Irene Warehouse in Brunswick is a former two-storey lingerie factory that is now an artist-run, not-for profit, studio space and venue. It has been doing it for almost two decades and it is still going. It doesn’t say when it started on its website but I can remember going out there to meet with visiting members of the Indonesian art collective Taring Padi in 2002.
It was also at Irene Warehouse in the early years of the twenty-first century that several artists, like HaHa and Civil, who would be important to Melbourne’s stencil art street art movement, had their studios.
On its walls science fiction mixed with politics and Norman Guston rubbed shoulders with William Burroughs in the stencils by Civil, HaHa, Ben Howe, and even Stanley. Stanley did stencils before he teamed up with Bonz and became a notorious tagger.
Like the walls on the street the walls of Irene warehouse had their own anarchic discourse that ranged from the situationalist politics of Civil to the chem trail conspiracy theories of HaHa.
I’ve been photographing Melbourne’s stencils for almost a decade, I’ve been looking at them for longer. Looking back at all my photos of Melbourne stencils here is my top 10.
- HaHa, Nicky Winmar, The master of multi layered stencils HaHa’s interest in fame and celebrities is at its best with his stencil of St.Kilda footballer, Nicky Winmar’s iconic reaction to racist taunts. What could be more Melbourne than a footballer?
- Civil, The Revolution Will Not Be Motorized. Irene Warehouse. This is my nostalgia moment because it was Civil’s stencils that first got me interested in Melbourne’s stencil scene. Civil’s peaceful and entirely civilised anarchic politics is perfectly expressed in this stencil.
- Kirpy, Flinders Street Station, On the wall of 696, then an urban node for quality work, curated by the Toby and Melieka who ran the gallery/gift shop. A great multi layered stencil of an iconic Melbourne scene.
- E.L.K. Ecce Homo (observe the man). In this piece E.L.K. is taking the old English tradition of baboonery from the pages of illuminated manuscripts to the street. E.L.K was Canberra based at the time this was done I’m not being picky about where an artist is based in this list.
- Sunfigo, Little Diver Redux, In the same location and referencing Banksy’s Little Diver along with many other Melbourne based street artists. This is the ultimate piece of self referencing street art. (In photo, Sunfigo above, Phoenix tribute below.)
- Calm, Blue Gnu, At All Your Wall in Hosier Lane 2013 before it was covered in tags but then it anticipated all of that.
- 23rd Key, Toys Will Be Toys, A good stencil and a great reference to both the graffiti insult and Toy Story. Located in the Land of Sunshine, Brunswick.
- Unknown, Hanging Boots, A simple and well-placed elegant still life in Sparks Lane, Melbourne.
- Unknown, Peek-A-Boo, Another simple but highly effective stencil because of its placement.
- Unknown, This is Shit. Sometimes it just has to be said.
Daniel Lynch posted on Facebook today. “If you have ever been helped out by the warehouse. If u ever crashed there while u found your way. If u ever painted the walls. If you shot a film here or even just came to party, well come hang out today. I got a garage sale all day and I will be working around the place ripping the old beast down.”
Will Coles, cellphone flower, wall of Good Things Studios
I was looking at Facebook as I was thinking about how to reply to an email from an artist about volunteering at 69 Smith Street. The combination started me thinking about arts warehouses vs ARI; so instead of going to hang out one last time as Daniel ripped the studio walls down I thought that I’d write a blog post. I’d been to Good Things Studio on Coco Jackson Lane in Brunswick a couple of times for various reasons since Daniel established it in 2011. (In a 2012 post I call it Coco Jackson Studios I don’t know if it has changed its name or I just misnamed it with its address.)
There are some important art warehouses in Melbourne arts scene: Irene’s Community Arts Warehouse (where I first met some of the Indonesian artists involved in Taring Padi) and Blender Studios.
So how does this compare to ARI? ARI (artist run spaces) emerged in the 1980s; in 1982 Roar Studios in Fitzroy was Melbourne’s first ARI. Aiming to be bridge between the art school and major art galleries, ARI’s became part of the institution of art exhibiting. They look the same as the major galleries only the white walled spaces are smaller. But perhaps they have run their course especially as exhibiting in a gallery space is no longer essential to contemporary art and when even commercial galleries are opening what they call “project space” or dropping the word “gallery” from their name.
Warehouses combining artists studios and other events have been around since the 1990s. Warehouse parties, Warhol’s Factory and the old mystique of the artist’s studio all contribute to the warehouse vibe. The flexible warehouse space provides better matches contemporary art that might be seen on the street or a site-specific location. It allows for both artists who exhibit in galleries and those who don’t. It mixes the arts; musicians, film-makers and visual artists mixed at Good Things Studio. The community of artists working at the warehouse has a more direct influence on the work of the artist’s involved than the opportunity to exhibit.
For a young or emerging artist in Melbourne establishing an arts warehouse is more artistically significant than establishing an ARI.