In recent years the landscape of Australia’s suburbs is showing signs of change, again. The biggest house on the smallest block can be seen as representing a point in the domestic housing cycle where the old suburban home is being replaced by a new dream (house).
Initially for me though, these new ‘dream houses’ produced anxieties, the origins of which are hard to pin down. There are possible planning and environmental criticisms that could be levelled at McMansions, but these aren’t the source of my apprehension. There is a visceral reaction that tells me something doesn’t belong, but I don’t know if it’s the McMansion, me, or both. Their structures look familiar but they don’t reference the demolished homes or natural bush that used to be there, they look like simulations of imported historic architecture pastiched with modern designs. Their excessive façades, acting as barriers to public scrutiny give few clues as to the lives inside. Instead, it suggests something hidden. This new version of suburbia seems to trade on living out a better, more desirable and affordable fantasy, thereby mimicking the old version as well as advocating its replacement. Curiously, for me, the new dream home suggests, “home is a place where something bad is about to happen”. It is uncanny how something can look like a home but make you think it’s unhomely.
McMansions can be seen as the latest re-working of what constitutes the metaphoric home. The struggle for identity that started with colonisation, less than two hundred years ago in Australia, is still up for grabs. As the new city continually re-invents itself, it has limited historic referents. A sense of home and belonging evaporates with every re-incarnation of suburbia. The Australian Dream expressed in suburban reality never amount to the same thing, and the difference is uncanny.
"In Perth empty space abounds to the extent that it is not uncommon to feel as if a major event, the ‘grand final’ perhaps, has forced the whole populous indoors. Mike Gray’s recent work concentrates on the depopulated streets of up-market housing estates, surveying their squeaky-clean façades and pathologically neat gardens. He shoots from a low vantage point, often from the opposite side of the street, behind hedges and shrubbery. With such greenery forming the foreground framing device for many of his images, the viewer is positioned to partake in a voyeuristic peek over the fence. Only the fortress-like exterior, the public face, will ever be accessible, though we may wonder at the home theatres, spas and gadgets that exist within.
These photographs intersect closely with advertising imagery in which not just bricks and mortar but a whole ‘lifestyle package’ is offered for sale. Key differences in Gray’s approach force a subtle critique of such constructions and spin. The use of photographic technologies, such as a modified plastic lense, enable these houses to appear as brittle, plastic, and toy-like, underlining the notion that for all the allusions to solid Georgian architecture and Tuscan farmhouses they may not last much more than a generation"
Sally Quinn, Curator, Lawrence Wilson Gallery.
2009 Transient States – Pingyao International Photo Festival, China.
2009 Transient States – Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, Perth, AUS.
2009 Yellow Vest Syndrome – Fremantle Arts Centre, Perth, AUS.