Strangely Familiar: Artist Ian Strange On Notions Of ‘Home’ & Sinister Suburbia
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It was 2011 and I stood, paralysed, in front of a vacant house. It was a classic California bungalow with a bellowing charcoal skull plastered across its façade. The tension between the warm nostalgia evoked by the classic Australian architecture and the sinister undertones of suburbia was striking.
I didn’t know who owned the house, what memories it homed within it, and how I was to explore the space. I entered and a strange sense of calm came over me. The floor emanated a kind of cold you’d expect to find in a desolate warehouse and the silence was deafening. The walls were bare, windows locked, ceilings low.
It was like I was in a trance.
Out back I witnessed the violent destruction of three Holden Commodores. I was completely overtaken by the terrifying yet hypnotic soundscape of flames roaring, tail lights being axed, and glass smashed. I felt guilty for taking pleasure in such mayhem. I couldn’t look away.
This was ‘Home’ by multidisciplinary artist Ian Strange. It was a work exhibited in Cockatoo Island’s Turbine Hall, and a work instrumental in establishing the artist’s name on a global stage. Said bungalow was a full-scale replica of the artist’s childhood home rebuilt from early adolescent memory.
Seven years on, Strange’s work continues to investigate architecture, space and home alongside the idea of a decaying urban environment.
“For me, it’s about taking a symbol everyone understands and playing with it psychologically. A lot of these images are about taking that inner psychological sense of a home and somehow externalising that, placing it on the outside.
“It’s the idea of the unhomely, the idea of taking something familiar you think you know well and allowing people to see it differently. It’s about making the unfamiliar familiar.”
Between 2011-2013, Strange created, photographed and filmed a number of site-specific interventions across the US states of Detroit, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, and New Hampshire culminating in an exhibition called SUBURBAN at Melbourne’s NGV before it toured to New York.
“My practice has expanded from being a studio painter to creating multi-faceted projects working with communities to create large-scale art interventions directly onto homes around the world. That can be anything from painting directly onto the houses to cutting them open to lighting them. I’ve even set them on fire in America.”
And it’s this idea of working with global communities to challenge typical notions of ‘home’ that’s defined Strange’s work over the past decade.
“I’m very transient as an artist. There’s a strange irony of someone who doesn’t really have a stable sense of home travelling around making work about this theme. I think that’s a really powerful act, because for me it adds to the work.”
“I’m coming in as someone facilitating a conversation with houses in different communities […] living with different communities and making work is fulfilling because it means I can be wholly there. Travel is necessary as each project is independent and investigates specific ideas within this larger theme and I’m hoping it all ties together as a large global body of work.”
Between 2015-2016, Strange created SHADOW, a project that combined soundscape, photographs and video inspired by site-specific interventions of suburban Australian homes. By transforming archetypal red brick homes into empty shells of their former selves, Strange once again delved deep into themes of identify and belonging by asking his audience to re-evaluate what ‘home’ really meant to them.
Strange’s work is about to pivot into new territories. The artist is currently exploring less Western constructs of ‘home’ and what it can mean for various international audiences.
“I’m developing different projects that are moving out to look at less Western ideas of ‘home’. I’ve got a few projects looking at moving into different conflict zones. I’m working on a larger project called Hold Out which I’ve been developing as a series of exhibitions, film and a book.
“I’m also in the middle of developing a collaboration with a dance company called Chunky Moves for a project in 2019. I’m also continuing to make large paintings and drawings and some new photographic works as well.”
Add to this Strange’s upcoming TEDxSydney talk and here’s an artist with an enviable CV. However, presenting to a thousand-strong crowd isn’t something many would envy.
“It’s absolutely confronting. I’m very comfortable on the ground making work in my studio. I’m not by any means a professional public speaker. I’ve never spoken to such a broad audience about my audience in such a short amount of time […] I think there’s that difficulty of artists speaking to a wide audience and not necessarily speaking back to the art world.
“We can fall into this way of speaking in an international art language and ending up being unclear or overcomplicating ideas and speaking too densely about work. It’s really making me think about what’s important, what I want to talk about and condensing ideas down which has been an excellent process of editing and having to think very clearly about the work. I’m terrified of having to do it, though!”
Ian Strange will take the TEDxSydney stage on Friday June 15. Learn more here.
(All images: supplied courtesy of the artist)
Published 16 May, 2018