Final Post Farewell

This post marks the end of the blog. It also marks the end of the Try This at Home exhibition at Object Gallery.

The Curating Cities project will continue on for four more years and you can keep track of the many different projects, research, conferences and exhibitions of the project via the Curating Cities website.

If you wish to view any of the articles which were posted at this blog will be archived and still accessible on the interwebs indefinitely. I would strongly encourage everyone who has supported the website to keep it in mind as a research resource and to keep the discussion going via the Curating Cities Facebook page.

Thank you to all the contributors to who have donated their knowledge and skills to this resource. And thank you finally to the readers for taking the time to learn more about artists and communities who are driving sustainable practice into the processes and minds of the public.

Alexander Bellemore

Editorial Coordinator

The contributors are:

Lucy Ainsworth

Alexander Bellemore

Saskia Beudel

Margaret Farmer

Jodi Newcombe

Harper Poe

Katharine Rogers

Sustainable Film Making

Recently, We Try This At Home profiled Griffin Theatre director Sam Strong who discussed the creative exploration of sustainability and sustainable practices in theatre production. In this week’s post Katharine Rogers looks at the rise of sustainable practices in film production and uncovers some little known facts about the damaging excesses of the industry.

By Katharine Rogers

Sustainable film-making – what’s that? In recent years some filmmakers have been carbon offsetting or ‘greening’ their productions.  However, carbon offsetting, though a step in the right direction does not actually mean the film was shot in a green way and is often about assuaging guilt after an environment has been badly damaged or destroyed.  A number of films such as ‘The Beach’ and ‘Titanic’ were famously criticised after filming for destroying the ecosystems in which they filmed.  In the case of ‘Titanic’ the production dumped chlorinated water into the sea destroying the local fishing industry for several years.

Dr Beatrice Pegard, who has just finished teaching a new sustainable film-making course at Metro Screen believes green film-making is the way of the future.  The course which was subsidised by the NSW department of Education and Training is a first time initiative for Metro Screen.  Dr Pegard believes it is important to get across the message that sustainable film-making is both necessary and affordable.  She says the myth that green certified films do not make money is simply not true and sites many examples of films which were green AND made money, including Oscar winning ‘Black Swan’.

In Australia, Sarah Watt’s film ‘My Year Without Sex’ was one of the first films to go completely green.  Baz Luhrmann’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ which is currently in production is also rumoured to be following a green protocol, although the extent to which this truly happened will only be known once shooting is complete.

There can be difficulties getting busy production crews to follow green protocols and ‘Greenlit’, a documentary short by Miranda Bailey (the Producer of ‘The Squid and the Whale’) highlights some of these issues.  ‘Greenlit’ suggests that for green screening to work well it needs to come from the top down and be reinforced by the producer, director and production manager and other heads of department.

It may not be much of a surprise to learn that the film business in LA is one of the highest polluters of any industry.  For instance they throw away billions of plastic water bottles every year which then end up in landfill sites and will not biodegrade. The need for this industry to take action seems to be coming more and more urgent.

Take heart however, there are any number of practical ways, both big and small, that a production can be made green.  The main thing is be organised and creative about how to green the set. Put simple, practical measures in place, like on-set recycling, reusable water bottles and car pooling. These simple but effective measures can go a long way to reducing the footprint left by film.

For more information on green screen issues check out:

Sustainable Beauty

Proud Mary is a US-based sustainable textiles and crafts organisation, sourcing their products from all corners of the globe, to create income for the artisans themselves and their families and to preserve traditional practices in cultures. We Try This At Home approached the director and founder of Proud Mary, Harper Poe, to talk more in depth about Proud Mary. Poe not only talks about how Proud Mary functions, but also touches on the  importance of sustainable consumer practices. If as consumers, we choose to purchase sustainably and carefully, we have the ability to positively impact other humans whilst also reducing the considerably long and negative chain reaction effects of mass production and consumerism.

A Guatemalan artisan in practice.

By Harper Poe

It’s common knowledge that handouts are not effective.  The most they can do is make the person giving the handout feel a little better about themselves.  Proud Mary was built on the premise that a hand-up is a million times more effective than a handout.  Through our work with global artisans we can do our part to spur economic growth for our artisan partners and their families by providing a fair wage and market access for their textile goods.

