Guest editor for Runway Australian Experimental Art Magazine on the theme SPACE.
Space is not a scientific object removed from ideology or politics. It has always been political and strategic.
― Henri Lefebvre
I would like to acknowledge that this issue of Runway was developed on Gadigal land and that sovereignty was never ceded. I hope that through this issue on SPACE we can think more deeply about what it means to take up space and live on occupied land.
Back when I was studying architecture there was a shocking disconnect to the occupied land we were designing imaginary spaces for. This idea of ‘designing space’ is something that is so intrinsically linked to power and privilege. The make-believe clients would have had to been wealthy individuals to afford our speculative designs with limitless budgets. Not once during my training did the fact that, as non-indigenous Australians, we were implicit in the colonial project factor into our critiques as our imaginary buildings continued to displace and dispossess. I’m glad these structures we designed were never built and hope that things have changed in teaching methods since then. I use this example as a reminder that space is not just physical: while we can work to determine how space is traversed by the placement of objects, bodies and buildings, space is always political, personal and social.
Our various privileged and marginalised communities shape our individual, complex perceptions of space. Personally, this is why I found myself move away from the field of architecture, instead becoming involved in various struggles against displacement and gentrification, through squatting and other (artistic) actions.
This issue considers space from multiple perspectives: dispossession, displacement and resistance; migration and colonisation; queer, gendered and racialised spaces; the commons, the undercommons and of course the spaces between.
Many of the pieces commissioned for this issue reflect varied experiences and highlight inequalities throughout Australian culture, in and out of art institutions. In searching for spatial justice, these works inevitably seek out the ruptures and in-between spaces.
In-between spaces are often sites of resistance. Amy McMurtie explores this through the effect of gentrification on sites of spatial justice and the impact of this on queer performance culture in Sydney and Melbourne.
The long history of Indigenous self-determination in the Redfern/Waterloo neighbourhood has been impacted by its ongoing gentrification that has reduced this community from tens of thousands to a few hundred. Joel Spring writes about the Waterloo Public Housing Action Group’s role in centring Indigenous perspectives in the resistance against the largest urban renewal project in the southern hemisphere through their campaign and space in the Waterloo Housing Estate.
Matt Chun visits Taiwan’s Garden of the Generalissimos, consisting of numerous statues of Chiang Kai Shek, who was responsible for the massacre of tens of thousands of Taiwanese people, relocated from their original public sites to this remote location. As a point of comparison he examines the way in which colonial monuments in Australia define public space. They are defended through new tough penalties, including jail time, protecting them and exist in our built environment as symbols of massacres, under the guise of a celebration of patriotism.
Lucy Ainsworth interviews James Nguyen about his current work and research on themes of ownership of land and occupation of space within the context of colonisation and migration, relating to his personal family experiences.
Shivanjani Lal’s video work explores layered displacement from her position as a twice-removed culturally Indian, Fijian Australian existing in another in-between space, the waters between two islands, multiple cultures and ideas of home.
Mariam Arcilla interviews Quandamooka artist Megan Cope about spatial experiences from her perspective of split heritage and the way she maps cultural constructs of identity and environment through her practice.
Isabelle Sully and Mitchell Cumming’s video work a series of letters to each other, explores the physical in-between, found in the transitional architectural space of a lobby, in an iconic Modernist social housing block located in Rotterdam.
David Corbet explores space through placelessness and the ‘translocal,’ looking at various artistic practices occurring nomadically, outside of institutions, and through a social practice framework. Corbet discusses works that are locally-specific but exist within an international, and perhaps intangible, community.
James Oliver’s spoken word piece responds to layering of social space being constantly in-flux, progressive and permeable.
The in-between space in Andrew Brooks’ piece takes the form of a void in archives. Brooks looks at the engagement of Dale Harding’s installation, Know them in correct judgement, to reconfigure histories by forming a counter-archive that breaks down structures of settler colonialism.
Sumugan Sivanesan looks at the space of Virtual Reality as an extension of white male patriarchy, and questions how people are using gender and race to shape, or ‘quare,’ this space. Sivanesan explores the potential of this space to transform how we are perceived and how we perform in the world, through its ability to shape bodies and sexualities.
Andy Butler looks at the Melbourne arts scene to highlight institutional Whiteness in the visual arts, and draws attention to the discourse of diversity and inclusion within a racist power structure.
Continuing to explore institutional Whiteness, Tian Zhang writes from the perspective of an emerging Asian-Australian curator, examining culturally-specific festivals and exhibitions that are not organised by people of that culture.
Chloe Watson interviews artist-researcher Dawn-Joy Leong about her work that explores neurodiverse and autistic experiences of space revealing her personal, sensory experiences of traversing the city.
An important bookend to this issue is Lucas Ihlein, Ian Millis and Diego Bonetto’s proposal for a rezoning of a piece of ‘crown land’ to ‘the commons’ in the Western Sydney suburb of Casula. All three artists have a history of thinking deeply and creating carefully in their various practices relating to land, agriculture and space. The proposed Casula Commons has the potential to be a utopian space shaped by many voices and bodies.
Contributions to this issue highlight layered and nuanced ways of existing within society’s gaps or cracks. These are places where people can find solidarity fighting injustice. This is where they can create alternative communities; this is where they can come together to topple power structures. These are the spaces where change is instigated.
Designing the commons allows us to create alternative narratives to the dominant ones: possible utopias. We can use the tools and thinking we have learnt from the cracks and gaps to form a vision of a speculative future. The first question we obviously need to ask is; How do you create a space for commoning on stolen land?
Keg de Souza
Read the issue here