This month, we caught up with Dr Naomi Stead, Associate Professor, School of Architecture, UQ and one of the three-member Creative Consortium behind Hung out to dry: Space, memory and domestic laundry practices.
How did Hung out to dry: Space, memory and domestic laundry practices evolve from an interesting idea into a significant oral history project and exhibition?
I’ve always been interested in how aesthetic processes move people and drive emotional attachments. Laundry embodies so many of these elements both aesthetically and from a space and process perspective. The way hanging textiles billow and flutter against the backdrop of the garden and house, the colour of the sky, the movement of clouds, the ambient light and breeze…there’s something contemplative and playful in this subject that appeals to me. I’m also really interested in the feminist approach to domestic labour and looking at the minutia of these practices.
From an architectural perspective, there’s a particularly powerful narrative and ideology in Queensland housing design about climate responsiveness. It manifests in microcosm in laundry practices – with their need for cross-ventilation, use of the spaces under and around the house, and the relationship between the house and garden. All are part of the larger idea of a house responding to its particular place and climate.
Working with my colleague from UQ Architecture, Dr Kelly Greenop, and with Dr Allison Holland, Curator of the exhibition at UQ Art Museum, has been a wonderful experience that has brought both the oral history project and artistic interpretation of the subject together in a provocative and meaningful way.
From the interviews you conducted, what were some of your observations about high-density living and its impact on drying practices?
While many of the people we interviewed were living in elevated Queenslanders, some of our subjects faced space restrictions and had to carefully manage how they hung their laundry. For people in high-density living, body corporate rules and space restrictions often robbed them of the simple pleasure (and practicality, and affordability) of hanging their washing in the outdoors – not to mention a more environmentally sustainable way.
Did your conversations reveal interesting impacts of modern life on laundry practices?
Many of the women we interviewed were very time poor and faced high levels of stress in trying to manage home, family and work. So for these busy people, drying practices were often about efficiencies – particularly for the households where parents were working full time and could be washing for up to four children – they had to find ways to make the task more manageable. Implementing systems around their laundry practices made it possible to feel that everything was under control. The family was dressed in clean clothes and was ready to face the world.
Do you own a clothes dryer?
No – I’m blessed with ample space under my Queenslander where there’s great air circulation so I can dry my clothes out of the harshness of the sun and where it’s protected from the rain and it’s fabulous!
Do you have any systems for the washing at your house?
In my house, the laundry is my domain! I have a particular method depending on the garment. I’m definitely a draper, not a pegger so I drape according to the logic of the item – its weight, where the fabric falls, any bunches (like pockets) which will be slower to dry. It’s a bit like a version of your body hanging on the line, so I like it to be straight and have good posture. I also like to pull it nice and taught before draping as I don’t believe in ironing!
Do you have a favourite piece of work from the Hung out to dry: Space, memory and domestic laundry practices exhibition?
I love the Bill Henson photo (Untitled 84/109 1985/1986) – where the washing line is part of this murky, gothic, moody sort of suburban scene. It’s that juxtaposition of the sublime and the trivial that is one of the most fascinating aspects of our project as a whole, and I like the way Henson captures the laundry as part of everyday life – just there on the edge of consciousness.
Hung out to dry: Space, memory and domestic laundry practices opens at UQ Art Museum in March and will run until 10 May 2015.