We start by seeking out artisan groups that have inherent skill, are open to learning new things, and produce beautiful goods.  To us the most important of the three is “producing beautiful goods”.  Beauty can get a bad reputation as being something frivolous but it is acknowledged and expressed in every culture in the world. Whether it’s represented through clothing, accessories, jewellery, being thin, or voluptuous, beauty is a common thread connecting everyone on the planet.  Instead of selling our products as a charity case: “this poor woman in Peru makes this humble product – please support her”,   it’s much more sustainable to sell the message “this amazing woman, creates the most beautiful naturally dyed wool fabric and we can’t wait to share this with you”.  At the end of the day charity can only go so far.  Consumers choose to purchase things that work for them aesthetically, products they deem as beautiful.  The bonus is that the products that Proud Mary distributes are handmade, fair trade, and preserve an ancient craft.

Our passion lies in indigenous textiles. We are completely enamoured by the process, the tradition, and the people that create them. When we were starting Proud Mary we knew that we wanted to create a social venture combining modern design elements with traditional methods of textile production.   Textiles do an amazing job of visually telling the story of a culture.  The challenge, and therefore the most exciting part, is to collaborate with our artisan groups to maintain the integrity of the process while tweaking colors and combining unlikely materials to create something unique, something that will appeal to the modern consumer.

Our goal moving forward is to provide a global exploration of textiles, touching on major textile traditions all over the world.  We hope you can follow along as we share this beautiful craft while supporting global artisans and their families!

To learn more about Proud Mary visit:

Sustainable Furniture

Installation shot, Home Grown exhibition, 2011, Disgrace and Pandora by Maaike Pullar

We bring you a double bill today on around sustainable furniture. Lucy Ainsworth profiles Dave Beeman, owner of Vampt Furniture, which features in the ‘lounge room’ of the Try This At Home exhibition space at Object Gallery.

Alex Bellemore profiles Maaike Pullar, an artist who works in furniture design by reclaiming old and unused objects and giving them a new life. Maaike also exhibited her works in the exhibition Home Grown at COFA space, a satellite exhibition to Try This At Home.

Both Beeman and Pullar approach sustainable practice in two completely differing ways. Whilst Beeman seeks to preserve the legacy and history of vintage products, Pullar radically reimagines old structures into contemporary design. These two practitioners are bound to a common belief in the beauty and unique stories of an object and the goal to prolong the life of these objects amongst a ‘new is best’ culture.

Sustainability and Vintage Design by Lucy Ainsworth

Yes, buying second hand furniture is good for the environment, but it is also a great investment. Being responsible and choosing sustainable options is the reality we are faced with, and filling our homes with vintage furniture is an exciting venture.  According to the owner of Vampt Vintage Design, Dave Beeman, “old is the new ‘new’” and mid-century designed furniture is in high demand.

Unlike new furniture which is often mass produced and has a short life span, vintage furniture is unique and of high quality. Although vintage furniture may seem expensive in comparison with brand new ‘flat packed’ items, the investment you are making is for a lifetime. Consider buying vintage furniture as starting a collection.

Some may argue that businesses, such as Vampt, who import vintage furniture from Scandinavia and Europe, rather than restoring local pieces are employing unsustainable practices.  Dave Beeman believes that the long-term benefits of increasing access to this type of furniture in Australia out-weighs the environmental impact of transporting them.

He states “transport is about the only argument that stands against environmental benefits. But it’s pretty much irrelevant because almost all the other furniture we are presented [with] is shipped here too.” Quality mid-century pieces have already lived a life-time and, if cared for, can be passed onto to further generations.

Have a look at some of the beautiful vintage pieces in the Try This At Home ‘lounge room’ at Object Gallery, and you’ll see why vintage design is the way to go.

Maaike Pullar: Furniture Resurrection by Alex Bellemore

The trend du jour of the recycling world is the term upcycling: rather than simply restoring a piece of furniture to its former glory, something is created which is entirely new and of greater worth both artistically and technically. Upcycling is specific to a new function being imposed on an object through assemblage, deconstruction or modifications. “Salvaged goods to art just squeezes in as upcycling”, says Maaike, “but while I’ve always thought of my chairs as a canvas, ultimately I want them to still have that function, as a chair, which is why I choose the term resurrection over anything else.”

