Feature Article

Island of home

A sense of permanence and stability can appear built into the architecture of suburban homes. Artist Ian Strange challenges this view in ISLAND at Fremantle Arts Centre, highlighting the fragility of the ‘home’ as an island of safety and refuge.

Ian Strange. Photo Jessie English.

Ian Strange has encased entire buildings in wallpaper, completely blacked out houses with paint, and installed what appeared to be a home which had crash-landed outside the Art Gallery of SA. His fascination with the home has been a focus of his practice for many years, a practice which has included, among other things, replicating the Perth home where he grew up. Other ‘interventions’ incorporated foreclosed homes in America, historic buildings in economically-stagnant Poland, and earthquake-ravaged homes in Christchurch. The world premiere of the result of his latest interventions is set to open at Fremantle Arts Centre with the exhibition ISLAND, unveiling two years of work on foreclosed homes in Ohio’s Rust Belt region.

For ISLAND, Strange carried out his interventions on three houses embodying, from the exterior, the ideal American dream, and emblazoned the words SOS, RUN and HELP in giant lettering across the structures. He says the housing crisis in America is an ongoing result of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. “People were paying off home loans higher than the value of their houses. It put people in a perilous position. The foreclosures have been extreme, particularly through the Rust Belt.”

Strange’s first project in 2011, building a replica of his Perth family home at Sydney’s Turbine Hall, was firmly autobiographical. “I had a great childhood growing up in the Swanbourne area, but I felt a little trapped. As a creative, there was a sense of wanting to escape - I think that’s quite typical of the adolescent age group. After rebuilding my childhood house, I quickly switched to looking at other issues related to homes. It was a great starting point for an artist to investigate, but it’s grown to a lot more. I enjoy being able to tell bigger stories through my work, focusing on more universal ideas about the home as a vulnerable object, particularly in times of economic crisis or in the aftermath of natural disasters, and questioning it as a symbol of stability.”

Untitled, oil on vintage photograph by Ian Strange.

The mammoth scale of Strange’s interventions makes them hugely labour intensive. He says it’s largely a collaborative process which wouldn’t be possible without a strong team. “It’s not about just turning up somewhere and approaching someone. I’ve worked with producer Jedda Andrew for the past eight years She has taken the lead on all my projects since then - from finding community partners and grants to finance the projects to make it work in the first place, to working with teams of people on the ground, such as artists, filmmakers and photographers. It’s about a longer process of engagement with the local communities to make sure we’re welcome when we start.”

Strange has been based in New York since 2009, spending most of his time in Brooklyn. “I’ve bumped into a really supportive art community with artists from around the world,” he says.

Leading up to ISLAND, Strange will be artist-in-residence at FAC, creating a large-scale abstract sculptural work. In addition, a limited-edition, experimental, concertina book, created in collaboration with Jack Pam, will be launched to accompany the exhibition.

Strange’s solo exhibitions include the National Gallery of Victoria and The Canterbury Museum. In 2014 he participated in the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art. He is also the subject of a six-part ABC documentary HOME: The Art of Ian Strange now showing on ABC’s iView. “The ABC is showing a 30-minute version of it on TV on 18 July, just days before the Fremantle Arts Centre show opening, so great timing,” he says. “I wish I could say it was planned, but alas, no.”

Ian Strange: Island is on show at Fremantle Arts Centre from 22 July until 16 September.

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