Elizabeth Day, The Black (Mutation in Darkness), Chapter 5 in ‘Discontinued Narratives: Elizabeth Day’, 2017.
The verb – to scrutinise comes from the Latin root scruta: this means to look hard to the extent of digging through old rags and garbage—Helen Molesworth [Molesworth, Helen, Before Bed (1986), October the Second Decade, p 79]. This work is about scrutinising, scrutinising my installation art practice and its roots – in the earth, in previous art practices, especially those of Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Smithson and Eva Hesse, and in my family, its history of migrating…and of ghosts.
Let me begin with painting.
The Black Paintings of Robert Rauschenberg produced between 1951-52 involved the use of thick black viscous paint over newspapers. Helen Molesworth described them as ‘Same day different shit’ [Hopps, Walter, quoted ibid]. Dailyness, repetition, regularity—such is the implication of these collaged works, which were usually framed in doorways. ‘More than simple scaling devices’: in Molesworth’s book, Walter Hopps is quoted as suggesting that they evidence human presence and establish a literal conjunction of abstract art and the physical factum of everyday life.
She goes on to question, is this the physical factum of everyday life only newspapers in doorways? Or do they stand in for dailiness and ‘human presence’ in another form? I am making here a connection between Rauschenberg’s Black Paintings and a related but different use of materials and the bodily references I make in Drawing of the Map of the Boronia Garden. That is, the decaying once edible rice, amidst the torn back paper crusted with latex, I would also have go away. (As Rauchenberg might want to wipe out the bad news). Running through this surface, as if to dissolve its horror, is a more fragile, pristine stripe.
I want with this brief introductory text to make a link to Chapter Three on Smithson’s work, establishing spatial understandings that are indebted mainly to Smithson. Rauschenberg’s paintings occupy space and have what was described by Michael Fried, as presence.
[I have derived an understanding of Michael Fried’s concept of presence by reading his famous text ‘Art and Objecthood’, Artforum (1967) also I am referring to a text by Davida Panagia on Fried’s concept (2008-09). ‘Art is theatrical when it aspires to address the beholder so that the work of art exists for the viewer. Addressing itself to an audience makes it so that the presence of the viewer, and not the presence of the art object, is of primary importance. The distinction between the presence of the viewer (which is a spatio-temporal claim that states that the viewer has to be present in order for there to be art) and the presence of the art object (which is an ontological claim that refers to the sense of presence that one experiences when one engages a work of art, regardless of setting, context, or stage) is the principle behind Fried’s attack on the theatricality of literalism and his famously obscure concluding sentence, in ‘Art and Objecthood,’ that ‘we are all literalists most or all of our lives. Presentness is grace.’ In other words, everything hinges on whether the work of art feels staged or not and whether that staging is necessary in order to establish the presence of the work in question. Elsewhere I have argued that Fried’s aesthetic theory is cognate with the critique of figuration and the theory of sensation developed by Gilles Deleuze. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, Translated by Daniel W. Smith, Afterword by Tom Conley, (2005), Continuum Books, New York, (1981). See chapters, ‘The Effects of Viewing: Bacon, Caravaggio’, and ‘The Ring.’]
Basically presence meant that an art work emanated its meaning rather than being in any way descriptive of that meaning.
At the same time I am trying to establish a rendez-vous, between the language of migration/mutation – of uprooting, transplanting, trans-mutations, cultivations and hybridisation especially relevant for the thinking of my work and practice – and institutional architecture as an early manifestation of migration to Australia. In the following account there is an attempt to present – as Rauschensberg was doing in the framing of the Black Paintings – a bodily presence in relation to architectural forms. The 20th century has seen sculpture step off the pedestal. Rauschenberg’s Black works were paintings but having stepped out of the frame and as such are bordering on performance. Smithson’s involvement with materials, spaces, media, in his ‘sculptures’ was a part of this stepping and significantly contributed to thought about space in an extended field of production that is now commonplace in many contemporary practices.
