Features/What to SEE/Visual Art

Everybody needs good neighbours

8 March 2023

Four new art projects function as little portals into pockets of Perth’s sprawling suburbia, in Know Thy Neighbour #3, an exhibition that asks locals to consider how they might shape the places in which they live.

Since its inception, in the small wheatbelt town of Kellerberrin, West Australian arts organisation Spaced has sought to build connections between contemporary art makers and the general public.

Founded in 1998, by Wheatbelt farmers Tony York and Donna Dransfield, in collaboration with artist Rodney Glick and writer-curator Marco Marcon, the organisation was originally known as International Art Space Kellerberin Australia (IASKA) and ran an artist-in-residence program and art gallery.

Twenty five years later, IASKA – now known as Spaced – runs projects across the whole of Western Australia, and beyond.

A headshot of Mayma Awaida, curator of Know Thy Neighbour. She is not quite smiling.
Mayma Awaida. Photo: Frances Andrijich

Despite this broad geographical reach, local focus remains at the heart of Spaced’s activities, with both of its current projects, Know Thy Neighbour and Rural Utopias, based around artist residencies in specific communities, that see the artist working interactively with those communities.

And though the scope and scale of Spaced has expanded, that original idea – of building connection between contemporary art makers and the general public – is still central to the organisation’s work, says Know Thy Neighbour #3 curator Mayma Awaida.

“Spaced looks to produce socially engaged work,” says Awaida. “Specifically, we recognise that in any given community or social context, the people that make up a place are diverse. Our work seeks to harness the knowledge and skillsets that are embedded within the fabric of a community, and from this, generate the possibility for art.

Providing opportunities for people to engage with art outside of institutionalised visual arts venues also continues to be a priority for Spaced. In Know Thy Neighbour #3 that goal sees artist Amy Perejuan-Capone making a work that’s all about an experience close to many of our hearts: navigating suburbia with a dog.

That goal sees artist Amy Perejuan-Capone making a work that’s all about an experience close to many of our hearts: navigating suburbia with a dog.

“Amy wanted to unveil how dog-owners in Melville interact with their environment,” says Awaida. Her work took shape by speaking to people in dog parks, and later hosting a series of mapping activities which asked participants to recreate with fantastical licensing the routes they walk with their dogs.”

Perejuan-Capone then synthesised her findings into an open-ended video-game world, says Awaida. “Her project serendipitously coincided with the opening of the Fenced Dog Play Park at Piney Lakes Reserve, forming the geographic basis for where the game is situated.”

Perejuan-Capone’s project is one of five that see artists working interactively with specific suburbs or shires in the Perth metropolitan area, to make work that asks locals to consider how they can meaningfully engage in the making and shaping of their cities or suburbs.

As the name suggests, this iteration of Know Thy Neighbour is the third. The project has been running since 2015, and its roots are practical in nature.

Know Thy Neighbour was influenced by the East Perth location of the Spaced offices at the time,” says Awaida. “Being situated across the road from She Moves Pole Studio, Noongar Patrol, Carers WA, along with a range of disparate community groups, the team reflected on the people that were in their immediate proximity, and how despite the cultural plurality amongst these groups, it was always the same crowd of art enthusiasts that attended Spaced functions. The question therefore arose: how can we get other people into the same room? And from there, Know Thy Neighbour was born.”

In addition to Perejuan-Capone’s project in the City of Melville, three other residencies have been completed, and the results are currently on display in an exhibition at the University of WA’s Cullity Gallery.

A photo from Know Thy Neighbour #3, of an artwork made of fabric, dyed cobalt blue with aqua leaf shapes and shells and beads sewn in little clusters.
Yabini Kickett was drawn to the Derbal Yerrigan. Pictured: ‘A Child Was Born Here, Yabini Kickett. Photo: Emma Daisy

In East Fremantle, artist Yabini Kickett’s work brings together the Derbal Yerrigan (Swan River) and its connection to Noongar birthing practices.

“Like many of the residents of East Fremantle, Yabini was drawn to the Derbal Yerrigan, as a central feature of the neighbourhood,” says Awaida. “Her project references Bilya (the river) as a ceremonial component of Noongar birthing practices, while conveying an exercise in listening as she speaks to residents who have birthed within the Town.”

During her residency, artist Elham Eshraghian-Haakansson established a close relationship with the Town of Victoria Park’s Community Centre, enabling her to delve into the issues around home and homelessness.

“Through ongoing conversations with the Centre, its users, and its service providers, Elham found herself circling notions of home and a displacement within it,” says Awaida. “Her work proposes a three-tiered perspective of home/less/ness and through poetic word and moving image, parallels the deep complexities embedded within the community of Victoria Park with her own migrant upbringing.”

Working in the community of Armadale, Olga Cironis and Duncan Wright spent time with residents of the Harrisdale and Piara Waters neighbourhoods, collecting their insights into this evolving landscape. “Harrisdale and Piara Waters are an embodied pastiche of the old and the new,” says Awaida. “Their exhibition work is as an ode to the cultural essence of place, instilled with a hope that story and memory can prevail amidst an ever-changing landscape.”

A photo from Know Thy Neighbour #3 of a sculpture that depicts a sapling on its side, including the root ball. The tree is brown and looks dead.
An ode to the cultural essence of a place: You can’t really explain it, you can only feel it’, Olga Cironis and Duncan Wright. Photo: Emma Daisy

The works created during these four residencies form four distinctive and self-contained installations, says Awaida. “They function as little portals, if you like, into pockets of Perth’s sprawling suburbia, and the nuanced human experiences that take place every day both collectively in those neighbourhoods, and on an individual scale.”

A fifth project, which sees artist Jessee Lee Johns working in the City of Subiaco is still in progress.

“Toying with the concept of foreign aid, Jessee Lee Johns sees the Know Thy Neighbour #3 residency as an opportunity to catalyse the local community’s capacity for greater connection and active citizenship, says Awaida. “This work will involve the construction of a temporary site outside the Subiaco Museum, housed with various exchangeable objects offered by members of Subiaco Voices of Youth.” Stay tuned for details about this one!

Know Thy Neighbour #3 in on display at the Cullity Gallery, UWA until 25 March 2023.

Pictured top is a detail from ‘(our home) خونۀ ما’, Elham Eshraghian-Haakansson, in ‘Know Thy Neighbour #3’. Photo: Emma Daisy

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked as an arts writer and critic since 2007. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. As a freelancer she has written extensively for The West Australian and Dance Australia magazine, co-editing the latter from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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