MARK Anstey's Lot 19 shed has life-transforming powers, writes GENEVIEVE BARLOW
Art, family love and spiritual life.
These are the things that are important, the things that give us access to our deeper human condition, says Mark Anstey, sailor, furniture maker and, above all, creator of a wonderful space that has become a magnet for artists.
The space - a rambling collection of buildings on one hectare in Castlemaine's industrial area - is known as Lot 19, but he affectionately calls it Ugsalvat.
It's a play on the name of the erstwhile artists' colony, Montsalvat, established by Justus Jorgensen at Eltham on Melbourne's eastern fringe in the 1930s.
Why such a name? Because, says Mark, the place was damned ugly when he arrived there five years ago, with his damaged back and dreams of building his own shed.
He now has a shed, plus more.
The space has given birth to all manner of human creativity from the music of The Wilson Pickers, to a 5.5m flaming stainless-steel giraffe to Castlemaine Idyll, (an occasional spoof of TV's Idol show), which at its last happening, drew 45 singer-entrants, lots of people and generated stacks of fun.
"Castlemaine Idyll is down the trashy end of what we do here," he laughs.
The son of a church minister and a teacher, Mark, 41, and his brother, a lawyer turned environmental diplomat, were raised in ways that encouraged them to look beyond the seductive call of markets and money and the glibness of the school, uni, well-paid-job routine.
He worked as a nurse, made things out of wood, sailed a lot and then, when his parents moved to Castlemaine, he had a look around, and decided he'd make the almost-vacant Lot 19 his.
A back injury meant he couldn't nurse any more so he chose to shape a new life doing what he loved.
First he built a shed and then he set about fashioning a home out of the rundown building that was on Lot 19, using recycled materials such as pressed metal and Baltic pine.
"Australia had gone to war and I didn't want to pay taxes to support that so I thought I'd build a shed," he says.
"I spent all my money doing that and consequently didn't pay any taxes."
Then he built a second shed for two artists to share, but the first artist was clean and quiet and the other was loud and messy.
"That's when we had The Great Shed War of 2003 right here," Mark says, referring to the ill-matched pair.
Despite this, Lot 19 was showing a nascent feel for a future involving art and creativity.
Around this time, Castlemaine's Steve Rowe began building the flaming giraffe, a stainless steel and bronze work commissioned by US artist Kerry Canon, at Lot 19.
Mark decided to build a sculpture show around this over-sized work, that makes reference to Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali's The Burning Giraffe, (a figure Dali said represented "the masculine cosmic apocalyptic monster" and was a premonition of war).
Here were artists responding to their time and world and the decision to invade Iraq.
The sculpture show was a great success and artists began to gravitate to Lot 19.
People could regenerate their energies there.
"It's for people who aren't money chasers," Mark says. "It doesn't have that competitive edge and that's very liberating."
Lot 19 is now home to the studios (all built by Mark) of at least seven other artists, among them the philosopher and film-maker Dominic Ryan and woodwork teacher and coffin maker Sue Orchard.
More recently a group of builders, who make beautiful things out of recycled materials, has moved in.
The place also has its own gallery, a charming, albeit rustic, light-filled tin construction with south-facing windows, where recent exhibitions have drawn viewers from Tasmania to Broken Hill and Canberra.
Recently, Mark installed concrete slabs in the floor to warm the space.
Water, heated by an old wood stove outside, is run through pipes inlaid in the slabs.
The whole system cost about $6000, well short of the $28,000 Mark was quoted for commercial heating, because he made it himself.
Occasionally musicians perform at Lot 19.
"We've been concentrating on higher-end roots music but that's moving and changing too."
He says Lot 19 is "like your favourite broken toy", a beloved place in a world that Mark sees is in thrall to money, a period in history he believes will be remembered as "a mini Dark Ages".
Lot 19 has become a strong community of people who have decided that art is important and that matters a lot to him.
"It seems to me that art is transformative," he says. "It scratches below the surface of things and, through it, people can access parts of themselves they have forgotten about."
- Lot 19 details: www.lot19art.com