Suburban: Ian Strange at NGV Australia

Few artists can make work in the audacious tradition of Gordon Matta-Clark or Richard Wilson, yet this is the audacity of Ian Strange. At only 31, his latest exhibition SUBURBAN is a retrospective of significant scope, presenting house-scale works in their creation as well as in their destruction.

The home is the site of our first explorations and our first struggles. From childhood through discovery, experimentation, independence. Pushing the boundaries, making a mark. Many head to the city, and as Kid Zoom, Strange took his suburban frustration to the streets of 1990s Perth, giving life to its impersonal streets.

Today, Strange’s work takes the sensibilities of the street artist back to the suburbs – and from there, to the world. “I wanted to make work that was unique to me,” he reflects. “I’m the suburban kid from Perth, and I’m standing in Detroit, painting a big red X on a house, bringing the neighbours out…” While street art tells fraught suburban stories and marks territory on the city, Strange brings the work back to the site of that contest: the home.

While Matta-Clark and Wilson carved out and then modified massive sections of existing structures, Strange modifies the house itself through colour, line, cut and flame. That big X marks Harvard St – 2012, a work of great precision whose seemingly hurried red lines negate and identify the house at one and the same time. To cross out is to reject, yet X marks the spot. With Lake Rd – 2012, Strange coats the entire house with that powerful red, obliterating windows and vents, reducing the structure to a house icon, a Monopoly piece, at once the colour of childhood energy as well as the colour of horror. And while Corrinne Terrace – 2011 uses a black so dense that light seems to be absorbed into its depths, Strange leaves a perfect circle of focus at the centre – the inversion of the intense black circle pinpointing another of his houses, or the section carefully cut from the New Jersey deconstruction house.

“It was a bit of a dance to find the houses,” says Strange. “Each one has a very different story.” Strange spoke to community organisations, builders and fire departments to find them. Many were scheduled for demolition – and every one had a story to tell. Neighbours would come out to share their histories spontaneously, generously, and often, with a bold confidence in declaring to Strange the true meaning of his work. “For me,” he confides, “it’s about trying to react truthfully to my own experience [while] understanding that the work as an icon is a universal.”

Strange’s artistic trajectory touches on many others. Like Callum Morton, he has created scale models of familiar structures on unfamiliar sites. Like Ash Keating and Michelle Hamer, he is concerned with the city’s edge conditions and its points of emergence and change. Like Felice Varini, as well as Matta-Clark or Wilson, he is audacious enough to apply his techniques at the largest scale.

Reimagining the home also takes in its destruction. The most impactful of the SUBURBAN works is a three-channel installation depicting a home’s fiery end: each projected image the size of the burning house, its deeply reverberating sound threatening the safety of the gallery’s black box. Many of us have fantasised the complete destruction of our childhood home; for many others, suburban living offers a sense of security from the sudden cruelty of bushfire. And yet the suburban environment has its own demons, as that eerie skull in Strange’s HOME (2011) installation in Cockatoo Island’s Turbine Hall reminds us. The childhood home beckons as fervently as it repels – a contest that’s reduced, but never quite resolved, in Strange’s work.


First published in Houses #39 2013