Category Archives: spatial politics

Beginning Bilateral Petersham

[nb: the following is the first blog entry for the project Bilateral Petersham. For the rest, head on over to]


The clock ticked round to midnight and I sat in the kitchen watching it. When all the hands pointed to twelve, I took two photos. Without the flash, the clock looked yellow and blurry. Flash-frozen, on the other hand, it looked like it had been caught in the act. Embarrassed at having been sprung doing something vaguely shameful but essentially harmless.

That’s how I brought in the third of April. The beginning of “Bilateral Petersham,” aka “my Petersham project,” aka “The Petersham Lockdown.” There was no tangible difference between one moment, where I was not “on the job,” and the next, when the “project” had officially begun. No fanfare, no ribbon cutting, no glass of champagne. I went to bed and read a bit and then fell asleep.
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commodification of the artist

This chunk of text comes from a book called One Place After Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity, by Miwon Kwon, 2002, MIT Press, p46-7. It struck a chord with me because it seems to cut through some of the rhetoric I crap on with from time to time. I was thinking about this paragraph in terms of my project Bilateral Kellerberrin, which although not site-specific in a late 1960s sense (ie inextricably anchored to physical location), does grow out of the circumstances of the time and place in which it was planted.

Thus, as Kwon writes, "site" is not only a physical place, but also a set of conditions, social, discursive, temporal, and physical, which situate a project, make it comprehensible to its audience or participants. But the idea of Bilateral Kellerberrin is transferrable (in fact I am looking to transfer the same project to my home suburb of Petersham in Sydney, to see what will happen) – hence the following:

Generally the in situ configuration of a project that emerges out of such a situation is temporary, ostensibly unsuitable for re-presentation anywhere else without altering its meaning, partly because the commission is defined by a unique set of geographical and temporal circumstances and partly because the project is dependent on unpredictable and unprogrammable on-site relations. But such conditions, despite appearances to the contrary, do not circumvent or even complicate the problem of commodification, because there is a strange reversal now by which the artist comes to approximate the “work”, instead of the other way around as is commonly assumed (that is, art work as surrogate to the artist). Perhaps because of the absence of the artist from the physical manifestation of the work, the presence of the artist has become an absolute prerequisite for the execution/presentation of site-oriented projects. It is now the performative aspect of an artist’s characteristic mode of operation (even when working in collaboration) that is repeated and circulated as a new art commodity, with the artist him/herself functioning as the primary vehicle for its verification, repetition, and circulation.

strange strolls in fremantle

this email came through from Perdy Phillips, in Perth. She recently organised a sound project called "strange strolls":

Hi There

Today [17 Dec 2005] is the last day of the strange strolls sound and walking art
project at the Moores Building Contemporary Art Gallery, Henry Street
Fremantle, Western Australia.

This project saw 16 Australian and international artists create sound
walking tours of Fremantle.  The viewer/listener hired a standard CD
Walkman from the Gallery and headed out into the streets of the West End. 
Audiences were taken away from the everyday by the sound experience
created.  The 14 different sound walks were extremely varied.  Some
artists lived locally and their works reflected personal connections to
place. Others had never been south of the Equator.  Central to the project
was the differences created between what you hear and what you see:  the
imaginative journeys undertaken extended the experience of the body and
made the streets living, luminous and imbricated.

For more details see

For those of you who could not make it you can purchase a catalogue at

Also, a big thank you to everyone who assisted with the project during
the last three years.


strange strolls
Curator: Perdita Phillips. Catalogue writer:  Nyands Smith.
Participating artists: Begum Basdas (Turkey/USA) Viv Corringham (England/USA)
Robert Curgenven (NT) Lawrence English (QLD) Aaron Coates Hull (NSW) Maria
Manuela Lopes and Paulo Bernardino (Portugal) Minaxi May (WA) Roxane
Permar (Shetland) Perdita Phillips (WA) Ric Spencer (WA) Kieran Stewart
(WA) Aili Vahtrapuu and Virve Pulver (Estonia) Walter van Rijn
(England/The Netherlands) Dorothee von Rechenberg (Switzerland).

Parramappa – Photos and Stories about places

Via Antipopper:

"What makes a place interesting? How do we relate to it, and why — especially if we come from somewhere else? How do they become familiar or strange? These questions are what Parramappa is all about. Young people from refugee and newly arrived migrant backgrounds wandered Parramatta, taking photos and writing stories about different places. Choose a map to zoom into and find out about each neighbourhood."

terminus projects

This caught my attention: terminus projects.

