Review by Fiona Donald.
Publication - LIKE Art Magazine
No 11- Autumn 2000, page 56.
Level 11 operates as an occasional art venue. Usually the space is a standard
commercial entrance foyer – shiny but neutral – with adjacent offices
populated largely by architects. If working with space occupies the attention
of Level 11’s tenants it also forms the subject of Craig Easton and Natasha
Five seconds of illuminated embarrassment mark the entry point to Strange Place.
Crossing from the lift to the common entrance the visitor walks through a door-sized
rectangle of red light. Insubstantial as this coloured arrival point might be,
it causes a momentary loss of assurity. A small, abrupt shock.
We have arrived and this is art in a borrowed space. Judging from the first
few seconds it is also art committed to prickling audience sensibilities. Difficult
art. But ‘Strange Place’ then effects an unexpected dislocation.
The facing wall offers something quite at odds with the opening sequence, a
formally intricate, immaculately painted composition applied directly to the
surface of the wall. Forming the major part of the work, this wall painting
includes a square of green projected light and a grid recognisable as a car
park spacing. In one corner a sprayed arrow/circle locates a power point. At
the other end a thick, black frame wraps around the main wall on to a window.
Taken individually each of these elements appears as a graphic quote. The origins
of the references must be immediately apparent to a Melbourne audience. The
graffiti-like marker which helpfully locates the power point answers the spray
can ‘A.R.M’ which advertises the offices of architects Ashton Raggatt
MacDougall. A.R.M’s presence as a major Level 11 tenant confirms the origins
of other elements. The green, projected square is recognisable as the colour
of choice at Storey Hall, a major work from the office. The black grid and thick
distorted frame recall (albeit more distantly) the mathematically derived frame
which decorates Storey Hall’s façade.
In combination these architecturally derived motifs read as a collection of
‘favourites’ recycled from an A.R.M catalogue. The artists could
be regarded as starting with references to the site in the tradition of installation
art but ending with a kind of homage. But 'Strange Place' then effects another
curious shift. Moving towards the window the thick, hinged frame and black grid
combine to form an abstract, spatial order utterly removed from the graphic,
visual phenomena we have just experienced. This little pocket of space near
the window is remarkably intimate like the interior of a cradle or a cup.
‘Strange Place’ consistently employs such strategies of proposal/reversal.
The first moments of the piece, red and unsettling are followed almost immediately
by a pristine, formally elegant composition which is not in the least enervating.
Clearly referential this wall painting employs familiar post-modern strategies
of quotation/recombination. From the other direction (parallel to its surface)
the first graphic, visual condition gives way to something quite different –
an abstract, spatial experience. What was initially understood intellectually
(as text) is now experienced perceptually (rather than cerebrally). One thing
has become quite another.
Architectural commentary is afflicted at times by a bipolar tendency. According
to this logic critical architecture is to be understood intellectually as built
text typically using post-modern tropes borrowed from visual culture. Such intellectually
derived work could be marked as ‘hard’ against the ‘soft’
tendencies of architecture determined by an experiential or perceptual condition.
Strange Place pivots between one thing and its apparent opposite rendering ridiculous
such savage simplifications. As the audience we are asked to question any/all
overly strident theoretical orthodoxies. At the same time we are left wondering
about the possibilities for architecture beyond the current state of play.