Concentric: Working Title (2011)
Carriage Works : 3 screen installation : Stereo sound by Danny Griffith
My work with the relationships between performance, subjectivity and narrative led me to the various strategies I have employed to complicate the relationship between screen and physical space. Narratives of self ultimately led me towards broader communal narratives of place. Perhaps it is a sign of age or my rural upbringings but this path ultimately led to the Australian history of landscape art, post European settlement.
In reading about the origins of this tradition I became very interested in the natural science artists and cartoonists of the convict period. I was surprised to learn just how few images of convicts existed. For despite the centrality of this period to the mythology and history of Australia less than fifty images survive that deal with convict life. This meant for my first site-specific work in Sydney I had to deal with our convict past. Greater Sydney is the home of our convict roots and with the theme of labour in mind I wanted to find an image that could represent the hidden history of convict labour that laid the city’s foundations.
It is a little known fact that treadmills were used in Sydney, Brisbane and Tasmania. They were an extremely arduous form of punishment and whilst they were commonly used for the grinding of grain they were also used for the express purpose of torture with no utility derived from the labour. The treadmill was the departure point for this work. It is an image that resonates with me strongly, echoing as it does the recurrent motifs of entrapment and circularity that are present in much of my work. From that beginning the three images making up the installation deal with the site in a series of steps from Sydney to Redfern and to Carriage Works itself. I wanted to deal with the multiple narratives of place and identity that intersect there. I tried in my installation to find poetic means of evoking hidden histories of labour embedded in the site in a series of concentric circles.
Firstly there is the very specific place of the carriage works in the Australian labour movement. Ben Chifley was a train driver in Sydney and one of the leaders of the 1917 general strike that began at Redfern and involved 97000 workers at its peak. The strike began over the institution of a time and motion study, a ‘Taylorist’ initiative that saw the use of a card to record the movements of all staff during work time. These cards were the spark that led to the prolonged general strike and ultimately Chifley’s dismissal for his role. The suburb of Redfern is Australia’s most famous and long standing urban Aboriginal community. Whilst members of the Gadigal tribe have occupied the land now called Redfern since before European settlement, the train yards are also partly responsible for this settlement as Aboriginal men came looking for work and camped nearby.
Finally the treadmill locates the installation in the misguided sentimentality of our convict mythology.