Exploring Sydney On A Sunny Afternoon
IT’S like being at the Venice Art Biennale … only it’s in Sydney.
And like Venice, it’s at different venues.
Venice devotes the grand Giardini parkland to the exhibition, and also at the Arsenale, with 30 or so pavilions to house the major exhibiting countries. Other contributing nations are showcased in the shared spaces.
The National 2019 New Australian Art is at three venues … the Museum of Contemporary Art on Circular Quay, the Art Gallery of New South Wales near the Botanic Gardens, and at Carriageworks in Everleigh, near the University of Sydney.
Carriageworks was built between 1880 and 1889 as part of the Eveleigh Railway Workshops, and is on the southern edge of the CBD – not all that far from Central Station.
I was on a road trip taking in three states – Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, as well as the Australian Capital Territory.
The Pacific Highway winds down through the Tweed Valley, through the Big River country of the New South Wales north coast, then the Hunter River region and into the capital city of the state.
It’s a road that has woven its way through my life, first from a family holiday Mum and Dad took us on as young children to give Grandpa a look at the places that were milestones in his life. Scattered between Melbourne, Sydney and the Tweed Coast were relatives on both sides of the family, reflecting early years at Newcastle, Coramba, Grafton, Dorrigo, Murwillimbah and Mount Tamborine.
So much new roadwork is taking place so I take the old road from Nambucca Heads to Macksville then through such regional towns at Kempsey and Taree.
That’s the thing about driving … you can think about the road ahead but that time by yourself allows you to turn ideas over in your mind. Let the subconscious examine issues and come up with possible answers.
It’s also a time to reflect on family and friends. And that is part of this journey.
My daughter and her partner live and work in Sydney, a city I am getting to know and love more and more each time I visit. Especially by walking and taking public transport.
“So, what would you like to do today?’’ she asked.
“The Powerhouse Museum,’’ I replied. “Haven’t been there.’’
Neither had they, so a walk down King St to Enmore Rd, and the Broadway in Newtown to take in the colour of the street and enjoy lunch. Then we catch a bus into the city. It’s so good to poke your head into the amazing array of shops, the different faces from different places.
The Powerhouse is often described as a science museum but with a pop edge to it.
From communication and transport to media, fashion, computer and space technology, it has a diverse collection encompassing all sorts of technology.
The day is sunny but with the wind of the autumn equinox. Along the way, searching for directions on the iPhones, we stumbled on the fact that an art exhibition was on at Carriageworks.
“I saw it on the drive in,’’ I comment.
“Yes, it’s not far,’’ they tell me.
“Some great old buildings. I think it was something to do with the railways.’’
It’s a Saturday afternoon, a lot of people are out and about.
We jump off the bus near Ultimo and head through the back streets of Chippendale, the galleries such as the White Rabbit, and the buildings such as One Central Park, in 2014 named the best tall building in the world.
The building comprises two towers housing 623 apartments linked by a podium that incorporates retail premises and recreation areas.
It’s futuristic cantilevered heliostat is a world-first for a residential building, and reflects light down into the building and plaza.
The vertical garden, the largest of its kind around the world, features 35,000 irrigated plants which cascade down 1100 square metres of the buildings’ exterior.
And so we continue on our flight of fancy … from ultra-modern architecture past humble shops and hotels reflecting the day-to-day life of Sydneysiders.
Art is all around us, and it comes in all shapes and sizes. In front courtyards and through the open doors of the terrace housing, in the shopfront galleries, the alley-way restaurants, the street art and graffiti.
Suddenly we are there … at Carriageworks. A long roofed area and abandoned railway lines in the road between this and another set of buildings.
Much more substantial – old red bricks with steel roofing.
It screams of Sydney’s early history, just like the scream of the whistles from the steam railway engines of the era.
Carriageworks had several thousand people worked there by the 1900s. They were building and maintaining locomotive engines and carriages for the expanding rail network.
By the 1900s several thousand people worked there, building and maintaining locomotive engines and carriages for the expanding rail network of New South Wales.
The Carriageworks site was one of the first places to employ Aboriginal people on an equal basis. It is also the place where generations of new migrants were first employed.
In 2007, the site was redeveloped as a cultural precinct. Today, Carriageworks is the most significant multi-arts centre in Australia.
It’s like we are caught up in time in the afternoon sunlight. Almost hauntingly, there is the sight of steam drifting from the windows that have seen so much of Sydney’s development over many years.
It’s as if we are stepping back through time to when the facility was simply that, a place for building and maintaining railway rolling stock.
Ghost Line is an installation by Tom Mùller from Fremantle, Western Australia.
As Robert Cook describes it in the program, Muller is creating the physical quality of fog to mask the space and time of what is a large-scale site-performance.
“A line of cloud that is pushed into being and then dispersed through the empty engine sheds, on the hour, and creating, well …
“The fog ‘is’ the ‘smoke’ of the steam trains that once passed through and rested, awhile, at Carriageworks.”
And as we wander through the cavernous spaces, I cannot help but reflect on the changing world, the changes already witnessed in my lifetime and to wonder about the changes my daughter will see and experience.
Ghost Line is a remarkable starting point for this journey.
Then just inside the next building is a projection Postcards From The Edge by Melbourne artist Nat Thomas.
It is a representation of a scene from the Carrie Fisher movie of that name.
As Abigail Moncrieff describes it in the program, a cunning recreation of a mini Hollywood movie set.
And you can step into a scene from a film about film, reworked for the gallery.
A platform is placed in front of a screen depicting a vertical drop from the edge of a high-rise building to the street below.
To sum up the experience, Moncrieff writes: “If you lie on your stomach on the platform and grip onto its edge, arms outstretched in front of you, your commitment will be rewarded by appearing as if you are hanging from the window ledge of a skyscraper. You’ll be swinging in the breeze, white- knuckling it, hanging on for dear life.
“A photo-op made for audiences and Instagram. Dangerous without the danger, the work is a literal representation of precarity within the gallery, offering an implicit critique of blockbuster exhibition curation, where works are required to play to audience expectations of immersion and participation.’’
Further into this building is (dis)order, the work by Sydney artist Eugenia Raskopoulos.
Born in the Czech Republic of Greek descent, the artist has created a series of works.
Yet one stands out, much like the opening scene of the 1986 Roberto Benigni, Tom Waits and John Lurie movie Down by Law, when Waits’ girlfriend unceremoniously throws him out of her second-storey home.
Yet in this, the artist is commenting on modern themes.
Writing for the Carriageworks program Kate Britton describes a centrepiece as “a feminist performance and auto-destructive art.
“In a video within her installation, we see Raskopoulos facing off a tower of discarded electrical goods from the basket of a small cherry picker.
“One by one she picks up the objects and hurls them to the same ground on which they lie as we encounter them in their afterlife as contemporary art.
“It is a laborious task, and we hear the artist’s grunts as she makes her way down the pile of man’s machines, so many empty promises to make life easier, especially in the feminised domestic space.’’
These were just three of the 70 artists represented at the three galleries.