Rich & Strange
Vol 23 no 3, 2003
An overview of key issues in Australia, cutting edge art practice and their echoes in the global arena. Juliana Engberg curates FACE UP a big show for the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum in Berlin and Isabel Carlos directs the 2004 Sydney Biennale. Comparisons between South African and Australian art are explored in Intersections from the BHP Billiton Collection in Melbourne. Major features on painters David Keeling. Dorothy Napangardi, and Colin McCahon, sculptors Hossein Valamanesh, Julie Rrap, Ron Mueck and Patricia Piccinini, and multi media with Jeffrey Shaw. Plus Indigenous photography and new thoughts on the meaning of Aboriginal art from Stephanie Radok.
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Callum Morton's sustained interest in the relationship between people and their built environment continues in his new work Habitat. The work is a 1:50 scale model of a mass housing project built by Moshe Safdie for the 1967 Montreal Expo. This concept for low-cost community living stacked sixteen different modules to create living spaces varying from bachelor pad to a family-sized suite. The project went massively over budget, and sited on the outskirts of Montreal without the amenities that Safdie had originally planned, the complex was not such a desirable place to live.
The real Habitat was thus a sort of model in its very execution: a prototype whose potential remained unfulfilled. It is against its noble dreams of community living (which, by the way, Safdie optimistically views as '&possibly the only utopian project to have been a real popular success') that Morton moves in his imaginary tribes of disruptive residents.
Departing from Morton's previous works, where the internal voices of conflict threaten his pristine modernist models, the chaotic sound and light routine of Habitat almost matches its architectural form. There is something undeniably human about the haphazard-looking facades, more Native-American Pueblo than J.G. Ballard High Rise.
So while Mies van der Rohe would have gasped in horror at Morton's curtains on the Farnsworth House in International Style (1999), one suspects that Safdie wouldn't mind the coloured contents of each miniature apartment in Habitat, that turn the otherwise neutral façade into a flashing Christmas tree. As an apartment illuminates, a soundtrack describes the internal goings-on of its occupants: alarm clocks, farting, flushing, kettle whistles, burping, door slams, cars starting, conversations and arguments, a giggle that turns to complete hysteria. As the evening progresses, the screams and howls of a schlock-horror film take over the dwellings.
The precise goings-on might be difficult to decipher, but the time-lapse effect of a day is assisted by a wash of coloured light on the back wall indicating the cycle from dawn to dusk. Habitat has a twenty-eight minute cycle, the same ratio to 24 hours as the model's measurements are to the real structure. Shrunk in time and space, the perpetual routine of their lives in fast-forward is as funny as it is depressing. The effect is no advertisement for apartment living.
Except for a tantalising peak through a portal in one gallery wall, the frontal orientation make the viewing experience of Habitat quite passive. This sense of being a spectator means that the work lacks some of the sly surprise of other Morton installations.
Habitat offers what initially seems to be a voyeuristic experience, letting us hear and see the lives behind drawn curtains. But of course our voyeurism is largely unfulfilled. In fact, perhaps the drama is not as it seems. Maybe, rather than being privy to the secret goings on of hundreds of private lives, we are witnessing that other concealed life of domestic space – the eternally flashing screen of the television.
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Articles in this issue
- Artrave: Artrave
- Editorial: Rich and Strange
- Feature: A Leaf May Become a Forest
- Feature: Colin McCahon: A Question of Faith
- Feature: Impressive Risk-Taking: The Ideal City at the Valencia Biennial 2003
- Feature: Loop-Back: New Australian Art to Berlin
- Feature: Place-Urbanity: A Psycho-Ethnographic Portrait of Melbourne by Jeffrey Shaw
- Feature: Sideways Glances
- Feature: Stone Into Flesh: Julie Rrap
- Feature: The Entire Life Behind Things: David Keeling's Little Epiphanies
- Feature: The Meaning of Aboriginal Art
- Feature: Thinking Big: Spatial Conception in the Art of Dorothy Napangardi
- Feature: Warped Reflections
- Feature: Why Correggio Jones is not The Hero of the 2004 Biennale of Sydney
- Review: 4x4
- Review: B-Sides
- Review: Connected
- Review: Habitat: Callum Morton
- Review: If All We Have is Each Other, That's OK
- Review: Nocturne
- Review: Outside Tokyo (ideas about space and time)
- Review: Points of Entry
- Review: Shaun Gladwell
- Review: spECTrUm Project Space
- Review: The Rodney Gooch Collection: A Major Survey of the Art-making of the Utopia Artists from the Late 1970s to 1998
- Review: Tweak, Tweak, Let's Surf