Elizabeth Day & Claire Taylor, “Elizabeth Day”, chapter in Drawing Lines in the Sand, exhibition catalogue.
Artists: Julia Davis, Elizabeth Day, Christian Edwardes, Lisa Jones + Derek Allan, Geoff Kleem, Adam Norton. Curated by Claire Taylor.
Exhibition on Cockatoo Island, Sydney Harbour, 16 Feb – 18 Mar 2012.
Against a backdrop of an accelerating world of transplantings, mobilities, mutations and metamorphoses, Elizabeth Day’s site-specific installation works usually define paths of active engagement in relation to historical, industrial, institutional and gendered historical strata of information. Day has recently been writing a Doctorate that more specifically considers the role of migration and travel (and its metaphors) in the development of creativity. A key image in her subjective narratives is that of the conceptual traveller across disciplines and the implicit importance of this mobility in a world under threat. Much of her recent practice references earth. She proposes that art can be considered as ecology and the artist as an ecologist, as the transplantation/transplanter of the creativity of earth into the creativity of art. Here art becomes commensurate with, and faithful to, what earth is.
Elizabeth Day’s installation, “CAUTION! THE LAW IS NOT ALWAYS JUST (II)” marks out designated areas across Cockatoo Island with barrier mesh, resulting in a giant drawing through the Industrial Precinct that creates small no-go zones, physical barriers, dead-ends and paths leading to areas of interest in some places and leading to nowhere in particular in others. Day is interested in how, increasingly, we experience the all-seeing-eye of the law in the use of cameras in many public spaces and a stepping up in the intensity of the “lines” drawn around us. The delineations of barrier mesh and OH&S regulations play with such borders and constraints on a bureaucratic and physical level. Building on previous work the artist has done about, or within, prisons, Day’s installation also connects the site’s penitentiary use with other layers of the island’s inscribed history of institutional containment and regimentation of behaviour. This traverses the site’s convict and reformatory history, labour conditions during the main shipbuilding era, through to the Harbour Trust’s current use of barriers and fences to designate what areas are accessible to the public. It also refers beyond the specific institutions at different times on the island to the larger system of government and interests represented by that exercise of power. In this respect it points to Australia’s continued use of islands and off-shore facilities for the detention of asylum seekers and further afield, places such Guantanamo Bay that are beyond the law in many respects. This is reflected on more explicitly in the part of Day’s installation in the Turbine Hall. A third of the way down the hall is one of her grass-roots pieces, cast into which are the words “THE LAW IS NOT ALWAYS JUST”. The turf is framed by a cordon just wide enough for one person at a time to walk around in much the way you would view a coffin lying in state. This turns the whole building into a kind of mausoleum. Among the injustices it refers to is perhaps the most erased history of the island and the imposition of colonial law over indigenous law.