Title: Inhabitance   – the presence of concern
By-line: A response to Inhabitance, a residency by Sian Torrington
Author: By Rachel O’Neill

Early on in the residency, you entered the place through a red door at street level, which had a lock but no door handle. When Sian let you in, you stepped into a solid cold concrete hallway, the wall a dirty cream colour. There was a door on the right but you passed it. Though, now that you think about it, this is what happened on the second visit. When you came here the first time Sian was out getting a coffee and so the artist behind that door you would pass the next time let you in. He said hello, and you followed him into his studio even though you’d just met because you were feeling nosey and his room was nicely heated.

Due to a series of direct questions, you discovered that he worked for the Council and that he’d got permission some years ago to use the space as an art studio while the Transport officials decided whether or not to build a motorway through this building and the many others in the block that they’d purchased for this potential purpose. The building is in the path of what is referred to as a paper road, a pseudo road. It is a maybe baby. You’re getting a picture of the building’s history, a paper history that in many ways hasn’t even taken much shape on the page yet.

Sian’s neighbour artist makes things with bronze, and there was hot wax somewhere and you were reminded of something tangential, like the things you tried out at art school when you discovered feminist performance art, which included dipping stockings into hot wax, and making some of them look bloody and making a lot of references to vaginas, and not just because vaginas had worked out so well for Judy Chicago. You had your own reasons. You think back to your end of first-year exhibition, the one that your mum came to, and the questions these things must have flagged for her.

The next time you visit, Sian takes you straight down the hallway. There’s a cupboard under some invisible stairs, and her interventions with string, paper, knitting needles and chalk marks suggest a musical instrument has been sent here for tuning work in the hands of a colourful professional, or has emerged out of architectural necessity. Further down the hallway a window appears, and pink chalk marks have been applied to the opposite wall, a leopard print, to mimic the peeling paint that hangs off and the ceiling and several other surfaces. This building has a skin condition that’s being intentionally repaired through exacerbation. There is also suggestion that nature is looking for alternate surfaces, new grounds for presence, via abstract, obfuscatory processes.

11.33AM All eyes are on the oblivious future. Everyone is choosing things to take there.

11.33AM But the poor fact is left to fend for itself.

11.33AM While concerns are slow thoughts urgently grouped.

11.33AM You need things here, including faces and axes.

There also appears to be a sense of freedom about the light fixtures, many of which are missing bulbs or coming away from the ceiling. So the building has its own wonky rights to contend with, you think, a set of vulnerable and yet determined freedoms that pollinate the entire five-roomed space – bedroom, bathroom, living room-next-to kitchen, and another room that Sian’s boarded up because it’s too creepy to work in.

Each room becomes populated, materially socialised, paper is layered onto walls, marked with chalk and looped across distance with string, uncut rolls of zipper, sometimes humble black insulating tape. Yellow, mustard, white glittery material is wrung from flat rolls and clumped, or made to cover and stretch out from sticks rising from red carpet to curve at their limit on the ceiling. Knitting needles are stuck in the wall, and twice, canvas is turned into human-scale cacoons.

The bath tap is left to drip and blue glitter reacts tidally to the increase of water. Blue chalk accompanies the dance on the walls, and the shadow-stains of objects removed are pencilled back in, a sketchy mirror appears. Crepe paper chains are strung above the small inland sea, an interlocking net ready just in case there is a flicker in gravity.

In the last weeks, photographs appear on the walls, images of the works in the space, attached on top of the works themselves, reprinted and strung out in series. These are a slick, slippery, surface life force.

1.14PM The lines of sight will turn a blue wounded wool colour, but succeed as verbs and cobwebs

1.14PM The lines of sight will at last hang out in an orange tent. But who and what can live here?

The repetitive photographic mapping is significant. It’s not paper road, nor is it without acknowledgment for holding up the work, spatially more than temporally, so that what it lets come and go in this specific location, enables specific subjective and objective arrangements to be present through succession.

3.14PM Fingers slip and fall into the habits of photographs.

3.14PM They caress it and abet its standing on end.

3.14PM We follow the caress that breathes in time with us.

3.14PM A breath of fresh air, she said, and what it can demand of us.

Sian’s 2010 final-year MA exhibition touched on the way narratives are acted by troupes of words and objects to make certain aesthetic discourses, and their relations to power, gender and sexuality more transparent. In this residency, Inhabitance, Sian worked with things, scope that builds on her past investigations of troupes of words and objects and the aesthetic discourses they tango with. Inhabitance is an experiment in letting the tango of things, the concerns illuminated by the play of subject and objects play out via representational succession.

Throughout the residency Sian worked in a certain place as a cohabitant for a specified period. Her cohabitants included the things she brought to the space during the residency, the building itself, her energy and her sense of aesthetic and discursive play, the ghost of city council and the paper road that cut through the building, council funding so she could work full-time in the space and produce this catalogue, and the mustard washes of a sometimes readily assumed awareness of simultaneous if not synchronised gestures/suspensions of history and memory.

