Beyond nostalgia

Mitchell Whitelaw: Bronwyn Coupe, The Neighbour’s House

My childhood memories of the neighbour’s house are marked by a slightly edgy fascination. Just next door, and yet completely unfamiliar, full of unknown lives and strange smells, un-homely. It proves the difference between the house, a plan or structure, and the home, the setting for experience and memory.

Bronwyn Coupe works with both layers—plan and memory—in this interactive installation. Five pressure mats, snugly illuminated by 50s desk lamps, form an interface which reveals corresponding rooms on the plan of a remembered house—the childhood home of the work’s composer, Mary Anne Slavich. The rooms in turn lead to video-memory snippets. The dizzy-making swing in the backyard; piano practice (and Greensleeves, and the ice-cream man); the toybox; drives in the car. Basic, common-currency evocations which send us all back to a suburban childhood, even if we never had one. What makes this more than simple nostalgia is the quiet, drifting, slightly eerie quality of the video—in one sequence time-lapse shadows creep across a box full of stuffed toys. Slavich’s piano-based score is warm, lyrical, simple, and evocative in itself.

The work as a whole is marked by a quite beautiful sense of lightness and simplicity. There isn’t a mass of content, or a deep, multilayered structure, and that’s just fine. The mapping between memory-house and gallery floor means that unlike many installed interactives, the piece works well with multiple users. It also places us squarely inside the neighbour’s house, walking from bedroom to lounge, watching someone else’s memories, and thinking of home.

Bronwyn Coupe, The Neighbour’s House, Canberra Contemporary Art Space, March 24–April 21

RealTime issue #43 June-July 2001 pg. 23

© Mitchell Whitelaw; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2001