In May 2001, soon after my appointment as Head of the School of Visual Arts (now Contemporary Arts) at Edith Cowan University, I visited Perth in order to meet staff and students of the School. In the late afternoon of a rainy Saturday I optimistically drove all around Northbridge, the city's buzzing nightlife centre, hoping to identify, on that very evening, any likely-looking empty shop-front or store that might serve as the School's first project space.
It wasn't until January 2002 that the right building, an empty hardware store, became available at 221 Beaufort Street in Northbridge.
The School's technical, academic staff and postgraduate students worked incessantly for many months to refurbish both the three upstairs spaces and the three downstairs spaces.
The upper floor was reconfigured into a self-contained apartment and studio for future artists-in-residence, while the three downstairs rooms were refurbished as installation/performance spaces, complete with lighting grid in the ceiling. The front room, with huge symmetrical windows looking onto Beaufort Street, was transformed into a classical white-cube space. spECtrUm project space was inaugurated in June 2002 with a SOVA staff show.
The space had been 'activated' in March before renovations began, with an all-night improvised sound performance, that took place sequentially in each of the seven rooms of the building, starting at the front room at sunset and ending upstairs at dawn.
This collaborative event included Lindsay Vickery, Jonathan Mustard, and postgraduate/undergraduate students from both SOVA and WAAPA.
Since the inaugural show various SOVA artists-in-residence such as Eugene Carchesio, Linda Sproul, Thomas Mulcaire, Lyndal Jones, Gregory Pryor, New York artist Paul Ramirez Jonas, Rosslynd Piggott, as well as Swiss artist Andreas Hagenbach and Argentinian photographer Flavia Schuster have exhibited new work.
The huge billboard that sits astride spECtrUm's roof has hosted interesting projects, and Lyndal Jones, currently a post-doctoral fellow at the School, is working on a billboard project.
Other events have included an installation by SOVA Sculpture co-ordinator Dr Nien Schwarz, employing 365 suitcases collected by the artist over a considerable period of time.
On the first Monday of each month spECtrUm hosts an evening of improvised sound performances titled soundspectrum,
presenting improvised new music/electronica and dance/opera works.
Recent events include an exhilarating exhibition of paintings, drawings, films, photographs and artifacts made by indigenous students from WA secondary schools (sponsored by WMC); the current show, Creative Medicine (Trudi Latour/Geoff Buchan) explores the complex healing aspects of indigenous art.
In June 2003 Korin Gath and Dave Turley, two SOVA honours students, collaborated on an installation titled Verging, an enormous 'collection of collections', to quote Calvino's Mr Palomar, a veritable multitude of forms, objects, shapes and sounds, gathered by the artists over many months by patiently scavenging the verges of Perth streets, and collecting the rejected detritus of suburban lives. These '10,000 things' were reconfigured into a many-layered narrative that wound its way through spECtrUm, interweaving the simple formality of magical sculptural micro-moments with momentous insights into the various modes of dissolute consumer mentalities.
In April Thomas Mulcaire, the Director of Cape Town's Institute of Contemporary Art, repainted all of spECtrUm's white walls an even more translucent white, and simply installed a poster in each room; the front room's poster announced that: 'a luta continua' (Portuguese for 'the struggle goes on'); the poster in the middle room reminded us, again in Portuguese, that: 'other hands will take up the weapons'. One hundred versions of each were laid upon two tables, and were free for the taking.
This work referred to the adoption by South African anti-apartheid activists of Angolan freedom-fighter mottoes, who in turn had adopted them in the late 1960s from the Italian Red Brigades breakaway movement, Lotta Continua.
The large empty rooms were sonorously filled with the surprisingly powerful voices of two seemingly insignificantly small posters, in a beautiful echoing of the raw power of minorities engaged in unrelenting struggles against oppression.
As one drives down Beaufort street at night, spECtrUm's billboard high on the roof declares in bright orange and black: NUCLEAR SHELTER 200 M.
Below, the lights shine inside a transparent space, and the multi-coloured spECtrUm neon signals to passers-by that this site is now activated and continuously engaged with positive actions, responses and ideas that might in turn generate further commitment to a critical and creative engagement with the broadest possible spectrum of cultural activity.