ClientSherman Contemporary Art Foundation (SCAF)
DisciplineArchitecture, Public art
ScopeDesign and production
MaterialsTimber dowel, Downee pipe fixings, copper saddles, cotton duck fabric
TeamHugo Moline, Heidi Axelsen
Owner Occupy, commissioned by SCAF, sought to create a discussion around architecture’s role in housing affordability, and the real estate market’s control of land ownership. In their artist statement, Heidi Axelsen and Hugo Moline describe a new state of terra nullius, ‘where a new order has proclaimed that existing land ownership is suddenly rendered null and void. In this brave new world, the answer to housing affordability is to wipe the slate clean and start again.’ – Sam Spurr.
The ‘dwelling machines’ created for Owner Occupy allow visitors to stake their own space in the gallery, however they are only entitled to this space while their structure is occupied.
Owner Occupy questions the basic relationship between dwelling and ownership in contemporary Sydney. The gradual transformation of housing into a tool of financial speculation, combined with the death of viable alternative pathways to housing, has pushed secure, affordable housing out of reach for those not yet ‘invested’.
In considering this state of affairs, the project looks again at Terra Nullius, the legal fiction on which all of Sydney’s property ownership is based.
The project explores the possibility that Terra Nullius could be declared again, as a new and permanent state: Terra Nullius Ad Infinitum. Rather than through violence or political reform, this project asks if the return of land to common property could be achieved through an incremental spatial operation.
This brave-new-world is built from a series of hand-built dwelling-machines. Light, highly detailed and flexible structures of timber and canvas. These can be reconfigured, modified and combined by their occupants to create diverse spatial arrangements for personal and collective dwelling. The basic premise of these dwelling-machines is that who ever occupies them, owns them. The flexibility and mobility of the structures resists ownership of space by anyone other than those who inhabit it at that given time. In this way, they return to bodily occupation as the only signifier of ownership.
The dwelling-machines, a kind of operable vehicle for personal space and self expression, are a direct representation of current modes of extreme individualism. Within this system however, the limited size and extreme operability of the units create abundant opportunities for collaboration, sharing and conviviality.
The project weaves a fictional narrative chronicling the rise of the ‘Owner-Occupation’, of dwelling-machines emerging from the cracks in the current system, exempt development built in suburban backyards, gradually encroaching on the city, transforming both public and private into collective occupation.
Five of the dwelling machines occupied the gallery at SCAF. Audiences reconfigured this small patch of dwelling-gathering, shifting the the walls into multiple individual and collective configurations.
Behind the structures a map of Greater Sydney looms. Seen from the perspective of this new colonial movement it is a map of land open for occupation, a new terra nullius. As with the early colonial maps all reference to prior occupation has been erased. Here only the real estate tag lines remain.
The project is openly utopian. With their softness and porosity, the structures are clearly not a solution to the current crisis of affordable housing. They do however point to other more collective ways of considering housing, land tenure and tenant rights. Here the lightness and optimism of real estate language and interior design aesthetics are repurposed to sell a very different idea: the end of real estate itself.