A PLACE TO STAY
To many, the offer of a ‘place to stay’ is sacred. There are ancient traditions of hospitality that bind guests to rules and responsibilities whilst in the company of their hosts and it was once a finable offence to refuse hospitality to those who required it. Things tend to become more complicated when money is involved or when it is no longer a question of hospitality but more of the physical need for shelter.
Sophie Clague’s most recent solo exhibition at Archive_ was opened on a rainy Wednesday evening. When I arrived, there were a few people milling about the entrance. As I was early in anticipation of the art, wine and shelter, I thought nothing of the small crowd that had gathered, however, as we were let in out of the rain, my fellow patrons did not behave in a way you would expect from the art crowd (nervous shuffling towards the bar, standing awkwardly in the corner/looking at the art until someone you know turns up) It quickly became clear that these were in fact not patrons of the arts but rather individuals who were responding to advertisements placed by Clague listing the gallery space as a room to rent, or ‘a place to stay’.
In the weeks leading up to the exhibition, Clague had placed ads on Gumtree and Facebook and had corresponded with those interested in renting, what they thought was, a studio in Newtown a short walk from King Street. Needless to say when they discovered the truth of the situation they didn’t stick around to mull over the conceptual comment on Sydney’s rental market. Their quite vocal displeasure justifiably originated from a mixture of embarrassment and annoyance at the waste of their time, however their reaction, and the discomfort of those who understood the situation also spoke to the uncomfortable and brutal truth of shelter offered and then refused. To anyone who has battled through an inspection with all hope but no expectation of success, this scene was difficult to witness.
The works displayed in the space in its recognized designation as an art gallery included a series of digital prints, the remains of a brass bed enshrined in a glass vitrine placed in the centre of the room and a wall hanging about two meters high. Entitled Electric Blanket, this stark, arresting mess of pencil thick wires and hair-like copper strands were woven into a type of metal trapping. This hard-edged tapestry was scoured and stained with chlorine, bleach, ammonia and other chemicals until it resonated in a pallet of cloudy greens and the lapis like hues of old copper. The hanging refuses the comfort promised by its title and it is this mis-alignment that speaks directly to the brass bed knobs that are displayed in the work, Vestiges, that rests before it. These are remains of another symbol of safety and comfort, they are reliquaries to the general anxiety that is being expressed in all of the pieces presented. It is an anxiety of displacement, the jarring discomfort of not having a place to rest, or settle or stay. It is an anxiety perhaps best articulated in the faces of those who passed through the space in search of what was definitely not on offer.
Sophie Clague’s artistic practice has consistently explored notions of place and space throughout her three most recent solo exhibitions. In Site, at Kudos Gallery in 2012, her sculpture and installation focused on a landscape of potential using the aesthetics of building and demolition sites to examine the poetry of what can be perceived as a broken landscape. In Of Remnants, at Firstdraft in 2013, her installations took up the language of the industrial sites in which she worked, her studio and process infiltrating the gallery space. Now in 2014, with A Place to Stay, Clague has moved to the social and political realities and conceptual conundrums of Sydney’s property market. It seems that in her practice we see a line forming between a broken landscape in flux and a disillusion with the promise and denial of place. For Clague there is no leveling out – there is only the history of site and the promises made in memory of place. There is only ever a site of potential, and what remains when we have moved on from temporary settlement.