…here are some key statements which interested me, from their "about" page:

-"Terminus Projects is an independent organisation that initiates site-specific projects of artistic and cultural relevance."
-"we commission artworks, performances, seminars, publications and events which reflect on the experiences which transform our perception of time, space and place."
-"Pioneer innovative and alternative sites for presenting contemporary works and ideas."
-"Instigate collaborations and exchange between practitioners, academics, and local communities on a national and international level."

Thus far, terminus projects seems to be presenting artist's video works in the sydney underground train video advertising network – these videos will pop up while commuters are waiting for trains, in between the product ads and the ads masquerading as "news."

It could be that terminus may begin to operate a bit like an Aussie version of Artangel. Which would be great. The organisers seem to be very professional, able to attract funding for ephemeral/site specific projects, and somewhat entrepreneurial, without being just about self-promo. They're young too.

the art of snoopping

On Wed 7 July 2004, Jaye Hayes presented an evening of "snoopping" @ West Space. In the invitation to the event, she wrote:
"NUCA has lured me out of the shadows for 1 nite only to share the SNOOPP story for Resistance Through Rituals. there'll be some kind of explanation of my behaviour & various bits of antenna trash, plus a tour of the local gutter network.
so come along for a cup of tea & a chat 🙂
NUCA #41 : Jaye Hayes | snoopp
snoopp vs 2.0 (2004)
subliminal non object oriented piezoelectric processor
She crawls into inner-city gutters after dark, a mobile cellular operator, a subliminal insect on an obscure mission. She is submerging, diving into the darkness, a bug in the code of the street, a disturbance in the energy field. The de-visioned dancer becomes a renegade radiobody, picking up signals & generating bodytext transmissions. She operates as an interactive micro-media unit; embodying the meta-physics of micro-radio.
Gutters are a network, she finds a portal & hacks in. As she jams the architecture of the indent, she mobilizes other possibilities. A temporary telemetric system emerges as the radiobody tunes in to the spatial signal & starts generating feedback. Inside the loop, her data-body dislocates across time-space dimensions creating a re-spatializing sequence; an electro-magnetic interference zone. Dissolving into waves of white noise, she becomes a distributed radio-kinetic entity.
Radio text & signal data are redirected via tech-tools while other residues remain at street level. Night after night, lurking in the dark, mapping the nodes of the network, a tiny telemetric insect shedding data, creating links to an elsewhere…


after the event, Jaye wrote the following:

an experiment in SNOOPP sharing >>>
a back room, a faraday cage, a radio bunker, a listening library, a snoopp cell, a receiving dock.
i opened a gateway to my subliminal world & invited low-level listening & personal space-sharing.
the cosy room filled with warm bodies. 'it felt like being in your bedroom.'
but the critical mass solidified an expectation of 1-to-many broadcasting….
she attempted to reboot.
she deployed tactical failure.
she let them feel their way in.
she followed the flow.
she was speechless.
she hung out in the library.
she was dull & happy.
she scanned their bodies for signals.
she made personal connections.
she made lists.
she drank tea.
she became buffologous.
she started invoking willow.
she let andrew set the tone.
they waited for something to happen.
it didn't.
she let it go on that way for a while.
some people got immersed.
some people got impatient.
she was too subtle for some.
she surrendered to talkback.
she was curious.
she was conversational.
she was unprofessional.
she was a duckling (ugly).
she showed them her antenna trash.
she made a circuit of radiobodies.
she channel surfed.
she consulted the books.
she held onto the rock.
she played the inbetweens.
she led them out into the rain…

Teddy Cruz at the CCA

Down at the Canadian Centre for Architecture last night, I  attended a lecture by Architect Teddy Cruz, who works between San Diego (USA) and Tijuana (Mexico). He showed these powerful slides of the long long fence that runs between California and Mexico, "holding back the tide" of human movement to the richer northern state. The fence, constructed from the recycled steel landing mats that were used in the first "Gulf War" a decade ago, stretches right into the ocean. I find these images, fencing off the beach itself, to be quite violent, and certainly the graphic nature of the fence itself has been an inspiration and focus for many of the art projects initiated by the Border Art Workshop and others.

