In an art gallery is a small bungalow. And in that bungalow is the waste of a lifetime: old magazines, cans of food, knick knacks. There are plastic grapes on a side table, a shuttle on a shelf, a video of a crackling fire on the TV. And in the makeshift bed a white-haired old man sleeps, his theatrical snores whistling around his man-cave.
Commissioned by Jason Phu for the Australian Center for Contemporary Art in Southbank, this new artwork could be his imagined home from an uncertain future (the old stuffed man on the bed represents the artist himself).
It’s also home to a tangled web of references. This is a cabin in the woods, that horror trope where something is hiding. It’s a microcosm of our isolated lives, our withdrawal from each other during the pandemic. It’s a place off the grid, a refuge from the ubiquitous digital dragnet. And it’s a meditation on the role of ‘things’ in our lives: the items we hoard and keep about us, ultimately expendable but imprinted with memories that only we can access, making them so hard to throw away while in a messy wall are built around us.
“I’m a bit of a hoarder,” admits Phu, 32. “But I think hoarding comes from a place of nostalgia and love. It also comes from a place of fear, of losing people, and memories and things – so you try to hold onto these things.”
He points to the shuttle, “Maybe you’ll see a shuttle over there and think, ‘Oh, that’s just a goddamn shuttle I can get for 50 cents.” But it is a gift from someone. That is important to me.”
Much of the stuff in the bungalow is from his house: “Mommy wanted me to throw away a lot of stuff I left in my parents’ shed.” But it is supplemented by items he has bought, with meaning, statues and model animals that refer to the animism in Asian culture, the apricots and canned tuna he likes to eat.
It’s kind of a sanctuary.
“This is my final resting place,” he muses. “A mausoleum, or a temple to myself.”