A Journey Around My Room
A life-raft that both floats and sinks
In line with the literary plot of the quest or journey, sometimes what eventuates turns out to be more valuable than the destination you imagined that you were traveling towards.
April 2020, Melbourne. A group of us began developing a project titled A Journey Around my Room in order to create work during lockdown. We had been engaging in a weekly online discussion group regarding our practices and were all looking for something to keep us collectively engaged and active. The title and concept were taken from a 17th century memoir by Xavier de Maistre. He was a French aristocrat who loses a duel and hides in his house with his dog and the Butler for six weeks to under house arrest. Antics ensue, he drinks, swans around in various costumes and treats the exercise as a wild adventure. We proposed that in this period of isolation we would all engage in some sort of journey around our own homes. We sought to look for the positives of lockdown, treat the time as a retreat, engage with ideas of absurdity, and in a sense take ourselves on an adventure facilitated and recorded through art practice. It was a proposal for a journey, an initial start, a jumping off point of sorts.
And we did jump off, but not in the way we had initially imagined. The reality of our respective experiences was nothing like we had hoped or imagined. This wasn’t an arts residency. We had not foreseen the difficulty of the project we had set ourselves or the situation that we were in. We pushed through but all had moments of feeling creatively stifled, suffocated and lost, coming undone in the most mundane way. We all encountered pressure, often self-imposed, to be productive and develop material outcomes. But instead of exuberant creativity we found ourselves exhausted and detached. Imposed isolation is not a novel or fun game, and it had been naïve to think it could be made so.
The journey that the project took us on became less and less about making artwork and more about simply staying afloat. It became both a life raft and burden, that simultaneously kept us from drowning and threatened to pull us under. Some reflections on this time: Making work felt strangely impossible. Lockdown dragged on. The city seemed to dissolve into a foggy sea of houses afloat. The landscape outside was rearticulated as dangerous, uncertain and divided. The home reframed as place of intense focus became difficult. No longer a retreat, the domestic space was the world. Maintaining dialogue with each other anchored us but was problematic. Virtual togetherness lacked the nuances of emotional cues, virtual space lacked the vibrancy and connection. We had space and we had time so why was this project so hard?
What does it reveal about art practice when you take away the people, spaces, objects and the exchanges that happen around it? How do you create work when you can no longer access the world that art production and research is contingent on?
It took the temporary dissolution and pause in the function of systems, networks and infrastructure related to our art communities to truly understand and really feel the complex ecology that creative practice is. That art practice is embedded in a relationship of actions, gestures, relationships and processes. That it is facilitated through conversation, liveness, audience and exchange and belonging. And that artmaking is contingent on an engagement with the world, traversing, investigating and experiencing place and material. These acts of exchange and participation are integral and the reduction of this to a digital and online exchange, or material artefact or outcome, while absolutely valuable as their own thing, are only part of larger story.
These ideas became the real project, and their recognition was the factor that kept us buoyant. The material outcomes of the project are in a sense superfluous, the work lies in the experience and subsequent revelations we had. It was a relief to throw a spotlight onto the ghost in the room and discard the new normal rhetoric and ideas regarding productivity and value entangled with creative practice.
What unfolded from this experience is the articulation of a shared collection of research concerns that we will continue to explore collectively through a series of future projects. These shared points of investigation provide us all with a window, deviation, or a portal from the more known and well-trodden aspects of each of our practices. This life raft platform creates and allows a space for different types of making, thinking and working with a focus on the expanded ecology of art practice.
Rebecca de Lange and Betra Fraval, December 2020
Jordan Wood, Traveller, 2020, 76 x 56 cm, collage on Somerset paper
Betra Fraval, A journey around my room, series, 2020
Betra Fraval, The light cuts shapes, 2020, 25 x 30 cm, oil on linen
Betra Fraval, Afternoon Light, 2020, 25 x 30 cm, oil on linen
Betra Fraval, Wall Section Cut Out, 2020, 25 x 30 cm, oil on linen
Betra Fraval, Studio shot, 2020
The domestic space becomes an enclosure for the body
The domestic space becomes an enclosure for the body. The hours and days pass slowly and there is a repetition of actions within the corralled space over time. Noticing light moving across the walls, and the subtle colour shift on surfaces at different times of day.
The paintings are cropped fragments of the interior, looking closely at corners and shadows. They are not specific or personal, but highlight a ubiquitous ‘everyplace’, the qualities of a room. Corners, walls, objects, windows, the corner of an unmade bed, the hole in a ceiling.
Betra Fraval, 2020
Rebecca de Lange, my body, the wall, second moves, 2020, digital collage
Rebecca de Lange, my body, the wall, 2020, digital collage series, slide reel, mp4
The horizon, my body, the wall
What happens when we can no longer see the horizon, how do we imagine a future or a past? Through much of my life this line across the landscape has been a marker and framework, both as an idea and a location. It has structured my orientation in space and time, it has been a guide, I have measured my body and experience against it.
