We invite you to come and see STREET TO STREET.
This extraordinary public exhibition – supported by the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries, Lotterywest and the City of Perth – has engaged 44 people over six workshops in creating prefabricated wooden houses made to the “size of a hug”.
Our artist-in-residence Deborah Ralph-Kafarela has created an impressive body of work and this is a must-see.
The exhibition is open to the public. From Friday, 17 December to midday on Tuesday, 21 December at Artsource, Old Customs House, 1/8 Phillimore St, Fremantle.
About STREET TO STREET
This collaborative work is based on a similar piece done by American Artist Rick Lowe and has been put together by Shelter WA’s first artist-in-residence is Deborah Ralph-Kafarela.
A devotee to his Rick Lowe’s work Deborah liked his “commentary on social issues in his country”.
“One day he found a row of derelict houses and then he approached the appropriate authorities to obtain them,” she said. With funding and a similar minded art collective joining Rick in the process the houses were artistically transformed under the banner of “found objects”.
“The whole community was involved in renovating them, cleaning them up and painting them. When they finished one house became a support house and all the rest were turned into housing for single mums. This was his goal. To use art to make a real practical and tangible difference.”
STREET TO STREET follows a similar journey as Deborah replicates the same process in Perth. “This is a big idea, and we have started off small. So, this first phase is a teaser if you like, to engage the community of lived experience, community organisations that are on the ground helping and other sectors to gain interest heading into phase two. In addition to Shelter WA’s support there has been a lot of interest.”
Phase one is comprised of two components. Six workshops have been carried out, two each at St. Patrick’s Community Support Centre, Ruah Community Services and Uniting WA’s Tranby Centre.
“Artists” who chose to be involved worked on prefabricated wooden houses made to the “size of a hug”. “We say that because the houses are quite an intimate piece of work,” Deborah said.
“Designed by a cutter the houses can be pulled apart like a jigsaw. Then using stencils, the “artists” were encouraged to embellish the houses with stencil designs of the exterior cladding, gardens and interior objects that make a home a home for each participant.
“There are beds, tables, chairs and even things like pets and flower boxes, everything you can think of to make a comfortable house were made available.”
Deborah has brought in other artists intentionally into STREET TO STREET to maintain the collaborative feel and to make it as inclusive as possible. Both Jeanette Garlett and mentor Denise V Brown brought their creativity to the stencils through Aboriginal artwork and disability friendly components needed for accessible housing.
“We are using the stencil templates to have some continuity through the artwork but at the same time we are creating so many different types of objects this gives enough of a variation to keep people interested. Also, the use of the stencils is so many people from the street are so traumered that it is very difficult for them to engage in something like art when they are just trying to survive to eat. We want to cater for everyone.”
You may be wondering given the sensitivity and empathy needed when working with people who are homeless how Deborah has managed to navigate the challenges present when creating a collaborative work of this scale.
She does have past lived experience of homelessness and was a manager at StreetFriends in the Perth CBD and Dreambuilders Care, an enterprise supporting the homeless and those with food insecurity in the Midland area. She has worked on designing a toolkit outlining best practice for lived experience engagement as part of the Shelter WA Hear of My Experience (HOME) team, and most recently worked as one of eleven Census 2021 Local Engagement Officers-Homelessness Enumeration employed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
With every artist, they travel an experimental journey on what artistic approach works best to convey their message or a story. Deborah realised early on what didn’t work.
“I don’t believe in shock art or exploitation,” she said. “I see some artists will shock culture into change, but it does not work, the person makes a lot of money as an artist and gains fame but the people who they are talking about they exploit in the process of making the art, so those people’s lives don’t improve.”
“My approach is to tell the story in a way which empowers or helps change. As an artist I’m moving away from being a visual commentator on society to a facilitator.”
“I don’t believe in shock art or exploitation. It doesn’t work.”
Social Activism in Art
Pragmatic art practice and social activism in art are types of movements which engage the community to become the artist rather than an artist just telling the story.
“When we go into a gallery space if it’s our art and people are coming to view it there is a limited audience,” Deborah said. “But if an artist engages the community to become an artist, particularly on a human rights topic then instead of having one person tell a story there can be an unlimited number involved in the process.”
Taking this approach to art in a public space Deborah has done before.
The unassuming Midland community were first engaged while she was Artist in Focus at the Midland Junction Arts Centre. A series of artworks and installations, challenged cultural values of rough sleeping and homelessness were developed. Multa Plenty addressed issues of equality and displacement, by recognising abundance and emphasising that there is more than enough to go around.
The installations were commissioned but there was a nagging question.
“This was just one big experiment,” Deborah recalled. “Would this social activism pragmatic art way actually work? Not much of this type of art practice has been done in Australia and I had to fight worries if the community would engage.”
“Many didn’t realise they were making art.”
There was relief when Abundance, the first installation of the six Deborah created for Multa Plenty, started getting immediate traction. The community willingly, and some unknowingly, became the artist under Deborah’s eye. “Many didn’t realise they were making art,” she said.
The gallery installation comprised of donated sleeping bags, doonas and blankets collected over months from members of the public. “I put the call out to churches, business and op shops to encourage donations. It was about a little tiny snippet of an example that in our country there should be no homeless and we have more than enough to go around.
“As soon as you take a normal object and put it in a gallery space it becomes an art piece. I was working with a found object in my contribution of sleeping bags and doonas and from there things just grew.”
From Little Things
The main art space at the Midland Junction Arts Centre is 92 sqm and has an official capacity of 101 people. With high ceilings the historical venue is an impressive space. More than 1,000 sleeping bags were added to Deborah’s original “donation” as over 2,000 people over a series of 18 months self-engaged with the works. “They reached the roof. In the end there was just a tiny space to open the door.
“I had church groups of women knitting colourful doona covers to increase the vibrancy of the artwork. People from all walks of life would see it and then would immediately want to contribute. People could lift, move, pile them.”
Deborah recalls a group of young missionaries creating a “lollipop” with the bags. “They came to the gallery and put the bright sleeping bag covers onto the blankets and doonas to create this colourful lollipop with just a metres space around the edge.”
Funding for STREET TO STREET proudly supplied by the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries, Lotterywest and the City of Perth.