A vacant 1970s-era brick home sits in solitude on an abandoned Perth street – one of the last remaining signposts of a once thriving suburban township. Suddenly, it’s lit up in stark monochromatic colours, before being plunged into darkness to reveal only the barren landscape around it.
The fluorescent spectacle is a major new work, Dalison, by renowned Perth-born artist Ian Strange. It premiered on Saturday at The Naval Store in Fremantle – one of the artist’s last ports of call in WA before he returns to the United States after a stint as AGWA’s guest artistic director – before it shows interstate and overseas. The project is a continuation of Strange’s global body of work exploring home, displacement and suburban isolation.
A 2019 work, Untitled Light Intersection, saw Strange skewer two adjoining buildings in Melbourne with piercing beams of light. In 2021, he did the same with a dilapidated terrace house in Sydney.
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His latest subject is 20 Dalison Avenue, Wattleup, in Perth’s south. What was once a bustling outer suburb with market gardens and a school is now an eerily isolated setting: a neighbourhood that’s been slowly erased – residents uprooted and more than 300 homes demolished – since it was earmarked for industrial redevelopment by the West Australian government. Number 20 – a domestic holdout recently vacated by the Cukrov family – is one of just two houses remaining in the area, due for demolition soon.
“Holdout homes are something that happens across cultures, across history around the world,” Strange tells Broadsheet. “In China you have ‘nail houses’ … in Australia we have The Castle and Darryl Kerrigan refusing to move ... and in Chernobyl there were people living there right until the invasion from the Russians currently. So there’s huge instances of people who, in spite of these great external circumstances, have deep-rooted connection to a place or, for many reasons, decide to stay and hold out in a place.”
The impermanence and instability of home feels like a particularly weighty subject at a time when so many Ukrainians have been forced to flee – or fight to protect – theirs. And scores of people up and down Australia’s east coast have had to evacuate homes that are now under water.
“I’m interested in universal and shared connections to the image of the home,” says Strange. “These are places we tend to project with a sense of stability but are often more vulnerable and temporal than we would like to think.”
The Wattleup residence first caught his eye in 2015. “It was such a striking image – this clear holdout house with, at the time, green lawn, and everything else around it was completely gone,” says Strange. “When you look around the neighbourhood there are driveways and footpaths still there, but no houses except this one, and everything’s overgrown except this one.”
Late last year, the artist secured a six-week lease to the empty property at 20 Dalison Avenue, breathing temporary life back into it through a large-scale light and sound installation using a stadium-sized LED screen and programmed theatre lighting.
“The idea of the project was to build this large-scale screen that would allow us to cut the house out of the landscape with light, to experience the home in shifting states of visibility: either silhouetted, isolated in darkness, or revealed in its vast, empty context,” says Strange.
He calls the work “a eulogy to the home”. “It’s such a stark image when you see this lone house, super vulnerable, and this big, wide expanse … it’s almost symbolic of the emotional circumstance of the owners. It’s a visual metaphor of the state of the home and its literal vulnerability.”
The striking installation was viewed live on-site by a group of around 40 former Wattleup residents, including the Cukrovs. And it’s been documented with an 18-minute film work and four photographs – the surviving record of the temporary installation – that will tour interstate and then around the world.
The lighting is choreographed to an 18-minute composition by Idaho musician Trevor Powers – formerly Youth Lagoon – who recorded the score in isolation on the other side of the world. “His music has this melancholy to it, but it’s deeply human,” says Strange. “It captures this sort of mournful moment.”