Lisa Young

In 1992, I was in a show titled Forensic at a space in West Adelaide. This was my second or third group show I had been in since leaving art school and was curated by Linda Marie Walker along the lines of a crime scene investigation. Great show. Very funny. The space was tiny, no bigger than 3m x 3m and had a shop front window. It was probably available for next to nix because the area was rough. Not now. Today it is very glossy … expensive. Of course it was a fun boozy night.

Utako Shindo

It is actually often off-premises, what comes to my mind when I remember West Space: the relocation meetings in North Melbourne, looking at the faded wall in the office building; the annual general meeting in Heide Museum, looking at the notes of ideas on large sheets of paper on the wall. I was very impressed to know that West Space is shaped by the people with a will to make any changes, from a small gesture to moving the entire institution to a new site.

In Melbourne, I was perhaps a little frustrated with the situation where non-local projects were often introductory, while the local discourse was rich but closed. As someone who comes from elsewhere, I attempted a project called Immanent Landscape for further interaction with people outside, highlighting the commonality as much as the differences in ways and interests which each of us carries.

From some perspectives, we may say that West Space is now no longer located in the west, but the centre. From others, it is in the south, always. And West Space has the backdrop of my thinking in Melbourne, from the time when I first heard the lecture about West Space in TAFE early 2000s, to when I advised a creative venue in Yokohama as their possible partner organisation.

Across that period, the backdrop each time appears differently. West Space’s colour and size seemed never to be fixed, like Gallery 3 at the back of its Anthony St premises. Every artist customised the space according to her or his vision. I enjoyed both seeing and making works there, entering through a little entrance along the tiny hallway. West Space changes while it keeps its door opened modestly. Everyone, including the audience, can make their own way to get there and to renew the history.

Sanne Mestrom

the history of space
is the history
of wars.

Kyla McFarlane

Occasionally, during a gallery install, someone might sand back a little too vigorously into the wall, or drill a deep hole and years worth of painting and plastering suddenly reveal themselves, provoking everyone in the room to reflect on the way a whole exhibition history is embedded in the fabric of the walls.

Do gallery floors hold similar histories? The concrete floor at CCP where I work is certainly a palimpsest, a gathering and embedding of dark stains and traces of gallery white paint that didn’t get washed off in time. Then there’s TCB art Inc’s tiled floor, a bit-part character in every exhibition there. The wooden floor in Gertrude Contemporary’s Studio 12 creaks and groans when I walk across it.

When it relocated to its new digs in Bourke Street, West Space’s herringbone-patterned wooden floor was a hot topic at the opening party. It was remarked upon, admired. It was fit for a museum! It was too beautiful, too much. It seemed to symbolise some kind of significant change, the exact nature of which was difficult to articulate. But it was exciting, nonetheless. One of the early exhibitions in the new space, Untitled Project #1 (Concrete Boat) featured a concrete boat constructed by Ross Coulter, Michael Ciavarella and Alex Ippoliti. The boat, a dark, roughly-hewn grey, sat on a heavy tilt on the herringbone floor – which was a funny thing to apprehend, given herringbone’s relationship to the skeletons of fish. And at that early stage of West Space’s Bourke Street phase, it still seemed kind of exciting to think about the damage you could do to that beautiful floor with concrete’s wet, weighty mass.

In October this year, I visited Lisa Radford’s exhibition with Kati Rule, c. At Sea, Before Dinner. Kati’s wax sculpture sat on the floor in the big gallery space lined by windows, with objects concealed in it. Nearly two years after the boat, the floor had drifted back into the fabric of the space and I barely saw it as I peered into the waxy shard.

Then, a few weeks later I saw the floor bathed in coloured light from those windows, courtesy of Taree Mackenzie and Ronen Becker. Oblongs shifting across the floor. Yellow and red. And the floor became alive again.

Meg Hale

About a year after high school my friend Mark and his family moved into an apartment on Anthony Street. It was just a couple of doors down from West Space, but that meant nothing to me. Back then I’d never even heard of West Space. I’d never even heard of an ARI.

Back then, Anthony Street meant a floor to crash on—in the city. The rest of us still lived with our parents in the outer suburbs, so this was a big deal. We’d all go round there when Mark’s parents were away (and sometimes even if they weren’t).

Strangely, we didn’t make much use of the city itself. Occasionally we’d head round the corner to Fluid Oz to shoot pool and monopolise the jukebox with hip-hop. But mostly we’d just hang out at the apartment.

Mark came from a pretty straight-up Chinese Malaysian family, and his parents were never too pleased when we showed up. If they were home we’d gravitate to the building’s edges: the rooftop, to swill beer, smoke and shoot the shit; or the basement car park, to make out in the back seats of our cars. The next day we’d peel ourselves off the lounge room floor and drive back to the ‘burbs.

Over time I hung out with those guys less and less, and eventually stopped going to Anthony Street altogether. I gravitated towards Melbourne’s arts scene, and soon I’d not only learnt what an ARI was, I was running one and living above it. Heading to an opening at West Space one night, I found myself back on Anthony Street. It was strange being there under such a different context. But new associations soon overtook the old, and a whole different connection to Anthony Street began.

Jessica Knight

You took me to an art opening at West Space for our first date. I never knew much about art until then. You had such a warm and self-assured voice as you explained the projection of a tent and a fake sun rising and falling behind it. I regret the silly thing I said back then about how I thought real sunsets and sunrises were prettier than a projected fake. I had missed the point. I had missed the bigger picture about what that projection meant and all the theories it contextualised. You looked so handsome. You were a boy genius and everyone there wanted to sleep with you. You still took me home, though, not any of them who probably could have told you what the projection meant. You fell in love with someone who went to VCA like you did. But I still go to West Space openings hoping to see you.

Stuart Geddes

West Space started the year I moved to Melbourne, not that I knew it at the time. The first time I visited must have been in 1997 or 1998. I was an undergrad graphic design student assisting a friend with a work for a show. I’m misremembering it, but the building itself seemed like a relic or monument, sitting in a tilled field. Standing alone in an unlikely and precarious manner for something important. 15 or so years since I first visited, this still seems to be the case. In quite different circumstances, West Space is charting a new path, something different to its ARI roots, but nonetheless important.

