School of Architecture

My Drying Life is an interactive installation, a hand-operated slide viewer of photographs and quotes from the oral history project The Art of Drying. Viewers can watch the slides automatically cycle through, or turn the clothes hoist handle to move forward and back through the themed slides the themes drawn out from the initial analysis of the oral history interviews: place, architecture, Queensland, aesthetics, memory, technology, and atmosphere. Audio quotes from our interviewees are spoken by robotic voices to provide anonymity and consistency through the installation. The effect is strangely compelling as we hear people’s funny, sad and poetic memories and associations with hanging their clothes to dry.

The Art of Drying oral history project undertook interviews with women and men who are particular and even passionate about hanging their washing. There was no shortage of interviewees with people lining up to tell their stories of hanging out to dry and how many important social, personal and aesthetic associations it can have. The full analysis of interviews and discussion of further themes on the topic of The Art of Drying will be part of a planned publication in late 2015.

‘Dirty laundry’ stands as a well-known metaphor for things best kept private, whereas clean laundry offers the potential for public display. Clean washing on the line expresses domestic order: propriety, cleanliness, decency, and civilisation per se.

As a practice that reduces energy use, line drying has clear advantages over the tumble dryer, and can be an intellectual, ethical choice. These alternatives raise a range of issues around sustainability, climate-responsiveness, human/nature relationships, gendered labour, domestic dwelling, and the aesthetics of the everyday.

Laundry practices can be framed in terms of drudgery – of slavery to the washing machine or clothesline, marked by endless, deadening repetition. Yet the oral-history interviews completed as part of this exhibition reveal the playful drying rules and rituals that people develop, each with their own set of changing constraints.

Aesthetic pleasure can also be experienced on a visual and sensual level. As the hanging textiles billow and flutter against the backdrop of garden and house, the colour of the sky, movement of clouds, ambient light and breeze combine in an exchange between human and natural worlds, the sudden onset of a rain shower a reminder of nature’s unpredictability. 

The wash’s regular routine suggests a marking of time whereby human life is measured through the process of evaporation – wet loads hung out, and dry ones brought in. Most of all, such drying practices demonstrate the potential for enchantment in the hanging of laundry.

Installation created by Professor Jonathan Roberts (QUT) and Dr Kelly Greenop. Based on an oral-history research project by Drs Naomi Stead and Kelly Greenop. Research supported by Iona Cominos. Many thanks to our generous participants.