In my short piece of writing, with the working title, Mutation in Darkness, I reference what I’ll call the content of a drawing, Drawing of the Map of the Boronia Garden. This work is still incomplete and one segment is inserted here. This work came out of, has a spatial relationship to, and to an extent will begin to be descriptive of the cross-cultural garden project that I organised and co-ordinated in a women’s correctional centre in Sydney. [The Boronia Project is a community-based work in a correctional centre, (2005). Though this work has informed my art practice it is distinct from the work that I exhibit which is part of a more conceptual tradition. This piece of writing to a degree addresses this dichotomy through a consideration of the image of the prison – which I use largely metaphorically.]
THE BORONIA PROJECT
There are 12 hessian rectangles. These are encrusted, collaged with a variety of materials that together make a composite map of the garden I designed with a cross-cultural group of female prisoners. The garden from the aerial vantage point (that can be viewed in real time on Google Earth) is mapped on the image. This map is made out of a knitted fabric of white wool.
The garden now has a life of its own with the migrant and indigenous women who made it; and the ‘drawing’ is both my own reflection on this project that lasted 18 months as well as a way that I can consider the ‘interior’ and ‘exterior’ of these spaces. The work relies on a knowledge of Abstraction: more specifically Minimalism and its descendants, that have lent themselves to an immensely versatile kaleidoscope of applications and processes of inquiry [Bijvoet, Marga, (1997) Art as Inquiry: Toward New Collaborations Between Art, Science, and Technology, American University Studies, PETER LANG Publishing, New York].
The ‘drawing’ involved collage, a kind of ‘shit’ by Molesworth’s analysis, with its bitumen paint, balloons, string, edible substances, rags, washers, a build up of crud. There’s that ‘stuff’ and the knitting—clean, white and fragile. The dark quality of this surface, rough, grubby, abject, unattractive, dripping and germy has for me for about 15 years, been a compelling characteristic. If there is a comparison to Rauschenberg’s ‘shit works’ it’s in the use of what could be described as grungy materials, which austerely replicate a condition of dirt or abjection. There may be a level of repression indicated or expressed in his work which is, for me, relevant as I explore the space of the institution and some fears that I think relate to my grandmother’s 40 years of incarceration, in my thesis Discontinued Narratives of Migration. I am writing as a migrant, a 60s Brit who came from the North of England to Tasmania.
Norman O. Brown, says Molesworth, has written that Rauschenberg’s work is a search in the inside world for the lost body of childhood [Molesworth, Helen, October the Second Decade, p 83]. Culture, he says, functions dualistically: as a denial of the body, and as a projection of that repressed body onto things. Despite this, for him the child knows consciously and the adult unconsciously that we are nothing but body, that ‘body knowledge’ and all values are bodily values. I am trying to unpack the past.
Rauschenberg’s radical inclusion of ‘things’ collaged in his Red Paintings allows the body to be reconstituted at its limit, ‘in the space of fantastic disorganisation’. Molesworth quotes Roland Barthes’ statement, ‘Collages are not decorative, they do not juxtapose, they conglomerate…they take the colle, the glue at the origin of their name; what they produce is the glutinous alimentary paste, luxuriant and nauseating’ [Ibid., p 83].
Eva Hesse also wrote and produced art extensively about what she called the ‘ick’ factor [Susskind, Elisabeth, Ed. (2002), Eva Hesse, Whitney Museum of Art]. She discovered as a young migrant in New York the distressing facts about her Jewish family’s history in German camps during World War II. This distress might be seen to manifest in her work as a visceral gripping angst in the string tangles and other latex or fibre-glass coated surfaces. ‘The grandchildren have to remember what the parents tried to forget’ is a Jewish proverb. The Jews who escaped to Australia after the Holocaust had to establish lives again and didn’t want to think about the horror they had left behind; but the grandchildren can look back and feel the anger.