Kiron Robinson

“So do you like your work?”

What a dumbass, lame, I-really-don’t-know-anything question.

Tony looked at me with a look that that question deserved. Tony is a very intimidating character until you know him—what with all the death and covered faces and burnt candles and the beard—and I did not know him. I looked around the rest of the opening. It was my first since coming onboard the board. There was Tony, looking at me like I had just asked him that question, and Mark looking at me shaking his head because I had just asked Tony that question, and Mark’s girlfriend who went to get a drink, and that was it.

“There are usually more people.”

Mark, I think, actually groaned. He had asked me to come on board. He couldn’t un-ask me. My position was voluntary—you can’t fire a volunteer. Tony kept looking at me.

“Ok, I actually have to leave now. I am going to my mother-in-law’s for dinner. I hope the rest of the opening goes well. I think the work looks good.”

Endnote: Mark Hilton and Tony Garifalakis both seem to like me these days, or are at least very polite when I see them.

Katie Lee

Anthony Street, 2005.

The physical weight of the work to be taken upstairs was enormous. Each sculpture was a 4–6 meter long Hessian sack filled with wood shavings. It wasn’t until I started to move them that it dawned on me that I had essentially reconstituted trees.

Each trip into the space required a complex dance that involved passing through a sliding glass door that did not like to be held open. The turn to get up the stairs was tight. The timber needed to be angled over the balustrade, pushed up vertically, moved around the corner and then through.

I filled the small lift with tyre inner tubes. First move was to throw them through the sliding glass doors. Then kick them down the hallway and around the corner to the lift. Residential tenants stepped over them and around.

The lift doors were like the jaws of a mouth that would snap open and then close around the tyres. I had to try to keep my finger on the little round black button ‘UP’ while I kicked the inner tubes in. I filled each lift load until it was around waist high. Then pushed ‘1’ and closed myself into a tiny space crowded with the smell of black rubber.

Ian Haig

The original West Space Gallery was in a mall in Footscray above a takeaway food joint and had a smell about it – maybe it was from the sausage rolls wafting up from downstairs. I only went to the gallery a few times. I remember it was near cheap Asian discount stores that sold lots of stuff in Fluoro colours for $2. I heard the gallery burnt down. I liked that the gallery smelled; galleries should smell, artists used to smell more also. These days artists shower a lot more and are less scungy. Like art spaces today, artists and galleries are more professional. I really can’t stand professionalism and careerism in the art world – it’s the death of anything interesting.

I can’t tell the difference these days between artists and other creative types – all of the creative industries have converged. Everyone is on a career path; art students do studio art courses and then go enrol in a curatorial course (why you need to do a course to be curator I am not sure.) Curators are super clean and bathe regularly, like 2–3 times a day. Curators never smell, but they would be more interesting if they did. Give me a dirty curator any day over a clean one.

Ieuan Weinman

Looking for Tissa
Tissa and Mu arguing – Mu pushing Tissa into the pool (?)
the exhibition Curry side of the moon.
Non-appearance in Non aligned
The occurrence of stupas in both Tissa’s and my work

In mid 2005 I get an email message from Mu in Colombo,
‘I was at a party, and Tissa was there and we were in an heated argument, and he fell backwards into the swimming pool and he can’t swim—he’s very angry at me—swinging the umbrella he always carries about accusing me of trying to drown him. I don’t know if he’s going to be in the exhibition.’

Curry side of the Moon was held six months later at Barefoot Gallery, Colombo SL 2005. Thankfully, both artists were involved in the exhibition and got on perfectly well.

Tissa de Alwis, in a 2006 interview, revealed he also had an obsessive interest in the shape of stupas and the re-emergence of the stupa building, its changing role in society and its relation to the social fabric. This snippet from a long interview formed the basis of my exhibition The Third Wave of Stupa Building at West Space in 2009.

In 2011 Tissa was a non appearance in Non-Aligned, Barefoot Gallery, Colombo SL 2011, which was a shame, as his work is an original voice in its form, presentation and dissection of history, religion and politics.

Mu, Christo, Tissa and I at the Blue El till dawn. We are driving home, and Tissa jumps out at the intersection and catches the bus home instead; he’d been quiet for awhile hangin’ at the bar, just observing the pathetic debauched scene of rich posers partying. It was, like, “Fuck you, I’m taking the bus!”

Kate Just

I was the Program Manager and a committee member at West Space from 2005-2006. Here are some things I remember:

  • I believe I was the first person to ever officially clean the West Space toilet in Anthony St.
  • I consumed and dealt others with a sickly amount of hummus and pita bread from the local IGA. Committee meetings, installs, exhibition panel assessments and fundraiser shows doubled as hummus ingesting competitions. If it were possible to OD on hummus, we would all be dead.
  • Simon Maidment (West Space Director at the time) and I used to play squash at Melbourne City Baths before work. All that sweating and screaming was a buffer to the anxiety and insanity of running an art space.
  • During my time at West Space, I was too poor to afford to rent both an apartment and a studio in Melbourne. I wanted to make big sculptures so I rented a cheap house with big living and working space in the Dandenongs. Working at West Space kept me connected to the city and my peers and fostered my belief in myself as an artist. One year we held our West Space planning day at my house. We took a walk in nature to open our minds to new possibilities.
  • During my time at West Space, I felt genuinely connected to the arts and artists in Melbourne. Cleaning that nasty toilet, doing paper mail-outs, feeding people hummus, working the bar, installing shows, handling artist inquiries, and managing the seemingly endless flow of admin was fun, exciting and purposeful.
  • However, as in all groups, there were also tensions and disagreements between people on the committee. This was productive but stressful. (Does West Space still attract intense people to its ranks? Extreme introverts, extroverts, idealists, workaholics, control freaks and sports aficionados?)

Years after leaving an artist run space, you may find yourself yearning once again for the camaraderie, the sweat, the beer, the hummus and the critical dialogue. I know I did. Luckily, if you travel up Bourke Street, you will find it is all still on tap at West Space.

