AVALON

Artists in residence
Museum of Brisbane
15 July - 14 November 2004

The Museum of Brisbane (MoB) is proving to be a remarkably successful innovation for the creative culture of Queensland's capital. This one venue, which comfortably exhibits contemporary art practice beside social and community history, has redrawn the lines of curatorial practice. 'Avalon: Artists in Residence' is the most vivid example of this form of hybridised exhibition and, although modest, is remarkably successful.

Exhibition producer, Ricardo Felipe has been researching the history of his own block of flats, the 1930s apartment building 'Avalon' in Brunswick St, New Farm, and the building's recent culture of resident artists. This exhibition is partly a homage to that building and partly a survey of the remarkably diverse practices of a number of artists who have lived in Avalon since the early 1990s.

Avalon is unusual in that, rather than using the conventional numbering system for its twenty-six apartments, the flats are lettered from A to Z. This has allowed the exhibition's curatorium of Ricardo Felipe, Skye Raabe and Luke Roberts to structure the exhibition around the lettering system, each participating artist nominating an evocative word starting with their flat's letter. These words running high on the wall of the gallery create a framework for the display of both artworks (forty-eight A4 pigment prints on matte paper) and personal artefacts from the building's resident artists. We observe that certain flats have a particularly rich artistic history, having housed a number of artists.

And the survey of artistic practice presented in reproduction in the MoB show is really a microcosm of the local art scene. The cross-section is diverse and remarkably eclectic, from the Icon paintings of Leonard Brown (who operated an Eastern Orthodox chapel in his apartment) to the minimalist geometric installations of Sandra Selig. Performance work features prominently in the practices of several artists including Avalon's most notorious serial resident, Luke Roberts, whose alter-ego persona Pope Alice is virtually a Brisbane institution.

Traditional Chinese brush painting appears in the work of Li Juan Chen, and her brother Jun Chen's figurative painting has featured in three Sulman Prize exhibitions at Art Gallery of New South Wales. Troy Anthony Baylis's practice is best known for a range of performance characters, one of whom, Kaboobie (world renowned Kylieminologist), will be making an appearance during the course of the exhibition. Melinda Jane was attracted to a fantasy of Avalon as New York's notorious Chelsea Hotel, perfectly summarising the previously common Brisbane belief that life was elsewhere. Jane O'Neill's apartment doubled as studio/ study and occasional exhibition space for her practice as an artist, curator and writer.

The exhibition gives us a glimpse into Avalon's apartments and their occupants with documentation of artworks in situ plus photographs of empty flats left open for inspection and a sample of the original carpet and doors. It would have been interesting to see the wallmounted prints in vintage frames in keeping with the domestic interior style.

These days the culture of creative cities and their constituent 'creative buildings' has become an exercise in social design, but Avalon's community of artists grew organically from the traditional circumstances-low rent and good location. Consequently, not all of Avalon's residents have been involved in the arts and not all artists in the building have chosen to identify with an internal community. Felipe's decision to acknowledge this rather than attempting to force an over-identification of the building with an artistic milieu shows sensitivity and a historian's respect for fact over curatorial rationale.

In the centre of the gallery space is a coffee table and chairs taken from Felipe's own apartment in Avalon, and visitors to the exhibition are encouraged to sit and listen to music selected by participating artists as representative of the music listened to during the production of their artwork. Included on the iPods is a rendition of the Roxy Music song, 'Avalon', as executed by a number of the artists involved. This re-invention of a slick mid-Atlantic pop tune as fashioned in the heart of our sub-tropical capital neatly encapsulates Brisbane's DIY iconoclasm. This curatorial excursion into the history of an iconic residential building is an indication that Australia's third largest city is at long last coming to grips with its own history and embracing what makes it unique.

The project will culminate in the publication of the book Avalon: The life and times of an apartment building, looking at the full history of the building, due for release in November and co-published by the Museum of Brisbane and Vanity Publishing.

Tom Burless, Avalon, 2003. Courtesy the artist.