She did this so as to concern herself and her viewers with the rights or distant freedoms of things. The way things – comprising subtitles, chalk, dust, photographs, a blog – make claims to validity in an always chaotic arrangement of scale, gravity, funding, PR, occupy this residency. Engagements with things underscore options for subjective and objective presence, available even amidst this everyday clatter, or clutter of things.

Noon: We do what we can to muster the distance and closeness that we need to foreground our concerns. We get a little abstract in the swamp of temperamental life, which charges us with keeping our facts where they belong, our hands outstretched, open amidst their entanglements.

Eyecontact review – Mark Amery – 3 December, 2010

The character played out here is of the homemaker set free from trying to keep house, a celebratory disorder of madness – glitter in the bathroom, wool and tape festooning spaces like party streamers. Wool trails through the space as if it is being used to try and contain walls that threaten to cave in. Knitting needles stud the walls. Tape and a grab bag of sewing fabrics create patterns through the space, like leaking bandages on walls.

83 Kent Terrace


Sian Torrington


By Appointment

There is nothing new about an artist interacting with a found derelict urban space awaiting the next urban change. Artists continue to migrate to fringe spaces as studio cum experimental workspaces, and we can look back to the likes of Gordon Matta Clark cutting into the structure of buildings in the 1970s to witness big bold interactions into the urban fabric, both socially and aesthetically.

Just down the road from Sian Torrington’s Inhabitance at 83 Kent Terrace (property earmarked for Tranzit’s Basin Reserve flyover) is Ouse House, where a strong lively group exhibition once worked superbly with a dilapidated office space back in 2004. An even more relevant project, given its use of materials gathered from the site itself, was Terry Urbahn’s takeover of the Columbia Hotel, Cuba Street as part of the National Gallery’s Art Now in 1991.

Torrington’s Inhabitance is a project of recessionary times, the artist taking a lead amongst Massey graduates in re-entering the Wellington real estate market. What is special about this project is captured in its title. Torrington worked in and with the building in residence for seven weeks before her installation opened, keeping a blog parallel to it ( Opening hours have now finished but the work remains open by appointment (

The residence involved drawing materials from the site and neighbouring businesses to play with different responses to every stain, sag, rip and other intrusion of nature’s since its abandonment. Research into the history of the site also informed the work’s creation, though this is not particularly evident in the final work – one potential criticism.

Torrington’s strength is in providing a more abstract, poetic response, creating unstable structure within unstable structure. Her constructions and interventions enter into conversation and tension with the marks of time evident since this small flat was last kept tidy. In a visual dance she has energetically been drawing in three dimensions.

The visual struggle here amplifies the daily domestic process undertaken to keep the changeable environment and materials at bay. In its abstraction the work is as much an expressionistic self-portrait – a lived in and thoroughly worked over psychological space. I was reminded of the expressionistic three dimensional painting of Philippa Blair, Debra Bustin and Barbara Strathdee in the early 1980s. With this too comes the undertone of working with and against the inherited order of the domestic realm, the tight knitting of the home.

The character played out here is of the homemaker set free from trying to keep house, a celebratory disorder of madness – glitter in the bathroom, wool and tape festooning spaces like party streamers. Wool trails through the space as if it is being used to try and contain walls that threaten to cave in. Knitting needles stud the walls. Tape and a grab bag of sewing fabrics create patterns through the space, like leaking bandages on walls. A domestic colour palette, including pinks, blues and lemony yellows, softly bonds the entire work.

At other times it feels like the space is being turned inside out, its moist jungle innards and back-stitching revealed. Overlapping pieces of wallpaper are taped to the wall, their backs facing out and covered with a mingling of mould and Torrington’s own marks. Cables and wool snake through the space. One corner in the corridor, where the flow of energy stops, shows Torrington’s visual strength. Like strong painting, the assemblage has strong lines coming out of a riotous chaos, the construction gleefully but barely holding itself together.

Playing off domestic pattern, taped collages act as pools of memory. They document experiments in the space during the residency, drawing our eye to details both inside and outside the building.

There’s exuberant joy in Torrington’s play with functional spaces. The toilet is still working but while you do your business you’ll find a collage of naked lightbulbs looking down on you like supervising eyeballs. Pink glitter is sprinkled on the skirting like a crumbled toilet lozenge, and smeared up the wall like pretty pink faeces. In the bathroom blue glitter in a water-filled bath matches the dripping tap.

The living and dining rooms are more problematic and less coherent. Torrington extends the ivy reaching through the lounge window into a circuit of brambly branches, some painted, others sutured to electrical wiring. These wrap around a painter’s easel on which is propped an old plank, whilst behind the door two big branches are wrapped in plain unpatterned material, reminiscent of Joseph Beuys in their ghostly bonding of natural and human elements.

The house is a big space Torrington doesn’t shy from filling in her own unruly fashion. A more refined minimal approach to the found richness might have been more visually satisfying, yet – as is clearly obvious – it wouldn’t reflect the opportunity for experimentation.

Mark Amery

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