The Telepathy Project

Dream Drone Poem — made by sleeping upon the words ‘West Space’ and combining dreams. Best read aloud.

I Im was riding standing around inside by an myself air on vent the as roof a of tiny a human red being double-decker. It bus was through rather a windy hilly and garden I city. Was I swaying can side touch to the side tops with of my flowering feet trees stuck as to we the drive bottom down of densely the planted vent avenues. When Beside I me look were down several I inflatable notice tube that men a you playboy see bunny out is the driving front the of bus car and lots. I I am was worried hoping about that her someone driving would ability save as me the. I streets could are visualise getting myself steeper looking and inside steeper the With vent me from on the the outside bus and I it have looked a like large I bag was of trapped costumes in and a wigs metal that prison trying. A deliver giant or hand store crashed I through try the to grate leave venting it and in places a me room inside that a I white know pristine about apartment at loft a. I’m sculpture looking studio around run with only the by intention women of but renting they. There wont are let two me real as estate they agents have I turned can the choose storage from room. One into is a just gallery a I regular go guy upstairs in to a a suit. Small the apartment other where guy some looks guys almost from identical a to band the I first know man live except the he’s apartment holding has a way giant too bratwurst many like doors a that tightrope all artist open holds out a into balancing one beam another. Scored Sean into keeps the popping surface in of and the out sausage of was these the doorways words to “Never entertain go me for I long pretend”. I to go act with surprised the and man entertained with then the one sausage of the band members gives me a pair of high-top sneakers with magical powers.

Patrice Sharkey

Lisa Radford, artist, teacher, writer, editor and long-standing member of TCB artinc., recently wrote that we, TCB, ‘don’t always do things right’. She was speaking specifically about charging artists a fee to exhibit in the gallery space, but I think this admission holds true in many other respects: driven by a desire to keep things simple, there is a certain ad-hoc, on-the-run approach that underpins the decision-making and day-to-day running of the gallery.

Having joined the board in the middle of 2011 , I can only speak from a personal point of view about what its like to be involved in TCB in its more recent years. But I like that we don’t always do things right—it’s less about meeting professional benchmarks and more about genuine activity and guileless enthusiasm. A space like TCB offers a structure that will support artists through building communities, alliances and friendships; ‘anything that is more than just a “network” is what the contract with your own generation is about’.

Lisa Radford, ‘Geoff Newton: Fan Tribute History Parallel Bootleg Paintings’, Discipline, no. 3, Winter 2013. TCB artinc. was initiated by Thomas Deverall, Sharon Goodwin and Blair Trethowan in 1998. These original founders ceased running the gallery years ago, however TCB continues to be managed by a revolving committee of local practicing artists. Jan Verwoert, ‘Life Work’, Frieze, issue 121, March 2009.

Dirk De Bruin

In the 90s, when I returned from Canada, having experienced a well organised and funded film co-op system, I came back to a scene in Melbourne that was shifting into New Media, where experimental film became invisible, falling off MIMA’s (nee Experimenta) menu. I thought of that attitude as a very Australian tradition, kickstarted with the raising of the Union Jack to a murmur of “there is nothing here”. Though under siege Internationally film remains a productive medium for Artists. Witness Tacita Dean, the New York Film Festival and so on. Anyways the 90s still had the Melbourne Super 8 Group and its cacophony of voices and with Vikki Riley and Marcus Bergner I organized weekly Sunday evening Screenings at the Café Bohemio in Smith Street, Fitzroy, under the banner of Allgauge, recycling films from the National Library Film Study Collection to a new audience. Any film artist, who happened to be coming through could show their work, such as the Austrian Marc Adrian. We showed local work by John Cummings, Steven Ball, Marie Craven, for example, and many others—and there were impromptu performances. It was Gabrielle Mena, a South American refugee and the café’s owner, who made it all possible. He paid for the transport of the films and gave the guests a free meal of choice for the trouble of presenting their work. More than 100 programs added up to thousands of dollars of support over the years of its running, for an activity that became known as micro-cinema. Vikki, a hard-nosed film critic, an ex-punk with a heart of gold is no longer with us. She died in a traffic accident while helping refugees in Darwin last year. Marcus is now in Prague, and amongst many film projects runs creative cooking workshops inspired by Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and Rabelais. I continue to build moving images and teach animation in Melbourne.

Drew Pettifer

Like so many who currently frequent West Space, I never had the pleasure of visiting the original site in Footscray. Instead my attendance has been limited to the previous Anthony St space and the current one on Bourke St. Both sites exist at a particular threshold, an entryway: a glass sliding door, controlled electronically from the space above. Each time being let in, my experience of visiting West Space has felt like a conscious engagement with a threshold, a deliberate entry into a space.

Outside of an exhibition opening, one needs to be buzzed in via intercom; you don’t just happen upon the gallery, you decide to enter the space. Of course, all galleries have some kind of delineation of space, a division between inside and outside, however blurred it may be. Yet the active engagement with this threshold at West Space is relatively unique in the Melbourne context. Indeed, for an organisation that exists in a vital liminal space – between emerging and established, artist and organisation, local and international – the glass door is a particularly apt metaphor.

Suzie Attiwill

There could be a story about lighting.

I remember visiting Anthony Street for the first time—in particular the lighting. Black theatre spots hung from scaffold rails and illuminated walls painted in shades of grey. The lighting gave the space a theatrical quality quite different to West Space’s previous space in Footscray composed of white cube gallery spaces inside a double storey, free standing, brick building.

West Space at Anthony Street didn’t have any outside as such—except during openings when the street filled with people smoking, drinking, and talking, which made the internally-focused spaces ever more dramatic. I felt uncertain about the lighting. The theatrical provoked a invitation to stage. Eventually, fluorescent batts replaced the theatre spots and white painted out any grey tones.

It is interesting to think about the effect and affect of lighting, and how lighting expressed and mediated the aspirations, potentialities and actualities of West Space. While I felt at the time that the theatrical quality of the new space at Anthony Street was not appropriate for a gallery space, I had not appreciated this as an expressed desire to shift from exhibition mode to project orientation, from white cube gallery to project space.

