Erika Scott – Artist Reflection Memoir- Accidentally Annie Street Space – AASS 2009 – 2013
By Erika Scott
[4.7.09] On a Saturday night, just after dark, the facade of a white picket fenced Queenslander is saturated in light. Like a deranged signal, beams of red, yellow and green race along its weatherboard exterior, light flickering desperately from each window pane. Artificial smoke escapes a window left ajar and tree branches sway and jostle below in a hand-held manner. Occasionally black silhouettes creep and cast shadows into the periphery, scaling the centre path and appearing in a window. On this already windy night, from behind a bush shredded paper is projected into the air, dispersing in every direction. There are even short intervals of complete darkness where a small lightbox beside the front door can more clearly reveal its script: AASS.
Like a face lit from below there is a sinister kind of framing and outlining of this domestic architecture, a kind of crisp luminance akin to a Howard Arkley painting but with much less finesse. This house performs a farce of the fevered and possessed, indicating a life and agenda of its own, a glowing and extroverted force on this usually dark and docile street. These theatrics continue for a little under an hour with an enthusiasm that tapers self-consciously to an end. All the while a camera watches from the footpath, a small red dot beneath the lens, feeding these events to an ulterior space, a space culturally distant from the western suburban fringe of Auchenflower; Fortitude Valley.
That night artists Danielle Clej, Ruth McConchie and Sarah Byrne (inbetweenspaces) had acquired a large two-storey warehouse on MacLachlan St in Fortitude Valley. They were already known for hosting Fresher Cunts (which I understood to be an all-inclusive-exhibition-protest against the IMA’s annual ‘Fresh Cut’). In 2009 ‘Inbetweenspaces’ also curated ‘Recessional Art and Other Strategies’ (RAOS) in the same building as Fresher Cunts, but upstairs. I won’t go into detail here but four local Artist Run Initiatives were invited to produce work here, and this included Accidentally Annie Street Space (AASS). My involvement in these projects, both personally and as a part of AASS was extremely exciting.
In my final year at art school and still considerably fresh in Brisbane, I hadn’t experienced art much at all, let alone art that operated quite like this. There was an innate sense of freedom that Ruth, Danielle and Sarah invited into their projects. They seemed less concerned about fine-tuning meaning or imitating curatorial methodologies which felt familiar to me at the time. It was if they celebrated and harboured the nature of production and experimentation itself, to just see what would happen. Artists Elizabeth Willing, Stephen Russell, Louise Bennett and myself had been running our collective ‘Accidentally Annie St Space’ for a little under a year at the time. In response to RAOS we produced ‘Space Odyssey 2009’ where our gallery (and home to three of us) became a stage for a theatrical event. Like most of our projects, the production of ‘Space Odyssey’ was hands-on. We all developed the idea together, and physically worked it through. Using a combination of coloured spot lights and the house lights, shredded paper, banners, tree branches and a smoke machine, we distorted and animated our ‘gallery’ facade. Our efforts were recorded ‘live’, broadcasted on a large screen hung in the RAOS warehouse, channeled through what turned out to be quite an unreliable Skype connection. ‘Space Odyssey 2009’ highlighted how our gallery was not simply a neutral ‘stage’ for art but an imposter, a home performing or ‘acting’ in the role of gallery.
‘Space Odyssey’ playfully exaggerated this process of ‘performance’ that our architecture regularly underwent, symbolically framing our home as the author of the work itself. We also imagined a relationship like the one between the computer HAL and its inhabitants in Kubrick’s 2001. A relationship where humans had become dangerously entangled and enslaved by their own ship.
Many Artist-Run Initiatives at this time, including AASS were immersed and occupied by their site, situation or materials dealt, which isn’t surprising or unusual in a landscape where artists were already integrating the spaces of living and making on a daily basis. The acquisition and organic development of our home into a gallery was impulsive and accidental, along with its self-funded nature and program that almost exclusively favoured site-specificity. Financial stress and dwindling opportunities were always a part of the conversation then, much in the same way they are now. We all kind-of dangled in front of the same cross-road; where you could either get funding, relocate, give up, or become governed and inspired by this process itself.
