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The “Great Australian Dream” is a national reverie from which we have not entirely awoken. At its most vivid in the post-war 1950s and 1960s it flourished in a time of full employment, burgeoning wealth and the urban sprawl or sub-urbanisation of Australian cities. Central to the nation’s aspiration was the idea that success and security could be measured through the ownership of a quarter acre block and detached house with garden, barbecue, hills hoist and later, from the 1970s, a swimming pool. Artists, writers and film-makers, however, were suspicious, and the dream was ridiculed and parodied in paintings of John Brack, Nino Culotta’s They’re a Weird Mob (1957) and Robyn Boyd’s critique of Australian architecture, The Australian Ugliness (1960). Howard Arkley (19511999), perhaps the most enthusiastic creator of suburban iconography, occupied a period between ‘the dream’ and its imminent demise. If Arkley’s work was at all critical, his critique was tempered by ambivalence; occasional disdain but mostly nostalgia and romance.

In framing a sense of home and lifestyle that is distinctly Australian, the artists included in Thoroughly Modern draw upon aspects of modernist architecture. While definitions vary, modern architecture emerged at the turn of the last century and gained momentum following the Second World War. In urban planning, dwellings and offices, form followed function as architecture attempted to address issues of modernity by adapting to social and technological upheaval that continued throughout the 20th Century. The Industrial Revolution produced new building materials such as iron, steel and glass, which in turn fostered building techniques that considered the lifestyles of urban working classes and the burgeoning bourgeoisie. Modern art movements influenced design with new challenging ways of thinking and seeing represented in movements such as PostImpressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Constructivism and Minimalism. Most influential, however, was Germany’s Bauhaus (1919-1933) founded by architect Walter Gropius who believed that visual arts, crafts, design and architecture would become one, unified by simplified form, rational thought and functionality. There is no better (or more strange) introduction to the broad lineage of modern architecture than Matthew de Moiser’s Home Sweet Home (2010). Here, Le Coubusier’s Villa Savoye (Paris 1931), Harry Seidler’s Rose Seidler House (Sydney 1950), Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House (Plano, Illinois, 1951) and Atherton Gardens Housing Commission of Victoria (Melbourne 1960s), are presented in found, completed, long stitch kits. A craft equivalent of ‘paint by numbers’ long stitch embroidery was a popular pre-internet pastime that frequently depicted bucolic scenes with quaint cottages. de Moiser has meticulously deconstructed and thus ‘de-kitschified’ these long stitch kits replacing the houses with dwellings that stand as icons of 20th Century International Style Modernism. Redolent with layers of irony, he employs a most democratic method of craft making to incorporate an everyday activity into a sublime vision of modern design.

The parents of Matthew de Moiser and Grant Hill emigrated from Estonia and the United Kingdom in all probability with the idea that Australia was a country where one could own property and a new homennn that would ultimately provide a sense of security and continuity for future generations of family. Hill’s doctoral thesis explores the concept of home as more of a psychological state than a matter of bricks and mortar. In post-war Australia where the availability of land, economic growth and job security fostered an unprecedented suburban crawl, home ownership was not only achievable it was expected. Hill’s works use earth pigment to evoke a notion of place and thus home. The structural elements of the paintings – stretcher bars, timber support and linen surfaces are visible in finished works and thus materials are a metaphor for the constructed landscape and spatiality of suburbs. With some elements of the idealised architectural drawing Hill produces a series of works that reflect the impact of construction on landscape and its paramount place in the national psyche. de Moiser, Hill and Alex Lewis all employ the materials and/or processes of construction as media for their work. For Lewis it is the ubiquitous besser block; cheap, practical, versatile and sometimes ornamental. During the 1930s Australian pre-mixed concrete companies were established and quickly became placed amongst the most advanced in the world and by the 1950s besser blocks reached full stride. With a long interest in urban structures and architectural motifs isolated from their conventional contexts, Lewis’s prints of besser block design highlight their iconography in Australian construction while also acknowledging an unassuming beauty. The digital prints have a refined photographic quality and the designs seem to change in accordance with original levels of shadow and light. From the celebratory prints Lewis turned to the blocks themselves as a mode of presentation for vinyl prints of architectural details that highlight the functional form of familiar Modernist buildings such as Canberra’s ABC Flats and Harry Seidler’s MLC Centre, Sydney. While the presentation might appear to be an oblique reference to Carl