I come back to this encounter at Anthony Street and wonder about what could have happened in the shadows. The theatrical quality produced a chiaroscuro: an atmosphere and moodiness appropriate to experimental practice moving between clarity and obscurity that at times becomes ripe for staging as a temporal event.

Jon Campbell

I had one of the first exhibitions at West Space, above the Bulldog Café in the Footscray Mall. You had to walk through the café and up the stairs at the back to enter the gallery. It was a pretty greasy place, and I never bought any food there. It had a strong deep-fried smell about it. This was my first experience of sitting my own show, and while I was realistic about the number of local punters (never mind punters from across town) that might come, it was an eye opener, the lack of patronage. I had had some success in previous years showing in institutions and a commercial gallery—this didn’t mean much out west. My big fear was that I would sit all day, and no one would come. While this didn’t eventuate, on several days I had one person. I got my picture on the front of the local paper; this will bring ’em in, I thought—nuh-uh. I spent time reading, scrutinising my paintings in detail and looking out the big window that overlooked the mall. An old girlfriend came in just to see if it was really me. The toilet for the café was right next to the little table and chair that I would sit at each day. On several occasions, some of the café patrons would leave the most horrible smell that would drift into the gallery. I shouldn’t have been surprised, given the fare they were serving downstairs. They would just stare weirdly at me, thinking, what the hell is this?

Janenne Eaton

The back door to the Albert Street West Space opened onto a derelict yard.

A neglected ‘text’ of serial occupation, it possessed the same archaeological potential as any classic bit of inner suburban waste-ground. Neatly framed by the slack strands of the old wire gate and fence, it defined the borders of the property from the ordinary inner suburban streets of the neighbourhood.

Though not without its singular qualities, standing tall and stark on the block, like an elaborate cairn, or a last snaggle–tooth in the gum; the romance of the old building had nothing to do with the rigidity of its faded early twentieth-century architectural contours. The romance lay in an internal continuum of ‘utter transformations’, each conjured through the shaping insights of artists. Like orbiting planets appearing and passing, bearing their distinct microclimates, each transformation pointed towards further possibilities beyond the frame of the Space.

It was here, at Albert street, in 1998, that my first West Space project, Transcriptions, yielded up a startling olfactory experience, (a vivid and elusive element rarely encountered in this sort of circumstance), and not one I’d ever contemplated exploiting. So it came as a shock encounter as I opened the front door the morning after a hurried completion of the installation. If a perfume can assume a visceral quality, here it was! Overnight the sweet, dry fragrance from near to a thousand Chinese ceremonial joss sticks had filled the air.

The West Space publication Formation and Form reproduces a detail from Transcriptions. Here you see a section of the installation with its continuous four-wall grid. The joss stick holders were ‘fabricated’ by cutting off the bottom ends of ice-cream cones; so you can factor in a ‘biscuit-y’, vanilla backnote to the dominant fragrance of sandalwood.

Scott Mitchell

I remember many stairs between Bianca’s post-grad studio in the Gossard building and West Space two blocks away on Anthony Street. Many stairs with many sheets of MDF, chipboard, carpet, vinyl, and melamine. I remember Bianca’s hatchback loaded with 3 meter lengths of pine; sticking out the back. Saskia and Tim and I, walking behind holding the ends like a wheelbarrow as Bianca drove slowly west along Franklin street. Middle of the night. Tim went for food, coming back with piles of curry and naan from that place on Elisabeth, north of Victoria. It was 2002, pre the influx of shuffling apartment dwellers and late night eating, the city was dead, quiet. We were trying to be too, but occasionally large slabs of MDF would crash to the floor.

Inside West Space, Bianca was constructing another inside, an intestinal fold within the tiny third gallery. West Space had somehow swallowed itself; its materials and movements repeated in a Mandelbrot turn. Here is the green handrail wrought from flexible polyurethane, here the terrazzo steps, the non-slip edging, the notice board, the corflute office walls, and the reception desk. The building was staging its own performance, a reenactment of sorts. A particular type of site-responsive installation was being explored.

West Space’s Anthony Street location was an awkward space that seemed to get more awkward with successive renovations. The building imposed itself on the viewing (and the making) of work. All spaces do this; however, some manage to stage their own disappearance, a trick of normative strategies. This trick was not West Space’s concern; it did not seek to produce a ‘neutral’ space but rather to understand how space becomes place. The ‘space’ of West Space is not the building but the institutional structure, repeatedly brought into being—often at great individual cost—by the people of West Space.

Arlo Mountford

Space to the west.The back room, meeting room, storage room, gallery,bar and occasionally the site of a strange group therapy session i nevercompletely understood, was also the space the bins were kept duringthe early to mid years of West Space’s Anthony Street residence....A Saturday a few months ago i attended an auction for a two bedroom apartment opposite West Space’s newer digs. The auctioneer spruiked the location completely failing to point out the proximity to one of Melbourne’s Greatest Living Treasures.>>>>Auctioneer speak>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>><<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<      <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>I never visited West Space way out west perhaps i didn’t have the pioneer spirit.|Sometimes we would push these 60 litre bins out to the fire escape in an attempt to avoid their pungent aromaEspecially post-openingOnly to succumb to the gnawing doubt, should there be{}{}}{}{}{}{||||| a fire.... Two large immovable obstacles like smelly alcoholic trolls ()() would block princess public’s escape.^^^^ I never was a fan of the theatre spots and was a firm supporter of the cold daylight fluorescents ==== This was probably my naive post art school/fascist stage.                 .             .                     .Eventually simon and i cut down the fire escape banister and extended a ----platform over the descending stairwell.The bins had a home, our meetings less tense.. . for a while

