2014 Inception Award | Natarsha Tezcan

Political Art Space by Natarsha Tezcan from UNSW

Situated in the tense socio-cultural climate of La Perouse, my proposal responds to diverse community needs by offering a Political Art Space. Functioning as an independent gallery, the project utilises art as a medium to document the significance of La Perouse’s place within the context of Australia’s political history.

The next move was to insert a series of porous structures into the existing voids which would spatialise the political themes pertaining to the site’s history. The new structures reflected the proportion and volume of their existing spaces, whilst their porous nature allowed them to maintain a visual connection to the heritage features of the interiors. The existing axis of symmetry was aggressively maintained, symbolising the desire to fairly represent ‘both’ sides of a political debate in a balanced, egalitarian way. However, it was important to also acknowledge the inherent differences and biases that constitute our individuality. This led to the introduction of asymmetrical details, drawn from the existing building, which only become evident upon a secondary reading of the space.

As a place ‘where histories meet’, it is the site of first European- Australian contact. The site has also been home to a number of political minorities, accommodating the first war veterans home in Australia, an unemployment camp during the depression, the only women’s shelter in Sydney for 30 years, and as an Indigenous reserve. Various groups in the community hold strongly differing perspectives on their history and the events that have taken place on their soil. As a result, La Perouse has been witness to significant political events and protests. In response, the project intends to become a platform for dialogue about contemporary and past political events; allowing contrasting views to be openly expressed.

The project comprises a hybridised blend of gallery, retail, studio and dining. The gallery spaces are divided symmetrically, with artworks placed on opposite sides of the room to reflect their contrasting views. This allows the viewer to experience the confronting juxtaposition of political ideologies simultaneously. The gallery spaces are complemented by the ‘storyspace’; a quiet and sombre space to listen, learn and reflect upon the site’s history. Additionally, two artist studios carve out a space for local artists to create political pieces. Attached to the studios is a retail space, permitting the gallery to be independent and self-supported and ensuring creative freedom of expression. Finally, the creation of a communal dining hall provides a space for community members to gather, encouraging transparent discussions and stronger community ties in a relaxed and informal environment.

The project began by slicing a large incision through the existing building, running parallel to and separating the facade from the structure. This maintained the integrity of the fabric’s heritage characteristics, whilst also bringing light into the basement level and creating access for the disabled. Furthermore, this act responds to the political nature of a 19th century British colonial building located in the context of La Perouse’s past and present Indigenous community. As a strictly theoretical investigation, the incision allows the community to hypothetically question, and potentially affirm, the value of heritage; spurring questions such as which parts of heritage are important to retain, and why? Is heritage important to everyone in the community? And, is it necessary to revise and rewrite our architecture, in the same way that we have revised our national history?