The horizon, like both the future and the past, is an impossible place. Really just a geometric rationalisation of landscape and symbolic concept, definitely not a reachable destination, a mythical place where terrain or ocean meet sky. Even so, impossible places can become real over time. I stretch towards it and look back to it, as an anchor, a horizontal goal post, a line of uncertainty to tether myself to.
My relationship with the horizon blurred over the time of Melbourne’s lockdown. Occasionally I climbed a favourite hill to catch a glimpse, but the horizontality, breadth and span were replaced and reinforced with the short-sighted vertical planes of the walls of my home and garden. Without the experience of distance and a daily rhythmic traversal of space, my world became my body and my home, illuminated, in hyper-focus, close up and in slow motion. The wall became the un-distant distance and my body in all its soft fragility pushed up against it.
Home, always confusing, always contested and another impossible place. I had been forced to trade the unreachable but anchoring horizon for home’s impossibility. Body, also a problematic sight, messy, squishy, fallible, soft and hard, a small city of unknown but known entities. Both home and body share a collection of attributes and behaviours, fragile and impermanent, strong and fortified, articulated by boundaries and contours, each are vessels and containers that provide shelter and facilitate life.
What home means became a key point of discussion amongst friends over lockdown. For many of us in childhood home was both safe and unsafe, domestic spaces charged with combinations of love, wholesomeness and horror. Or a place still never found, an idea that takes on fabled properties, a dream-space located in a future. We learnt through our experiences and discussions that home is not a singular place, it can be many, an amalgamation and flux of multiple experiences, gestures, memories and people constellated through space and time. i And, that belonging is an action that fortifies identity through repetition and reoccurrence.
Home as house and house as container. Somewhat counter-intuitively, containment as a form of protection can lead to a sense of dissolving. I thought a lot about how experiences of space and distance enable us to remain solid, in both a physical and psychological sense. Without movement and interaction through expanded ecologies, purpose and meaning can slip away.
Isolation can lead to a dissolution of boundaries and a dislocation from this expanded sense of home and community. I spent time pushing up against the wall to test my realness and explore our respective structures, intersections, thresholds and boundaries. With no horizon to intercept my vision and no space to negotiate with my body, I felt indivisible from the architecture of my house. The perimeters of who and what I am blurred in the short-sighted distance. I dreamt of portals, but daylight only rendered blind spots. Laying on the floor I would squint my eyes to try and transform my view and allow the verticality of the wall to reshape into the horizontality of distance.
These photographs and collages document and communicate something of my relationship to the structure of my home and body in regard to these ideas during the period of lockdown in Melbourne this year.
Rebecca de Lange, December 2020
- These ideas, regarding home envisaged as multiple spaces, were introduced to me by Jordan Wood during conversations we had in lockdown.
Elyss McCleary, Notes of a Room, 2020, oil on linen, 83 x 71 cm
Elyss McCleary, Notes of a Room, 2020, slide reel, mp4
Notes of a Room
I began some paintings in response to our discussions together about physical spaces, light and ways of making work. This video is of iPhone photos of work in progress before requiring to be in the lockdown at home remotely. They stopped and I returned to them November-much like returning to many physical spaces - a scene frozen in time like I was a visitor in a strange sci-fi film finding a past world where time was spent. At home between remote delivery for workplaces I thought a lot about people. Intimacy to spaces, responsibilities, love, care of each other. Also getting to know more about how I am understanding and approaching things.
Here are notes written in July 2020 about the space I sat in after and reflecting on the phone pics of the first layers of paint. They seemed to continue in the interior room as I wrote of the work there, and adjusted to not having the physicality of how I usually do things- but still a connection through other ways with community, work and dialogue with the artists together.
The bright screen under framed, looking at worlds. Experiencing spaces and compositions. I use the frame of the surface edges to hold an activity of thought in front of me, objects, spaces, people. I keep that in my mind before scanning the room of where I am positioned and a response of seen and felt colours in-between.
These thinking spaces are there. I did at one moment feel the electricity pulsing from a lamp that is near the desk. Close my lids the orange is green when I turn it over in my head as a shape before sleep. The initial laying down of the spaces in my mind of where I occupy space in the flat, with 2 or more colours to activate a sketch of how I may prose some decision making in each painting are left just as. A feeling of first colour to intensify the presence of each thing near my desk, or the colours that reveal when you look for closely and study a wall surface, the directions of movement from a pot plant, the electricity buzzing from lamp, music, media, conversations, outside and inside.
Repeated configurations move across and throughout a physical room, thoughts, a liking to sounds that imagine places, echo structures of an interior and lines of body parts. A pulse and hesitation to placement, some fast, some very soft and quiet.
Accompanying the shift in focus of the still and moving imagery is a reflection of light whichever surface it is- colour seems to not sit still, change over, under and throughout itself.
thinking of someone or something in particular but it is often a feeling about thinking about people everywhere and wishing them well.
