Question: When is an 80s station wagon not an 80s station wagon? Answer: When it’s a tent….and also a work of art. With Sculptures By The Sea opening this coming weekend, DAVID O’CONNELL spoke to local artist Dan McCabe about his mind bending sculpture Shadows On The Hill, which is exhibiting at the annual event running March 3 to 20 on Cottesloe Beach.
“Shadows On The Hill is a fully functional, collapsible camping shelter, that disguises itself as a late 80s station wagon,” McCabe says. “I was doing a lot of work on alternative ways of living (Tiny House movement, communal living, et), things that challenged the original suburban model. I guess I wanted to come up with my own minimal living, transportable shelter. A shelter that I could set up in any urban location, and it would camouflage into that location. I could live and engage in an urban metropolis, but do so under the radar and rent free.”
The project was originally made for the Next Wave festival, and saw McCabe living in the work around various locations. The main purpose of the project was to stimulate and have those conversations about different ways of living in an urban environment. “As the project progressed it became more about the conversation about ways of living and housing,” he says.
McCabe has a fractious relationship with how Australian living has developed, and the rise of the suburbs, saying, “Trying to fulfill the Australian dream of our own castle, we’ve spread from our coastal cities.”
His relationship with the suburbs is something that often finds him of two minds. “On the one hand it’s quite beautiful – that independence and that sense of ownership,” McCabe says. “But on the other it’s different from where we need to be as far as building communities, contained living, and environmental considerations.”
It’s a theme often repeated in his art, demonstrating the nostalgic beauty of them, but also giving a hint of an underlying Lynchian terror.
Yet why an 80s station wagon? Well for McCabe, the vehicle holds a special place in the Australian psyche, and can symbolise many things. “I like the station wagon as an icon of Australia,” he says. “It’s a family car. It’s a 60s-70s-80s-90s symbol of the suburbs. There’s a lot of transitory living around Australia based off the car, whether it’s road trips, or people forced to live in their car.
“Also it’s boxy.”
The shape allowed him both room, and the opportunity to construct the simple shape, that more streamlined vehicles would not.“There’s something about that simplicity of design,” he says. “The main aim was to make it believable.”
One welded aluminum frame later (a skill he had to teach himself), and he had the skeleton. The rest was printing onto the fabric by a process known as dye sublimation. “You know those A4 printer transfer sheets you get from Officeworks?,” he asks. “Same thing, but for a 25 meter long fabric.” Finally the illusion was complete.
For McCabe, Sculptures By The Sea offers a unique opportunity for displaying the artwork. “Sculptures By The Sea has a history built around it,” he says. “It’s a greatly accessible arts event that’s hugely popular. It takes art out of the gallery space (where it can be somewhat menacing), and puts it in an environment that people are more familiar with.”
Although he won’t be living in the work this time around, he does plan to open up the tent in the afternoons, and have those conversations about how we interact in our environment.