Group exhibition, Drawing Lines in the Sand, 19 Feb – 18 Mar 2012. Curated by Claire Taylor. Artists: Julia Davis, Elizabeth Day, Christian Edwardes, Lisa Jones + Derek Allan, Geoff Kleem, Adam Norton. Cockatoo Island, Sydney Harbour.
Drawing Lines in the Sand presented six installation projects that engaged with various aspects of Cockatoo Island’s institutional heritage and topography. They considered the island as a historic, tangible place and a symbolic space more broadly. What connects them is a reflection on conditions of interiority and exteriority in a uniquely Australian context. The exhibition examines the legacy of what Elizabeth McMahon describes as, “the Western colonialist tropism of island territories as condensed sites of acquisition, containment and control,” from a perspective that encompasses contradictory and conflicting extremes, articulating a geographic imaginary particular to the Island Continent.
Elizabeth Day created a 2-part site-specific installation in Buildings 139, 140 and the Turbine Hall.
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.