Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My article for NGA's Artonline publication

During March this year I was invited by the National Gallery of Australia to spend a period of 10 days inhabiting and customising the A-Z homestead unit by Andrea Zittel. My brief was to change the unit to suit my needs during the stay and to continue my work as an artist. Obviously, carrying out daily tasks in front of an active audience was, at times, challenging. My first action was to put up a fence around the work as a way of setting my limits.

Within this fence-line I slept, washed, cooked, received a haircut, went on field trips, created actions, took photographs, made notes and blogged. I also had countless conversations with people from the public, some of whom came and sought out the unit directly. They shared stories of homelessness, their political concerns with housing and the distribution of wealth, personal stories of living in makeshift homes and aspirations for independent living (off the grid and sustainably). I also encountered criticism of the work of art, and of the National Gallery itself. I felt at times as if my position was to deal directly with these concerns, to somehow address them in my actions. This proved to be the most difficult task.

In observing my own daily patterns in an intense period of scrutiny, I gained certain strengths. My work as an artist has been to look to the more subtle and marginal aspects of lived experience. In that way I could really appreciate the simplicity of watching the sunrise through the windows of the A-Z homestead unit or waiting for a pot of coffee to boil. For me these small things constitute big freedoms (and pleasures).

I hope in some small way, during my time in Canberra, that I've shared these pleasures too. I’m grateful to all the public, friends and staff at the National Gallery who generously shared their time and gave gifts or supplies for my inhabitation. For me, this support made what was a challenging experience also a gift.

Charlie Sofo.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Thank you

Mary, Trish, Lucina, Julia, Helani, Joe, Phil, Chris, Brett, Dom, Hannah, Annie, Caren, Barnaby, Lux, Ash, Yolande, Matt, Antonia, Janet, Steven, Nigel, Karie, Christine, Josh, Viv, Liv, Mum, Mim, Beatrice, Sonja, Lia, Derek, Ken, John, Cathy, Loz, Mike, Joyce, Steve and Andrea.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Dinner at the Homestead.

For my final night at the Homestead I held a dinner. Mary helped greatly with all the food; we made fresh pasta. I put up a tarp to help stem the flow of water into the entrance. 

 


Cramming into the unit.

 
Lucina and Caren (joined by everyone) following Lux on a particular journey around the garden.

 
Rosa the dog with a voracious appetite.

Somehow the rain made the whole thing a more worthwhile experience, mud and wet and red wine. I think I drank too much (and subsequently had to spend a few hours in the NGA sickbay on Friday). 

Postcard to Caroline Anderson

Canberra.

NGA Library

 
Sonya in the NGA library was a great help and friend during my stay. She is also an artist, which is something worth remembering about many staff who work at art institutions like the NGA.

 
I found some archival photos of the library and noticed that there used to be a spiral staircase where the current staircase is. This place has beeen a great resource and refuge for me.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Come and celebrate my last night in the Homestead. It might be raining.

Flower arrangement, Tuesday, 19th March.

 

From 20 Hawdon Street, Ainslie & 36 Bonney Street, Ainslie. This will be my last arrangement, they're the best yet (and yet to open).

Rhythms

Often, I'm waking up in the middle of the night for one reason or another. Sometimes there are people walking outside in the late hours, so I get the lantern and take a walk too. Other times, like last night, there is a high pressure sprinkler spraying directly into my window. It's weird but every night there seems to be something happening, or some strange occurrence that I'm not familiar with. I'm getting more comfortable though.


Here is a photo from my bed at about 1:30 am. Trish came around early and we made chestnuts on the camper. The morning time is good for productivity.



Chris also arrived early and brought over some tree stumps for seating from his own wood pile. I was looking for some in the garden, but they're usually taken away pretty quickly. They'll be useful when I have people for dinner on my final night.


The perimeter fence is starting to fall down. I'm not going to fix it. I was watching school kids play around it today. I kept noticing how they would grab the line and pull it, wrap it around their fingers, dart underneath it for a second then pop back out. The fence is the focus or the membrane that they hold on to, it also represents my own framing and limitation. When I leave, it'll go too.

Canberra / rocks


Rocks to stop trailers rolling away.


House number rocks.


Ornamental rocks placed into synthetic lawn.


Rock fences, half white / half natural.

Monday, March 18, 2013

More people



Solidarity



These two markers indicate the Homestead Unit in close proximity to the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. It's been going since 1972 and transformed continuously during that time, as a protest site, a depository of history and an active campsite. I've felt really cautious in approaching the embassy partly out of shyness and also out of empathy; it's gets tedious having to entertain the public and be on display for viewers (and tourists). It definitely feels like I've been subject to that experience.