The challenges of balancing a gallery and living space moulded our program to one-night-only events. The compartmentalised nature of the home also provided unique and multiple ‘spaces’ to charter with art (lounge, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, yard, toilet and roof). We were drawn to group shows as a way to maximise these spatial opportunities, but it was also challenging and enjoyable finding art and artists that could accommodate them well. At times, every inch of the house was made public and crammed with work. Our furniture and personal belongings were regularly huddled and secured into a single room. This group-show mentality also quickly became a way to experiment with our own subjectivities and art practices through multiplicity.
Like a collage we could open up a space between one work/idea/practice and another. Some works were selected to alleviate or aggravate one another, or the architecture (or even the street) in various ways. These frameworks developed and were pieced together during discussions between, Liz, Steve, Louise and myself, who at the time (and who still now) embody disparate interests and approaches to art. We labelled these discussions ‘meetings’. Yet without a timeframe they rarely started or ended on art, sat on one topic for very long, or were without contagious laughter and food. Our shows in a sense also adapted organically and built on its predecessor, exhibitions metabolising along with our personal relationships, interests and growing knowledge of the house.
To unpack how exhibitions developed and touched on our individual subjectivities I’ll start with Renovare. Renovare was handled by Steve. It directed artists into specific sites around the house, to renovate and bring attention to corners typically unnoticed. It was the first of many instances of back-projecting video onto the windows of the house, that night showcasing ‘Slushy’ by Cait Foran, a spiraling animation with hypnotic sensibilities that invited the street into the conversation.
Steve also amplified this idea of exterior space with his own work ‘Love’. These four letters were manufactured ‘life size’ and nestled across the grooves of our corrugated iron roof, a gesture similar to that on the hills of Hollywood. Under an intense spotlight it was instantly at odds with our architecturally historic and uniform neighbourhood. A bold and clean signal in the sky, ‘Love’ fused a conversation between not only our emotions, but our landscape and surrounds, between the suburbia it was backed onto and the skyscrapers on the horizon that it faced.
Performance also became a way to imagine how bodies could re-inhabit domestic space. In ‘Pow’, Elizabeth (who has always worked exclusively with food) took over the kitchen; a room that was both her studio space, and a space with a long history of displaying and imprisoning women’s bodies. Alongside our ever-growing obsession with food, and in the vein of popular cooking shows like Iron Chef or Australian MasterChef (that was only just reaching our TV screens at the time), Liz performed a kind of live bake-off, amassing copious amounts of cakes and sweets to an audience. That night our modest kitchen held a firm semi-circle of bodies to attention, our anticipation and appetites building as the room was warmed by the oven, sentimental smells drifting about. This production line ran smoothly at first but was soon interrupted when Liz abruptly turned to the back door, re-directing every cake, waffle, pancake and muffin away from our mouths and down the back steps. They fell and crumbled across the cement and onto the grass, her efforts flattened beneath our feet. Other performance works that night found bodies blocking doorways, swinging from the Hills hoist, balancing personal belongings on a large see-saw and talking through a microphone about the Dutton Park cemetery.
Louise’s interests in screen-based media, parties, and the mediation of experience through technology sowed the seed that was ‘House Party’. “House Party’ was unique in that it was packaged less as an ‘exhibition’ and more party (potentially a comment on how these contexts already intermingled). Funnily enough this did influence the crowd that showed that night as many close ‘non-art’ friends who regularly steered clear of our events felt that this one was ok to attend. It was also unique in that it invited artists to respond not just to the house, but to the furniture and our belongings within it.
Zero effort was made to clean, disguise or dress our living quarters and the artists involved would casually pop in during the week to see what they were up against. Louise was a part of this show and situated a lengthy recording of ‘bustling-party-vibe-sounds’ behind my locked bedroom door. It emitted a fluctuating and layered chorus of shuffles, laughter and muffled voices that both alienated and reinforced our social activities in the adjacent room. I also fondly remember a work by Myriam Raymond ‘glowing’ in the kitchen. It was a projection of a burning candle that blended seamlessly and quietly above our spotted and greasy stovetop. In much the same way that Louise’s work operated, it came in and out of awareness over time and made us question and reassess our ears or eyes during the night. Whether it was the art or the alcohol, gallery-goers did seem more at ease. Viewers casually sat around on the floor (sometimes almost on top of work), they blocked projection screens, spoke loudly and spilled their drinks.
