House on Fire
Ian Strange : Open House
“You fucking idiot, this is just the coolest house party ever!”
– Random drunk lady
The light switch turns back on revealing a ponzi looking cat attempting to find something deeper within the photo before him – 25 Clifton Street, Richmond, Victoria, lovingly spray painted with a giant target on it’s front exterior – the perfect optical illusion captured with equal skill in the image before me.
Like a lighter it sparks once more to illuminate this very lived-in beige and brown suburban room. Ponzi slinks back over to his laughing friends, loosely trying to explain how he thought the photo might illuminate or some shit when the lights went out, perhaps tapping into those childhood memories some of us have of staring up at glow-in-the-dark stars and galaxies before drifting into dreams. Meanwhile my human audio tour codenamed S.A.M (sexy, ass, man) perks up into his detailed breakdown on how these images were planned, set-up and taken.
Realising my fondness for the creative details, I decide to ask around and see what others are getting out of this house within a picture within an idea within a life within a home within an investment that is never quite within your reach. But wait, how did we get here? The home is the idealised thing we were raised in and subsequently raised to treasure. Is it now to be seen as merely an asset – a fortune to be made?
“He’s taking the piss. Someone’s having a laugh I say.” This is a common statement you might feel better hearing about property developers. It’s easy to see why Ian Strange might be taken as such, particularly when he greets you with an entire home spraypainted with a target on the front, then invites you out the back for a house party. We move past the lovingly nestled auction-styled signage in the brown brick frontage, walking down the driveway and out through a side gate to emerge into the backyard exterior (complete with clothes line and outhouse). Here, the entire home is eerily sprayed in red, as if a Monopoly piece has been placed smack bang in the middle of Richmond.
Brown drowns underneath a sea of red, and everyone is in it, and everyone is happy, on the outside. Good thing there is free booze.
On the inside everything pulsates a little. The humming glow of halogen globes beaming from the ceiling onto the partygoers below, who waltz from room to room to witness these almost monolithic pictures. The frames stand out like windows on a wall, inside looking out. Usually within these frames sits a lonely suburban home, this time sprayed entirely in black, sandwiched between pale blue skies and haunting green lawnscapes, the light simultaneously sculpting and tearing at the home it tries to cover.
“It almost has this 2001: A Space Odyssey vibe to it, just needs to be surrounded by fucking monkeys,” I hear someone say. I turn to catch a glimpse of myself in the wardrobe mirror reflection, the monolithic black home staring out at me from behind. The partygoers come in and out of the room surrounding me with their vocal contemplations.
Still human, after all.
Beyond these bedroom walls with their sagging blinds and creamy carpets, through the narrow hallway, sandwiched between bedroom A and bedroom B is a bathroom swathed in black. The windows behind are coated in red spray paint. The bathroom interior lights are out, and a mirror stares you in the face directly opposite the entrance where I stand. A small TV drones out as another shadowed home stands in a video loop, like a haunting dream, a home property video that never starts and never ends. What once was an inviting home suddenly seems like a voyeur when all the lights are turned off and you are the only intruder in sight. Usually at a house party you would find someone fucking or doing drugs or crying or stealing your laundry, but here instead we find an unwilling silence.
Out in the kitchen, where things are a little more inviting, an A-frame piece of burnt pine haunts the bench, hanging over it ominously, occupying part of the main walkway. It’s a skeletal ribcage exposed, so naturally people decide to lean up against it and take selfies. Already cats are lining up on the bench top and within doorways, snapping postured pictures for private or public adoration – snippets from that one time they got to chill at Ian Strange’s pad, because it was pretty dope and I guess there was free booze too.
“It’s totally antagonistic, I mean who spray paints a fucking target on the front of a house and doesn’t want to have a laugh the whole time doing it?”
Meanwhile I’m looking at this big X sprayed onto an exterior wall from another house, carved out into a circle and placed lovingly on the inside wall of this very different home’s kitchen. It’s a window without a view, seen through a ribcage that doesn’t feel alive anymore, heartless in a house that is no longer a home.
Growing up in the ‘burbs, this familiarity was your haven and your hell. It was home, your home. Our home. Welcome home. Fuck yeah nobody is home. When are you coming home? Sickly sweet reminders of our lives now partially forgotten in these walls, if only they could talk, would we even care to listen while we busily buy and sell for fear of alienation from the Australian dream? For so many of us now we just watch it flicker and burn, always just beyond our reach. The devil lurks in the details, Strange is seemingly able to hide his observant demons in plain sight for you to consume and dissect like rabid auctioneers, if your soul desires. Even so, one cannot deny the power of a home that overwhelmingly invites and engulfs you in unison.
I slowly sip my drink as my cunning companion, the Fox, shares her thoughts and musings on Ian’s work, his origins, his sense of humour; how slowly, over time, you shift from just seeing these homes to hanging out in them (with the perks of having some cool ass house party). She even reflects on the joys of watching houses burn down. Her hair waves and curls with touches of amber, as sunshine glimmers behind her through the vivid red-sprayed kitchen windows, flickering on and off with passionately violent incantations, a ritualistic sacrifice slowly consuming its enthusiastic occupants.
Everyone is in it, and everyone is happy, at least on the inside.
Someone begins to laugh.
Ian Strange: Island, 149 West 14th Street (between 6th & 7th Avenue), New York NY, (USA), 19 November – 16 December 2017. Artist site – ianstrangestudio.com