Maaike’s work transcends the basic repair and re-use ethos, with Maaike finding an artistic voice and definitive style in her practice: “Each new find determines its own identity, demanding the right fabric, the right imagery and the application of a new skin. I may work on commission but I create art”. Frequently splicing choice words or phrases into her furniture, Pullar evokes a sense of ownership to place and time which acts as a powerful bond between the furniture and the household it finds a place in. Past examples of work have used the names of Sydney suburbs, tea towel snippets of whimsical phrases, and nostalgic vocabulary. Something as simple as the words tea time on a panel of one of Pullar’s chairs or the suburb names Darlinghurst or Marrickville spliced into an arm piece evoke memories and experiences which are unique to its owner and fuse a strong relationship between object and person.

Two of Maaike’s recent works, Pandora and Disgrace were on display at Home Grown from the 1-5 November, 2011. See the Curating Cities website for more information on this exhibition and to view the works visit:

A version of this article originally appeared in Desktop Magazine, May 2011

Is there an argument in saying that travel costs to import vintage items outstrips it’s sustainable branding?

Is the ‘upcycling’ of vintage furniture that may have value if restored to their original aesthetic a questionable practice? Who should make the choices?

Any personal experiences you have with restored or vintage furniture- let us know, contribute to the comments section of!

Abandoned Objects

For We Try This At Home, Saskia Beudel uses one of the artworks of Try This At Home, an installation by Slow Art Collective as a catalyst to explore the lives and histories of discarded objects.

By Saskia Beudel

As Try This At Home curator, Margaret Farmer describes, the Slow Art Collective (Tony Adams, Chaco Kato and Dylan Martorell) use abandoned objects left by local residents for council pick-up to present an installation made from household refuse and repurposed discarded items. During an artists’ talk held at Object in early October, members of Slow Art Collective commented that the alleyways and laneways along their chosen foraging route were almost disappointingly clean. Pickings were lean. These bare laneways suggest the efficacy of council pick-ups, or perhaps, more utopically, social habits less inclined towards designating particular items as ‘waste’. There’s an irony here, of course, that with less waste on the streets aesthetic possibilities diminish.

A memorable element of the installation is two spherical glass light shades threaded with speaker wire. The glass forms are suspended aerially among other strays—corks, seed pods, a basket ball, bottle tops, leaves—like low-tech Calder mobiles. Wired to an old pram laden with found objects in true ‘bag lady’ style, the glass spheres suggest some kind of aural transmission emitted from the detritus. But just what these emissions might be—music, cadences, muttering, crackle, hum—remains a mystery. The glass ‘speakers’ are mute. Nevertheless, they hint at the range of stories discarded objects and entities might, and inevitably do, tell.

A couple of days after Slow Art Collective’s talk I cycled along the lower reaches of the Cooks River, wanting to see for myself some of the waterways I’d begun reading about. Not far from Tempe, an open concrete stormwater drain fed into the river. At this juncture a metal grille fence has been erected to trap rubbish that would otherwise enter the river and eventually flow into Botany Bay. Within the fence’s confines were numerous plastic bottles bobbing about, creating a logjam, along with occasional cardboard cartons used for fruit juice. Where could all these bottles have come from, I wondered? They’re an index of a more stubborn presence on streets and in parks and gardens than the cleaned-up alleys reveal.

Further downstream, I reached my destination: the point where the Alexandra Canal meets Cooks River. Here, waste and discarded elements lie deep within submerged sediments to form what a briefing note from the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) describes as ‘the most severely contaminated canal in the southern hemisphere’.[1] Scale shifts from what are called ‘gross pollutants’ (bottles, cans, paper, plastic) to solubles, oils, grease and particulates. Contaminants of the Alexandra Canal include heavy metals, oil and grease that may be petrol based hydrocarbons, high levels of faecal coliforms (bacteria), and high nutrient loads which encourage algal blooms.[2] In the ‘contaminated sludge’ lie stories at different cadences—like those hinted at by Slow Art Collective’s glass speakers.[3]

