An extension of the imaginary line where culture previously wasn’t on the roadmap is about to reinvent Melbourne’s inner-north. The Parlour has just cropped up along the stretch of Plenty Road in Preston as a fresh-faced old resident. Rather unassuming, this former funeral parlour holds many promises for a new creative compound.
Brian Cohen, creative director of Trax Arts and curator for The Parlour, came across this abandoned funeral parlour in his search for a useable and affordable new space. He describes the neglected site as “a curiously dynamic space that wasn’t a traditional industrial building”. Having been based at the Preston Market for two years, Trax was relocating to somewhere quite different.
“I really didn’t want to lose the dynamism of such an interesting space and in looking for a new space, it presented a similar interest to me,” Brian says. “At the Preston Market Trax was a sole company, and here, we’re a diverse group of different businesses. In some ways we’re having more traffic that is more personal and intimate; the markets can be overstimulating.”
This ex-funeral parlour seemed like an unusually perfect choice for projects that Trax and the other tenant businesses have planned for the space. A tour of the complex reveals a space full of possibilities. The refurbishments bring to life what were once solemn gathering rooms, and revive a fireplace revealing intricate brickwork. The transformation of the mortuary is a fair balance of the old and new. Walls have been stripped to reveal the raw bricks – creating an ambience fit for exhibitions – while keeping the original body chambers and cabinets, where most of the embalming equipment was stored. Odds and ends have been recovered from the cleanup, including old photographs, children’s toys, morticians’ tools, porn and even the toe tag of an unidentified female.
The concept of The Parlour was born out of celebration, community and creativity. And so one might ask, where and how does death fit in? In addressing the glaringly obvious novelty of using an old funeral parlour as an art space, Brian says “Death has always been a hidden part of society, and in some ways we now have this opportunity, through this place, to see behind the curtains.”
The transformation from what it was to what it has become, defines the purpose of The Parlour. “It should feel like a warm, welcoming, accessible space, whether you consider yourself an artist or not. I would love visitors to experience the work of Melbourne’s emerging artists right next to more established ones,” he explains. “Melbourne as we know it is like a tsunami of development, and culturally, the Bell Street barrier is still under question. We want to give people a reason to come up here.”
And with an extensive menu of activities in the pipeline at The Parlour, it seems he has given us a few, some of which include visual arts exhibitions of wallpaper and wine labels, theatre performances, film screenings and a monthly market. As well as the arts, the space will also be utilised for community engagements and educational workshops to develop the creative skills.
When asked if The Parlour would retain any of its original solemnity, Brian answers without hesitation, “No, it’s a resurrection, so it’s about bringing the space back to life.”