Ghost Sites and Grey Areas

Monday 21 April 2008

I got another email from an artist asking to exhibit in my gallery. This happens to me roughly twice a year. I don’t have an art gallery – have never had one; but ten years ago I was friends with some people who ran an art gallery.

They were a bunch of artists who had just graduated from RMIT and had found some studio space above the Port Phillip Arcade in Melbourne. It was a quiet, out-of-the-way arcade, the type full of stores selling things like telescopes, cake decorations, old stamps and coins. As part of the lease my friends also scored an unused shop in the arcade, which they turned into an exhibition space named Grey Area, after the dingy linoleum tiles on the floor. At first they just exhibited their own works, but soon opened the place up to other emerging artists.
One of the studio artists, who was (brace yourself) on the dole, started learning web design and HTML as part of a government job training scheme, so she used her time to design a website for Grey Area. I let her put my email address on the site as a contact point, because she didn’t have her own email address, not even on Hotmail.
None of the other dozen or so recent fine arts graduates who were running the studios had an email address either; or a computer, for that matter. Was this the last generation of people to come out of University without ever having an email address?
When the web design course finished work on the site slowed down, and then in early 1999 the collective was wound up, with the studios and exhibition space passed on to another group of artists. The website, however, lives on, undeleted, untouched for ten years. The only reminders I get that it’s still there, is when I get an email from out of the blue from some hopeful soul wondering if the place is still active in real life.
The website itself is a real, dusty museum piece of mid-Nineties design, complete with a tilde in the URL and a splash page with the legend, “This site requires Netscape 3, Internet Explorer 3 or better. It is best viewed with your screen set at 800 x 600 and with images and javascript turned on.”
The site gives a pretty much complete list of everybody who exhibited there during Grey Area’s lifetime (a typo on the calendar page says “1999” instead of “1998”), and some of the shows were even documented with a few online photos before time ran out. I wonder if it will last another ten years?