Lillian O’Neil

It began when Safari Team (Blaine Cooper, Jonathan Oldmeadow and myself) moved into Melbourne Central for a couple of weeks. The room had a big diamond window that looked out onto the Melbourne skyline and stunk like the job I had when I was fifteen unpacking clothes in a surf shop in Torquay, plastic, glue and mass produced clothes. It was this smell, the endless, indefinable hum of a shopping centre and the interrogation-room lighting that made us feel as though we were trapped aboard some weird giant space colony. We were making a show about evolution and while we had the West Wing we, among other things, planned to make neanderthal costumes and film some snakes and baby crocodiles in front of a green screen. We didn’t know how to go about making costumes so we painted our bodies with latex, peeled it off and hung them up on coat hangers to dry near the window overnight. When I came back the next morning it was horrifying; the costumes hung in the West Wing shop window like a gruesome merchandise display. We took them off their hangers and tried to add hair; this involved cutting cheap wigs into pubic-hair-length strands and sprinkling it willy-nilly over said skin suits, as Blaine astutely remarked, “The place is carpeted in pubes.” We threw them in the bin. The crocodiles and snakes arrived a day later in the hands of a racist-alcoholic Steve Irwin type who ran a tight ship delivering live reptiles to children’s parties. He told us we couldn’t use the animals unless we swept up the hair, which we did, and he stuck around in his cargos shaking his head while we filmed his animals. It felt dirty. All in all, I’d say it was a weird time but a good time.

Phip Murray

When I think about my experiences at West Space, these are some of the things I think of: Emily Ferretti covered head-to-toe in plaster dust from sanding the walls of ‘new’ West Space. Alex Vivian smearing Melbourne Central with Vaseline. Constanze Zikos and Juan Davila creating a spectacular six-metre collaborative painting depicting a speculative and ethereal universe. Greatest Hits (almost not) building a fantastic rainbow out of wax bricks. Johann Rashid making an incredible film featuring hedge mazes, greyhounds, Serbians and Philip Brophy. Taree MacKenzie’s charming and idiosyncratic ‘special effects’ machines. Dancing to Nick Selenitsch’s ‘90s rave music at the Christmas party. Stuart Geddes and Brad Haylock flipping the ‘e’ in the old West Space logo back to its usual orientation in the new (and less ‘90s) design. Hotham Street Ladies creating a ‘cake’ in the image of Jeff Koons’ ‘Puppy’ to celebrate the opening of the new space (which I could not bear to throw out even after its arse went mouldly and stank). Michael Ciavarella, Alex Ippoliti and Ross Coulter working feverishly to build their elegant concrete boat and then smashing it to smithereens. Endless grants, acquittals and reports. Endless staring at Excel spreadsheets. Hundreds of artists contributing artworks to fundraisers to help us keep the doors open. Scores of people working across the board and program committee to keep the whole thing happening. The best and most fun office I have ever worked in with the best and most fun – and most terrific and clever and inspiring – people. And then, in my last hour as director, dancer Luke George covering me with a bed sheet as part of his performance and turning me into a ghost-of-a-sort, a strange but strangely appropriate transformative rite. What else? Ladies and tigers, sound projects on Das Boat, Kelly as a vampire for the House of Horror party, telepathy projects, a smoking rock, a meth lab, a T-shirt with a photo of Dan Moynihan and Freddie Kruger, and a thousand other things. West Space was exhilarating, exhausting, exciting, ambitious, frustrating, experimental, conventional, risky, emotionally draining, emotionally fulfilling, professionally exciting, financially limiting, an institution, always-about-to-fall-over but, in the end, always inspiring, inspiring and inspiring. It was, for me, a formative professional and personal experience for which I will be forever grateful. While there was plenty of hard graft, there was also the chance to work closely with talented and generous peers and to make up the rules to our own universe as we went along. There was also the chance to work closely with hundreds of artists and to witness, on an almost daily basis, the coming-into-being of many beautiful, strange, unlikely, noble new possibilities in the world—including, but not limited to, the projects notated above. So, happy birthday West Space and here’s to a bold history and a bright future. Love, Phip.

(PS: Kelly, I am writing this text in my studio space which is located in ‘old’ West Space in Anthony Street. Right now, I’m (sort of) sitting in what was gallery three, although the floorplan and fit-out are now entirely changed. If I look up, I might be able to see a Dyna-bolt put in by you, me or Mark Feary. Isn’t that spooky?)

Fayen d’Evie

I happened across a post earlier this year on Facebook from Jordan Marani, urging people to come to the opening of his West Space show. Jordy is a dear friend who we haven’t seen enough of lately, so I was keen to make an effort to visit his show, although I ignored the bit of the invitation related to the opening, since I tend to think art-viewing and openings aren’t a great functional combination. We live outside of Melbourne now, so I correlated West Space’s visiting hours with the train timetable, concocted some other city jobs to make the trip more productive, and travelled in to see the show. When I first walked into Jordy’s section of the gallery, I was unimpressed.

The Fluoro spray-paint and fast food sculptures reminded me in an awkward way of the genre of two-dollar-shop artworks that I remember being excessively popular at art school. I mentioned this to Kate Just, who had been a lecturer of mine, and who was standing in Jordy’s room, looking bemused, when I entered. “But don’t you realise they’re all looking at us?” she said. I flicked my eyes round the room at the painted faces and beer-bellied bodies hanging on the walls, and started to get a creepy feeling. Kate and I stood in the midst of the blank Fluoro gazes, sharing updates about our respective lives. We ended up having an unexpectedly intimate conversation about how our recent illness experiences had led us to develop new anxieties in social situations. Jordy’s dim sum faces surrounded us, bearing down upon us, leering. I started to visualise being lynched by them. (If one is in the middle of an unfriendly mob, effectively on show, is it still accurate to call the mob an audience? Or does the idea of an audience imply some implicit consent that the audience is receptive and the performer willing?) After I left, the faces and swelling bodies haunted me (hunted me?). I ended up going back to the show a couple more times to check if I would get the same yucky feeling, and each time, the fast food people complied.

(Ps. Dear Jordy, haven’t had a moment to tell you, but I saw your installation and found it memorable x f)

Jeremy Bakker

Throwing a bowling ball down and smashing it through floor tiles of the Light Projects space was a cathartic way to end a troubled installation period. The ball was to function as an abrupt puncture, a ‘full-stop’ within a space that was otherwise occupied by light and delicate work. It was long after midnight on the last night of install and all the frustration and anxiety that I had stockpiled over the week was channelled into this aggressive gesture. I had naively thought that if I pushed hard enough for long enough everything would come together perfectly. I thought too that this uncompromising approach to making and exhibiting work was the only way I could make work that I was proud of. Light Projects—that airy space below a psychoanalyst’s office—will always remind me of losing the plot, perhaps one that I needed to lose in order find a healthier and more sustainable way of being an artist.