My own practice and interest in sculpture and installation practice led the path to ‘Lame Objects’, a loose exercise that re-immersed objects of a particular scale and domestic calibre back into a domestic context. We did scour and tidy the house meticulously for this show, trying not to muddy the rampant domesticities on both sides (object and site), but also because we were excited to have had Martin Creed (UK) participate.
With an open invitation Martin proposed ‘no.88’, a sheet of A4 paper crumpled into a ball, a tiny gesture that we positioned inconspicuously inside our front door. My show favourite was a series of works by Charles Robb titled (Flop (third version)), the largest item being a self-portrait bust with a curious expression. Positioned on the kitchen floor we enjoyed dining with it in the lead up, its un-heroic gaze contorted with an uplifting tension akin to Martin’s ball. But I’d also like to mention our last show at the house, ‘Dwelling’ by Archie Moore. Here Archie accumulated an array of childhood memories via personal belongings, some genuine and others with the help of charity and tip shop purchases. We grew the lawn, replaced our fridge with a broken one that weighed a ton, old television jingles played on a tube tv. Archie also filled our cupboards and draws with old toys, drawings, kitchen media and books that made more sense in the late 70’s. This ‘re-creation’ of his childhood home (Archie had always mentioned Annie St resembled it so much) consciously encapsulated the innate difficulty and impossibility of the task. He highlighted the ways in which ‘remembering’ not only haunts but is eternally unstable. Our memories and histories constantly re-informed, mis-represented and altered through the act of storytelling itself.
That day the boundaries between our home and the work were entirely blurred, patriarchal relationships between gallery, work and gaze unraveled. Our Queenslander was also finally accepted and celebrated on its own terms, warts and all. This scenario also re-assessed my views on the role ‘alternative’ spaces can play in art, the word ‘alternative’ now feeling slightly oppressive. I’ve become more aware of the way these ‘alternatives’ can be a desirable and accountable place to explore styles of exchange, not necessarily something always ‘other’ or in constant conversation with the ‘white cube’.
After ‘Dwelling’, AASS did continue into an offsite form for another three years or so (using motel rooms and the like). While I can’t speak for everyone in AASS I think our core values and processes that I’ve touched on were still consistent to that time. I also want to mention that while AASS was a ‘gallery’ it was also a site of overwhelming personal significance. It was an insanely productive time and between shows we were all constantly helping each other produce, exhibit and write about our own art and projects.
We were eternally installing, making, picking up (or dumping) art materials or even hosting idiosyncratic birthday parties at the house. At one point, we hosted a flash Tupperware-party-performance underneath the house. During this performance, I proceeded to project ‘The Phantom of the Opera (1925)’ onto a white tablecloth below our Tupperware presenter, Liz also offering up a ‘Tupperware’ cake garnished with a dead rat fashioned from marzipan. Everything mundane and domestic could and did become an excuse to make work or to make fun. Liz and Louise were always eternally handy and surprisingly patient models for my tiresome video and photo ideas. Liz was always encouraging me to eat leftover art or was setting fire to marshmallows in the yard, or Steve photographing his blankets and making designer lamps.
Steve was also a fake reference on my resume which scored me a job in the pet industry, a space that I’m negotiating still to this day. He called in and said that I had cared for his two Jack Russell’s, he even made up names for them. AASS was a supportive and like-minded situation that was armed with ‘space’ and therefore the freedom to create a universe unto itself. We were able to form a temporary oasis outside of our general community that felt uninterested, unsupportive or even hostile towards forms of expression and art. This safety is also potentially why I was so disturbed when we received a council complaint submitted by a disgruntled neighbour momentarily offended by our signage or a light in their bedroom window. It was disheartening to have that invasive gaze brought back into the house causing us to then dismantle our future programming, especially when it had been our refuge for so long.
And on a side note I’ve always noticed that even in the reign of AASS, a lot of artists involved didn’t record or display documentation of their work from AASS exhibitions on their CV’s or online folios. I wonder if these domestic contexts and curatorial strategies were just too limited, idiosyncratic, messy or process driven? Were they too far removed from the canon where we as artists ultimately intend or aspire to be? I am completely biased here but I speculate that our own inability to personally commemorate and value these projects is why the history of ARIs in Brisbane slides so easily under the rug? Or maybe what’s valuable here is something much more ‘relational’ and experiential, something that images, artworks or houses can’t speak of or contain.