I look at what my mother left behind. Her own institutionalised mother is not something she wanted to bring with her but it’s not something she can ever forget. There is an inevitable flow across continents, even though the streamers on the ships coming to Australia ripped and snapped. Broken or discontinued narratives are obviously not isolated to first generation migrants [Papastergiadis, Nikos, (2002), The Turbulence of Migration, Polity Press Oxford, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Chapter 2. I have searched for the phrase ‘discontinued narratives of migration’ and have been unable to recover where it came from, though in this chapter Papastergiadis does write about narratives of migration, it may have cropped up in one of the several books that I read by Papastergiadis]. With the carpet works I have tried to define displacement and nomadism as a contemporary condition. It is the state of the stranger of being ‘at sea’. The Drawings of the Boronia Garden is alluded to here.
MUTATION OF MIGRATION: THE BLACK ZONE
I’m wading through a huge black pit that is full of debris. I thought it was a pit but maybe its an open cut mine or quarry in the ground, with lifts and pulleys out of decaying wood. There’re piles of rags and other rotting matter. You could be lowered down into it on a rickety platform, like the one in the north of Tasmania which in recent times collapsed – a Gothic or Dickensian image. Or maybe a ‘dark satanic’ Blakean industrial revolution site of danger, inequalities, bad power relations of bosses and workers, poverty, children working in harsh conditions, union uprisings, dark tunnels leading to a coalface where many perished.
There are old oily ropes and black dust, like the slag heaps I lived near in the North of England, where the mills and mines of the nineteenth century still stood. In my memories’ images, the sky is grey and there’s rain on dark hills of shale, debris of the diggings, though the landscape is quite flat. It is grim and cold, so I think it must be Lancastrian. Scaffolds come to mind and old forbidding churches, such as the Mancunian artist T.S. Lowry painted. They are Presbyterian and punishing, like those repressive looking rows of council houses in UpHolland near Wigan, and the stories my father told us about his education; when you were beaten for not spelling or adding up well.
The pit is a dark area beyond the dotted lines of what is viewed as good and acceptable behaviour. It is possibly the fluctuating borders of a mental hospital, but it is also a silence, a wound and a deep memory, a story we were supposed to leave behind, but something I drew on a paper surface. I have gone looking in there, into the page behind the drawing. My grandmother, Alice and her son, Frank are dark and beautiful secrets, like the obscure valleys and mountain tracks barely ever visited in Tasmania. The Walls of Jerusalem rise from a plateau on the Central Highlands. If you manage the steep climb, you can almost see the perimeters of the whole island.
The sadness of what was happening when we set off from Lancashire across the world only hit me when we sailed out of Tilbury Docks in 1963 and I saw my Aunt’s white handkerchief waving from probably a mile away. She vanished for a long time. Many vanished less dramatically. We said good byes in those last weeks and that was that.
Alice and Frank were two relatives whom I later discovered we had abandoned in their ‘illnesses’. My parents were looking for what? Better weather? The offer of a new life on the other side of the world, five weeks on board an ocean liner, deck chairs in the sun? It looked good. It certainly was an adventure. Would I have had the same sense of tragedy had we stayed? Loss would have happened but might have been more reachable, less intangible. I am imagining the history of two places, England and Australia, here and there, as excavation sites.
Robert Smithson, the earth artist, in his essay ‘A Sedimentation of the Mind’ [Smithson, Robert, (1968), ‘A Sedimentation of the Mind’, in Robert Smithson, Writings, Ed., Jack Flam, 1996, University of California Press, Artforum] Earth Projects wrote about processes of art production that might involve the extended spaces of landscape and architecture outside the gallery, room or studio. The use of actual earth, rock, matter from sites in deserts, outer suburbs and non-artworld situations was often implicated. Smithson’s work gives recognition to layers, evolving processes of all kinds, including geological and pre-historic formations. It is partly the acknowledgement of eons of time, as well as recent layers, that affected selection of his work as one of my Case Studies. I am thinking of my own recent history in Australia and this country’s ancient past.
