Let’s be a little specific, this article is not about a house. It’s about a wall. A private wall in Richmond on a suburban street that does just as much for the street that surrounds it as the private dwelling it conceals.
Walking through the Richmond Hill streets you come across many brick walls without batting an eyelid or considering their genesis. However, there is one small white brick wall you may pass… stop… turn around … and then remark upon. This wall, that from many perspectives is as inconspicuous as any other brick wall, is embossed with the word “HELLO.” The surprise with which the 3.5 metre high “HELLO” can catch you is the nexus between this being a somewhat simple brick wall and the reason why it is much more than another piece of brick craftsmanship.
We all love surprises. From opening presents and birthday parties, to that little biscuit you may be lucky enough to get with a coffee (which should, without doubt, be mandatory with any coffee). However, here in the setting of this private wall facing a suburban street, the surprise does not manifest into a tangible conclusion. There is no piece of jewellery to wear, no packed room with all your friends and definitely no biscuit to go with your coffee. All “HELLO” leads to is more questions. It’s as if a stranger has just said “hello” to you with no conceivable reason to do so.
Who is saying “HELLO”? Are they saying “HELLO” to me? Why “HELLO”? Why is this “HELLO” in a wall? Is it playing a trick on me?
In this sense, the meaning and genesis of wall is just as indecipherable as it was before the surprise. “HELLO” appears billboard-like in dimension and yet symbolizes no capitalist or consumerist desires. If anything, it may be read as an open desire of the wall to interact with the passerby. But a wall cannot interact with a passerby through a word, can it?
Well, the writer cannot really give an answer to that, but to say the act of questioning its meaning, can.
In this instance, the word “HELLO” has been recontextualised and thus transfigured into something different to its everyday meaning. For this reason when a passerby recognises the word in the wall, it instantly forms part of their memory of that place and as a result, begins an interaction with the public realm and therefore, the community.
This recontextualisation is typical of the artist behind the wall. Artist Rose Nolan in collaboration with OOF! Architecture designed the wall. Nolan is well known for her reappropriation of “everyday words.” Words with assumed meanings used by everyone, everyday are transfigured through a change of scale and context to result in disparate meanings and thus significance. Here, in a more public and permanent realm than her exhibited work, the word “HELLO” has been used as a formal part of the architecture to question the interaction between architecture and the community.
“HELLO” also has a satirical side. There is irony to the work. Whilst “HELLO” acts like any other wall to conceal the private domain from the public, the advertised “HELLO” unintentionally builds pressure upon its occupants to explain the work publically every time they walk out the door and thus explain a part of themselves. People gathering to see “HELLO” will question the departing owners about its genesis and story, consequently forcing its occupants to become more interactive with the public. All because of their wall that tries to conceal their lives behind it. It is something of a paradox for the owners who consider themselves “not extroverts.”
Together with the obvious interest in public interaction, this type of public/private work is an interesting take on the desire of town planning for street interface interaction. By cheekily emblazoning a very open and inviting message on a wall that functionally sets out to conceal the private residence behind it, Nolan and OOF! question the function of a private wall to both interact with the public community and the surroundings and to force an interaction between its owners and the community.
It is this type of concomitance that distinguishes this work from other recent works of public art. “HELLO” does not attempt to connect with previous histories in order to instil a meaning of place in the work. It aims only to forge it’s meaning in the present to become a part of the public. “HELLO” relies upon the public to give it meaning in the community as the community itself changes. “HELLO” becomes more of a question than a statement of place and as such, it can be what its surroundings want it to be. Conversely, works such as “Monument Park” by Callum Morton, ARM and Oculus, whilst being a successful piece of public art, fabricates a sense of place based upon connections to external histories with a yearning to instil the idea of place where there is no place. The use of the Hoddle Grid as a key construct of “Monument Park” explains this. The desire for connection with the Melbourne CBD that the Docklands lacks is shoved at the forefront of the work. As a result the creation of place is reliant on an external entity, thus never completely being part of the place itself. It is only a simulacrum of a link.
However, here in Richmond Hill, there is no desire for a link to the histories of place. “HELLO” does not talk to this. Instead, “HELLO” looks to foster a direct present interaction with the community in order to ground itself as a permanent landmark/community marker of any time. As a result, “HELLO” intertwines itself in the community at the very place and time it was made and as a result becomes part of the future history of the place. A surprise for a future passer-by.
Words by Jimmy Carter