Historian Grace Karskens eloquently articulates one of those stories: the influence of Sydney’s physical environment on the shape of the early town. Because the Europeans were a maritime people, ‘water was their element’, she argues, so during the earliest years of the colony, towns, villages and most settlements were coastal, or on rivers. By the 1820s, though, the pattern of farming and grazing lands ‘echoed the funnel shape of the [Cumberland] plain’s [arable] soils precisely’.[4] Conversely, she explains, the surrounding sandstone country encircling the plain was avoided. So too were the Lachlan and Botany swamps south of Sydney. ‘The early Europeans found this region unpleasant and difficult, and feared swampy ground as sources of disease’. At first, this region—where the Alexandra Canal now lies—was avoided by settlers. But gradually from the 1820s, and more intensively from the 1850s, ‘noxious industries moved out to these “wastelands”, harnessed their waters and used the streams as waste drains’. Once the Botany and Lachlan swamps had been drained the ‘area became the most heavily industrialised and polluted in Australia.’ There are obvious stories, then, of the legacy of nineteenth century industrialisation in the Canal’s ‘contaminated sludge’.

Chaco Kato defines one of Slow Art Collective’s objectives as being: ‘art which develops “horizontally” rather than “vertically” by slowly circulating and connecting from place to place, people to people’. Of equal concern is ‘art that is not just “Slow” in speed and laid back, but art in geological time’.[5] What might this mean—‘art in geological time’? Art that acknowledges its place within deep time not just within the time frames we more commonly think of as ‘historical’?[6]

[1] EPA cited in Alexandra Smith, ‘Promise of Little Venice Washed Away’, Sydney Morning Herald, 26 April 2008, <> accessed 1 November 2011

[2] Allen Jack + Coltier, Alexandra Canal Masterplan: Water, Access, Landuse, Heritage, Landscape, 2000, p. 27.

[3] The term ‘contaminated sludge’ is from Allen Jack + Coltier, p. 27.

[4] Grace Karskens, The Colony: A History of Early Sydney, Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 2009,  p. 20.

[5] <> accessed 3 November 2011

[6] As historian Dipesh Chakrabarty suggests, ‘The discipline of history exists on the assumption that our past, present, and future are connected by a certain continuity of human experience.’ However, the current crisis of climate change, he argues, challenges ‘the grasp of historical sensibility’ because it raises anxieties and uncertainties about human finitude. Dipesh Chakrabarty, ‘The Climate of History: Four Theses’, Critical Inquiry, vol. 35, Winter 2009, p. 197.

Between Two Waves

Sydney’s Griffin Theatre Company recently launched their 2012 season programme, announcing that this time next year, it will present Between Two Waves, “a relationship drama against a climate change backdrop”.  The play, which will open in November 2012, is one of a small few performing arts productions to engage with the real life issues of the nature of our modern day environment in an artistic capacity. This contrasts with the visual arts, in which the exploration of the issue of how to approach our increasingly fragile environment is being rigorously and widely interrogated globally—an exploration to which this blog, the exhibition Try This At Home and the five-year Curating Cities project are contributing.

Alex Bellemore from approached Griffin Theatre Company’s Artistic Director Sam Strong, to ask him to contribute his thoughts on the performing arts and sustainability and Between Two Waves. This is what he had to say …

On the performing arts and sustainability:

We had a fascinating moment at the Australian Theatre Forum that was a discussion about sustainability and what theatre companies are doing about sustainability. There are a lot of concrete things going on and obviously STC [the Sydney Theatre Company] has led the charge in that regard—the recycling of sets, less paper in the office… but what was also fascinating about what came up at the session was, well, are we making art about this? And the usual conversations that go on that said we don’t want to make art about issues, sometimes art that is about issues is less effective or didactic, or get buried in the research or the science.

We are endeavouring to make work which is more urgent and responsive to our immediate environment, and the great thing about the performing arts is that we can do that fairly quickly, we can respond quicker than film can for example. We think it’s important for us to be immediate and responsive to the world around us and to reflect that present world back to us as well as the recent past.

On Between Two Waves:

I think what’s fascinating about what Ian Meadows [the writer of Between Two Waves] has done in Between Two Waves is his entry point into the climate change question—it is emotional and imaginative. Yes, it confronts all of the science, and it confronts what is the biggest issue of our time, he does that, but he does it in a way that is about one character’s quite personal struggle.