Another feature of Smithson’s practice was the formalisation by means of Minimalism of inclusiveness through, for instance, the Site and Non-Site works. (Elaborated in chapter three.) These involved the inclusion and framing, of spaces beyond a gallery into the context of a gallery by a variety of means [Spiral Jetty for instance was a starting point for writings, films and photographic works]. As a contemporary installation artist who can take it for granted that the extended space of my practice is beyond the studio, I am trying as I write this to find a way of thinking about migration spatially. Robert Smithson wrote about the construction of Central Park in New York by Olmsted as an unravelling and expansively inclusive process [Robert Smithson, Writings, p157. (1968), Frederick Law Olmsted and The Dialectical Landscape, Artforum 1973]. Some of Smithson’s ideas seem applicable to my thinking of the discontinuous trajectory made by a migrant. I think of time, broken like a lift shaft in a building being demolished. Smithson saw language as geological or archaeological debris, floors or strata. There isn’t a smooth transition possible from one place, one floor in the building to the next. The graft is going to be nobbled and lumpen where there’s been overcompensation of growth to try to smooth away the discrepancy. Laying open the processes which are never going to be anything but awkward, ambiguous and un-unified is an honest relief to the pretence that I think Smithson understands a garden to present [Ibid]. A garden gives us a sense that all is well. The Central Park image reveals a city and an art world laid bare at the roots. All might not be well and the process will continue to unravel and be incomplete, but it is exposed and never finalised, never complete.
I will continue to use the example of a building in the course of demolition, with its processes of construction exposed. (I might come up with something better.) I am metaphorically suggesting that, given the set of conditions that I arrived in Australia with here, I found a place on the broken lift shaft where one could walk out into a similar place when the double doors opened on each side. There were many secrets that had to be discovered in either place.
Memories and secrets left behind re-surface slowly. Mostly we didn’t know that we were immersed in them. We were twelve thousand miles from where those memories happened. It is easy to be oblivious of the past, especially at such a distance; but I always wondered why I was only vaguely present. People told me my eyes were deep, and that I looked worried and faraway. It was as if I knew already. I lay around the house a lot and started going into the surrounding bush where I screamed loudly and then would sit on a log and smoke cigarettes. It was boring feeling very badly about something.
Teenage years passed at high school, year in year out. I tried to assimilate and was probably reasonably successful, though when I flew into Gatwick Airport at the age of 27, I suddenly realised a livelier humour had descended. Some weight was gone. Was it the adopted Tasmanian history 18 years in the place where time stood still? Like the planet Pluto on the furthest reaches of our Solar System, not known until fairly recently, Tasmanian animals manifest some intense primordial force. They have the sharpest teeth, the most poisonous venom; they are the most of everything. I read that the Tasmanian tiger, unlike the dingo was, untameable. This led to its early extinction. The worst of the worst convicts were sent to Tasmania, to the most remote Macquarie Harbour and Eaglehawk Neck. Near that place are the Salt Mines, underground graves that taught the eyes to see in prolonged darkness to enable underground digging in mines; eyes that would be blinded should they be exposed to sunlight.
I was 22 when I found my mother crying and discovered the shocking news that my grandmother had died in the UK. It was shocking because I didn’t know my mother’s mother, Alice Hodge, was recently alive or dead. I had presumed dead, though her absence wasn’t exactly spelled out as such. Our grandfather’s wife was not our grandmother, but the reason for that had been unclear. We were accepting of the story.
Now the real grandmother, Alice, was dead. She had lived in the hospital in Warrington, Lancashire. She had been forbidden her children, forbidden her sisters who wanted to help and forbidden her grandchildren. Herbert her husband wanted finality. Seal off the contaminant and don’t let it spread. The children obeyed, instructed as they were on how deep their shame was. Forty years she was given for post-partum depression. There must have been no way out for her after a while – although the acceptance of her willing sisters might have been all that was required to overcome her complete loss of fight after five children were born in a sequence. Even this avenue of escape was denied her.
Sitting with a group of prisoners teaching a drawing class, I breathe in and wonder what stories they have to tell. We are in a small 70s ‘demountable’ fibro building within what are known as the wings: four-story drab blocks of cells, which are surrounded by a 19th century Australian sandstone. There is razor wire along the walls beyond, and a green steel gate clangs every once in a while as I speak and listen. An old frangipani is being cut down because someone has used it to look over the wall. The cellblocks are not red brick, as Warrington appeared to be in the black and white photos my aunt had taken. I can come and go as I please. The women whose worlds I am addressing fell through the safety nets and crashed into the floor. Bedraggled and damaged, they are trying to piece together their lives, some of them anyway.