Helen Johnston

The first time I went to an opening at West Space I didn’t know a single person there except for my high school art teacher, who drove me there. It was probably also the first time I ever went to Footscray, having grown up on the eastern fringes of Melbourne. Looking through the archives, I conjecture that it must have been the opening of Working in Collaboration for Next Wave in 1996. I don’t have much memory of it, but I remember being excited. I was obsessed with making and learning about art, but I had had very little engagement with the contemporary art community in Melbourne. It was one of the first openings I ever went to, and as a sixteen year old I was like, this is an exhibition, and also a party, and the artists are here, I love this! In 2004, I held an exhibition at West Space in Anthony Street called You must have been in strange places, one of my first solo shows. It was an immersive installation that did its best to reproduce an Australian bush landscape out of felt. I was having an ongoing argument with my boyfriend at the time about why I didn’t just get the many hundreds of felt dead gum leaves laser-cut, but I stubbornly insisted on tracing and cutting them all myself. It would have felt like cheating to have them laser-cut and my post-protestant inclinations wouldn’t allow it. People came and hung out for extended periods in the soft environment. The only bits of it that have survived are the felt tinnies, cigarette butts and shotgun cartridges. I never made a work like that before or since, but the enquiry into the construction of Australian iconographies has persisted.

Tai Snaith

I remember sitting in the stairwell at Anthony street, waiting.
With my application in my hand I was wondering whether I could really hand it in or not.
I wasn’t sure if I was part of this world or not.
I felt like an outsider.
I felt like a loser.
I felt like a fake.
I kept thinking to myself ‘as if they would ever give me a show.’
Then Mark walked up the stairs and said ‘Hi Tai.’
‘Hi. ’ I said, kind of chuffed he even remembered who I was. I handed him my proposal, and that was that.

I can’t really remember what was said after that, but I do remember feeling like having a show at west space was important. I remember thinking that this place had some kind of critical integrity and energy that I wanted a piece of. I wanted to be part of. A club that I wanted to be invited into.

Years later, I am proud to be casting my eyes over those proposals. I love fighting for the outsiders, batting for the losers, growing the club.

Craig Burgess

As I was riding home out of the city up Bourke St the other evening, I glanced up at the windows of West Space. From the outside, the windows are like any other window in that building – rectangular frames at regular intervals. On the inside, the glass is opaque and textured, filtering the surrounding world, which becomes a haze of movement, colour and sound.

Lyndal Walker

The Melbourne art scene was an extremely different place in 1993. Australia was in the midst of the recession we had to have, and many commercial galleries had closed. The painters who had been trendy in the 80s found themselves sending lawyer’s letters to dealers, demanding both the return of their work and money owed. Opportunities to show were thin on the ground, as were visiting curators, residencies or grants for younger artists. There wasn’t the proliferation of public spaces that there is now, and there were almost no artist-run spaces. This would all change later in the 90s, and the scene that we have now was born of that period.

The early 90s were a reaction to the ‘greed is good’ 80s. As a young artist, you could really wallow in your poverty and be at the height of fashion, sartorially and ideologically. You could live off the dole—actually having a job was a lifestyle choice that could see you verbally abused at a backyard party. Rent in a share household in Fitzroy, Carlton or St Kilda was about $50 a week. In those days, the river wasn’t nearly so hard to cross, and Brunswick was somewhere that people’s grandparents lived.

With time on our hands, we had time not just to make our work, but to dream of projects that could easily be accommodated in warehouse or office space that was lying fallow all over the city and surrounding suburbs.


Dear Phip Murray,

I have always wanted to apologise to you, and I feel this must be my chance. Although my transgression might seem minor now, it has remained a weight on my conscience. You see, I never intended to harm you or your couch in any way. Even the possibility that you might think I have been reckless with regards to your couch bothers me when I happen to think about it. I would say I think about it more often than I think about the Australian Swimming Team but less often than I think about gardening. I probably think about it as often as I think about buying a new packet of highlighters. What I am trying to say is that I am very sorry for spilling wine on your couch at the House Proud exhibition that you kindly had at your lovely Collingwood home. May I also add that I really liked the exhibition, so please rest assured that that was not the reason I spilled the wine on your couch. It was an accident. I hope that everything turned out OK in the end. I wanted to mention it earlier, but I was always too afraid to.

Yours sincerely,


Tim Alves

Today Your Love Boat

In November and December 2011 Michael Ciavarella, Ross Coulter and Alex Ippoliti built a boat in the backspace. This was when the Bourke Street gallery was still new. They made it out of concrete so it was really a sculpture of a boat. It didn’t elicit any metaphorical thoughts, really though. It was just a concrete boat. It was made gradually during the course of the exhibit. First just a concrete mixer, then a whole lot of formwork, then concrete, then the formwork was removed and the boat looked really good. It was made in the space and was impossible to remove as it was bigger then the door so it was broken up at the end of the exhibition. It’s proportions were perfect in the gallery and it worked well with the parquetry floor. I never saw any actual production work over the week, just the results. I did have the opportunity to photograph the stages and enjoy the natural light that flooded in.

Aristotle specifically uses boat building as one of his examples of what art is. This is because art is work. And the work of making things is more attuned to means then it is to ends in terms of ultimate reasons people do things. Traveling in a boat is closer to an ultimate purpose than actually building the boat in the first place. I don’t think interpreting Ciavarella, Coulter and Ippoliti’s concrete boat against Aristotle’s principles is directly relevant. But looking back at late 2011 there was a real air of movement, enthusiasm and of going somewhere at West Space. The Bourke Street digs are fantastic but wasn’t the Today Your Love Project boat an optimistic voyage.

