“Everyone thinks it’s a bit of an eyesore, right?” Director Adam Kiers is under no illusion about Glenview Court, the brutalist expanse of white and concrete, the block of more than 70 apartments, overlooking the coast at Tamarama.
“When I moved in I thought, oh my God this is so completely ugly.”
And yet, there it is, shining brightly in the spring sunshine, the stage and the backdrop for the fluid dancing of Zimbabwean dancer Thuba Ndibali in a filmclip Kiers has made for the Australian duo No Mono, that begins with a pan up the building and its rough-surfaced exterior, to a rooftop where a lone figure dances, moving through balconies and empty rooms.
Glenview Court may be standing hollow now, awaiting renovation and repair, and its connection to Harry Seidler (on whose 1960s design the structure originally was based) fading, but the way that building seems to absorb and then reflect beauty, whether it be the muscular black dancer, the cloud-speckled blue sky, or the just out of reach grey-green sea, is undeniable.
The result is an alluring filmclip for the song, Finally, which climaxes with Ndibali disappearing into the clouds like a spirit freed from the constraints of the heavy block beneath it, emphasising the work of choreographer Sela Vai [check: Sela Vai] and cinematographer Boris Vyemenets as much as the musicians, Tom Snowdon and Tom Iansek.
More than that though, it’s also a homage to a home and a community by an artist who was among the last to move out in July, after four years living in what might be called the Blues Point Tower of the Eastern Suburbs: a building often loathed from the outside but adored from within.
“The building has been frowned upon by a lot of society and the locals, but artist look beyond that,” says another former resident, who still owns a unit in the block, Archibald Prize-winning artist Craig Ruddy. “We used to call it the beehive because it was a constant buzz of creative energy there, making music, creating, painting.”
But surely, it’s just a building.
“After living in the building for a while it changed to me, it was like a little diamond in the rough, a constant source of inspiration,” says Kiers, who explains he had the concept for the filmclip before he’d even thought of a band it might suit, with the final shot a direct response to the song. “I understood the best time of day when the starkness and the directness of the light on the old concrete cancer became fascinating.
“Then I thought, because Thuba’s skin is so dark it was this beautiful contrast. That’s what made it so beautiful too, because he is so muscular and curvy and everything and you have these stark kind of lines around him.”
Yasmin Mund, a visual artist who left her Glenview Court apartment around the same time as Kiers, knows that “no one who doesn’t live in the building understands” its appeal.
However, she points to the fact that “one of the most beautiful beaches in Sydney is just outside your window every night” and inside there was a very diverse community with retirees, travellers squashed into a small room, low-rent paying artists and others, and a single lift which meant inevitably you would encounter neighbours every day.
“As soon as I moved in it was a little box of heaven,” Mund says. “I think Adam’s captured the dark nature of the building, and aesthetically as an artist I like that geometric line and shape that the building has.”
For Ruddy, the brutality of the exterior is very much part of the appeal of Glenview Court, where he created the now famous charcoal portrait of David Gulpilil which won him the 2004 Archibald, and his portrait of Warwick Thornton, which was awarded the 2010 People’s Choice prize in the Archibalds.
“Especially when they started testing for the concrete cancer so all the bits chipped out of the building and then the spray painting highlighting those damage points, it was beautiful,” Ruddy says of the home he had for 22 years until a somewhat reluctant move to Byron Bay. “Very, very brutal and harsh and linear, in contrast to the dancer’s skin tone and fluid body.”
Declaring that “there is energy” here, he believes it is likely he will at some point return.
“I did notice a shift in the work once I left that building. I was looking back over some of the work just last week with friends and, yeah, there’s just a remarkable energy,” Ruddy says.
“You can’t put words to it but the work we generated within that space was phenomenal. I created hundreds of works and basically all of them sold. There was some magical energy which was just moving through everything.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.