Open project draws homes of the past

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Janine Mikosza, left, and Stephanie Jones in their “open house”.

YOU’D be forgiven for thinking, if you attended this year’s action-packed Art Not Apart festival at New Acton, that the feather banner fluttering outside of one of the ground-floor apartments in Kendall Lane was advertising some kind of open house. Instead it held an open project that is growing steadily as people discover it.

The Share House Project kicked off at the Fremantle Arts Centre, Perth, in early 2018 as a creative collaboration between Canberra artist Stephanie Jones and Melbourne writer Janine Mikosza, and continues to invite active public participation as part of its ongoing collaborative process.

Jones and Mikosza are inviting people to draw the floor plan of their family homes from memory, with less emphasis on drawing skills and more on the kinds of memories that emerge from doing the drawing. Jones has been drawing bits of buildings for a long time, particularly architectural ironwork details from her Queanbeyan neighbourhood, which she often depicts using icing and bubblegum.

Mikosza is interested in the stories that surface when people revisit their memories. She is currently writing a book about the power of childhood homes on the psyche.

Visitors at work in the home.

The Art Not Apart flat was set up to allow people to play, to get comfortable with the idea of sharing. There were large panels on one wall featuring blown-up small details of the Perth drawings chosen by the artists, and the other, larger wall became a giant collage of cut-up details chosen by the public. There were two tables: one had scissors, Blu Tack, and lots of photocopies of the already-drawn houses; the other had comfy chairs, stacks of clean paper, pencils, and biscuits.

The room was full when I walked in during the afternoon, with the collage wall starting to build steam. There was a family with primary-school-aged kids engrossed in chopping up the elements they needed to recreate their current family home on the wall. A young man was taking a more surreal approach, working upwards to climb the wall where “mum and dad’s room” was then stuck on the ceiling. Over at the other table, a group of women were drawing their floor plans, chatting about the experience.

The hand-drawn nature of these plans renders them magical. One of the Perth drawings has very little of the house itself, which is a perfunctory box in the middle of the page, surrounded by a detailed drawing of all places in the garden where their childhood happened.

Many of the plans reveal that childhood homes are often doubled spaces: the “good” lounge room down the hall from the “family room”, the “nice” part of the house demarcated from “our” spaces. There are heartbreaking annotations, like the person who wrote: “this is not my favourite place”. I hate this house and all its memories’ on their drawing, and yet there is also an overwhelming affection displayed throughout the collection for the intimate weirdnesses of family homes.

Jones and Mikosza call their installations “speculative architecture, built on the foundations of memory”. These drawings, viewed one at a time, allow me to enter into an imaginative space, akin to a graphic novel, each unlocking a small story. Seen together, they form a powerful collective experience, regardless of race or age. We were all children. We lived somewhere, and that experience has shaped us, for better or for worse.

This is an ongoing project, and contributions are warmly welcomed by the artists. You can follow them on Facebook [facebook.com/pg/sharehouseproj/about/] or go to the project website [janinemikosza.com/share-house-project]. It was a lovely inclusion in Art Not Apart, pulling people together to create stories.

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