Ian Strange’s artistic investigations of suburban houses draw on Gordon Matta-Clark’s works on the fragility of home. By Kate Holden.
Ian Strange is an Australian transdisciplinary artist based in New York who works with architecture, film and documentary on interventions that raise questions about sculpture, place and, especially, the home and house. His works include ISLAND (2015-18), SUBURBAN (2011-13), TRACES (2016-22), the latter a collaboration with dance company Chunky Move, and the light-based works LIGHT INTERSECTIONS I & II (2019-21). For the soon-to-be-released work DALISON (2022), Strange and his team took custody of the last family house remaining in a Western Australian town before its demolition, restored its exterior and used projections, lighting, film, photography, a musical score and documentary to create a site installation and material for exhibition that evokes a dissipated family past and the transience of suburban security.
He decided to speak about Bingo by Gordon Matta-Clark. In 1974 the American artist took a derelict house and cut its facade into rectangles. He put five parts into a sculpture park and exhibited three, commenting, “by undoing a building there are many aspects of the social condition against which I am gesturing”.
HOME (2011) was the first of your own works that had the house subject. So had you already encountered Matta-Clark?
I’d been aware of his work tangentially but not in huge depth. He was someone I began to learn a lot more about once I moved to New York in 2010, but I was also aware of his project [the artist-run restaurant] Food in SoHo, a big almost-anarchist collective. He also did a lot of work documenting graffiti, which I’d been interested in when I was a lot younger. Matta-Clark is a massive influence on my work. He’s an artist that started the anarchitecture movement as part of a larger collective and was really active in New York in the 1970s and early 1980s. He covered so much ground that I see in my practice in conscious ways, and which comes through in subconscious ways as well.
It must have been a direct-current encounter. Does it make your heart race to see his stuff?
Oh yes, and it’s such formally concise work. It’s just such exacting work, that’s what’s so impressive about it. I don’t pretend to make work at that level; I make work with a lot more entry points. There are books of his work that I come back to quite often. There are three projects of mine that I think are directly referencing his work, and then in the ethos there’s definitely spiritual connections to his practice. In almost everything I do, I can see his influence.
You’ve also shared his interest in collaboration.
What I’ve always enjoyed reading about Matta-Clark’s work is the alternative collectives that he brought around him as well. Food was really influential. Reading about places like Food and the downtown scene in New York at that time, it’s romantic, but you realise that it did create culture. Through that community people either literally worked on each other’s projects or collectively supported each other, and that’s really inspiring.
For me one of the big privileges of being an artist is that I get to collaborate with incredible people. Up until his passing late last year, I was collaborating a lot with [fashion designer and architect] Virgil Abloh. We worked on a series of sculptural collaborations and Bingo was the core reference point for that. One of them is sitting in the centre of the Off-White [clothing] store in Melbourne. Virgil and I would talk about Matta-Clark’s work a lot. We were interested in that idea of deconstructing architecture and pulling it back to its origins, being able to see through it and break that inside–outside divide. So it was a big touchpoint for that collaboration.
There was another project with Catie Newell, who’s an architect in Detroit. We did a work that referenced the negative space in Matta-Clark’s works, and that was exhibited alongside works from Matta-Clark’s estate. And then the work I made in Christchurch, New Zealand, after the earthquake. One of the striking things about walking through a disaster zone like the residential red zone in Christchurch was that each of these houses was split and cut, walls missing: they were almost an index of Matta-Clark’s works, you know? All the things he talked about – subverting safety, and the notions of inside and out – were manifested by nature in this suburb. So, the work I wanted to make there was both a reference to the real-life impact of the quake on those houses, and the psychological impact of seeing it subvert notions of safety – by removing walls but also as a direct reference to his practice as well. We selected four houses out of 16,000 scheduled for demolition, and those homes were then restored; precise geometric cuts were made into the houses and they were lit from the inside. I wanted to use the cuts to paint with light.
You and Matta-Clark both emphasise the material of the house: the walls and roofs, that keep things out, or contain. And then the home is something else.
There’s a shared commentary there. He dealt with the structure of the house more formally than I do, but speaking back to Bingo, it is as much about the economic circumstances of that area, and that home, in that time, as his other works. Splitting (1974), in New Jersey, is the same. When you work with site, you can’t escape the history of that site, and then obviously over time it also becomes a symbol of that time.
You’ve both dissected houses. Beguilingly, there’s a kind of terrible surgical violence, but you also act so tenderly with someone’s home.
There’s something really powerful about works made from the material of homes where they become simultaneously sculptures and artefacts. [They’re] paintings but also, interestingly, everything in Matta-Clark’s work and mine are the last objects and indexes of those very mundane spaces. So often the photographs I take will be the very last photographs ever taken of a home; those walls taken off homes are the last parts of those homes that exist after its demolition. So, there’s an immediacy to the work while it’s being made and the house is there, but over time there is an emotive melancholy in observing the works as well, because they are the last physical memories of these spaces.
I’m in the middle of unpacking, so kind of unhomed, but I am in isolation this week, so I’m locked in my house. Most news from the outside world concerns other people’s houses being destroyed, in floods or shelling. Our refuges aren’t secure; the waters and the bombs are coming inside. Houses are acutely on our minds at the moment. You’re never going to run out of material, Ian.
Yeah, if there’s a connected theme through my practice it’s me trying to address notions of stability and consistency, or false notions of them, that seem to be applied to the symbol and image of the home. If you look at natural disaster or climate crisis, if you look at displaced people, refugee crises through conflict, and if you look at housing affordability, it does seem that it’s both an idea and a physical space that’s perpetually under threat.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on April 9, 2022 as "Ian Strange".
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