RMIT Bachelor of Architectural Design, Design Studio Semester 1, 2020
Supervisor: Dr Michael Spooner
Niamh Anstee, Sally Ling, Harriet Barrile, Derrick Low, Xin Fang, Victoria Marquez, Amber Cheng, Austin Zhao, Liang Zhang, Christopher Mark, Hanlin Wang, William Hartawan, Ebony McMaster and Yee Shen Tan
FROTH AND FOAM INSTAGRAM (Click Image Below)
Five years ago, today I ended a relationship. At the end of my studies I had found myself without a job in any of the significant firms. I was perhaps not professional enough – as one office put it, what would they do with me? I ended up in Prahran, of all places, earning more than double the wage of my peers designing wellness retreats for the atoll islands of the Maldives, projects without budgets or sense, and that indulged every one of my fantasies.
But at the centre of this was a guy, responsible for the management of the office and the team, and of me. Not the boss, everything but in name. He was the bane of my professional existence so antithetical was his position to my own. He detested me and my poetics and intelligence. For a year I fantasised about pouring salt into every one of his wounds if given a chance.
The week I turned 24, the house I was living in held a party. I invited the office. And he came, a well-dressed bogan with blond tips. But his confidence was alluring in this social context, and his body moved effortlessly in tight jeans and an opaque white dress shirt.
The next morning as the remnants of the party sat around the café table, my flatmates and friends made no mention of this man who now sat next to me hand on my lower back, now even more alluring to me as the mask of his obnoxious style had been thrown off, scuffed and scratched from a night and morning that had moved from dance floor to bed to bedroom floor and back again.
And so, I ended it after nine years. A man that for the two weeks after that party pressed himself against me on the way to work meetings, tested my patience on almost every idea, and the only man to ever equal my sexual appetite, and moved in with me only six weeks after that party. And so, I ended it after nine years.
Aged seven, I stand against a wall in pants my mother made, from memory, in preparation for the primary school disco held in a prefab library one afternoon. I grew up in New Zealand, initially in the economic constraints of suburban Christchurch where my parents would wait for me and my brother to fall asleep in the back of the car before purchasing a single drive thru ice cream they could share – there was no money to afford a second one. They would take us to the edges of the airport so we could lie in the grass watching the planes take off and land, or we would spend a Saturday at the local speedway, me and my brother collecting the clay kicked up by the sprint cars to fashion objects and figurines from.
After ten years my family moved to rural New Zealand, to a tract of land that had been my parents dream to own but, after an initial excitement, begat my existential nightmare. Queer and isolated, beholden to the duties of a farm contained within a conservative refrain, I was driven to depart this life for another working four jobs while studying.
Three weeks ago, I went back to this home. The first time I had gone back in seven years and only the second time back in thirteen years. The backyard reaches to the foothills that wrap the edges of the Canterbury Plains, clothed in yellow grasses and cabbage trees, under a sky that must surely be the seat of the divine. At night it moves from apricot to fiery-tinder to a cornflower blue and finally to a blackness that is unmeetable. All I could see was the vast distance, across time and my memory, to something I wished to forget but that remains unshakable 30 years after this photo was taken. It is a place that conserves in you your weakness.
I remain in contact with my brother wherever he is in the world. We talk about art. He has a passion and an elegant eye for collecting photographs, and late modernist woodblocks – which I find unpleasant. His library of books and curiosities is more than triple the scale of my own. He openly derides my taste in clothes and paintings and politics and intern I find him shockingly conservative in the face of my queerness that never enters conversation. But I have always viewed him with vital respect: he shocked the primary school tutor at aged six by correcting her pronunciation of the Latin for native birds.
My fondest memory is coming back to the hotel from a walk around Ljubljana to find him and an Emeritus Professor sitting over glasses of whiskey discussing the finer points of English literature. They had been there for some time as the conversation was cruder than normal, but I could still not match my brother’s astuteness. The Professor on the other hand, appeared to have him pinned down about a few things and it was a delight to watch my brother flex his training as a lawyer.
My brother is my twin, and so he has reflected my place in the world since we were born. And while my parents where graceful and allowed us to develop independently our relationship is heavily coded by this affiliation. It is also born of an inconceivable loneliness for we have no comprehension of being without the other, but one day for the first time, our gestures will no longer be reflected.
My studios have always been given over to these types of reflections. I am not trying to be indulgent. The skin I have in this game is different than my colleagues and peers. I trudge across a territory filled with a sense of loneliness and any bedlam I can muster is my attempt to wrestle with the world.
The narrative of my ex-lover is not architecture. The narrative of my brother is not architecture. My past in New Zealand is not architecture. They are an admittance of the vitality of life, what is always imperfectly cut to fit our discipline. Here, within the project of the university that lurches forward, its admittance is bewildering to many. These stories point to the effort of this studio, to an enquiry of architecture as a medium for departure. This studio, like the last, Maggie, and the one before, Babylon, will again occupy the office formerly occupied by Edmond and Corrigan. But it does so knowing that the last two years of acting as an informal custodian will end, and I will depart this space, again, having found in it, a moment to speak to someone I can no longer speak with.
Michael Spooner, February 2020.