I’m choosing to be in this place and am choosing to find a way out. I have chosen the dark earthbound space of the prison, where there are many who ‘couldn’t cope’; in order to escape it, refuse it, find a flowing channel through – out of its restrictions, its locked gates, its bureaucratic strictures. I’ve deliberately gone into this place of extremes, refusing to ignore it. I want to come through into the air, breathe through with lightness all of its horrors which are right at the bottom amongst the rags and debris. I want to scrutinise it all. That redbrick memory I’ll never know well. The secrets of my childhood were on the other side of a membrane, a paper-thin wall that sometimes let these places lock me in, hold me in place. I listened while I drew. Whatever that stain.was about, I want none of it. I’ll be gone soon, but there’s work to be done while I’m here.
Coming through the gates that approximate a medieval castle, I have wondered whether they will get onto me [a phrase used frequently by inmates meaning getting caught out]. The armour of my non-descript clothing might reveal a gap. Someone will see through it. I would be found out, and they would say get out of here. You don’t belong here. I know that it is true. I don’t and won’t soon, but I have to be here for a while to find out. I need to get on top of this. I need to get out of here with flying colours, with aplomb, so that history doesn’t repeat. I am making a map, which cuts through and under the walls and can also be seen from a plane. It’s a sign that something has changed. Even if I’m the only one who knows about it, that’s all that matters.
The aerial view of a work was a significant relationship to Smithson’s interdisciplinary practice. In 1969, Smithson was asked to submit proposals for the Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Airport [Robert Smithson, Writings, p 354]. This was a large site–specific sculptural project. ‘Art today…’, says Smithson, in his account of this project that never came to completion, ‘…is no longer an architectural afterthought, or an object to attach to a building after it is finished, but rather a total engagement with the building from the ground up. How art should be installed around an airport makes one conscious of this new landscape’. ‘Aerial art…’ he continues, can therefore give limits not only to ‘space’ but also the hidden dimensions of ‘time’, – an artificial time that can suggest galactic distance here on earth. Its focus is ‘non-visual’ space and time, which begins to shape an aesthetic based on the airport as an idea and not simply as a site of transportation [Ibid. p 100]. This airport, said Smithson, is but a dot in the vast infinity of universes, an imperceptible point in a cosmic immensity, a speck in the impenetrable nowhere. Aerial art reflects to a degree, this vastness [Ibid. p 116].
There are Aboriginal women here amongst us and their numbers are too many. I think being the white person here is wrong, and so is this way of teaching to these Aboriginal students. I do not have their knowledge. They create paintings, tracing animals out of books that are dotted with the tip of a match-stick in the building like a castle, a building that is a memory of my ancient past, not theirs. Why so many of these people?
I have found myself in another place of turbulence. Here again things do not add up. There is confusion about the layers of sedimentation. None of us should be here at all, but why do these people, who once were so connected to place, not know anything about where they are and what they are doing here? There is an historical problem that needs to be addressed. I worked with the Aboriginal culture teacher, Betty Champion, to find out more about the site of Long Bay. Betty and I visited the women at La Perouse, who told us about the history of the tribes who used to live in that area. They told us there were Western sicknesses, such as smallpox and influenza that were brought by the French and the English who had arrived at that outpost south of Sydney. According to the elders, their early forebears said one of the remedies was to go to a high windy place (such as the site at Long Bay), so that the ‘badness’ would blow away. There is a cave nearby once called the Aboriginal Hospital, where many afflicted and dying rested.
A small, dedicated group, the Randwick Historical Society collated the vulnerable knowledge. The elders also gave us a list of the medicinal plants that grow locally. These plants were incorporated in the design that was proposed for a piece of land fronting on Anzac parade. It was to be a garden that recalled the medical history of the site. The inmates, many of who were local descendants, had contributed to this design. The aim of this project had been to make a garden based on the collected local histories and to connect both white and non-white students with their history. Along that stretch of coast we found, for instance, the location where the lepers’ colony was once situated and is now Prince of Wales Hospital. It seems that early in the history of NSW the area became a place where a range of human rejects were encouraged to remain or to where they were removed. In the end for various administrative reasons, this project moved to Boronia –and changed its course again.
