15 May – 9 June 2012
Poetry is what first brings man onto the earth, making him belong to it, and thus brings him into dwelling. (Heidegger: 1971)
There are not too many words in the English language that are legally contested to the point that their meaning changes from state to state. Few words however have such scopic ambition regarding the human subject as ‘dwelling’. The United States’ legal definition mutates across state lines so that in Oregon it is a ‘place that is intermittently occupied by a person therein at night, whether they are present or not’, where as in North California it is ‘a mobile home but only if used to reside in more frequently than vacationing.’ The legal definition signifies a threshold in deciding whether a crime has been committed. In California the definition opens as widely as ‘a detached uninhabited garage’ and it is a sad occurrence, with the proliferation of ‘gated-communities’ in the US and Australia, that in extreme situations some read these boundaries a threshold.1Maybe it is strange to focus on the legalities of the term, but it is this difference between the way things are and the way things could be that underpins the quiet power of Kylie Banyard’s exhibition Dwelling.
Presented with a double bind we have a series of paintings and sculptures depicting alternative housing, coupled with reconfigured outmoded optical devices. In union we experience the propositional, imagined and assembled expressions that are Kylie Banyard’s vivid sites. In her paintings the artist brings together landscapes and buildings from communal living settlements across the globe including Christiania (Copenhagen, Denmark), ‘Zonohedra’ from Drop City (Colorado, USA) and the ‘Biotecture’ of Greater Earth Community (New Mexico, USA). It is both the artist’s poetic imaginings and her objects of obsolescence that bring the dwellings to form.
Manual technologies are a through-line of Banyard’s work, indeed painting has been called ‘dead’ many times over. A slow and solitary art, it takes time to get good at, it takes time to dry and it certainly takes time to think of something not already marked out during a fourteen century old tradition. While Walter Benjamin’s ‘technical reproduction’ manifested long ago, its complexities of exchange continue to grow in velocity each day. Painting is done alone, the artist cannot engage in other activities simultaneously, no tumblr scrolling, no status updating or tweeting permitted and because of the mess of paint, one cannot be intimate with personal electronic devices. As a kid I painted out the back of the house where it was quiet and where Mum wouldn’t complain about the mess. I would crawl into the alternative universes I created with my own brush. Kylie Banyard picked up ‘view masters’ and used the apparatus to journey magically to different places, in this exhibition we see such devices still play on the artist’s mind.
Returning to our introductory lines, Heidegger continues that dwelling is ‘the manner in which mortals are on earth, it is an extension of who we are.’2 The philosopher claimed that humans do not inhabit like animals do, they dwell and that dwelling takes place not in a site or environment but a ‘world’, animals allegedly have no ‘world’. Taoist philosophy and Banyard would observe this oppositely whereby humans should make peace with their environment and inhabit it. The importance of nature relatively dismissed by Heidegger, positioned it in service to humans. This is the crux of Banyard’s wrestling as now is a time clearly when nature can no longer be misunderstood as serving humans. Andrea and Mike’s Place the largest painting of the exhibition is a depiction of a completely self-sustaining house of the Greater Earth Community.3 The community of Drop City came out of Drop Art happenings, and it is seen that in Banyard’s sculptures and in the works Rocky Dome and Homage to Drop City, Zonohedra is brought back into the fold of art from which it first originated. Heidegger was right, it is poetry that keeps us here (dwelling); reconsidering, experimenting and innovating with ways of being in this world.
Drop City, ‘drop art’ or a drop out zone? How much of all of this is too good to be true? The longer one lingers with Banyard’s paintings it becomes explicit there are no humans present. The artist admits this way of life is complex and idealised but continues to be drawn to it in her work. And it is in fact from Banyard’s personal experience traveling through Australia as part of a group that formed a sort of mobile commune, her investigation into alternatives grew. Dancing between the made up playful Chromatic Yurt, painted from a toy model and the wistful Winter Romance, a careful watercolour of a dome hut that projects light on to its winter environment as a stage. It’s all very romantic until we remember we are not invited in. Banyard notes, ‘I hope the ambiguity leads the viewer to question the construction of real or unreal space.‘4 The flat plane of the painting surface is exactly that, we may ‘want in’ to Propositional Freetown Hut but instead we are reminded of the traditional use of art as an escape for weary souls stuck in the humdrum of the everyday. Banyard’s painting passes no judgement, exploratory in nature, her work gives us a space for pondering alternative ways of living without instruction or answers. Of course the kaleidoscopic skies and effervescing colours are not real. Instead they are timely imaginings questioning, which mode of living is outdated, that of the alternative commune or the resource sucking McMansion sprawl? Heidegger wrote his piece on dwelling during the housing shortage post World War II, it was from a crisis, or lack that the concern drew. There is a very thoughtful romance to Banyard’s painting that puts forth nature and obsolescence as key to forward movement but instead of pamphleteering her ecological perspectives, she gives us art.
Marian Tubbs, 2012
1 In the shooting of Trayvon Martin by Robert Zimmerman, Florida, USA, February 26, 2012
2 Heidegger, Martin. Building Dwelling Thinking, 1971, p. 218
3 This was before the head honcho Mike Reynolds lost his architecture license because of the experimental nature of his work, beginning a series of legal battles that ended with a new law allowing a site for experiments toward sustainable living.
4 From author’s interview with the artist.