In the 1960’s Robin Boyd wrote a book called the Great Australian Ugliness. It was a flaming critique of Australian architecture. His most strident criticism was for prettiness and “Featurism” which took precedence over response to the actual environment that a building sat in. He mocked the English village replica house, the artificial representation of any culture which was plonked in a barren environment devoid of its natural vegetation. His friend Barry Humphries continued the mocking through his characters of Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les Patterson. His influence in architecture and Australian culture was widespread and his public discussions lead to an awakening of consciousness around what it meant to live in Australia and to be an Australian. We are more used now to seeing environmentally responsive buildings , although repeating these conceptual designs ad infinitum after decimating the landscape is obtuse logic and harks back to Boyd’s original criticism.
I wonder though whether Boyd actually didn’t like women and didn’t like the work that women did around the home. I am pretty sure he would hate the current fad of scrapbooking! I am not offering my opinion on this point. Having looked at some of Boyd’s drawings and images of buildings they did not seem particularly suited to the life of a woman at home all day with children which was the norm during his time of practice. Rough hewn beams-warm looking yes, spider webs splinters and dust ,no. That is a shallow response I know, but I still think that his influence in architecture was to masculinise the practice even more and for a long period. It seems no surprise that architecture is still the realm of more men and interior design is the realm of more women. It is the difference between a house and a home. Having recently gone through the process of building a house in the last few years , it was an uphill battle to have a voice in any part of the building process to ensure my part of the design would be respected.
This piece is a response to Robin Boyd.
It came about through my experiments with paper clay as a body. The extra fibre in the clay imparts an incredible structural strength and I have since employed it in a number of other experiments. I was testing to see what the ratio of clay and fibre needed to be. The fibre burns away in the kiln and just leaves a scaffold of clay which can then be glazed and refired. At this stage it is extremely fragile but once glazed it is light and strong.
What I did was to crochet various fibres into bowl shapes which after a few experiments I realised were nest like. I used hemp fibre which was extremely unpleasant to crochet with but held a good amount of clayslip, strips of Chux washcloths because they are designed to hold liquid, and chunky acrylic yarn. At this point I realised that the stuff that was burning out was nasty smelling and not too healthy so I looked for natural fibre that was easier to use than hemp and found bamboo fibre. It was absolute bliss to crochet with and started up one of my other favourite winter past times and it wasn’t long before I had a hundred nests to fire.
I overcame the problem of fragile bisque pieces by glazing the raw clay (greenware) and firing once slowly through to stoneware)
At the time in Melbourne we were facing a housing shortage as 100,000 migrants came into Victoria each year. The housing solutions were high rise and just seem to be emulating the conditions that people had left behind. I had also been reading some research on aggression in rats when over crowded and our housing situation seemed to be creating an environment that would spawn violence or at least serious aggression. At the same time there was an outcry about battery hens and everything came together about Robin Boyd and “pretty” handcrafts, high density housing, pecking order and the arrangement to look like a bakers display to imply that things needed cooling off. Hence “Robin Boidies and the Great Australian Ugly Nests”. It was exhibited at Yarra Sculpture Gallery.
The other accompanying pieces were also an exploration of housing –one enormous nest representing a McMansion and this one of nest components which could be reassembled and transported anywhere, another past time of Australians and overseas visitors.