Ian has created a main character who is a climatologist, who has specialist knowledge of where the world is headed, the anxiety that that creates is sharpened in that his personal life evolves over the course of the piece, which is the relationship side of it [the play] and his partner falls pregnant, so they are confronting that very personal take on that climate change question: how do you bring a child in to a world which you know is fucked? There is also the imaginative side of it as well, what was originally a film script that Ian wrote, that was in development, had these wonderful visual moments,  of what I suppose were nightmare sequence of  a kind of environmental dystopia. Ian faced the fascinating but challenging task of bringing those into the theatre and he has found a great, formal solution for that so that there is some wonderful, imaginative takes on climate change that exist in this piece.

Between Two Waves

5 October—17 November 2012

SBW Stables Theatre
10 Nimrod Street
Kings Cross NSW 2011

Greening Public Art

How art and design can effect sustainable urban transformations is one of the questions that the Curating Cities project seeks to answer. In Try This At Home, the Slow Art Collective created an installation from detritus and unloved objects, whilst the 1200 Buildings initiative in Melbourne has taken another approach, seeking to strip back urban infrastructure to make the frameworks of our buildings transparent, with the aim of engaging the public in conversations about sustainability. Director of Carbon Arts, Jodi Newcombe explains this project. 

This year the City of Melbourne has commissioned an innovative new public art work that responds to the sustainability of a building, with a pilot project dubbed ‘The 1200 Buildings Public Art Commission’. The brief for artists was to make visible the invisible functions of the building, engage passersby in the broader conversation about sustainability, and potentially contribute to actual improvements in local environmental quality.

The building hosting the public artwork, Green Spaces at 490 Spencer Street, is part of City of Melbourne’s 1200 Buildings Program, which encourages and supports the improvement of the energy, water and waste performance of Melbourne’s commercial buildings. The City of Melbourne and two building owners, Green Spaces and Fort Knox Self Storage, have jointly funded the commission.

Gavin Sade and Priscilla Bracks of Kuuki (Creative Media, Art and Design), Untitled, 2011

Globally, there is an emerging trend of artists working closely with councils and the providers of green infrastructure to bring the functioning of our built environment and our relationship with nature to the fore of the public consciousness. From Calgary to San Jose, artists are repurposing building facades into monitors of environmental risk, beautifying solar energy generation and transforming water infrastructure from the functional to the poetic.

Gyungju Chyon and John Stanislav Sadar of Little Wonder, Solar Garden, 2011

Many of these efforts are directed at celebrating a new vision of the future, educating the public and raising awareness around our use of resources and the ecosystems upon which we depend. They offer an opportunity for artists to engage in the critical response to sustainability in the urban context. Through this engagement public art can engage the broader community in ways that are playful, meaningful and revelatory.

Eleven proposals for the 1200 Buildings Public Art Commission in Melbourne were shortlisted and exhibited at the Federation Square Atrium from 28 September to 4 October 2011. The proposals were from not only visual artists, but also video game developers, landscape architects, and artists specialised in digital and data-driven media. All participated in a workshop run by Carbon Arts, a Melbourne-based organisation working for a greater role for the creative sector in addressing climate change and sustainability.

The commission winner is a team of professionals from ARUP Infomatics with their proposal for a sculptural, programmable facade that employs 500 pixels in the form of carved-up recycled street signs. The work The Green Transfer is a play on ‘The Gruen Transfer’, but as opposed to architect Victor Gruen, who invented the shopping mall as an environment to encourage consumption, The Green Transfer will use data from the building to communicate environmental stewardship and discourage unsustainable lifestyle choices.

ARUP Infomatics, team led by Jason McDermott, The Green Transfer, 2011

Carbon Arts, a partner in the Curating Cities project, is working with the City of Melbourne to evaluate the 1200 Buildings public art pilot project and explore ways in which more green buildings in the city can take up public art as a way to communicate and leverage their leadership in sustainability.

Jodi Newcombe, Director, Carbon Arts

Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind

By Saskia Beudel

Natural Fuse by Haque: Design + Research asks viewers to weigh their responsibility for life-forms not immediately within reach or within sight, testing the adage out of sight out of mind.

