For the first half of 2011 I had the pleasure of being an artist-in-residence at Barkly Arts Centre in Footscray, one of three artists part of the New Skin Program. It was a really enjoyable, responsive program where I was able to get to know people, spend time in the community researching and allow a project to evolve naturally. I loved hanging out at Barkly, at Lentil As Anything, wandering around Footscray with the artists I worked with looking for inspiration, visiting the incredibly quaint Footscray Historical Society to find out more about the Barkly Hotel, shooting on the street, collecting bits and pieces of Footscray ephemera and most of all: eating Olympic Doughnuts on a regular basis.
One of the over all goals of the program was to engage with residents and community members who live in/work for/use the facilities in the very unique (and visionary) social housing development in which the art centre sits. I worked with three emerging artists who work at Lentil As Anything, the community’s erstwhile town square, and we produced an exhibition in June called “Footscrayism” which focussed on different modes of portraiture- of people, and places in their community. I produced two videos for the exhibition, one of which I have posted an excerpt of here, as well as accompanying essay.
This residency, the work that came out of it and the people I worked with have strengthened my resolve as an artist- given me a really clear sense of the kinds of projects and work I want to be a part of. Showing work at Barkly was unlike any exhibition I’ve ever been part of. Seeing the effect the work had on the audience- whether they were deeply moved, delighted, slighted or downright angry, made me think a lot about the relationship between art and audience. This audience were so invested in the outcome of the work. It meant a lot for them to be represented in this way, and they held us to a high standard, had high expectations. The question “Who am I making this for?” has always troubled me. I don’t think there is any one answer to this question – I in fact don’t believe art has an inherent purpose. But I do know that art means more to me when I can feel the connection with the audience I am presenting it to. And it feels awful when I can’t.
(4 min exerpt, original 20 min with 6 further locations)
To give a complete history of the contents of my room would take a lifetime.
You might like to consider what is involved in preparing a history of a large city.
From “A Tour of Footscray” By V F Bristow, 1981
Held at Footscray Historical Society
Guy Maddin’s surrealist personal narrative film, “My Winnipeg”, makes an
impassioned case for the preservation and reverence of local culture via profiles of the great, lost buildings of his home town. Winnipeg, the film argues, may not be of any interest to anyone except the people who live there, but neither is it required to be. These mundane buildings are first activated by his personal memories and recollections, and their meaning metastasized by the implication that countless other individuals have been forming their own personal attachments & associations to these places, casting them in their own personal dramas (as back drop, central protagonist or bit-player) in much the same way for generations. The accretion of this type of cultural capital, it is concluded, can only happen over time; but so can be lost in an instant. Bricks and mortar can only be animated in the minds of the people to whom they mean something- and this meaning (or meanings) cannot be predicted or imposed by town planners or architects alone. They belong to the people. The people in effect, invent them.
When these types of places – be they town halls, local businesses or sports grounds, are lost – a part of the culture is lost forever. Every swimming pool, marketplace, café or public housing facility to be demolished, takes with it the intangible strands of local lore and tradition that a public place helps to focus and knit together into something coherent.
Despite our seemingly endless sprawl, you can’t actually rebuild Melbourne next
to Melbourne- when a new building is erected, it must be written over what stood before. As such, Footscray is at an interesting cross-roads. Being the gateway to the expanding and gentrifying West, it is yet a very old town, with multiple layers of its various histories still exposed- which have not yet been written over by “progress”. It is facing a complex choice: the opportunity to shape a new future for itself, embracing visionary urban projects which define new ways of living in the city. But with this opportunity comes the risk (or certainty, in fact) of an equal amount of loss, and marginalization of what existed before.
“Olympic Doughnuts” impassively records the comings and goings of a range of sites around Footscray which have either already been, or are in danger of being erased in coming months, years or even days. It takes a moment to contemplate local civic treasures, both past and present, and the many simultaneous histories being written and re-written daily, as Footscray slowly groans towards gentrification. Placing it within the old Barkly Hotel site, now home to the constantly threatened Lentil As Anything, as well as an innovative, low-rise social housing complex, and the Barkly Arts Centre, puts it right at the heart of this juncture.
Depicted: Olympic Doughnut, Forges of Footscray, The Royal Hotel, The
Buckingham Hotel, Franco Cozzo, Footscray Market, Apartments on Barkly Street under construction, Footscray Train Station, Fiesta Bingo Hall Sign.