WATCH: Ian Strange & Rory Hyde in conversation

In the following video and accompanying transcript, artist Ian Strange talks with architect and educator Rory Hyde about his new book Disturbed Home (Damiani/Thames & Hudson Australia 2022) in a live, in-store discussion at Bookshop by Uro.

Strange’s provocative transformations of damaged or abandoned homes unlock themes of social upheaval and geographic displacement caused by a variety of factors—economic blight, environmental disaster, and social migrations.

Disturbed Home is the first comprehensive survey of Strange's architectural interventions, including photographic and filmic interpretations of those structural works. You can preview or purchase the book here.


Transcript (edited for clarity):

Ian Strange: Thanks everyone for coming.

By way of introducing my practice, I've been working with the form of the home for about 10, 12 years, before we started the process of creating this book. All of my projects to some degree interrogate the domestic home, its form, but also the context of each neighbourhood that we're invited to work in. So they're really large-scale collaborative projects with big teams of people, and importantly with the communities that they're a part of as well.

But around 2019 I started speaking with a curator, Kevin Moore, at the FotoFocus Biennale out of Cincinnati, and with Ian Grandage at the Perth Festival, and John Curtin Gallery, about starting to pull together a survey of these works. So it was a really great opportunity to start thinking about these individual projects created in very different sites around the world and start to thread them together as a single body of work. So I mean it’s everything from post-earthquake Christchurch, New Zealand, to Detroit and Ohio and through the Rust Belt right after the GFC, right through to making works in my hometown of Perth, West Australia in 2015, right at the height of the mining boom where the land was worth more than the homes.

And so it was a really wonderful opportunity to start to pull this work together working with my fabulous long-term collaborator, producer Jedda Andrews, who's here at the moment as well, to start to lay these projects out project by project, but then also start to consider their threads and their connections as a larger body of work.

Rory Hyde: Thanks Ian. Well congrats on the book, it's a beautiful thing. Maybe we can start with the housing crisis, I'm really interested in where you see the home, your relationship to it and perhaps how it has changed or become complex.

Ian Strange: The important thing to know is this work gestated once I moved to the US in 2009, which was obviously right at the beginning of the global financial crisis. I think that was the definitive bookend to some post-war, utopic notion of home ownership and accessibility.

In terms of conceptually thinking about the suburban home, a lot of people have made work about suburbia that, up until that point, really looked at the mundane, the accessibility, and the broad middle classes as well. This body of work coincidentally starts at the beginning of this unpicking of that accessibility, that utopic notion of home, and a younger generation that’s been dislocated from the notion of home ownership and suburban ways of living that made it so traditional. So that’s the larger social context.

For me personally, I grew up in the suburbs of suburban Perth and I was, probably, an angsty graffiti writer who wanted to make films. So I think coming from Perth, where there was very early internet, I felt a real need to escape and go out into the world and probably a little bit of that typical suburban angst of that age. So that really informed my early relationship to those spaces. Then obviously having a career in graffiti and street art, that I think is more in this work than I would like to think it is, but it really is still in there a lot.

Rory Hyde: I understand it as this sense that the home, which was once this symbol of security for some, for those who can get into it, becomes this thing which is dragging you down, it becomes this symbol of the crisis, and the crash, and the personal costs to that. And then growing up in Perth as a graffiti writer, kicking against that context, kicking against the constraints of suburbia, and move to New York, but it still becomes the subject of your work.

Ian Strange: Yes, and the nice thing about a book like this is it can make everything seem really deliberate and considered, but the reality is the first projects that we made working with the home were not something that I would have said I’d be making for 12 years. It’s something that led to the next idea, the next interrogation, the next opportunity as well, and so it really grew into being this body of work that started as a personal investigation and personal interest to something that has very much become more informed by communities. The privilege of being invited into communities to really understand their circumstances and somehow create a project that becomes a vessel for communication and collaboration within that community as well. Which is really the opposite of being a graffiti artist, painting on something without permission…

Rory Hyde: I want to get to communities. I, first of all, want to talk about the specific nature of your interventions. Some of them are circles, like almost targets; some of them are crosses; some of them are like a monotone, flat, black treatment where all of the detail and surface gets painted away. Tell us about your decisions when you make those interventions. What are you trying to turn the home into? What are you trying to encourage people to look at?

Ian Strange: Essentially across the entire practice my interest is twofold.

One is somehow taking a psychological interior of the home and then placing it onto its exterior. To somehow poetically communicate the circumstances of the house or the emotional interior of those spaces.

And then there's also the functional thing of an intervention as well. So by crossing out or marking a house, there's this sense of, I guess, aesthetic attack or destruction as well, which I'm really interested in. I have always been really interested in the long lineage of human markings directly on homes—whether that's emergency markings, graffiti, or protective symbols that are often used against the home and can become a billboard for the circumstances of the house, whether that's something to do with the community, the economy, or a psychological interior, or the belief systems of the people inside the house as well.

