Tree Hut by Sriwhana Spong
The following text was first published by Sue Crockford Gallery in October 2004, in an accompany show catalogue for the exhibition Tree Hut.
You hardly ever get the opportunity to visit a gallery in the small hours, a chance to view art under moonlight. Lucian Freud is given midnight access to London’s National Art Gallery and like him, Richard Maloy will hold the keys to the Sue Crockford Gallery for the 18 night duration of his show Tree Hut. Each night someone new will pay to sleep over in the tree hut Maloy has installed in the gallery. Guests are invited to bring games, books, tell stories, talk with the artist or go straight to sleep.
A tree hut is site specific architecture; its design dependent on the size, shape and type of tree. The species of tree in this case is the Sue Crockford Gallery. Maloy’s tree hut is designed to co-exist within this space, its four walls painted white, with a window taking in the famous Sue Crockford Gallery view of the Harbour.
Built somewhere between the heavens and earth, the tree hut in western tradition is an architecture that can describe either intimacy or isolation. Inside the walls of Maloy’s tree hut the artist and his visitor will spend the night together but apart, inside separate sleeping bags. Anything can happen on a night like this, where intimacy and distance jostle up against each other. These themes have been playmates before, appearing in Vito Acconci’s Seedbed and Tracy Emin’s Every One I Have Ever Sleep With.
In Tree Hut, Maloy goes someway to closing the distance between the artist and art buyer. This relationship is an important one, each needing the other to varying degrees. A fee of $150 charged by the gallery, lodges the tree hut soundly within the branches of a dealer gallery. This transaction also excludes the casual viewer, who is alienated from the intimacy created between buyer and seller. Maloy’s fee is a hybrid formed from three different areas of transaction. It is the average price of hotel accommodation with similar views in the area, in relation to size per square foot. $150 divides into an hourly wage of $10 for the artists nine hours of sleep a night, once the gallery cut is removed. It is also in keeping with the fee paid for a male prostitute in downtown Auckland. All three speak of some form of ownership for a set amount of time, though monetary transaction.
Maloy’s tree hut has been constructed from scrap wood found around his family home. Even the pine logs the tree hut rests on were cut from trees felled in his backyard. Here Maloy undertakes a new process, shifting away from a representation using materials alien to the actual object. Instead he constructs the tree hut exactly as you would a real one. In Tree Hut the immaterial takes over. The performances acted out between artist and purchaser, in and around the architecture of the tree hut, become the main focus of the work. The casual viewer is left with only the empty shell of the tree hut in the morning.
Sriwhana Spong is an artist who lives and works in Auckland.