Cruz made some fascinating observations about the economies of exchange going on between the two border cities. For instance, humans are "traded" north, whereas discarded construction materials (like old tyres, wooden shipping pallets, and even entire demountable houses, are "traded" south). You can see quite clearly from aerial photos of the border territory, that the settlement of Tijuana is crowding to the border, pushing right up against the limit of the wall…whereas the settlements of San Diego seem to be retreating from the wall. One of the things Cruz seems to be constantly tackling is the issue of zoning. In an interview, he says:

"So many metaphors about this wall.  This city [Tijuana] crashes against this wall.  Its almost like the wall becomes a dam that keeps the intensity of this chaos, supposedly, this density from contaminating the picturesque suburban order of San Diego.  I call it a zero-setback at the border, because it’s a whole country leaning against the other in a zero-setback condition, again speaking of urbanism.  A zero-setback condition that is very much out of the idea of space in the United States."

[I understand the term "setback" to refer to the minimum legal distance between a property's boundary and the building on it. Setback is obviously something of more concern in the "sterile" suburbs of San Diego than in the more ad-hoc construction of Tijuana.]

When working in the United States, often with non-profit housing organisations to provide shelter for immigrants, Cruz often seeks to incorporate the seemingly chaotic land-use patterns from south of the border. For instance, recognising that small "unofficial" economies (like micro veggie markets) are a part of the lifestyle of the residents, he finds ways to make the housing spaces adapt to "mixed use" – such as having fences between properties fold down horizontally to become ad-hoc market-stall benches, or going beyond the density laws by building illegal small apartments which share kitchen and bathrooms (and hence doubling the population density). All these things are an attempt to adapt the land to the way of life of the residents, instead of the other way around.

Surprisingly, Cruz has found that the local councils are responding positively to his agitation – apparently they get hardly any input from architects about the need to change zoning regulations. And this is one of the most sobering points of his lecture – that architects need to push to be able to design not only the boxes that fit into the existing "invisible borders" within a city itself (property boundaries, zoning restrictions) but to also shape and move the borders themselves.

[postscript August 2006: more on teddy cruz here (thanks to Ian Milliss for the link) :  ]


In early February 2004 Jane and I attended the excellent Media City film and video festival in Windsor, (Ontario, Canada). Windsor is the city that Mike Moore features (briefly) in Bowling for Columbine, as a contrast to Detroit (which is just across the river in the USA). Canadians, he claims, leave their doors unlocked, and don't kill each other with guns, even though they still own a lot of them. Well, we don't know about the guns, but have yet to meet any Canadians who admit to leaving their front doors unlocked. So, Moore might have been taking a little cinematic licence on that one. In Detroit, however, there are plenty of open doors, windows, and rooftops just asking to be walked into. In a one hour walk from downtown up Woodward Street towards the Detroit Institute of Arts, (where we saw the amazing Diego Rivera Industry mural) we shot almost 60 empty buildings, including some stunning old skyscrapers – and, a short walk away, the sombre ex-Railway Station, apparently empty for more than 20 years. I have posted the pics up here.

Scooting around the web, it's obvious that I am by no means the first to document some of the abandoned sites of Detroit. The excellent Infiltration gang has a whole page o' links, and this local infiltrator at detroitblog has strong and sometimes convincing views about the city's empty spaces as a rich architectual heritage (not needing fixing), evidently a view not shared by the blightbusters group, who want to buy 'em up, fix 'em up (or knock 'em down). There is also an article about trees growing on the rooftops of long-forgotten downtown blocks, and a very thorough photographic tour, and spirited discussion forum about Abandoned Detroit. A very funny (though in the end quite sobering) weekly "un-real estate" listing is posted in the Detroit Metro Times newspaper. There's heaps more if you have time and are handy on google. It's obviously a big issue for many many locals.

Gordon Matta-Clark’s Films and Videos

While I was at the CCA for the Teddy Cruz lecture, I also checked out the Gordon Matta-Clark exhibition. He's on show with 3 architects – Cedric Price, Aldo Rossi, and James Stirling, in a show called Out of the Box / Sortis du Cadre.

Matta-Clark was the New York artist most famous for Splitting, a project in which he cut a house in two. He died in the late 1970s from cancer, which is a shame, as his work seems to have become very influential only recently. He co-founded a restaurant called FOOD, in SoHo, in the early 1970s – a project very much about creating a social space (…rather than an economic enterprise – the restaurant went broke after a few years.) He made architectural cuts into houses, office spaces, and vast steel warehouses, both with an eye to formal concerns (transfer of light, underlying construction, shapes etc), and to social concerns (such as real estate markets and anarchist-squatted buildings).