A few weeks ago I planted tomato seeds in a shallow tray of soil. A gardening article in the local paper advised now was the time to get tomatoes going indoors if they’re to fruit before Christmas. I planted two types, Brandywine and Red Cherry, and within a couple of

Haque: Design + Research, Natural Fuse, 2008-

weeks several healthy seedlings had established themselves. I brought them inside on cold nights, placed them outdoors in full sun each morning. I live in Canberra where regular frosts are lethal to young tomato plants. If the wind was too strong and dehydrating during the day I brought the seedlings indoors to safer climes. In a couple more weeks they were getting too big for the tray. But somehow I lost momentum. I kept looking at the thriving seedlings, imagining their roots spreading horizontally rather than deeply, tangling with one another, but kept putting off the day when I would transplant them. I found some pots to separate them into, cleaned them out. The pots stood empty for another couple of weeks. After having eagerly waited for the first green tips to emerge, followed by careful administration of moisture, temperature and sunlight, my responsibility for the young tomato plants had reached a stasis. I can think of several ordinary reasons for this: work, visitors from interstate, routines disrupted by school holidays, procrastination, distraction.

Fresh home-grown tomatoes ripe before Christmas are a nice idea. The reason I tell this small story is to illustrate how easy it is to lag, lose enthusiasm, not make the effort, even when you’re keen about making an idea happen that involves what Donna Haraway calls ‘the myriad of entangled, coshaping species of the earth’.[i] How much easier it is to let something die or fail to thrive when there’s a lag between your actions and their consequences. Or when you can remain anonymous in your choices. Or when choices involve not individual species close to human needs and desires (edible or decorative plants, pets, ‘cute’ threatened species), but whole ecological systems.

In the end I did transplant the seedlings, stirred into action, in fact, by beginning this blog and thinking about Natural Fuse’s networked planter boxes that invite their minders to risk killing another set of plants, out of sight, but not necessarily out of mind. I’m not sure many participants would dare risk the lethal dose of vinegar to their co-participants’ plants under the gaze of their imagined audience?

In a way I had no choice but to aid my tomatoes. They were right there in front of me, sharing my house and garden. (Apart from anything else, what would my six-year-old daughter who helped plant the seeds have said if I’d let them die? She’s another kind of imagined audience …)

I’ve been thinking about proximity—of what’s tangible—in relation to water too. Landscape ecologist Richard Forman notes that ‘a huge city population depends fundamentally and daily on resources that are out of sight, out of the city’.[ii] As a newly regular visitor to Sydney I’ve begun wandering some of Sydney’s waterways to get a sense of the water catchments that comprise City of Sydney’s topography. And to start thinking about those other invisible and distant catchments that supply the city’s water. But more on that another time.

Saskia Beudel will be contributing to throughout the duration of the blog’s life; Sakia is the author of numerous essays and the novel Borrowed Eyes (Picador, 2002). Read more about Saskia HERE.

[i] Haraway, Donna, When Species Meet, 2007, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, p. 5

[ii] Forman, Richard, Urban Regions: Ecology and Planning Beyond the City,2008, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. xvii

6 jars by Makeshift needs you

There is still time to be part of the 6 Jars project by Makeshift for the Try This at Home exhibition.

Makeshift write: “You are cordially invited to become part of the revolution. It begins in your kitchen. Six volunteer households in the vicinity of Object (ie. Darlinghurst, Surry Hills, Redfern etc.) are required to form a pilot ‘6 Jars’ collective, making a commitment to circulating jars of homemade food or other household goods over the course of the exhibition. Each week the group will meet to exchange jars – everyone going home with an assortment filled by other members. Up for negotiation as the project unfolds are decisions about the contents of jars (organic, local, wild foraged, urban gleaned, vegan?), how and where weekly meetings take place (your place or mine, and is someone cooking?), and what equipment/resources people are willing to share (blenders, ovens, food processers, backyard produce…).

Makeshift, 2011, 6 jars, installation shot

Some aspects of the group’s journey will be tracked on this blog and in the gallery space. We would particularly like to include people who are willing to document their involvement via photographs and/or short written updates for the blog. However your interest in the project and commitment to trying something different and seeing it through for the three months of the exhibition are the most important criteria for selection. To get involved, email us right now at with a brief description of why you’d like to be part of ‘6 Jars’.” See more about the 6 Jars project on their blog and about their practice on the website