Carolyn Deutsher: Melbourne dwellers tell tales on their neighbours. 1999
by Werner Hammerstingl ©1999

Early in The ten books of Architecture, yet following a section devoted to the location and layout of the city, Vitruvius describes the origin of the first dwelling (1).. If I paraphrased and condensed what Vitruvius was saying, it would be: the first dwelling gave primitive humans the need for language and systems for social structure and mediation. This is food for thought . If we follow VitruviusÕs meditations a little further we might conclude that the layout and structure of the city determines the social behaviour that must by some inner necessity evolve from it. The layout of Melbourne is the layout of a new city. A city that could expand radially and a city which exploded like "Sim-city" after some good decisions by the player. The patchwork of hundreds of thousands 1/4 acre blocks seen from the air is still the strongest memory I have about my arrival in Australia in 1968. Once in a while I park the car at a lookout spot in the Dandenongs where the city can be viewed from an oblique elevation and my first impression drifts back: so many lights; so many people - and every one of them is a thinking individual with a history, dreams, pains, desires, connections, relationships and so on. It's so inconceivable to think of the city this way. In fact it's not unlike looking at a computer chip and attempting a mental model of the million calculations per second of which it is capable. The mind is aware that such complexity makes any attempt at analysis absurd from the outset.

But when the actuary fails, the artist is the last one standing who has a chance of sucess.

Carolyn Deutshers project is deceptive in it's simplicity. With the skill of an alchemist she has evaporated the complexity of the suburbs and it's inhabitants and distilled it's essence into an archive of 15 small, fragile and totally enthralling stories. Stories that are told by voices we've heard before: on the tram, in a supermarket, behind us somewhere. Voices that belong to ordinary people- well not really: no one in the suburbs is ordinary!

Carolyn's work is a strong reminder that the dwellers of the sprawling suburbs are all unique and it is a very short sighted project or individual that considers these unique individuals that inhabit or suburbs only in terms of their statistical mass.

The work that Carolyn produced has a very strong "oral history" component but the work is not best experienced with "eyes shut". Shutting our eyes is a practice that exists both as a physical phenomenology as well as a metaphor. Keeping our eyes open also engages this duality and this is where the impact of the work lies for me. The slow, seemingly endless scroll of the public face of suburban houses creates a landscape which is inhabited by a colossal amount of information. While we process a fraction of this, we are treated to verbal descriptions of what at face value are banal stories and reminiscences. Stories that differ widely in the subject of content and even in the style of their "telling" but share one fact: when we, the audience absorb this snapshot of some individuals life, we change a little. These stories open up the human dimension that brought together our primitive stone-age ancestors around the fire and some time later in the first house. If we are interested in our neighbours stories the community can survive. If not, if our interest can only be sated by the exaggerated lives that come to us from devices which make our living spaces emanate the tell-tale blue glow at night then... ...then Carolyn Deutshers project will be a postscript that can only be described by the title claimed by Proust: "Remembrance of things past".

©Werner Hammerstingl, Melbourne, 1999

1R.D. Dripps The First House Myth, Paradigm and the Task of Architecture, M.I.T. Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1997 page 3.
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