When I picture the Perth of my childhood, it is through the refraction of sunlight and water from my parent’s irrigation system.
It is always summer and I am small, jumping over the jets of water forced violently from the impact sprinkler. There are prickles on this patch of lawn and the bore water leaves a rust-coloured arc on the fence that separates our neighbour’s house from our own.
I know every inch of this garden. The patterns in the sixties brickwork. The smell of dust and promise in the corrugated shed. Where the cobwebs are near the Hills Hoist handle. My whole world is a quarter acre block and to me it is a land of its own. A wilderness tucked between arbitrary borders distinguishing properties and lives.
In the Drones’ song Nine Eyes, singer Gareth Liddiard takes ‘a strangely disembodied walk down memory lane’, visiting his childhood Western Australian home through the technology of Google Street View. Liddiard has the same feelings that I do upon homecoming: everything is just how he remembers it to be. Through his computer screen, Liddiard fixates on the pixelated details of his family home – recalling, nostalgically, the places where he learned to ride his bike and carve his name into the kurb.
Perhaps it is because I am currently visiting Perth, experiencing my own personal nostalgia, that Tanya Lee’s show at Fremantle Arts Centre resonates so strongly with me. Personal Space comprises of a series of drawings, photographs and video works which claim to take us on an adventure through ‘an ordinary life’. In a suite of documented performances, Lee presents us with a series of typically suburban homes – from modest bungalows to bland modern mansions. Each house is surrounded by it’s own varied barrier: be it a hedge, picket fence or rendered brickwork. Gradually, a portion of each fence begins to move. Like an armoured costume, the artist appears wearing an identical fence of her own. The farcicality of Lee’s actions leads us to consider the absurdity of the thought that a manicured hedge could serve any functional purpose in either buttressing ourselves in or securing strangers out.
Still, there must be some comfort in the symbolism of these borders. Lee’s act of camouflage can perhaps be seen as indicative of the way in which we ourselves blend into our surrounds; ordinary people playing out ordinary lives. In the suburbs, we are indistinguishable from one another, spending our days conforming to unquestioned social norms such as trimming our hedges or watering the front lawn.
In another video work, the artist has rigged herself up to a reticulation system, flailing her arms and legs as if a human rotating sprinkler. Lee looks comically disgruntled, as if getting wet is an undesirable by-product of the task at hand, which is both watering the garden and making art. The hose gets a kink in it. Lee flicks it until it straightens out. Water flows. Lee’s actions are both futile and mundane; elevating the everyday to art and encouraging us to consider the aesthetics of our own built environments and daily lives.
Like Liddiard’s Google Street View, Lee’s artworks offer us cropped view of an existence that could easily be our own. Lee’s subjects are instantly recognisable, painfully familiar and altogether laughable. Viewing her documented performances is a little like holding a mirror up to our own suburban experiences, be they nostalgic, immediate or aspirational.