Such information was gathered and was used by the group who were designing the garden. My role was to co-ordinate and to administrate the plans. Before this garden could be realised, the plans of the bureaucracy changed and a vast new complex of mental health facilities now stands on that ground.
It was always difficult to comprehend what one could only imagine as a distraught life, locked in a box, enclosed and sealed by a family’s desire to smooth over the discrepancy and get on with good living. You can dwell too much on the past. Leave it be. Yet she was so close to us all but forgotten.
I take another deep breath and wonder about my own years of pensive silence. Words were always difficult to find. Whatever happened that I absorbed her silence? Did I catch something? Was it in my genes? Something deep was undeniably etched, that channel at the bottom of the ocean which stretched across the earth.
The knowledge meant walls now weren’t necessarily walls; the floor wasn’t necessarily the floor. The only things that made any sense were the rocks and half submerged driftwood trees quietly immersed in sand on the small beach near our house. They were immobile and the water lapped around them gently. These quiet damp objects weren’t going anywhere. I had once stared at the beams the original builder left in the shapes of trees in our 400-year-old house, a house that held together the rocks that someone found on the hillside all those years ago. The walls were thick and the beam solid. There was no chance of it moving. The shape of tree roots became the shape of the alphabet in my ancient Celtic forebears’ time. It wasn’t surprising to read Robert Graves’ account that the earth gave meaning and words to the world. Those spirals and tendrils formed the basis of the ancient letters and were derived from the roots of plants [Graves, Robert, The White Goddess, Faber and Faber, p 44].
As I walked around the prison grounds when we were developing the designs for the garden, designs that I always imagined needed to be seen from above, I found this imprinted word that had slipped away from a cast metal manhole cover. The bird’s eye view was the imagined vantage point. The word is made of fine roots of grass moulded in the metal grooves. The full word said ELECTRICITY. Words and images cast in grass roots became a way of ‘speaking’ as a migrant, as a visitor to this history. In a sense it is true that the only art that really belongs in Australia is Aboriginal, deeply meshed with the land it manifests. As a migrant artist one’s connection to this country is unknown.
I worked with Betty Champion, on the garden. She helped draw forth the plans from a group of local men who were from that South Coast. The aerial view would enable the walls that had been built in 1897 to be traversed by giant rockeries designed by the inmates, local people of the area. There were giant snakes, turtles and fish-shaped gardens drawn by the students who were now locked up.
Had I already become aware of something amiss? Perhaps I did know as a child and young person that something had happened. They went away for the weekend and downstairs I found a pail of black paint. I removed objects from my childhood. Dolls, books, trinkets, the lot and created a comforting gloom. Was that the same dark space, a photomontage of northern childhood, Tasmanian Gothic and Alice’s silence? It might have been my decision to be an installation artist? It was a strange and powerful act. I was revealing something or refusing their presentation that the way things were was acceptable. It may have been a signal, some knowledge that all the secrets needed to be publicly realised.
Tell me, I already know.
The dark paint had grown in my mind as a really good idea does. The new knowledge was a dark cavern impossible to know. I brought my Lancastrian subterranean memory with me of that unacknowledged dark tunnel and stepped out of it into a matching Australian one.
It’s a profound sorrow that doesn’t go away.
The 19th century archaeological diggings were on a similar level.
I began working in a prison; and it was, rather than a place of anxiety, one of relief. I wasn’t out of place. My mother says I had no idea when I said ‘Why didn’t you tell me?!’
I’m sure it is true.
I had no idea.
I was seeing at last the dark secret places that had been under strict taboo. Hardly comfortable, they were places where life went on.
Resourceful inmates made re-routed life somewhat habitable. Friendships occurred, people got university degrees, birthdays were celebrated, and meals were shared. Some were able to pick through the tasteless food, retrieve a few ingredients and re-configure them into something worth eating.
