This exhibition was the inaugural showcase of works from over 80 artists exhibiting within the vacant rooms of Wards 17 and 18 in the Rozelle Hospital (aka Callan Park) on the shores of Sydney Harbour, once the home to the criminally insane. A diverse group of Australian and international artists engaged with the spaces, spirits, history and memories, and used imagination and personal experiences to explore the sometimes fragile boundaries that exist between creation, reality and sanity, and between the artistic experience and that of the inmates.
The event was run not for profit, created solely for the purpose of bringing together the artistic community, particularly of Sydney's Inner West. It was organised with a short time span (approximately three months) and Rogerio Blanco-Ramos must be congratulated for a show that presented some amazing and moving works, a tribute to the quality and continuous practices of the contributing artists who could react in such a short time frame.
Sherna Teperson's sculptural work is always poetic and here she presented delicately carved trees (twigs?) encased in a clear, moulded bubble of "ice" which challenges the viewer's sensory memory (rather like the challenges faced by the insane). It was beautifully sited to catch a soft play of light. Also memorable were the works of Muzu Li , photographs which featured ephemeral, fuzzy focused single object plinths with focused origami birds in watercolour primaries (exploring objects in different contexts); the strange and somewhat fenetic/tortured portraits of self taught artist Kirsten T Smith of small girls (the child/artist); Brendan Gaule's weird/scary imaginings of people/clowns/ children with despicable fork lift trucks (man's idiosynchrasies, trials and tribulations over control of his environment); and Tanya Chaitow's strange, quirky "Moose paintings", small and varied in size and straight from left field- both evidence of a wild imagination and deep exploration of very unique sub-consciouses.
I also particularly liked the concept behind Vanessa Anderson's excellent installation of a rather domestic scene, overlaid with drawings and symbols, conveying the stories and personal mythology that the institution's spaces contain and expressing the tension in the personal lives that play out in such places.
However, the stand out for me was the work of Mirre van Dalen, whose performance piece was incredibly moving as well as beautiful, involving artificial flowers, painted using her hands dipped in a large tin of acrylic paint, and placed carefully in rows of jars half filled with sand across the other side of the room. But this description only begins to tell half the experience: her attention to detail from the dress she wore to the music playing, the web of steel fishing weights suspended from the ceiling, the still life display on an ornate dresser, the mannequin in the background and the baby/doll's pram in front of canvas, was amazing. No "reading of artists statements" necessary, no confusion - just straight, amazing, visual and sensory communication of heartfelt empathy with previous inmates, enough to stir the imagination and empathy of any visitor. But more about her work, based on a fuller interview, in the next post.
This exhibition was really a delightful experience, one I found inspirational, not least because it is a wonder to me that, in Sydney at least, most of these artists would not get a chance to exhibit very often what was very high standard work (where are the venues?). How do they support themselves? How dedicated must they be?
Despite some video installations not being available on the Saturday (they were working on Sunday), and a little confusion in Ward 17 (I started viewing the exhibition here but was not sure if I should have started in Ward 18 or what was happening, given some empty rooms and videos/installations seemingly dismantled) this was an outstanding experience, and one I urge you to make the time to attend. There were not many punters on the weekend, and it would be a shame if this wonderful idea was not repeated next year due to a perceived lack of interest.
Exhibition closed Mon/Tues 7th and 8th Dec, on till 13th December, 10am -5pm, Callan Park, Rozelle Wards 17 and 18 (Enter at the Cecily St entrance, take the left towards the Writer's Centre" and follow the road to the sign/banner)
Images: Mirre van Dalen in performance, Rozelle Hospital, Sydney 7/12/09 Taken by Gabrielle Jones