Elyss McCleary, 2020
The Future Was.
What do our social roles mean when the physical parameters of our worlds are reduced to a single room, an intimate space once reserved for our private selves? What does liveness mean when there is no event or audience?
A journey around my room led me to ponder a lifelong fascination with our social performances, identity and purpose. The ways these roles have potential to oppress and limit us but also aid communication and social acceptance within a culture. I consider the space between stereotypes, socially imposed and influenced, and the nuances of our identity. Where there is success and failure in desiring acceptance and where perhaps a rebellious failing to adhere may succeed in harnessing empowerment. For example, a rejection of expected gender based personas in defiance of social punishment, for the purpose of social change.
During this time I questioned more deeply what liveness means to the devising of a work for myself as a performer. From the first spark of a concept to the delivery there is a sense of a specific duration and liveness that is felt and that influences its creation. There is a process that involves social interactions, searching and looking through the lense of that concept. The entire process is live and the performance is embedded in this.
With these methods now compromised by social isolation I began sorting through a disordered accumulation of objects and files from various research projects that had been sitting in my parent’s attic for some time. I came across a sketch I had done when I was eight years old. It depicted a humorous scene from an imagined future in which all women could withdraw as much cash as they wanted from any ATM. The women wear heels and fishnets and seem to have, what I thought of as, punk hairdos. They looked powerful to me then and they still do.
For this project I will respond to this childhood sketch. The process will occur in my room over a duration of 48 hours and the outcome will be presented.
Sophie Perillo 2020
Sophie Perillo, The Future When I Was Eight, HB pencil and texta on paper
A Journey Around our Archives
Digital collage video & sound. 1min 56sec
Two Artists. A couple. Two separate creative lives worth of Data, Information and Personal Belongings. The gathered dross associated with living.
Does a digital accumulation equate to identity? Does this form of intangible; bit, byte, mega, giga, tera, peta, flop of ineffable stuff require the same level of interrogation as a whole history of questioning relationships to possession?
Living together in a one bedroom apartment during stage 4 lockdown. What is private in this time? What and how do you choose to share with each other?
Since the start of this project each artist has agreed to share more of themselves, allow the other to not just see, but explore and dissect part of each others pasts, shared and separate, from their personal digital archives.
This project aims to be fun, not stressful. Light and playful, but also a serious exploration. Setting up parameters and games to ensure that we can move forward and sideways etc.
30 minutes a day. A set task. At the end of the week: 30 minutes, assess and discuss, set up the following weeks tasks in response.
Through this project we have created a new shared space and accumulation for the creation of work, and for play. It is an ongoing negotiation and conversation around respect and trust.
The piece that we have chosen to share as part of this exhibition is an excerpt of this exchange. A window into this project.
Marcel Feillafe and Katie Sfetkidis, 2020
Marcel Feillafe and Katie Sfetkidis, A Journey Around our Data, digital collage video & sound, 1min 56sec, mp4
A Journey Around My Room
Artists: Rebecca Delange, Marcel Feilaffe, Betra Fraval, Elyss Mc Cleary, Katie Sfedtikidis, Sophie Perillo and Jordan Wood
What do you do when you find yourself imprisoned in your room for 6 weeks? Xavier de Maistre, a 27-year-old Frenchman found himself in this uneasy situation when he was arrested in Turin after a duel, in the Spring of 1790. But with only a butler and a dog for company, Xavier de Maistre managed to fill his time by embarking on a journey around his bedroom, later writing an account of what he had seen. Whether venturing from his bed to his sofa, or even to his mirror, he wears his "traveling outfit”-- his favourite pink and blue pajamas. Out of his forced reclusion comes a captivating fantasy--a novel take on travel literature.
Our proposed exhibition, A Journey Around My Room, looks at how the current lock-down period has forced artists to shift their practices to domestic settings mediated by screen- based dialogue. The exhibition project develops from an existing online dialogue between a group of artists who have been engaged in a weekly Art Chat discussion group via Zoom and WhatApp across the isolation period. Art Chats has been a forum to share work, experiences, discuss texts, watch video and be involved in each-other’s lives. It is a place to remain connected to art practice and community in times where the previous channels have been put on hold.
A Journey Around My Room initiates an opportunity for the group to collectively look at ideas of travel in restricted circumstances, and experiment with the limitations and possibilities of domestic confinement. How can we use the parameters of the domestic space, as a site to wander and travel?
Each group member will respond to Xavier de Maistre’s text and idea of ‘a journey around my room’ in the medium/s of their choice. Each response will be photographed or filmed by the participant within the context of their domestic space. The responses will be montaged together into a type of diaristic video work displaying a collection of still and moving images. The work will be accompanied by a collection of still images from the video montage and a series of written and sonic reflections.
The project and resulting work develops a type of temporal and physical connection and proximity, a record of travel, between the artists, albeit digitally, in this time of geographic distance.