It would not have been a good place to live, far from it, but I could now imagine it. I was an educator looking in. Life was savagely reduced, but it was possible if the worst came to the worst, when the unspeakable happened.
There was a small dawning of understanding about the life my grandmother might have lived. The 19th century castle of sandstone and red brick where I worked, with its crenulations, flying buttresses, narrow windows, was something like the place into which Alice and Frank had vanished. Walking into the dingy over-painted and constrained spaces I could begin to know.
The women I am teaching have all touched some extremity… pain, violence, addiction. They harm themselves given half a chance. When I saw exhibited photographs, re-presentations from the 1950s archives of women who were similar, clearly distressed, wanting to avoid the camera with their pudding bowl haircuts and complete loss of dignity, I thought that it was wrong to show them like that. They wouldn’t have wanted it. These women are ravaged but keen to maintain appearances. It is true these pictures were contributing to the texture of the darkness, but those pictures should not have been taken against the will of the sitters. Even in death further exposure of their indignity in exhibiting them made it worse. Had the visual exposure of these earlier troubled lot helped these women I now know?
How does one speak of the silences without committing further abuse? Not speaking perpetuates the taboo. My answer has to be in the performing of this work, allowing some new understanding to happen at the end of the road. Small, recycled plastic Kodak containers of paint and some brushes might help. So might a chance to review the space of a prison as not a medieval castle but as a part of the landscape. The previously proposed garden was moved to the Boronia Women’s Centre. I worked with several cultural groups, but the Aboriginal women took over the project; and I hear they continue to maintain that garden site in the gaol.
I was able to recognise what they say about the stolen generation. I still can’t know what Alice’s life was like. Was she happy in some way? What did she do all day? Did she talk about me? You grow up next to a vacant space. Shame is felt even if it isn’t mentioned. We knew we had to back right away from that story.
The carpet works are both on the ground and simultaneously floating. They describe a contemporary subjective condition. One that is never and always at home, in process, in transit, but absent from Australia but here. Here and there. Inside and outside. Both.
Elizabeth Day is an artist whose work involves a wide variety of processes and means. It is usually based in specific sites that in recent years relate to Australian colonial history. She is currently engaged in two collaborative projects that look to colonial migration, in particular that of the prison and its ongoing violent impact on indigenous culture. In the case of the Parramatta Female Factory Memory Project work, she is involved with a group of women who were in recent decades incarcerated. The group is attempting to reclaim the important early Australian women’s site as a place of remembrance for the institutional violence that has occurred there. The theme of narratives unspoken and covered over through shame persists in The Longford Project. Since the completion of her recent Doctorate she has started to publish her writings. She has exhibited nationally and internationally, in state and public galleries. Her work is represented by the Conny Dietzschold Gallery in Sydney and Cologne.
In 2013 she completed her Doctorate of Creative Arts, in the Department of Writing and Society, University of Western Sydney. This work was titled Discontinued Narratives of Migration. An aspect of her research was the effects of trauma and its repercussions on the Australian psyche, especially in the relation to the export of the prison on the Australian landscape. In 1997 she completed a Master of Fine Arts, College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales. She is currently Artist in Residence at the University of Newcastle where she is working with carbon nanotechnologists to devise methods of writing that use Helium microscopy. She is considering the miniaturising of technology as analogous to the invisibility of much past experience.
Day was born near Liverpool UK and in 2012 produced an installed work called Liverpool / Liverpool at Casula near Liverpool NSW using grass ‘prints’ of place names and words of local writers. The prints were cast grass roots using a variety of local and imported seeds. The effects of the global and the local have continued to be her concerns. Her family moved to Tasmania in 1963 where she lived for 17 years. Her observations about the impact of prisons on the Australian psyche were born during her younger years when they drove around the state discovering that every tourist attraction was a prison!
Day’s interest in this collaboration arises from a belief that Australia must confront its violent and damaged past in order to be able to on any level achieve true reconciliation. She brings through her focus on the prison, an investigation into the impact of British Law on the Australian landscape.