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.