James, I love the fact this artwork is part of Art & About, a festival that’s all about taking art outdoors, into public spaces and on to the streets… Not only are you sending people indoors, but you’re going to punish them by raining on them.
When it was on exhibition in Denmark one of the funniest moments was when it was pouring outside. People went inside the house to get out of the rain… and it was raining on the inside as well. The idea probably works best when it’s raining. What you think of as shelter turns out not to be shelter at all.
Tell us about the concept behind the piece.
It’s generally thought that time heals all. I was interested in exploring the idea of, what if time can’t heal something? What if time can’t heal a relationship between two people? I thought of it as symbolising a relationship between two people when something is said or done that can’t be taken back. Usually it isn’t fireworks and dramatics – it’s often a slow rot. Love, and a relationship, can just slowly, slowly deteriorate.
The house looks like any other house, but by the end it is completely destroying itself from the inside.
I’m interested to find out more about the house itself. How would you describe it? Say if it were listed on Domain…?
It looks like a house you would like to be in. You imagine the people inside have perfectly happy lives.
The Australian version will have the more Australian fibro look and the classic '70s double-hung windows – it’s nice when there’s things in there that you recognise from growing up or your holiday house, things that jolt memories of your home.
It’s really important to me was that it actually feels like someone’s house. You mention Domain – it’s a bit like when you go to an open house inspection. It’s always a weird experience when you’re in an open house because you’re completely in someone else’s world. But you also get a very good gauge of what the people are like just by their belongings and their furniture choices. It’s really important for me to replicate that and to have a family in mind when I’m making this house so you can go there and feel like you’re in someone else’s house.
Does that mean there’ll be an opportunity to browse the residents’ book and movie collections?
Oh definitely – what books they’ve read, what VHSs they’ve watched and what’s on the fridge. That’s where I always head when I’m in someone’s house: what people stick up on the fridge with the magnets is usually the most revealing thing of all.
You also get an idea of how many people are in the house and what pets they had. All these things can be can be communicated through pure clutter and belongings.
There’s one picture from the Denmark installation that seems to me especially sad: a teddy bear in the trunk in one of the bedrooms…
The teddy bear didn’t start in the trunk! Someone put it in. But that’s what’s interesting: people interact with the house.
Exactly how much rain is falling in the house? Are we talking Melbourne drizzle or Sydney storm?
I once described it as the type of rain you would wait to stop before you ran across the street. It’s 200 litres of water a minute. It really rains. You get soaked. We’re going to have raincoats on supply.
But one of the main things about it is the noise. It’s the first thing you notice approaching the installation. It really sounds like a downpour in there.
Can you tell us about where the water comes from and where it goes?
It works on a recycled system. There’s 6000 litres in water tanks underneath the floor. Water gets pumped out of those tanks into the ceiling. A series of sprinklers pours the water over the top of the ceiling so it drips through. The water drains through the floorboards, it’s caught once again and then the process just repeats. It’s basically designed like a giant fountain.
Let’s talk about the gradual deterioration of the house. Looking at some of the photography of Nicolai Lorenzen, it actually seems that those initial few days in the house have a certain kind of melancholy beauty.
It’s really interesting right at the start: kids running through it and lots of laughter and lost of fun – exactly how it should be.
And at some point you wouldn’t say it’s beautiful at all… what happens after just a few days of constant rain? What are the first signs of deterioration?
The double bed gets a small pool in the middle. All the sinks, all the bathtubs, all the laundry tubs, all the drawers fill up with water. Usually the next thing is that anything made of particle board expands. So the furniture expands and falls apart. There’s a discolouration that happens from the water running across oil paintings. The water in the bath becomes discoloured. All the soft furnishings like napkins and flowers start going into the system as well.
It really starts becoming less of a joyful environment to be in. Almost one that you feel uncomfortable in. You feel like you are really in a space that is almost destroying itself.
Yeah it gets a nice odour towards the end! The water is replaced but it definitely does get its own odour. If you can only imagine a wet couch…
By the end of four weeks the double bed is a swimming pool, the kitchen’s starting to fall apart, the bathtub and the toilet are both filled to the brim with endless water and everything is just completely waterlogged. It’s uninhabitable.
What did visitors in Denmark make of the work?
One of the best bits of feedback I got was from a little girl, probably about nine, who described it as the ‘crying house’ and the ‘sad house’.
The Danish public were amazing – they really got involved. They’re very excitable around art and a lot of people didn’t even bother with raincoats. They just took their shoes off and went straight in there.
I think the Sydney crowd will get involved in the same way. You really need to get in there and get under the rain for it to really work. Once your feet start getting wet, your hair gets wets, everything around you wet, you can’t help but relate to what’s going on.
It’s bad luck to open an umbrella in a house, but that seems somewhat fitting, doesn’t it?
[Laughs] People will definitely be welcome to bring umbrellas into the house. It’s probably a good idea.