinson, Robbie Rowlands, Neale Stratford, Hiroyasu ‘TWOONE’ Tsuri, Urban Village Melbourne, Danae Valenza, Theresa Harrison (curator), Tai Snaith (curator), Vexta (curator)
If like me, you harbour homicidal thoughts when hearing your parents and their neighbours discuss home renovations and compare the merits of installing a beige kitchenette, then you would have loved last weekend’s Rendezvous at Wrongtown. Curators Tai Snaith, Theresa Harrison and Vexta, with twenty-five local artists turned the suburban dream home into something quite unhomely. No one would give a straight answer as to how they got hold of this property in the well-to-do suburb of South Yarra. Nor why they were allowed to do the drastic, beautiful and strange things they inflicted upon it. Instead there were cryptic references to Wuthering Heights, family feuds and the owner as a missing Miss Havisham character.
Nonetheless, the curators’ reputations preceded them, having staged similar events where the home is given an uncanny makeover; Snaith staged House Proud for the Next Wave Festival in 2008 and this year Harrison put together Holes in the Wall in Carlton. Wrongtown brought together the best of these shows transforming an otherwise bland house with some very imaginative responses from the artists.
Andy Hutson took over what might have once been a laundry space, creating a kind of mineshaft tunnel. As you funnel into the space, the smell of dirt packed close round your ears substituted for your sight, which was obscured by darkness. The ingenious construction also subtly shifted its angle so that you slowly by degrees, you felt yourself crouching and the claustrophobia mounting. I did not hover long to watch the monitor at the end of the tunnel, quickly backing out into the light.
Next door, in a carpeted bedroom, Robbie Rowlands peeled back a portion of the floor with such a deft carpenter’s hand that it looked as effortlessly curved as an orange peel. The Urban Village Melbourne collective also wreaked havoc on the floorboards; in what must have been a very cathartic installation process using sledgehammers to pry the floor vertical. Peering into the void they created lay the apparition of a girl sleeping in the basement below. What I mistook for a mannequin was in fact, Michelle Emma James, who lay there the whole day. The uncanny installation leaped straight from the pages of an Edgar Allan Poe story of hidden chambers, women buried alive and beating hearts beneath floorboards.
Meanwhile, in what might have been a ‘study room’, Matt Morrow filled the space with a collection of sculptures ingeniously mimicking hard rubbish. Many a viewer was fooled into thinking his sculptures were simply the remains of a council clean-up comprising of computers, gym gear and mattresses. Only when I peered closer at the kind of brown couch that every student house owns, did I realise that it was meticulously sculpted from plywood and painted with those stylish, 1970s hues of camel and chocolate brown.
Stepping into the Hotham Ladies en-suite, there was a sweetened twist on the unhomely, where a blood-like substance dripping down the wardrobe doors was in fact revealed to be the benign trickle of strawberry jam. The chest of drawers spewed forth mountains of pop corn and bubbly white foam, stuck with hundreds and thousands. However the scent of sugar and spice was cleverly juxtaposed with a gag factor. Cow bones sitting on the dresser wafted a smell that only warm, off meat can produce. The works were like a more saccharine version of Colombian artist Doris Salcedo, who grafts skin and human hair to the surfaces of domestic objects. The Hotham Street Ladies brought a similar sense of unease into the home where innocuous food stuffs in plague proportions became almost monstrous living entities.
Sandwiched between the jam and popcorn, was the entrance to another of Urban Village’s installations in the bathroom. Inside, a live girl languished in a bathtub of powdered milk, while mannequins suffocated on shaving cream in the shower recess. The labyrinth of artists continued until you were spilt out into the yard, where a healthy amount beer and wine awaited you.
Apart from the novelty of so many artists overrunning a house, what was so refreshing about the one day only exhibition, was that the curators let the strength of the works speak for themselves. Crawling through the window to enter, the cacophony of sights, smells and textures enveloped you in the moment. There was no need for an art theory essay, label, catalogue or audio guide to explain away the spontaneity of the experience that was Wrongtown.