Bec Stevens 'Tower of Hedge' 2009-2022, installation view at Thirdspace Gallery + Digital. Photograph by Sarah Walker
The Contemporary x Third Space Gallery + Digital
for Geelong Design week 2022
Sarah Walker, Fleur Kilpatrik + Bec Stevens
March 17th - May 13th
Window Dressing takes its title from, and responds directly to an article published in 'The Conversation' by Kate Shaw in October this year. Shaw's article discusses the impacts of COVID on artists and questions a growing number of stimulus initiatives that see artists and designers given access to temporary spaces for short term engagement. Shaw terms the offer 'window dressing.' We’re left wondering—who benefits here? Without support for more than temporary outcomes, artists will surely continue to suffer the impacts of necessary lockdowns. So, who are the beneficiaries of such schemes? Landlords, local governments, proximate business owners, real estate agents, audiences?
The idea then was to weigh in on this discussion through a temporary exhibition staged in otherwise vacant shopfronts on Lt Malop Street. Third Space Gallery + Digital is in many ways ‘window dressing’. Artists are invited to exhibit in the windows of, and in effect hide, condemned retail spaces. Third Space Gallery + Digital might further complicate the issue in the context of Centrepoint Arcade, by highlighting what might be a case of demolition by neglect.
In a 2013 Victorian government report on the subject, Renee Muratore defines Demolition by Neglect “at its most basic and general level” as “the destruction of a building through abandonment or lack of maintenance.” Has Centrepoint Arcade been abandoned? Only three years ago, what is now a condemned window gallery hosted makers, programmers, and artist workshops. At some point the arcade boasted a range of retail business, including a record store. Now, as water seeps through the ceiling, the spaces are increasingly uninhabitable by anything but art.
Working as independent curators we are yet to encounter a space that seems to have connected so directly with a public. Every time we stage an install, do a photo shoot, or wash the windows, someone walking by asks a question, passes a comment, and in the case of last month’s deinstall, checks that we’re not disposing of the work because the person had “really fucking liked that show.” So far, all these interactions have come with a caveat about not being an artist or not knowing anything about contemporary art.
I think of the talks, the essays, the grant applications and the interviews that ask art, particularly public art, to justify its value through endless ‘engagement of new audiences,’ ‘capturing of public imagination,’ ‘accessibility to local participants’ etc. We say it all the time. Yet rarely have I ever stood inside of a gallery or had lunch near a public sculpture and heard anyone ask where the art was going next, fearing for its longevity, wondering genuinely what it was about, freely inventing a narrative for it, and then offering these various questions and musings to a stranger with a squeegee.
Third Space Gallery + Digital is window dressing, and as one of the only un-decaled window spaces on what is an otherwise closed city street, it’s dressing to impress. A story of neglect and unsustainability is transformed by art (not by workshops, talks, or essays) into a story of new audiences, of a building community, and of public accessibility to contemporary art. It happens on Lt Malop Street’s public’s terms. There are no events, no openings, no sales, no exclusivity; nothing happens behind closed doors because no one, not even the artist, is allowed in there. Everything happens on the other side of the glass.
Window dressing did not enact the critique that perhaps we thought it would. The current works in the windows mirror the complexities of urban activation, civic participation and sustainability in the arts. Sarah Walker and Fleur Kilpatrick's 'Stand Still and Smile' and Bec Steven’s 'Tower of Hedge' are not works defeated by demolition or neglect or temporariness. They are works of triumph. Triumph, ingenuity, and resourcefulness and the protagonist is not found in the artist nor the audience, not the real estate agent, or the landlord.
Triumph is found in the living, the creeping, the growing, the falling, the blowing. Whether it be in the somewhat comical intervention of the weather into the staged photographic shoot; or the maintenance of the borders between gardens and parks, there is something reassuring about the living’s tenacity. Weeds and weather creep and crawl through the cracks while mould blooms in the walls. Destruction and decay are transformed by these artists into a revolutionary force that ruins plans, swallows arcades, and proves the veracity of the living.