Paper Mountain's The Common Room

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Paper Mountain's The Common Room

Reviewed by Kate Prendergast

Edited by Siobhan Hodge

Event: Paper Mountain’s Common Room Launch Party

 Craig McElhinney, Leafy Suburbs & Jamie Mykaela
Artists: Various
When: 29 November, 2013

New shared highs at Paper Mountain's 'The Common Room'

Paper Mountain has been around for about two years now but their newest love-child, baptized last Friday night, is ‘The Common Room’— a shared, fully-resourced, multi-functional work-space, open to the full sweep of Perth’s creative community. Far gentler on your piggy bank than keeping your own studio or office, ‘it’s an ideal working space for those who like to be around other creatives but also just want to sit quietly and get stuff done’.

The initiative got to its feet through a highly successful crowd-funding campaign run through Pozible, with Abdul Abdullah— the Perth-bred artist who made the 2011 Archibald Prize finals— a leading backer. The eminent guy was there to launch the event with a few humble and inspiring words at the beginning of the night, where he talked about how— truth be told— most artists actually fumble their way to fame. And that’s ok. So long as there’s good intention, doggedness, and a little hard work behind all that fumbling.

During the launch party, I get the chance to speak to Renae Coles, who spares a few minutes to tell this quiet invader what the Common Room was all about. One of Paper Mountain’s five directors, Coles is charming, articulate and has a kind of sweetly genuine air about her. She is also dressed in a pineapple-patterned dress; pineapples being the theme of the night. Along with popsicles. So sweet, so lush.

Creative flows are the spring of Paper Mountain, Coles tells me. Keeping the pump of inspiration fresh and rust-free, the organization has ‘encouraged cross-art form practice from the beginning. Artists of different colours and backgrounds populate the space, constantly getting to know each other as creative practitioners with different skill-sets’. Coles pauses in a space of warm reflection. ‘It’s really beautiful to see new collaborations’, she says.

Whereas private studios are basically private property— neighbourly nests which individual artists can pack and bedeck with whatever material they will— the Common Room’s intended usage is for temporary, needs-based projects, with the emphasis on learning, experimentation and collaboration. Think a kind of collective greenhouse of the imagination— far, far away from your untranquilizable flat-mates or, on the other end, snoozy parents who just don’t get the inherent value of spending all your free hours making polychrome Gothic termite cathedrals out of revamped kerb-side loot.

It all makes the Common Room an extremely fluid space, capable of accommodating a medley of enterprises and people. So far, it has played host to Auntie Mabel’s zine-making workshops, drawing classes and print-making sessions, and the future promises much more. The space is open to musicians too, as it was on the opening night; with Craig McElhinney, Leafy Suburbs & Jamie Mykaela spinning some sweet tracks and remixes in the Common Room’s cubby-house loft.

Meanwhile, in the room to the left at the top of the glowing lichen-coloured stairwell that leads up to Paper Mountain is a delicate and luminous exhibition of works by Australian artist Claire Pendrigh, created during her time as resident-artist in the tiny Icelandic fishing village of Skagaströnd. Entitled ‘The Sky and the Earth’, the pieces range from a floor-based knitted village of squat, conical houses, to paintings of endlessly unfolding polyhedrons, to drawings on hanging lambskin (the lambskin gifted to her by Skagastrondian schoolchildren). Tipped upward from the arid dust of Australia to the glacial freeze of the Nordic island, the artist found a not-entirely alien space to develop and draw out a meditative response to the region’s people, its folkloric traditions, and the unworldly geomorphology of its natural landscape.

Triangles feature as a dominant motif throughout the works; ubiquitous shards gently splintering the gallery’s walls. Proving themselves to be more than Alt-J’s favourite shape, these triangles seem to capture some circling paradox that exists between light, form and mystery. Nebulous in their consistency and their cool, minimalist palette, yet counterpointed by their definitive and cutting edge precision, these forms evoke a complex duality. On the one hand, they resemble stellar constellations—and so man’s tendency to seek patterns in the unknown. On the other, they call up molecular crystalline structures—the scientifically-established yet persistently enigmatic building blocks of life. Serene and intelligent, there are still hints of the absurd tingling behind all this stuff of the sublime. 

Very cool. But I have a fetishistic curiosity towards process and disorder over the cleanly finality of completed works. My inner snoop therefore staged a small, secretive riot that night, as it was given full licence by the event to poke about the lives of others. And not just any others, nor any lives, but those of Paper Mountain’s score of resident artists, whose private studios gave evidence that most were gripped in the super-generative madness of creative seizure.

There communal dens were the property of not only illustrative artists, but of film-makers, writers and dancers too. Wandering about, I saw a bookshelf with the works of Satre and Infinite Jest cheek-by-jowl with about a million back-issues of National Geographic, alongside ‘An Awesome Book’ and another called ‘Eeeee, Eee, Eeee’. Bits of chipped crockery and china were tacked to one artist’s partition-wall, nudging against the finest blue-biro sketch of a yowling cat there ever was, or indeed, will be. There was an old peach tin half-hidden on one studio’s shelf-corner, a free zine on a table which proved itself to be a photographic ode to ‘Cats of Europe’ (plus one hedgehog), a camera lens pencil holder, a photograph of a masked mermaid in black latex on a beach, and a kind of fairy bower in one of the back studios.  Would that my own clutter were so awesome.

If you are a Perth artist and would like to become a Common Room member, or are even vaguely interested in learning more, head over to papermountain.org.au  or visit the guys during their opening hours on the upper level of 267 William St, Northbridge. You can also check out Claire Pendrigh’s exhibition there, which will run until the 15th of December.