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Ex-brothel turns temporary gallery

Gina Fairley

RMIT partners with STREAT to transform Melbourne’s Cromwell Manor.
Ex-brothel turns temporary gallery

Who’d have thought a brothel, a social enterprise and one of the country's leading educational institutions would come together on a project that creatively fuses artists, architects and designers?

RMIT is partnering with the STREAT - a social enterprise that provides homeless youth with the life skills, work experience and training they need to start a career in hospitality – to stage the site occupation of a former brothel in Collingwood with an exhibition titled MANORISMS.

Formerly a five star bordello, Cromwell Manor was known for its themed rooms designed ‘to heighten the pleasure of the imagination’. The brothel was abandoned in a hurry around July last year, and has remained dormant since – entirely furnished – a kind of surreal stage set waiting for characters to emerge from its wings.

Rosie Scott, curator of the exhibition, described, The circumstances of the abandoning of the brothel are somewhat of a mystery. There are rumours of a police raid, but we don't know if it might have been for drugs or illegal workers or practices, or perhaps there wasn't a raid at all.’

She continued, ‘The site was left with all its beds made, still with a carefully folded towel and mintie on top awaiting the next client, tea cups left washed in the dish drainer, cigarette butts in ashtrays. There is a separate office building out the back where the scene was quite different. The office was in disarray, with papers and paraphernalia strewn everywhere, suggesting some kind of frantic search or abandon ship moment.’

Scott and fellow RMIT Architecture & Design PhD candidates Louisa King, James Carey and Phoebe Whitman, together with 19 undergraduate students at RMIT have transformed the site during this period of transition, a project that 'has been given ethics approval by RMIT as a PhD research project'.

Scott added, I guess we aren't removing voyeurism from the experience the site produces for viewers, but rather the works frame voyeurism in some ways, and we have to reserve or remove judgments (if that is possible, it probably isn't).’

Among the lead installations is James Carey's Fantasy Fees Apply which addresses the vertical qualities of the largest bedroom in the brothel, removing the bed and cutting away its footprint to expose the floor, reflected in the mirror that hung over the bed zone.

Phoebe Whitman's spatial video uses the numerous existing televisions and surveillance cameras in the site, relaying real time footage and video pieces to link the rooms.

Scott’s work plays with the blackened windows, turning one of the rooms into a camera obscura, projecting the outside world onto the interior surfaces.


Site-responsive work, Peep Show by Rosie Scott

Scott said, ‘This painting with light offers an inverted 'peep' between inside and outside, and encourages a slowing down and attentiveness in the viewer.’ 

This heritage listed building was obtained by STREAT with the plan to demolish, in part, and redevelop the manor to meet its future use as a cafe / skills centre for disadvantaged youth. The exhibition continues until 2 November. 

Image: Rebecca Scott's site-responsive installation. Courtesy the artist.



66 Cromwell St, Collingwood Melbourne

Wednesday – Saturday 11 am – 4pm

18 October to 2 November, 2013

About the author

Gina Fairley covers the Visual Arts nationally for ArtsHub. Based in Sydney you can follow her on Twitter @ginafairley and Instagram at fairleygina.