Gallery grows from ashes of cannabis farm

22:39, Jun 18 2014
Colin Wratt
SCENE OF THE FIRE: The lounge room where Hardy Bachert stands, will form part of his Burnt Out Studioexhibition of photographs from Detroit.

When a house in Stoke burst into flames in November last year, spurred on by the illegal marijuana crop it was housing, nobody ever dreamt it could be transformed into an exhibition space. Judith Ritchie meets the man who has found art in the carnage.

In April of this year Hardy Bachert bought a house in Stoke. Nothing unusual. Except this house had been seriously fire damaged; the fire brigade concluding it was caused by a marijuana growing operation gone wrong.

Fire started in the lounge, then shot up the hall, scorched all the walls and doors, blackened the bathroom and toilet, burnt out the ceilings and framework holding up the roof. All the framing is now scarred, blackened and broken into oddly shaped squares typical of half burnt timber. It smells like wood fire, close and almost claustrophobic. The cracked and broken windows , some boarded up, let the draughts in.

Bachert plans to renovate the house in July, but first, is holding an exhibition, titled Burnt Out Studio.

The whole house except two rooms, forms part of the exhibition, where Bachert's photographs of Detroit in the United States, a city now derelict, run down, broken and rotting, are juxtaposed beside the burnt timbers, bubbling walls, cracked windows and smoked-stained walls.

Bachert will exhibit 30 framed photographs from his visits to Detroit between 2009 and 2012. He loves the way they blend with the detritus of the fire, and hopes the viewer will appreciate the aesthetics of the destruction.


"When I bought the house, everything was pitch black and covered in dust," says Bachert. "It took about four weeks to clean up, and that's after the previous owner had come through and filled up a skip."

"As I cleaned , I saw all these pieces of art and thought this fits really well with Detroit, but there is no Detroit in Nelson, except here," he adds. "I want to open the house up to neighbours and the people of Nelson, to the aesthetics of fire."

Bachert believes that while fire destroys, it also creates interesting artworks. The same happened when he visited Detroit, where the process of decay opened up artworks in the making.

"To me, the fire doesn't just destroy, it creates things, it's like an organic process as I uncover it," says Bachert. "I have to physically uncover it, in the same way a sculptor chips away, I am uncovering and transforming. "

Bachert points to a scorched door, streaks of black smoke run across the top, burnt off veneer, torn like jagged trees, below.

"The damage creates a piece of art," he says."See this one, it's a sunset in the Alps,"

He will have titles on his found artworks, some on walls, others on the doors that were fire damaged.

We squeeze into the toilet cubicle. "Look at this," he says pointing up above the toilet door, the wall bubbling, spotted, like a moonscape shrouded by night or a dust storm. "I love this sort of stuff."

"This reflects why I went to Detroit and kept going back, it's fascinating."

Also in the exhibition are evidence of the cause of the fire. Large light bulbs for the growing room, bottles of concentrated fertilizer, all hidden under the house, found by Bachert.

As well, newspaper clippings from the Nelson Mail showing the blaze, and the confirmation that the house harboured a marijuana growing operation, plus a video on showing the fire brigade battling the fire.