Even coming from a graffiti background, a marking on someone's domestic home somehow feels more personal, as well as a sacred place to be marked. And I think that I'm really interested in that tension, that immediacy of seeing the marked home. And then functionally things like painting a house entirely black for the ‘Shadow’ series is a way of compressing all the features of the home, so you consider it in its totality as a single object or a single entity and think about it as one object. And then also within that series, painting it black allows this imaginary erasure of the home, a disappearing of it, or imagining it outside of that landscape as well, almost cutting it out.

Rory Hyde: I've seen you describe your process before and one of the things that really struck me about it is that when you come to these homes, you fix them up before you paint them. This really surprised me because you imagine these homes are falling over and that's why you've got the opportunity to work with them, but actually you restore them before you then attack them with your paint.

Ian Strange: I'm really not interested in making work about ruin, so it's really about restoring the home back to its imagined self or it’s idealized self. Particularly as an outsider coming into communities many times, obviously at the invitation of communities as well, there’s a sensitivity towards being exploitative about the conditions of homes and areas there.

I also think if you do see a dilapidated or destroyed home, it becomes very specific to an area or a circumstance. But if you see a home that seems loved and cared for, it's an idealized self that then is marked, it is reacting against its idealized economic self, imagined place of safety and security. A dilapidated home doesn't speak to a sense of safety at all, so then those markings or those interventions on the house will have less contrast or rub. It's not playing against the idea.

I think that if the work for me is successful, it simultaneously has resonance to the circumstances of the community that it’s made in, but then it's also able to be seen in other cities or on gallery walls without knowing anything about the context of that neighborhood. It’s just a response to the icon of the home itself, so people are able to bring their own psychological reaction to the work, their internalize the notion of home, or place, or memory connected to the image of the home.

Rory Hyde: Okay we’re coming back to the point about communities. Perhaps you can talk about what that engagement looks like. How long are you spending in those cities, who are you working with, how are you revealing their stories?

Ian Strange: I should be really clear it's a growing thing as well, so it's been something that has evolved over time as a form of social practice as well.

At the beginning we would seek out community groups to work with, but now more often than not there’s an invitation from a festival or a community that are aware of the work that we make. And then the first step is just beginning a conversation, early research into the area and the community, and then a site visit. I think the most important thing is that invitation and understanding that the work would be welcomed not just by the festival but by the communities that we want to work in. So that starts a research period, and conversations with locals, and developing up what those stakeholder relationships are. Where we can, there are partnerships with universities, with student involvement, and then meeting museums, community groups, research centers.

Rory Hyde: So the form of the work evolves through that process. In a way does it also create two sites of the work? Because I imagine the early work was very much what sticks to the lens, what sticks to the photo, becomes the work and the house is the backdrop to it. But now you've got these two scales don't you? The work hanging in the gallery and the house in the street, in the community with the people around it. So how do you operate on those two different scales then?

Ian Strange: It's always case-by-case, and there's really inherent contradictions because I think seeing a photograph of a house on the wall of a museum speaks to the history of photography and the history of people working with suburbia. There's the weight of the museum. It speaks to the lineage of other artists who've created interventions with architecture and homes. So someone who might be museum-going, or someone who's had a background in art or architecture would read that work formally on a wall very differently to obviously a community where the first point of call is us knocking on their door, showing them a flyer about the work, getting permission. Their relationship to the work is their deep knowledge of that street, that home, that community, the circumstances of that area as well. So there's these duel experiences of the work, but I wouldn't give one primacy over the other, I think they're both important experiences of the work.

Rory Hyde: I wanted to ask about your influences. There's a great set of references in the first essay—Bernd and Hilla Becher, Gordon Matta-Clark, artists who are interfacing directly with architecture, either through photography or through installation. Cutting and a lot of these actions can be found in some of these other artists. How are you climbing on top of these greats?

Ian Strange: I think the big one is Matta-Clark, which looms over everything.

Rory Hyde: I thought that was like worship.

Ian Strange: Yeah, that is worship.

So there's those practices and John Divola and Richard Wilson and other artists who've worked with interventions directly onto architecture and there's also the history of photography as well, which is a big part of the process. If you look at a Divola work or Matta-Clark work, that work is documented and the documentation is—thought its made in the late 70s, early 80s and there was colour photography—but they're mostly shot in black and white, very formally, in really interesting ways but it’s a kind of raw documentation—there’s an anti-aesthetic to it, or a really pared back aesthetic to it. So for me I really like using photography as a way of speaking to the home through the lens of media, through photography, through film. I like using all those tropes of film and television. So you're also not speaking just to the intervention directly onto the architecture itself, but also the lens with which it was broadcast it as a notion or idea through time as well.

So I like the idea of working between those two spaces. I would say that is certainly a point of difference for me with those artists, but it’s certainly in dialogue. And in many cases I've made works which are direct references and homages to works by those artists.

Ian Strange is an Australian-born, US-based, multi-disciplinary artist whose work explores architecture, space, and the home. His practice includes multifaceted collaborative community-based projects, architectural interventions, and exhibitions resulting in photography, sculpture, installation, site-specific works, film, and documentary.

Rory Hyde is Associate Professor in Architecture, Curatorial Design and Practice at the University of Melbourne.