Patterns of Desire
Essay by Kit Wise

Patterns of Desire, Span Galleries, Melbourne, 2006

Proclaiming Space

Do we define pattern or does pattern define us? A taxonomist in whichever field of research can be seen as a maker of patterns. We assume and trust that pattern is order, implying meaning; but mathematicians will admit that the identification of structure in a system is often only a mask for ‘desire’ – that which is chaotic, contingent and ineffable. As a consequence, the archive is itself an ‘erotic’ space, brimming with assumptions and urges as well as information, as the cleareyed critique of the predilections found in much nineteenth and early twentieth century social theory demonstrates.

‘Pattern-maker’ Is also the title for engineers responsible for precision machining, who create the ‘patterns’, stamps of paradigms for mass-produced machine-parts. Such hard-edged templates are perhaps the foundation, or fabric, of the post-industrial world we live in socially as much as mechanistically. The term is also an interesting counterpart to the metaphor of women as mechanised labourers in the home popular in the 1920s, subsequently subject to extensive feminist critique.1 Today, we find an unshakeable belief in pattern in the contemporary strictures and border-paranoia of our increasingly conservative politicians. Anything that threatens the crisp outline of our national ‘pattern’ for example is un-Australian, out of step; and will be violently, vehemently rejected.

Such ‘nausea’ Is also found in Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1930s critique of domestic space:

Any house is a far too complicated, clumsy, fussy, mechanical counterfeit of the human body…The whole interior is a kind of stomach that attempts to digest objects…The whole life of the average house, it seems, is a sort of indigestion”.2

Wright’s statement apparently equates the notion of home with heartburn; an excess, or more accurately a confusion of the domestic proving unpalatable, abject. Honeywill is a self- confessed lover of another ambiguous, unstable zone, the sea, alongside which Australian homes have ideally been situated. “I have a sea-fixation – which is itself a quintessentially Australian condition”.3 This continent’s surrounding oceans problematise and erode any notion of a fixed (Australian) boundary, as well as being perhaps the most sublime manifestation of peristaltic action.

Honeywill’s story is however not one of extremes; but, like the median point of tidal variation identified by cartographers, is exactly typical. In describing her childhood, Honeywill recognises that her early life “is interesting because completely banal – the story of the suburbs.”4 In this narrative of sprawling Australian (and also American) suburbia, we find the Modernist trajectory of the Bauhuas and De Stijl gone wrong, lost in a cul de sac. Many of the houses of these zones could be described as the bastard offspring of Donald Judd’s philosophical dove tailing of high-art and popular design; using an approximation of ingredients (both materially and intellectually) from what was to hand, with predictably uneven results.

Importantly, Honeywill preserves similar deviations and mistakes in the logic of her own work, such as the missing images in the series as if dreams are saleable real estate, where the sutured flaws remain in the pattern of photographs of desired sea-frontage houses; homes which, as a direct consequence of their design, also helped to reinforce the stereotyped (stereo-patterned) identities of their inhabitants – including the homebuilder and the homemaker.

Such rigid identities are not confined to the postwar, baby-boomer years: consider the resonance achieved by recent domestic icons Kath & Kim – whose credit-line culture is depicted with understated but grim pathos in the popular television show. Our laughter at their “effluent” lifestyle, encapsulated in their suburban home, is decidedly hollow.

Honeywill seems well aware of the theatrics of the home, referring to: “the constructed stage we richly embroider in the performance of our daily travails.’’ 5  There seems a Shakespearean analogy here, equating domestic identity with the assumed persona of an actor, “That struts and frets his hour upon the stage.”6 Her statement also serves as an accurate description of the Sprawl series, where sumptuous pattern interacts with architectural material, timber and emulsion. We are reminded of the fantastical castles drawn by Erik Satie. The composer would ironically send his wistful doodles to newspapers, pretending they were bona fide properties for sale; a stack was discovered after his death by his relatives, accumulating behind the piano where he would compose (an example of Wright’s indigestion). Honeywill has deliberately borrowed from these reveries the title of her work: as if dreams are saleable real estate; as well as the drawn image used to patch one of the signifying ‘mistakes’ within the work itself.

As Honeywill suggests, in acknowledgement of the ideas of contemporary Australian architect Glenn Murcutt: “we proclaim space all the time,”7  whether a picnic blanket on the ground, or the shadow of a tree on a lawn. This description could equally be applied to the series Sprawl, with its insinuations of a pre-cartographic evocation (or claiming) of space; or to the wooden apprentice models found incorporated into various guises in Air TwistMothership (aberration) and, In the middle somewhat elevated. The intimate space described by these objects seems a curious conflation of the dolls-house, birdcage and prison cell; and are again redolent of Satie’s fabulous houses. Further examples of ‘pattern maker’ craft, they lay down a template of both design and technique for the would-be homebuilder, pre-fabricating the utterance of his proclamation.

As with any model, the tone of illusionism is also found in the work The Short Street. A perspectival rhythm is elicited from Marfa-esque constructions of timber and flywire; we feel we are looking across a projection of some new, lustrous housing estate as envisaged by Judd. Such subtle perceptual play is also found in the reflections and half shadows of real space, carefully combined with graphic elements, in the visual field of In the garden of my mind…desire #1-10. These delicate works, a study in grey, bring text, diagram, photogram and us into oscillating alignment, suggesting a spider’s web of interconnected, claustrophobic signification, nestling quietly in the garden on the fringe of a house.

Such perceptual and symbolic dexterity allows Honeywill to dovetail our social and personal space into the work itself, compressing fiction and reality into the same unit. Is this our dream home, or should we wake in fright?


Kit Wise 2006
Faculty of Art & Design, Monash University


1 See: Hayden, D. 1981, The Grand Domestic Revolution: A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighbourhoods, and Cities, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, p. 285
2 Frank Lloyd Wright. ‘The Cardboard House’ (1931). Wigley, M. 1997. The Architecture of Deconstruction: Derrida’s Haunt. MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, frontis page
3 In conversation with the artist
4 ibid.
5 Greer Honeywill, exhibition notes, Ground Cover (Greer Honeywill and Megan Campbell), Bendigo Art Gallery, April 2005
6 William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act V, Scene V
7 In conversation with the artist