Shini Pararajasingham remembers where she was when the wall came down. On November 13 last year, around noon, the founder and director of Off the Kerb Gallery was in her office. Tim Collins, who rents one of the studio spaces, ran in screaming, "It's raining bricks!" It took a spell of bad weather to bring a significant chunk of the 108-year-old building crashing to the ground. "It was apocalyptic," says Pararajasingham.
Council engineers deemed the building a hazard, barring both visitors and staff from reentering. Due to its dated building materials and structures, the gallery would have to be almost entirely rebuilt to meet safety standards. Not to be defeated, Pararajasingham and the team decided to do just that, and fast.
"No one's ever seen anything work so quickly like this before," Pararajasingham says. Bricklayers, carpenters, plasterers, electricians and painters worked around the clock to get Off the Kerb back to scratch, even ploughing through Boxing Day.
The hard work paid off. Earlier this month Off the Kerb returned with a grand reopening featuring three exhibitions, performances by local band Grandstands and food dished out by taco truck Cornutopia.
Now the gallery is picking up where it left off with last year’s program. Starting Friday, Mitch Walder will fill the Front Gallery with his clustered and chaotic paintings and drawings for Hoarder, while Amz Kelso’s unicorn-inspired, feminine illustrations and sculptures will take up the Back Gallery for Unbridled, her first solo exhibition. In the Upstairs Gallery, Chinese-born artist Ying Huang is presenting The Great Leader Series, a collection of subversive digital collages featuring the artist herself and a wide range of found imagery.
Pararajasingham feels invigorated. She says the experience has given her a “boot up the bottom”. With that extra spurt of energy, her thoughts have turned to the artists. "We want to give 150 per cent to all of our artists this year, because they stood by us and they were loyal,” she says.
As such, the newly rebuilt wall, reinforced with steel bracing, now belongs to a rotating roster of street artists who have been given free rein to treat it as a canvas for six months each, with Melbourne street artist Shida slated to be the first.