Catalogue Essay: Home 1

Words by Meg Slater

34 Carl Street is a unique domestic space in Woolloongabba with an important history. Over three years, it has taken in and churned out seven photographers, whose work features in this exhibition. Each artist’s connection to the house is different. Eli Lillis and Danny Smith first rented the house back in 2014 when they started studying together at the Queensland College of Art (QCA). Evey Skinner, Myles Bennell and Nicole Paulsen all moved into the house around the same time, just over a year ago. Myles stayed for four months and moved on. Evey and Nicole stuck around for a couple of months after Myles split, and left towards the end of last year. Marc Pricop briefly called Carl Street home for a few weeks when he needed a place to stay between houses. Eli has lived at the house the longest. Along with Matt Dennien, who moved into the house fairly recently, he is currently awaiting word from his real estate agent about whether he will have to relocate so that the house can be removed from the land to make way for an apartment complex. Although the house still stands, and is filled with the random belongings of its many owners, the future of 34 Carl Street is highly uncertain.

Using the Carl Street house as a case study, Home 1 investigates the relationship between the structure of the house and the concept of the home. Based on the web of relationships described above, it is clear that, like many other share houses scattered throughout Brisbane, the Carl Street house is a physical container in which seven individuals with similar interests have been able to interact and form incredibly close bonds with one another. Although the photographers have never all lived in the house at the same time, it is a shared space. For over two years, 34 Carl Street has provided a safe, comfortable environment in which they can talk, sleep, drink, eat and take photos with, and of, each other.

Given their love of photography, it is not surprising that Eli,Danny, Matt, Evey, Myles, Nicole and Marc have extensively documented the interactions that take place in the house,resulting in the formation of a rich digital archive of highly personal and nostalgic images, which I had the pleasure of sifting through when preparing for this exhibition. Snippets from the larger archive have been selected, printed and scattered between the samples of each artist’s practice to allow audiences to reflect on the ways in which the Carl Street house informs both their personal lives and photographic practice.

There is no denying that Home 1 is a highly sentimental exhibition focused on the lives of a specific group of people. It is, however, important to note that the exhibition also addresses a number of broader issues, the most pertinent being the changing role of the renowned ‘old Queenslander’ - an architectural icon that has historically held a central position in Queensland life.

Admiration for the Queenslander housing type spawned from its unique appearance. Queenslanders are characterised by a high setting, and the use of simple, affordable, lightweight materials, which are supposedly suited to the state’s sub-
tropical climate. The first bare bones, tin and timber Queenslander, propped up on stilts, appeared in the 1860s. The Queenslander has since undergone many structural revisions to accommodate for the shift from a rural setting to a suburban setting.

The romanticisation of Queenslander housing type in the 19th and 20th centuries resulted in home ownership becoming a key component of the larger ‘Queensland dream’, which, based on recent statistics, is now dwindling. The number of Queenslanders who own their home outright has dropped substantially in recent decades. People can no longer afford to buy a Queenslander, so they rent one instead. Furthermore, Queenslanders are no longer pristine structures occupied by nuclear families. More often than not, they are an absolute mess, and filled with groups of 20-something year-old friends who met at school, university or work.

In addition to the state’s significant drop in home ownership, Queenslanders, particularly those located in inner-city Brisbane, are gradually being dwarfed, or replaced, by large apartment complexes. This can be attributed to the apartment boom currently taking place in areas like West End, South Brisbane, Fortitude Valley and Woolloongabba.

These commercial developments make me fearful for the future of houses like 34 Carl Street, and the relationships that they nurture. Queenslanders have become enclaves where young creatives can share stories and ideas. It seems it is only a matter of time before they are all subsumed by different shades of grey.

Home 1 is a test; we want to see whether we can maintain the sense of home without the physical house. Is reiterating the relationships and memories that a space produced enough to keep the home alive while the house is dismantled around it? The exhibition location, a different Queenslander in a different suburb, occupied by a different entanglement of friends, provides the perfect container for us to try to transplant this home.