MATTHEW DE MOISER Without a Splash, 2013, Laminex on board, 90cm x 120cm

MATTHEW DE MOISER Rose Seidler House, 2010, Long stitch embroidery, 47cm x 47cm

Andre’s brick works, the subtle silver prints reflect a distinctive minimalist brand. Lewis’s sees his images and 3D pieces as intimate in scale and accessible - while simultaneously implying something much larger; monumental. Matthew de Moiser also employs one of the fashionable materials of the 1950s and 60s for his series of laminates. These elegant, minimal scenes of service stations, houses and swimming pools are assembled from sheets of laminex in colours synonymous with the Modernist movement. A material that often attempts to fake wood grains, linen weaves, metallic threads or simply blind with colour, laminex’s thin plastic veneer conceals it’s substance. It is this fake quality of laminex that de Moiser exploits, its ethereal abilities to transform prosaic suburban scenes into ‘acid trip impressions’ that reflect the empty beauty of modernity. At this point the vision becomes bleak, moving from domestic architecture and landscaping to the office and its interiors. Reminiscent of Jacques Tati’s critique of Modernism Playtime (1967), where the conveniences of design simply don’t work, both Stephanie Wilson (and de Moiser) question the idea of functionality presenting environments built for, but devoid of people. Wilson’s ‘officescapes’, in soothing mid 20th Century pastels investigate corporate, institutional spaces that suggest comfort and efficiency while reminding us that neither may be achieved with one pot plant, transparent wall and/or an ergonomic chair. Exploring the confusing and sometimes unsettling beauty of the void, the substance of Wilson’s work is paradoxically its focus on style over substance. The exacting horizontal and vertical lines of modern design are undermined by inaccurate perspective and awkward composition. There is humour in Wilson’s disquieting spaces where (outside home) many of us spend much of our lives negotiating a space between functionality and theatricality.

If Modernism’s vision begins to show strain with Wilson and de Mosier it becomes dysfunctional in the work of Janet Angus. Her stark architecturally informed constructions that reflect notions of the ultimate designer home are more a study in urban neurosis. We know that the dream of a home in the suburbs was to become tainted, especially for women, who were overburdened by motherhood, the tedium of household duties and isolation on the edges of cities. A designer home could not compensate for a life of unappreciated toil and loneliness: solace was often found in alcohol and prescribed medication. In many ways Angus’s painting reflect this distorted view of home where the stark angles of the architecture are a metaphor for what she describes as “ an inner state … suggesting the difficulties associated with negotiating one’s way through angst inducing contemporary environments …”. The oil on board paintings consist of multiple surfaces that extend beyond a traditional painting format, where architectural form emerges from dark spaces and invade the audience’s field of vision. Danny Wild’s study of the minutiae of suburban life has taken many forms and has been manifest in performance, sound, video, photography and installation. While not directly concerned with dysfunction he has nonetheless provided a critical study through the presentation of commonplace associations in respect of contemporary urban life. Two video works included in Thoroughly Modern are created from smart phone photographs that explore both interior and exterior views. Around the Block (2014) is a 3D collage produced while walking one block from his residence observing the facades of houses, fences, laneways and footpaths. Images move, overlap and merge to create a disjointed tour as the video’s perspective shifts, representing the way planned spaces and adjacent properties are positioned, creating boundaries and dictating the relationship between people and their environment. Common Memory (2015-16) in a sense zooms in, a parade of passing objects one might see in any street or back yard. Wild’s interest, however, is not simply the object but rather the way it is seen – a road sign form behind, or the

GRANT HILL Stringy Bark Street, 2014, Earth pigment on timber and linen, diptych, 100cm x 305cm

GRANT HILL Blue Tongue Road (detail), 2014, Earth pigment on timber and linen, diptych, 100cm x 305cm

texture of a blanket or duster. Milk crates, eskies and shopping trolleys combine to produce a detailed picture of the detritus that surrounds us, generating a detailed image of suburban existence. Living the Dream, a visual essay that accompanies Thoroughly Modern consists of archival footage from promotional films made by the Australian Government in the 1960s. Scenes from Canberra, Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne and the Gold Coast concentrate on happy nuclear families, secure in work and building ideal lifestyles in the suburbs of a society where everything was new and exciting. Like all propaganda, these films made by the Australian Commonwealth Film Unit are misleading in the sense that they present only an image of desire; what could be rather than what is. It is important to remember that Aboriginal Australian’s did not have the vote until 1967 and waves of new Australians were met with suspicion. The archival footage reflects elements of each artist’s work; the homes, the offices, the construction materials and the lifestyle – visualizing the social foundations of work that variously references a period when Australia came to identify itself as ‘first world’. Thoroughly Modern brings together a new generation of artists after Howard Arkley, who with Modernist art, design and architecture as their tools, revisit and reinterpret the utopian dreams of post-war Australia. David Broker, April 2016 Stephanie Wilson is represented by Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney Matthew de Moiser Home Sweet Home courtesy of the artist and Noella Lopez Gallery

JANET ANGUS Enjoy the Silence, 2015, Oil on board, 122cm x 81cm

JANET ANGUS External Reality, 2015, Oil on board, 40cm x 49.5cm x 1.7cm

ALEX LEWIS Hospital, 2016, Photographic print on concrete besser block, 19cm x 39cm x 19cm

ALEX LEWIS Cross, 2015, Digital print on paper, 24cm x 42cm

STEPHANIE WILSON Palm Down, 2016, Oil on canvas, 107cm x 122cm

STEPHANIE WILSON Cubicle, 2013, Oil on canvas, 107cm x 122cm

DANNY WILD Around the Block (detail), 2014, 3D digital video collage, dimensions varable

DANNY WILD Common Memory (detail), 2015-16, 3D digital video collage, dimensions varable

THOROUGHLY MODERN Curated by David Broker

Catalogue by Alexander Boynes



Thoroughly Modern @ CCAS (2016)  
Thoroughly Modern @ CCAS (2016)