The empty shops that line Fremantle’s famous café strip tell a story of economic downturn. When the mining industry pulled back in West Australia it took a fair slice off the top of retailing income. In the middle of town, the four storey Myer building vacated level by level from the top floor down until the doors finally closed.
Enter SpaceMarket, a partnership of architects who explore the possibilities of group tenanting. The Myer building was reborn as MANY 6160, a community of small craft-based retailers, makers and artists who took up residence. That was around three years ago and while the future is not certain, the current terms of usage continue and the benefits are clear.
Some people search for ideas for things to make. Others find the skills to bring their ideas to life. Andrew Christie is an ideas man. When I visited him at MANY 6160 a few months ago he gave me a fast tour, speaking at the rapid pace that seemed to match his flow of thoughts. From what I could gather in the course of a short conversation, Andrew facilitated the gathering of makers at MANY.
Entering Andrew’s own workspace I wondered if its appearance also resembled the inner workings of his mind. There were things everywhere, on top of flat surfaces, leaning against walls and loaded on shelves. Components were in piles and in clamps – everything ‘in-progress’, a kind of ultimate creative playfield. For some it might be distracting, but this is where an artist like Andrew claims to do his best work.
While Andrew is primarily a creative artist who often uses wood and woodworking techniques and likes to spend at least three or four days exploring ideas in his workshop, there is a ‘business’ side to his output. As ‘A Good Looking Man’, Andrew has instigated numerous community projects and given hundreds of workshops mostly to those facing social and economic challenges.
The AGLM name came about in the mid-90s when he was still at Curtin University, WA studying fine arts. One day members of the rock band Jebediah came through looking for someone to design a cover for their new EP. When they chose one of Andrew’s prints he figured he needed a business name so opened a book, and took a finger stab. The name has stood him in good stead although every now and then when people react he internalises, ‘I know I’m 37, ginger and bit soft in the middle…’.
When I visited, Andrew was trying to take on as few new projects as possible as he was creating work for Radical Ecologies, a group exhibition which opened on July 31 at Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA). Curated by Andrew Varano, Nadia Johnson and Leigh Robb, the exhibition looks at the ecological future of human and other species. Through the exhibition many of the artists aim to reconnect themselves and others with natural processes and express the urgency of addressing environmental issues.
The genesis of Andrew’s concept for his ‘funeral instruments’ installation goes back to his own experience at the age of 15 as he mourned the death of his sister and became aware then and later on of the disconnect between grief and the modern process of burials. ‘I started thinking there had to be better ways to deal with death’, he said.
The idea to make a number of stringed instruments that could be used to express grief also developed from his deep connection with his father, as Andy mused on how he could possibly find a way to mourn his eventual passing. His idea was to make instruments that would, when the time came, literally be used to express grief and provide comfort and acceptance.
Andrew’s father, once a patternmaker, helped him construct some of the instruments as Andrew learnt about luthiery techniques and the properties of Australian tonewoods in the process.
There is much more to the story of Andrew Christie and his work as an artist and a leader of community projects. See www.agoodlookingman.com.au for more information.
Radical Ecologies is on display at PICA (Perth Institute of Contemporary Art) until September 4.
Linda Nathan, Wood Review Editor