Next Wave Festival: Testing Grounds and ACCA

5 – 8 MAY / 2016

As anticipated, the opening weekend of 2016 Next Wave Festival was a big one with a mixed group of people joining me for a chat. Many renters, a few looking to enter the property market, some who own their own homes, as well as a couple trying something a little different.

Each day I was flattered to meet people visiting specifically to talk about the various societal concerns that the project evokes. Some of these conversations lasted for hours. Seeing a few familiar faces peppered throughout the day kept me going as well, learning more about the people closer to me. Watching suits realise the purpose of this car shaped object as they passed through Testing Grounds was also classic, and watching people walk straight by without noticing was a complement in itself too.

CBD living.
CBD living.

Catching the train from my cousins house in Richmond, I arrived in the heart of Melbourne’s cultural precinct early on Thursday morning with stunning weather. Didn’t take long before the tent was up and people stopped by to discuss the complexities of the Australian landscape and our place within it. One conversation stood out though, a keen cyclist named Adam who was about to embark on a minimal reno on a friends backyard shed. Moving out of his current share house rental, the plan was to adapt the shed to have the bare essentials and move in as soon as possible. Loved the idea as I have been researching TINY houses, container homes and minimal living quite a bit lately.

Going head-to-head with wedding photoshoots on Saturday afternoon was a laugh, couples ‘creatively’ juxtaposing the coarse, angular shapes of ACCA’s exterior with the smooth and elegant lines of their bright yellow stretch hummer (and yes, it had scissor doors) blasting Gangnam Style across the large clearing so everyone could celebrate their special day. A beautiful example of suburban excess to balance out the conversations around sustainable practices. I took solace knowing that my modest late 80s Magna features in the photo albums of at least two separate weddings. Luckily when the second pack of hotted up vintage Ford’s came through I had a few people to keep me company and make sure I wasn’t muscled out.

Giving the standard project pitch at ACCA to my immediate family visiting from Brisbane, my Nanna, as well as my great uncle, soon turned into an impromptu artist talk as 6 or so people joined the conversation. Adding different perspectives and experiences, the audience raised both social and practical concerns, questioning the shelters we inhabit and the options going into the future. Happy to hear that the conversation was also extended to the next generation as well, Shadows on the hill staring as this weeks ‘Featured Artwork’ at a local primary school. Why did the artist make this car shaped tent? What would you like to talk to him about? No doubt the answers will be equally if not more imaginative than attempting to create a car tent. More on that later.

This Week's Featured Artwork
This Week’s Featured Artwork.

Gazing out to the sunset from ACCA’s forecourt, framed by apartment block after apartment block after apartment block, reaffirmed a few things for me.  If a freestanding house isn’t financially accessible, I definitely don’t want to live in a sterile new apartment. An effective use of space will be pretty important also. Reflecting on the walkthrough and chat with Jeremy from Breathe Architecture, I realised that The Commons was getting pretty close to my ideal. The apartments were not big, but they felt right. As I entered the different spaces in the building (apartment, lobby, rooftop, communal laundry) they felt VERY different to the new apartment my visiting family were staying in through AirBnb though they were the same size. I think the differentiating factor was that I instantly felt at home in The Commons, like the quirky, imperfect Queensland house I grew up in or a classic terraced house that is so sort after in Melbourne. You can see the raw materials that make up the structure, you can feel them under your feet and there is evidence of the space being used. Lived in.

View from overpass during twilight, the only time the harsh forms of the city look vaguely romantic.
View from overpass during twilight, the only time the harsh forms of the city look vaguely romantic.

Hearing the alternatives pursued by others has been pretty exciting. A colleague of my uncle dropped by at the end of my first day in suburban Footscray, and offered a few alternatives that hadn’t really crossed my mind. The first option was to pool resources with close friends to purchase a property, making the often temporary option of living in a share house slightly more permanent. The second was to buy an affordable property in a regional area, rent it out to subsidise repayments, and rent closer to where you work in the city. This is with the idea that that you would move there in the future. While both aren’t perfect (but what is?) but the second option raises an interesting question and realistic future situation.

In 20 years time will a large portion of the population still be travelling to the CBD on a daily basis to work in a big office? Or in shops? The presence of the internet in our daily life over the last 15 years has exploded, effecting how we acquire goods or food, the location which we work from, and the way we communicate. It wasn’t that long ago that I was ripping songs from FM radio onto tape cassettes, and now I don’t even have music on my computer, it’s all online. In the past I have coordinated projects on the east coast of Australia while being based in Perth or traveling overseas. I am writing this very article on a friends couch next to the tent I am currently living in. In the 21st Century, the choice of which location we choose to base ourselves is arguably the least restrictive it has ever been, while paradoxically the choice of being fixed to a single location is one of the biggest challenges to face future generations. Learning about the feasible options doesn’t make it any easier, but it is empowering to know that there are people out there and people are exploring them.