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Heathfield Place, Temporary Democracies Heathfield Place, Temporary Democracies
photo Heidrun Löhr 2007
When Michael Dagostino, director of the indefatigably innovative Campbelltown Arts Centre, approached live art practitioner and curator Paul Gazzola with an idea for a project that would engage with the suburb of Airds in a NSW public housing area that is subject to demolition and re-settlement, Gazzola came up with the title Temporary Democracies.

“People often live in these houses for a short period of time in which they have a democratic right to make them their own. Some have been there for 30 years plus and others for two or three years.” Dagostino explains, “Airds will be transformed—70% of it is going to be knocked down and re-built over the next 10-15 years and a large percentage of the population relocated elsewhere.” Gazzola recalls “looking at these empty houses as offering a great opportunity for artists to be able to work with as sites for setting up installations or for drawing materials from or just as reference points. So, Brian Fuata is working on the foundations of a site that’s already been demolished. Two other artists are working inside the houses, setting up events and installations. Indigenous artist Nicole Foreshew is filming the demolition of a house. When suddenly a house disappears you see more of what used to be there before, she says. We’re temporarily extending the lives of these houses.”

Dagostino says that the project has the support of the NSW Land and Housing Association in order to “to engage the community in a positive way about the changes to Airds, allowing artists to tell the stories of the residents and work directly with them to build up a rapport.” Gazzola points out that there is a relocation team acting as middleman between the government department and the community, softening the impact of the relocation: “they’re involving local people in re-generation of old ideas of renewal. They hold the Airds Out Loud event four times a year for the community to discuss the design program. ‘What would you like? Where should roads and infrastructure change?’ The team seem to have tried their best to connect with the people rather than delivering a potentially top-down strategy.”

At the end of last year at one of the Airds Out Loud events. Gazzola, artsworker and writer Rebecca Conroy and artist Robert Guth mingled with locals they’d met previously when discussing the Airds project with artists and the community. “It’s like constantly announcing yourself, about being there.” Dagostino concurs, “This project is one of a number in which we have a long-term relationship with the community. It’s not a fly-in-fly-out kind of attitude. And that’s important for all the projects that we do. The first time we go in we are these strange aliens but the next time we go in things become more familiar, the community knows who we are; the next time we become part of the community. That’s critical.”

“It’s always been proposed as a two-year project,” says Gazzola, “This is really the starting phase about how to work in these houses, how to make it all operate, get the people on side.” Campbelltown Arts Centre’s success with community related projects has been evident in projects directed by Rosie Dennis—Driven to New Pastures (2010), Life As We Know It (2011), where senior citizens from the area appeared onstage, and especially Minto:SiteLab and Minto:Live 2011 which featured artists-in-residence in the local shopping centre and library.

For Temporary Democracies, Gazzola selected 12 artists in 2012 to visit the site. “I introduced them to the people running the relocations team and community groups. We discussed the Radburn Principle—the US architectural plan taken up in Australia where the houses were built with their backyards facing the roads; the cul-de-sacs and the front of the houses had big open spaces where people could communicate across these green corridors. But locals and the Housing Association saw it as a failed architectural plan that produced easy disappearance routes for thievery and drug dealing. You look at the houses, you really do enter through kitchens as front door entrances.”

New Zealand artist David Cross, says Gazzola, “has picked up on the idea of the house itself as an object and the Radburn flipping of entrance and exit. After Radburn, the Housing Department tried to ‘turn the houses around,’ putting more windows on the street side and putting the backdoor as the front door. David’s proposed that you walk up the stairs and then slide down a chute out of the back door! This follows on from the games he plays with inflatables that are very much short, immediate engagements with a re-shifting of your perspective.

“Elizabeth Woods is working on a table tennis project, it’s got its big ideas but people playing games together is an easy way in. Tanya Schultz from WA who works with Pip and Pop [partner Nicole Andrijevic] makes beautiful installations from [brightly dyed] sugar, a bit like the mandalas. I thought of having something that was really beautiful in an area with a lot of destruction but beauty all around it. It’s insanely beautiful. You drive in through an incredible green corridor and it’s treed and right on the edge of the river. Tanya’s talking to communities, asking them to build little objects, photographing them and making wallpaper to be installed in one of the houses.”

Canberra-based artist Robert Guth’s works are about cooking food as a social act. He’s bought a pop-top caravan which he’s re-building with the Airds/Bradbury Men’s Shed group, converting it into a community cooking trailer for ongoing use. That’ll be on the project site. We’re putting something back into the community that’s functional—art doesn’t have to be about an aesthetic relationship.”

Paul Gazzola says that he constantly wonders, “what’s the most relevant approach. What makes sense? It can’t be layering some high-end art speak over the top. That’s just going to disappear into the ether and be irrelevant for the community.” He adds, “The project might be titled Temporary Democracies, but the legacy won’t be temporary.”

To provide continuity and perspective, Gazzola approached Rebecca Conroy “to come on board to develop a website to contextualise the project from a more global perspective.” You can read Conroy’s first essay and other material on the project website. Gazzola is emphatic, “We’re not just pointing at Airds as a little local entity that doesn’t really have any relationship to anywhere else.”

Paul Gazzola promises an intriguing experience if you visit Temporary Democracies on the 16th and especially the 17th of August when all the works will be operational against a background of cranes and earthmovers as Airds transforms from one temporary democracy into another.

Campbelltown Arts Centre, Contemporary Democracies, curator Paul Gazzola, artists Lachlan Anthony (VIC), Darren Bell (NSW), Rebecca Conroy (NSW), David Cross (NZ), Benjamin Forster (WA), Nicole Foreshew (NSW), Brian Fuata (NSW), Robert Guth (ACT), Nakkiah Lui (NSW), Bennet Miller (WA), Kate Mitchell (NSW), Tanya Schultz (WA), Elizabeth Woods (QLD); 13-17 Aug; Heathfield Place, Airds, NSW,,

RealTime issue #116 Aug-Sept 2013 pg. 32

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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