Jarrod Rawlins

In the summer of 1999-2000, Blair Trethowan and I would meet at Degraves for breakfast and have meetings about opening a new commercial gallery in Melbourne. It took us about two months to refine the idea (it’s not exactly rocket science) and make a business plan for ourselves. Then, about another two months to present the idea to a group of Melbourne artists who would then become our team. Then, another two months to locate a space which we got through Xavier (where tcb is still located); then another two months to get a fund raiser exhibition together so we could build a space. We raised $13,000 at the fundraiser and that’s how much ‘capital’ we had to start the gallery—which was heaps! Dave Morison did a drawing of the layout for us, Chris Pearson built the walls, and all the artists and friends helped us with the rest. The idea to have Uplands (named after a famed skatepark that neither of us had ever been to in California) and tcb share a space came about because we knew tcb was looking for a new space. The Port Phillip Arcade program was rad, so it seemed a shame for them not to continue. We thought that if we build two spaces and they have one and we put our gallery in another then that would work fine, and it worked more than fine. When we first opened, we didn’t have any furniture or a computer, so Blair and I would sit on cushions on the floor in the side room (when we weren’t sitting on the stairwell smoking and drinking beers). The response to Uplands/tcb was immediate: the collectors came, the curators came, the artists came, the artists’ friends and family came. It was perfect. It’s one of my favourite stories.

Michael Graeve

Maybe audiences of artist-run spaces have plenty in common with backpackers? We seek adventures by walking into galleries to encounter the unknown, the unheard, the untried, the rough or the ruffled. We absorb ourselves in a gallery’s life and culture, and get as close as possible to the bone as we start to unpack stories, put our fingers on the pulses, get touched, then ready ourselves for the next adventure. We tune into communities of thinking and making, becoming carriers of parcels of possibility, generated by the artist and then revealed in their capacity to change our experience of the world.

Like a backpacker, while we look for the possibility and rush of newness, we might also be reassured by the shared histories we encounter. Who would imagine a backpacker arriving in Melbourne to experience total cultural confusion? Likewise, what was the last exhibition you had no capacity to read, to read into, to read through? Disbelief, yes, but surely not disorientation? There is only one thing worse for the artist: disinterested prodding by the audience. Everything was, therefore, designed to counter this possibility, and so we sought to ensure a West Spaceian confidence of delivery that left no doubt as to the worthiness of each artists’ proposition for consideration. I’m all for artists, you know, but why had there been no thought given to ensuring the same respect for those program managing West Space inc, those writing applications at midnights on Saturdays? Why was the architects’ brief so aesthetically brutal (or the budget so borderline), that there could be no possible consideration of a set of blinds that would shield the staff from the bored backpackers peering disinterestedly into the Anthony St offices? Don’t you know that, artist or administrator, there is nothing worse than being the subject of someone else’s ennui?

Brett Jones

Most writing on the white cube has focussed on its institutional, authorising and designative aspects. This model critiques the gallery as hermeneutic and culturally encoded, and the necessity for art to be housed in its rightful context. These arguments suggest that art is mediated by the gallery/museum before it is made; that artists have the conditions of display conceptualised in the work as an a priori. Yet as the readymade has confirmed these arguments can be both correct and incorrect, or lets say partly correct depending on the art and the gallery. The readymade proclaims the permeability of the gallery/museum as a mobile and transferable conception, yet the readymade also depends on the contextualising notion (and space) of the art institution. Therefore the white cube is both self-contained and susceptible to being challenged and undermined. Its framing as a sanctified space akin to a place of worship has resulted in many alternative gallery models that both reject and affirm art’s place in the museum, just as art itself may contest its naturalisation by the museum. These arguments are circuitous. Instead, I want to defer the notion of space as cube, or space as expanded field in order to think about the wall as screen: screen in the sense of both a veil and point of projection, at once a permeable and a reflective conception.

West Space is now in its fourth location. With each move, the role of the walls has played out particular and often idiosyncratic issues for artists and viewers. The first premises, established in 1993 above a cafe in Footscray Mall, consisted of brushed brick walls painted white. The defining wall in this space was filled by a multi-paned window looking onto the mall below. This west-facing window threw light across the textured brickwork (as did the original recessed skylights) making the walls perceptually changeable in contradiction to the connotations of the solid double brickwork. The large window provided a kind of cinematic opening into the exterior that rendered the walls curtains as the light brushed their surfaces. In that initial year of operation in the Nicholson Street Mall, none of the exhibitions directly addressed the walls as shifting surfaces.

The relocation to the Albert Street premises in 1994 precipitated a more conventional wall surface of plasterboard. The plasterboard was fixed over existing laminated wood panel walls that were in turn fixed to the triple brick structure of the early 20th-century dispensary building. In other words, the layering of these skins could only veil the previous life of the building. In the main gallery, an arched green tiled fireplace was plaster boarded over, its absence signed by the hearth on the floor. The art installed on these walls—when read as temporary surfaces that clung in flimsy counterpoint to the structure beneath—generated a paradoxical usurpation of the importance of the gallery for art; these walls could never stabilise the art within the white cube tradition.

The move in 2000 to Anthony Street, Melbourne allowed for a more considered and designed approach to walls and space due to the complete fit-out required. An architect, Peter Brew, was responsible for this task. The concrete structure of the light-industrial building would again receive a plasterboard skin. It was the indeterminate and playful nature of this skin that would make it the most complex of all the spaces to negotiate. The use of two slightly different whites —one cool, the other warm, on different walls—would engage problems of surface, subtly shifting perceptual relations with the work. Additionally, the dark grey above the plasterboard and the ceiling made it clear that the walls could not provide the art with an expanded museum substrate. In other words, the dramatic qualities of the spaces, accentuated by the theatre lighting and dark floors, rendered the walls as ribbons to which the art would hang so tenuously. (The moveable wall between the two main galleries further accentuated this instability.) Art that functioned spatially, or with independence to the walls, allowed for a porous play of wrapping and unveiling the objects and events within. Exhibitions that interacted with these conditions of making/unmaking and writing/rewriting engaged the walls as ciphers of displacement, permeable and imaginary. It is somewhat telling that towards the end of West Space’s tenure at Anthony Street the walls were altered to make the spaces more ‘useable’.

