Crowded In

 

I live between two states, between two towns, between two houses. In one I am greeted by a cat, in the other, by a dog. In one I am woken up by the waves breaking over intense silence, in the other by screaming birds and truck engine breaks. I sometimes feel like the chorus in Greek tragedies who sees everything, interprets objectively and attempts to guide the main protagonists towards the right thing; or in my case to pull their heads out of a one-city tunnel vision. My protagonists are no murderous fiends, yet there is nothing like a sea change for perspective. Don't get me wrong, it’s tough – Quantas staff now greet me by my name – and like an actor I have to learn and re-lean my lines during my transit. But just like an actor I can switch between characters and lives, only mine are all too real, and all too indelible. It will be hard to give this up.

 

In the past I used to housesit and look after friends’ pets while they were away. And while they were enjoying learning new things on their travels, I was enjoying learning about people’s psyche, sense of aesthetics, style of living, likes and dislikes, favourite food and experience of sunrise, sunset, light and sound, space and time in a house other than my own. I went through the bookshelf of each household, taking in the titles and noting the most loved books. I noted the most used pots and the most used cookbooks, imagining the meals they both helped create. I pretended those spaces were mine – did I like coming home? Did I move about my kitchen like I wanted to keep it? Did my bedroom inspire me to launch into a new day? Should I own this couch? It seemed like I was shopping for aesthetics, piecing together my future life, my future living and creative space. A high-rise and noise won over a quiet Richmond cottage, though a small garden beat windows that were the only way to let the outside world in. If I spotted a theme in the book collection or thought they ought to read something else, I would consider and research an appropriate volume and present it at the next opportunity. These experiences were of immense privilege to me, an opportunity to access someone else’s creative space and to learn something about who I wanted or did not want to be.

 

I imagine now what a stranger staying in one of my houses would conjure about my profile and I hear myself issuing a disclaimer ‘but there is more, there is another!’

French philosopher Gaston Bachelard wrote on the poetics of space in the 1950s, at the time when Europe, following a bloody war that left a whole generation scarred, was just returning to a discussion on aesthetics. It is possible and is indeed crucial, Bachelard stipulated, that we read an interiority of a house as an external expression of the inhabitants and more significantly to allow the reverse to complete us; ‘… by remembering ‘houses’ and ‘rooms,’’ he says ‘we learn to ‘abide’ within ourselves.’[1] For him, it was the human condition to need a house, a cave, a room, in which to dream, a space which was safe for your creative genius to thrive. A room, if you like, of your own. A safe space for reflection. Or in Bachelard’s words: ‘the house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace,’ and he was intent on showing that ‘the house is one of the greatest powers of integration of thoughts, memories and dreams of mankind.’[2]

 

By letting others into our space, no matter how spacious or small it may be, we create an instant intimacy, an intimacy interwoven with out thoughts, memories and dreams. Sharing a meal, sharing a bathroom and sharing couch space changes us. It changes our view of the other but also of ourselves. Letting an artist into my tiny flat would make me hold my breath in nervous anticipation. Nervous but eager.

For artists are scavengers. They take from where we mere mortals are too afraid to, and present with assurance what we would fret to even show our dog. We thrive on their creativity, anticipate their ideas, welcome their insights and need their courage.

 

If we have a house, we dream, we create. If we share a house, do we collaborate? What happens to our authenticity, our authority? Are the residents of 13/51 Stawell Street on display for the artists they invite in? Where are the sacred lines and boundaries? Or perhaps is this project ultimately about how much we can ask of our artists? Put them on a couch with a dog, two kids and two adults in a European-style apartment for a week and find out.

 

I truly love the intimacy of Stawell Street, in a purely nostalgic way, for everything about it is very European. Average apartments in Europe, to fit families the same size if not larger, are about half the size of Australian ones. Our quarter acre isolates us, our two hundred and six square meters of house allows for distance within a family. What instantly struck me about Stawell Street was this forced intimacy, and indeed what I am really looking forward to is seeing what the kids take away from this project – perhaps not immediately, but ultimately.

 

For residencies, like houses, are palimpsests, fully seized for a time, then erased, annulled, for the next occupant. The walls remain as registers with their holes, cracks, layers of paint, the corners, doors, windows and surfaces leaving an imprint of the occupants, of their life, of their poetics of space. Tapping into creativity through someone else’s poetics reinvigorates your own. My House Is Too Small is a home away from home, it’s a perspective on your own city, on your own family, your own space, books, art. It is a life – a poetics of space – between two or more houses, a quiet possibility of creating infinitely in-between spaces.

 

 

Dunja Rmandić

Curator and writer, in between Melbourne and Devonport, Tasmania.

 

 

 

[1] Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, trans. Maria Jolas, 1958 (1994), Beacon Press, Boston, p. xxxvii.

 

[2] Ibid, p. 6.

Andrew McQualter is represented by Daine Singer Gallery

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