None of his significant projects exists today in any form other than documentary photographs, texts, stories, object fragments, super8/16mm films, and video tapes. I find his activities inspiring precisely because they exist in an imaginary state – and have not been fetishised into "mere" art objects.

Out of the Box presents video and film documents from Matta-Clark's work. In some cases, the video seems to be rough documentary evidence, say of various urban explorations (as in Paris Underground, or Substrait (from New York )), whereas other pieces are constructed as films in themselves. Indeed, some of the films were shown in the CCA's theatre, including Food, Fresh Kill, and Chinatown Voyeur. Jane and I went to some of these screenings late last year.

As interesting as Matta-Clark is, I found some of his "stand alone" films to be less-than satisfying. Perhaps this was because I was hungry for any information I could get my hands on about the artist and his activities – yet films like Food and Chinatown Voyeur were too piecemeal when presented within a cinema context.

Perhaps this is only to be expected. FOOD (the restaurant), unlike Splitting, is a complex and unwieldy project – it can't be summed up with a sequence of well-framed shots. What Food, the film, presents, is a day in the life of the restaurant: disorganised (bounced cheques); grisly (gutting and cutting a fish); chaotic (a dozen raucus friends gathered for lunch, and dishes piling up on the table); and also beautifully poetic (the final sequence showing the kneading and baking of bread). It left me wanting more, and made me feel like I, too, could open up a restaurant – and wouldn't it be fantastic! One thing it didn't do, though, was leave me feeling intimidated about the process of making a documentary film…

Fresh Kill, on the other hand, was specifically made for cinema viewing, using a professional film-crew. It's a kind of film-poem about the trashing of Matta-Clark's old red pick-up truck, as it is left at the garbage dump, and crushed, repeatedly, by bulldozers, until no longer recognisable. The analogy implied in the title is fairly obvious – the red truck is a sacrificial cow gored by predators, and picked over by vultures (there are many shots of circling gulls). I think Jane felt it was a bit too un-reconstructedly macho, but I wasn't so sure, I felt it was simultaneously beautiful and ironic.

The screening of Fresh Kill was juxtaposed with a bizarre early Spielberg number, which certainly deserved Jane's irritation. Entitled Duel, the film was a "made-for-TV feature starring Dennis Weaver as a motorist plagued by a crazed truck driver." The truck repeatedly tries to run the car off the road, but is eventually fooled by the fed-up motorist, and ends up flying off the edge of a cliff in a ball of flames. It's ghastly, but arguably simpler and better than a lot of Spielberg's later work.

Chinatown Voyeur, I would argue, shouldn't have been screened in a theatre context at all. Matta-Clark filmed the cracks in windows, looking into peoples apartments, one hot hot New York summer night. What you get on screen is a totally black field with these white punctuated window spaces, and some very minor activity within. like an old fella washing his jocks and hanging them to dry. It is long and boring. Shortly after seeing the film, I wrote:

"Chinatown Voyeur was originally intended to be projected ON THE SIDE OF BUILDINGS out in the street. Can you imagine? It would punch a window into a solid wall! And you wouldn't be forced to sit there like a zombie in the cinema watching the thing, it would be as fascinating as being a real voyeur looking up at windows, wondering what would happen next."