The codes of the museum do indeed include the material aspects of walls. And so it is with the move to Bourke Street that the MDF-backed plasterboard wall has made its first appearance. No longer a ribbon or veil, the walls enact a certain expectation—a certain stability and faith—that the substrate for art may materialise in its ‘proper’ terms. However, it is now the ceilings and floor that challenge the sanctity of the walls. The quaint peculiarity of the parquetry floor and the various textures and traces in the unfinished ceiling enact a shift of writing potential to these horizontal surfaces. The museum has entered West Space through the walls. Yet it is what happens on the floor (and in between ceiling and floor) where mobility and displacement may occur—not to ignore the presence of the window spaces. The walls have been produced (solidified) but the floor space and airspace hold the potential for production. Art that regards these walls as backdrops, screens of the imaginary, can circumvent the circuitous discourse of the white cube. I propose that the projected gaze should be credited with its radical spatial potential and that the walls become deferred (discarded) objects: the hallucination of architectural plans with no walls.

David Chesworth

Indefinite Objects is the name of a series of proto-video artworks I made using the EMS Spectre Video Synthesizer. The EMS Spectre was an early video synthesizer that allowed internal digital visual forms to be selected on a screen and manipulated and given motion by applying voltages via a patch bay. This principle is like that of a voltage controlled synthesizer that also often used a patch bay. Using the Spectre, very elementary visual forms such as circles, squares, lines and triangles could be selected, layered up and manipulated in ways that could totally transform the original forms into new complex colourised shapes.

I wasn’t interested in creating the drifty, colourised complexity that other users were doing; I was more interested in retaining the original shapes as representative of choices already made by the Spectre’s designers, and using these shapes in elementary animations. I was able to feed in external voltages from an audio synthesizer and use the same voltage to control both audio and video and map certain sound ideas into the visual realm.

Around this period, I was taking existing modernist visual and musical forms as subject matter and locking them into banal loops and repetitions and creating redundant proto-narratives. Indefinite Objects #2 employs moving pitches (glissandi) to create an ambiguity between music and sound as they help to animate the image.

At the time, I showed these works at occasional venues and galleries around Melbourne, most notably the Clifton Hill Community Music Centre, a venue for experimental music, film and performance.

Camilla Hannan

West Space Bourke Street

I can’t even remember what it was for, a performance, an installation but I found myself alone in the shell of what was to become West Space Bourke Street. Exposed roof, filthy floor and walls of grey. I stuck my microphones between the interior and exterior wall, where drafts of air floated. The rain from outside beat against the drain pipes. Dada da dada da-da … tch …… tch —tch. Everything amplified in my headphones as the space opened up inside my head. I felt the overwhelming greyness and the distant swish of the tram in the rain. I felt the imaginings of the gallery reveal themselves and room itself breathe in large slow gasps.

West Space Anthony Street

Anthony Street was always so cold, even on a summer’s day. When Eamon Sprod and I performed for 8 hours a day for 3 days for the durational sound installation/performance work, Vacuum, I thought I would die of cold. But it wasn’t the cold I was worried about. It was the state of mind that one enters when performing these long works. The walls seem to shift and shimmer. The dust and dirt became part of my being and I entered some sort of atheistic transcendental state. The drones bounced off the walls and the various hand-made ‘instruments’ rolled across floors and clashed against rusted bed frames and metal garbage bins. Due to my delirium I could barely acknowledge audience members who drifted in and out, but still we kept playing. After finishing that show, I rolled out of the gallery. Physically and mentally exhausted, I could hardly string two words together except to ask Eamon, ‘Whose idea was that anyway?’, to which he laughed ‘Yours.’

Patrick Pound

Ring ring rang the phone. Brett Jones introduced himself. He told me that he and a curator from Para/site in Hong Kong were putting together an exhibition all about exchange, in a collaborative project between the two ARIs. Artists from Hong Kong and Melbourne would show together in both venues. The second iteration (art folks love that word) would open at Anthony St a few days after the Hong Kong opening. The works in the second show allowed the artists to respond to the experience, or to each-other’s work.

This was my introduction to West Space and how it worked. In Hong Kong, I had the pleasure of installing Raafat Ishak’s work. Then I pinned up my rambling collection of cuttings and ephemera. Each cutting dealt with Islands and Island mentality, microcosms and copy-worlds from newspaper clippings of ‘boats’ filled with refugees heading for Australia to cartoons of rafts, snaps of dinghies, postcards of seals crammed on a mid-ocean rock, and a story about a person stranded by the tide and so on. A government official came from the embassy. She was really nice and showed an interest and her card. I remember the rising discomfort at some of the subject matter of my cuttings. She showed good grace. I should get that work out again.

The two organisations constructed an evolving ‘catalogue’ held together with Chicago screws. Para/site seemed to run like an idealist’s co-op. Thirty minutes before the opening a cluster of volunteers and artists appeared and assembled the catalogue, laughing and chatting away. Parts could be added at will. The next day at a market, I met a man selling copies of vintage photographs of their movie stars. I loved the whole board. I asked if I could just buy the whole thing. He kindly told me that they were not originals. I tried to let him know that I was aware of that, and I liked them all the more for that – somehow. I brought all those snaps back and pinned them on the West Space pin-board outside the gallery. I loved that old notice-board too. Years later when we were moving the gallery, Phip and I grabbed it and brought it with us to Bourke St. We couldn’t leave it behind. (Apparently the original West Space sign remains in place in Footscray).

When the Hong Kong artists came to Melbourne, one of them put a donation box on the wall hoping to fund new work. Together, we laughed a lot about that. Later I would swap a work with another of the Para/site crew (Warren) when he returned for a residency at Monash Uni. I guess that’s a practical cultural exchange. He chose a photo I’d taken of a detail of a piece of sky-writing in process. This fragment looked like a ‘less than’ sign. I called it Less than Sky. Later it turned out that Warren didn’t know what a less-than sign was, or what sky writing was. I hadn’t thought that they might be specific ‘Western’ signs. Because the photo was labelled as a digital image, he’d assumed I’d doctored it. Warren’s name turned out to be a practical Western substitute.

We added pages to the catalogue, and so did they.