I worked up enough courage and went over there this afternoon and had a chat with Tarquin, who was roasting coffee beans on an open fire. He said I could have an authentic aboriginal experience that I could tell my white friends about. Which was a piercing joke, and kinda hit on that exact difficulty I had been feeling. It's better to laugh right? Tarquin was great though, a generous person, who spoke very positively about the future and potential of the site. He also let me stir the coffee beans.

Food

I got my hands on some info about public fruit trees planted by government along nature strips and so forth in Canberra and today I went out in search of some in the suburb of Ainslie. Strangely, I didn't find any public trees on my list, but I did find fruit trees hanging over the front of yards, that are easily accessible by human hands. If you don't mind stealing, which I don't, then these are some locations:

 
Crab apples at 68 Limestone Ave.

 
Persimmons at 58 Limestone Ave.


Pomegranates at  34 Tyson St.


Locuts at 168 Duffy Street.

I also found these small seed pod things on the giant nature strip down Limestone Avenue. I don't know if they're edible, but there were alot of them. Also the inner north of Canberra is virtually awash with acorns. I know they are used as feed for animals, but acorn flour is also used in various cuisines.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Flower arrangement for Sunday 17th, March

 
From the residence of 22 Amaroo St. Reid and Glebe Park, Canberra City.

NGA people (from memory)

Jonathan - Kitchen
Phil - Security
Chris - Gardening
Lyndal - Front desk
James - Security
Johnny - Maintenance
Angelo - Security
Penny - Security
Joe - Security
Brett - Install
Lucina - Curator
Mim - Curator
Christine - Curator
Dom - Install
Ken - Install
Helani - Front desk
Sonja - Library
Derek - Install

 
This is Chris, who is the full time gardener and has quite a breadth of knowledge about the garden. I see Chris almost every day.

Hair cut Sunday.

 
My first day back, Mary visited for lunch and gave me a haircut. I've always hated getting my hair cut and getting it done in public was even worse.


Figs are still in season in Canberra, this one came from a tree in Reid.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Flower arrangement for Sunday, 10th of March.



From Jerrabomberra Wetlands & Stirling Park, Yarralumbla.

Washing up

Sunday was the last day of my first stay in Canberra, so I put all of my leftover fresh food into a box and placed it under the the sign near the unit. By the end of the day it was all gone. I've always liked seeing 'free' boxes out the front of suburban houses.


In general the issue of waste has been an ongoing problem. There are beer bottles stacking up next to the bed. I had a small bucket of compost which I buried in the sculpture garden. I'm still trying to think through ways to make use of waste.


Here Magpies are making use of the left overs after washing the dishes.


And here, a willing stranger offered his height to help tie an internal clothesline for my wet clothes.

 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Alternative shelters.

On Saturday I was visited by a member of the public who had experienced homelessness in Canberra for an extended duration of time. We sat down together and mapped out some areas where he had lived during this time, both in and around the parliamentary triangle. On Sunday I set out to photograph these places.

 
This structure is a public bird-viewing house, which is opened 24 hours a day and nestled into Jerrabomberra Wetlands.


Adjacent to the National Library on the shore of the Lake Burley Griffin, there is an extra large hedge that provides ample cover and privacy. It's easy to get into and there seems to be relatively soft undergrowth.


In Yarralumla there is a strip of nature reserve called Stirling Reserve, which is wedged between the Lake and the embassy district. There are many areas that provide good cover (provided a person has a tent), relative privacy and easy access to facilities and city areas.

 
This structure is a former kiosk that sits directly across from the Homestead Unit. I heard recently that someone had spent an extend period occupying this building a year or two ago. This is actually a perfect site. It's solid, discreet and has direct access to toilet facilities.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Friday, March 8, 2013

Flower Arrangement for Saturday, March 9.

 

Sourced from the grounds of the Edmund Barton Bulding, Kings Ave & the gardens of Old Parliament House & from the residence of 46 Savige St. Campbell.

Through the glass.


A person sleeping with a shawl over her face.

 
Brett and Derek fixing the faulty window.

 
By the Australian artist Ian Burn, 1967-68. Found via the NGA art Library.

5 Objects

On the plane trip up to Canberra, I actually stopped myself feeling plane sick and nervous by scouring the ground for objects left behind from previous flights. I suppose I've always considered aeroplanes to be quite sterile places, wiped clean of previous journeys. Anyway, here are five objects I found on my Virgin flight on Wednesday.