It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.
Sometime on from this provocative trueism attributed to Fredric Jameson or Slavoj Žižek, attempting to capture the momentum of the climate crisis and an associated distrust of the ability of governing bodies to tackle the systemic imbalances has proved to be a growth industry for die‑hard aesthetes. This is the new normal, a contagious meme, signalling the putative end times.
Like the scene of shattered ice sheets on the cover image of my copy of Žižek’s Living in the End Times, a riff off Caspar David Friedrich’s famous painting of the Wreck of Hope (1824), the Climate Apocalypse represented by the self-destructing polar ice caps has notably begun. Ruins, wrecks and icebergs are the more conventional images used for representing the apocalyptic cavalcade of disasters as the mounting challenges for preserving the biosphere and pressures surrounding the contest for life’s essential raw materials—including food and water—amidst the escalating social divisions and exclusions predicted of end-stage capitalism.
Departing from these more obvious symbols, Nicholas Folland looks to the home front to register this sense of loss, fracture and displacement. Other Homes and Gardens (2019), exhibited in the Adelaide Central School of Art Gallery is one of his most ambitious works to date. It follows on from a previous room work exhibited at the Australian Experimental Art Foundation and the Canberra Contemporary Art Space—Raft (2005) and Raft #2 (2009)—presenting constructed stage sets as functioning automatons, complete with wiring for electricity and the essential plumbing: the lights are on and the taps are left running. But no-one is home.
Raft #2, an old-style bathroom/WC in a confined space with an overflowing bathtub of murky tank water, accompanied by the strains of Grieg’s “Holberg Suite Opus 40 (Air)”, might well be an ironic reference to the orchestra playing on the sinking Titanic. In a similarly convulsive take on the house and home, conceived by Le Corbusier as a “machine for living”, in Other Homes and Gardens Folland champions the vernacular form of a mid-century modern period style to forefront the threats to our very existence. This scene as an expanded stage setting eerily evokes the world of the prepper in a bowdlerised, hand-made version of the modern kitchen as the domestic heartland, the hub of family life.
As you enter from the side, the clicks and whirrs, the banging sounds of doors opening and closing and the rush of water down the sink create expectations. But it is perhaps not the reassurance that you are looking for in anticipation of family meal times, or the conviviality of life’s daily comings and goings. In the absence of a human protagonist, it is the house itself that is the scene of restless activity. Wired up with pulleys on a time loop, this house is pure theatre, a self‑destructing machine, pulling apart the very foundations as the walls themselves tilt and slide, chairs rock back and forth. It is compelling as scenes of mayhem and destruction always are for the onlooker, channelling an instinctual regard. This disabling unease invokes something of Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Fall of House of Usher” in which the edifice of the family’s misfortune crumbles and falls, or the crash‑landing of Dorothy’s house slap bang into the marvellous land of Oz, the hurdles of the colourful dream world doubling those back home.
This constructed world as a time capsule is clearly just such a mad labour of love. As Folland has said, the reference in the title of this work to the popular monthly title Better Homes and Gardens evokes fond memories from childhood of perusing copies of the magazine. His installation is the very opposite of the grand designs of the high-tech consumer world of labour- and life-saving devices that futurists have planned for us. Rather, like the broader readership of Better Homes, its evident attraction for the everyday homemaker, the inventor and tinkerer, brings to mind the tribes of creatives populating the aisles of my local hardware store with more immediate practical solutions in mind.
Other Homes and Gardens is a work of pure nostalgia, striking in its bright, florid, patterning—and this is where it gets preppy—as hand-printed designs based on the original Formica laminate table settings that have extended to the walls, cupboards and floor, even the stove, in a frenzy of manic industry. Folland notably employed an enthusiastic team of student–artists from the Adelaide Central School of Art to help in the production of these vegetable‑cut designs applied to every surface in thick wads of colour.
As a post-industrial hand-made aesthetic, returning to the premises of the original arts and crafts movement of the late-nineteenth century, with shades of the utopian vision of William Morris and Bauernmalerei, this taste for the veneer of European tradition championed by a generation that settled in the Australian suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s, so derided by architectural historian Robin Boyd in The Australian Ugliness, adds a further dimension to these culture wars. Boyd, writing in 1968, stated, “This is a country of many colourful, patterned, plastic veneers, of brick-veneer villas, and the White Australia Policy.”
Adelaide’s purchase on the interior and furnishing designs of William and May Morris through prominent Morris clients, the Barr‑Smith Family, is well‑known, and is currently on display in an excellent exhibition Morris & Co. at the Art Gallery of South Australia. And you only have to go to Hahndorf to get a dose of nineteenth‑century German folk traditions. The pride in local markets and manufacture, including the popular laminate kitchen settings that inspire a warm glow of Gemütlichkeit is a further legacy of our own state premier, whose family business Marshall Furniture was once the biggest furniture manufacturer in the state.
Not a display home in the conventional sense, Folland’s Other Homes and Gardens is unlikely to be seen in a heritage museum any time soon. Occupying a more literal no‑man’s zone, rigged up as if to distract the zombies on their way through, this is not a place made for humans to live in; rather, it functions as something of a trigger point feeding into that more deep‑seated anxiety that is the incurable modern condition of nostalgia itself. As Svetlana Boym describes it in her introduction to The Future of Nostalgia, “Nostalgia is a sentiment of loss and displacement … Somehow progress didn’t cure nostalgia but exacerbated it. Similarly, globalization encouraged stronger local attachments. In counterpoint to our fascination with cyberspace and the virtual global village, there is a no less global epidemic of nostalgia, an affective yearning for a community with a collective memory, a longing for continuity in a fragmented world.”
Boym’s reference to the cities and spaces of the former Eastern Bloc are further elaborated upon by Svetlana Alexievich in Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets (2013), picking up on the sense of loss after the fall of communism. In this oral history an image prevails of an austere Soviet-era kitchen, around which her subjects group sharing heated conversations late into the night. One hundred years on, in reflection upon the revolution and the horrors of its fraught collective march towards progress, subsequently dismantled along with much of the social infrastructure, Alexievich writes, “the future is, once again, not where it ought to be. Our time comes to us secondhand.”
A similar sense of living on memories or secondhand time colours Folland’s constructed and hauntingly lonely world.
- ^ In related references to Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?, Zero Books, 2009, p. 2; Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions, Verso, 2015, p. 199.
- ^ Robin Boyd, The Australian Ugliness, Text Publishing, 2010, p. 3.
- ^ Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia, New York: Basic Books, 2001, pp. xiii–xiv.
- ^ Svetlana Alexievich, Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets, Text Publishing, 2013, p. 11.
Eve Sullivan is the Executive Editor of Artlink.