Matta-Clark's film and video work presented on monitors within the exhibition itself is all fairly watchable. I particularly liked Tree Dance, a series of super8 moments documenting dancers cavorting in custom-made hammocks and coccoons strung up in a huge old tree. And Splitting, of course, is captivating from start to finish, not only for the wonderful taboo-breaking house-sliced in two, but also for the film's home-made construction – the inter-title sequences look like they were pieced together manually on the kind of text board used for school class photos.
[ Post-script #1: This "problem" about how to go about presenting or re-staging work (specifically in relation to Matta-Clark) is taken up by Lisa Lefeuvre in an article called The W-hole Story. Originally published in Art Monthly Magazine (UK) April 2002 / No 255, pp12-15. I recommend it. She asks, and then makes a good attempt to answer:
"what does it mean to place an artist working some three decades ago within these contemporary discourses? How can an artist of the 70s who made ephemerality a part of his practice be allied to the present?" ]
[ Post-script #2: some Gordon Matta-Clark links:
Matta Clarking, a thesis generously posted online by architect Robert Holloway. I haven't read it yet. Also at this site there is a page of links to other GM-C sites. Some of these links don't work, but a few definitely seem worth perusing, especially Visceral Facades: taking Matta-Clark's crowbar to software by Matthew Fuller. ]
[ Post-script #3: an email from Jake:
"You're a bit tough on Duel, which I think is pretty good myself, but maybe it was the wrong context for it."
Jake, you're right, I was a bit harsh there. Sometimes I can be sloppy and cavalier in my judgement – but thinking back to the screening itself, I think I actually enjoyed watching Duel. It was such a simple concept, without all the pretension of plot and moral-of-the-story etc. It's just this bizarre situation where an ordinary fellow is targeted for no reason by an insane truckie, and begins, in a way, to go mildly insane himself. I think it quite successfully captured that "I can't believe this is happening to me!" sensation that you get when involved in a car accident or near-death experience. So, in that its ambitions were fairly low, I think it was a sturdy piece. I also liked how the maniacal driving of the truckie was superimposed on an otherwise banal and extremely ordinary situation…a salesman returning home, listening to the radio in his car…which sets it apart from The Dukes of Hazzard, for instance. ]

Arte Reembolso/Art Rebate

Have just been reading about the “Art-Rebate” project that happened in San Diego in 1993.

(John C. Welchman, Bait or Tackle? An Assisted Commentary on Art Rebate/Arte Reembolso, Art and Text 48, May 1994, p31…)

Three artists got a grant of US$5000 to complete a public art piece as part of an exhibition called “La Frontera/The Border” at the Centro Cultural de la Raza and the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego. The artists divided $4500 of the money into ten dollar bills, and handed them out, one at a time, to “undocumented immigrant workers” in the San Diego area. The premise was clear – to provide a “rebate” (more symbolic than financially useful) to some of the many thousands of “illegal” workers in southern California, who “pay considerably more taxes than they consume in public services and welfare. The fact of their labor poses no or little threat the the job security of other local workers. The immigrants take jobs and accept standards that are below the expectation threshold of citizen-workers. They are unjustly scapegoated for the economic fallibility of the state”.

It`s an interesting action, partly because it is deliberately antagonistic – certainly the artists knew that Art Rebate was going to irritate the national funding body which provided the grant, via the Museum. The barrage of negative (and positive) media stimulated by the project`s press releases were very much to be considered an integral part of the project itself. In fact, this symbolic value in Art Rebate somewhat outweighs its potential practical benefits…although one columnist pointed out, some recipients immediately rushed off to buy lunch with their rebate, it has to be said, the $10 is not going to buy much more than that.

Welchman describes Art Rebate as “post-conceptual”…I suppose the reason for this is that it shares some things in common with the kinds of “conceptual” work made in the early 1970s, ie an interest in its own means of production (where does art come from, what are the channels and structures that create and distribute the art?), yet, the “post-” is appropriate, not only because of the two decade time lag, but also because Art Rebate has some characteristics which were very rarely found in the original (capital C) Conceptual Art… namely, a specific, local, interaction with real-world politics (completely separate from the politics of the art-world).

(Art Rebate/Arte Reembolso, July 1993, Louis Hock, Liz Sisco, David Avalos)

[postscript – more San Diego/Tijuana stuff (about architect Teddy Cruz) here.]

[postscript 2:

As Sisco noted in a discussion of the Art Rebate/Arte Reembolso project of 1995, ‘Art is about framing and re-framing things, and [David Avalos, Louis Hock, and I] think that the way that this issue [undocumented immigrant workers in Southern California] has been framed is a problem’ In other words, Sisco and her collaborators bring an aesthetic awareness of the function of framing (in which what is excluded is as important as what is included) to their examination of the ways in which the mass media and politicians in Southern California have worked to construct a particular image of undocumented immigrant workers.

…The above quote is from pp12-13 of an essay “Ongoing Negotiations: Afterimage and the Analysis of Activist Art”, by Kester, Grant H, in a book (edited by him) called Art, Activism and Oppositionality – Essays from Afterimage, 1998, Duke. The Sisco quote originally comes from a panel discussion “Production and Representation in Contemporary Art” at the Cranbrook Academy of Art (Nov 11, 1995).
Kester also refers readers to an article about these artists by Cylena Simonds, called “Public Audit: an Interview with Elizabeth Sisco, Louis Hock and David Avalos” in Afterimage 22, No 1 (Summer 1994) pp 8-11.