The museum is the region, the region is the museum

A West Space Project at The Living Museum of the West.
Avni Dauti, Lisa Radford and Kim Munro and Sam George, Susan Jacobs, Mikhail Karikis & Uriel Orlow, Kerrie Poliness and Geoff Robinson.
Co-curated with Danny Lacy and Patrice Sharkey. 2014

The Museum is the Region, the Region is the Museum is an exhibition project envisaged as a way of beginning to re-establish West Space’s connection with the western suburbs of Melbourne, where West Space was founded in 1993. Presented off-site from West Space at the Living Museum of the West—and drawing upon the rich history of the western suburbs, as documented in the Living Museum’s own archive—this exhibition features newly commissioned work by a range of local artists that each respond to the geography and built heritage of this unique site. The exhibition also features artworks that have a strong visual connection to the rich industrial history of the site.

As the starting point for their project, Sam George and Kim Munro and Lisa Radford’s interviewed the volunteer committee of the Living Museum of the West – the people that keep the place running day-to-day. The committee is predominately made up of those that have both recorded and archived the wide-ranging material from the Western suburbs; some had conducted interviews, others photographed events or researched the area that forms the Living Museum’s archive. Through their interviews George, Munro and Radford archived the Living Museum’s archivists, detailing their relationship to the Museum and their desire for its presence as a document of the Western suburbs – or, as Radford described the process, ‘[recorded] the labour of the labourers who recorded labour.’ These interviews will be given to the Living Museum, so that they too become part of the archive.

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Kerrie Poliness, 40 Pipe Paintings, 2014, acrylic on concrete pipes, dimensions variable. Photo credit: Christo Crocker.

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Kerrie Poliness, 40 Pipe Paintings, 2014, acrylic on concrete pipes, dimensions variable. Photo credit: Christo Crocker.

The trio’s resulting video work It has to be more than just two foxes and a hen deciding what to have for lunch (2014) is a consideration of how the desires of individuals can result in the foundation of organisations such as the Living Museum. The video documents a number of subjects (whom range in age and gender) addressing the camera directly. Jumping from speaker to speaker through a quick series of cuts, the video presents a vocabulary of personal longings and personal reflections on the nature of desire, collectively hitting a range of notes: the melancholic (‘a sense of purpose’), the all too common (‘a holiday’) and the humorously necessary (‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’). While these jumble of desires are described to the audience, each speaker’s dialogue is broken by a beige-out that creates a moment of space or a pause within the work, perhaps a moment of doubt. This stopgap is amplified by the numerous times we witness the speakers pause, uncertain as to what to say next.

Mikhail Karakis & Uriel Orlow’s video work Sounds from Beneath (2010-12) is set in the desolate post-industrial landscape of an old coal mine, a similar barren landscape to the site of the Living Museum of the West (before it was rejuvenated as a park). The first part of the work features old Kentish coal miners reproducing the sounds of their former mining activity, which came out of a lengthy work-shopping process that Karakis undertook with the ex-miners. Over a period of several months, he asked them to recall and vocalise the sounds they heard when they worked in the mines. Partnering with filmmaker Uriel Orlow, Karakis created a film in which the men stand on top of a desolate mine (where some used to work) and sing these sounds under his direction. The area of Dover (where the film is shot) has beach-toy sellers and the video also makes reference to the waves of migrating labour forces that haunt this particular landscape. The song toward the end is the Miner’s Lament, which the men sang on the last day of strike as they left the pits and walked home, having lost their battle against the Thatcher government.

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The museum is the region, the region is the museum, 2014, installation shot, Living Museum of the West. Photo credit: Christo Crocker.

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The museum is the region, the region is the museum, 2014, installation shot, Living Museum of the West. Photo credit: Christo Crocker.

Geoff Robinson’s installation and sound work uses an interview conducted in 1984 between two elderly Braybook residents, focusing on life by the Maribyrnong River, where both men had lived since they were boys.1 The interview belongs to the Living Museum’s audio collection. Their descriptions give a vivid and personal account of the time spent swimming and fishing by the river, whilst also providing a rich geographical picture of the Maribyrnong River in the Braybrook area. Using these descriptions and a number of physical maps of the particular geographical region, invited artists Helen Grogan and Benjamin Woods have interpreted these two distinct forms of mapping through a performance that sees them attempt to plot the Maribyrnong River (as demarcated between Braybrook and Avondale Heights) onto the Living Museum’s bluestone building. In this process of overlaying one physical site onto another, Grogan and Woods use brightly painted wooden blocks of varying lengths as spatial markers that are placed across the interior of the building. In this way, the overlay is informed by both the abstracted geography of the Maribyrnong River and the physical interior architecture of the bluestone building to form a composite map that allows for both spaces to inform one another in a site-responsive diagram.

Susan Jacobs presents Frontier (2012) for the first time in Melbourne, a collection of found and constructed sculptural objects, rich in materials and form. Displayed across a large floor-based platform and able to be viewed in the round, the work can be experienced as a series of flattened vignettes, with objects overlapping and transitioning through anamorphic alignment as the viewer’s perspective changes. This composition alludes to the framing and compression that occurs within photographic documentation, flattening depth into a single viewpoint. The objects in Frontier are themselves spliced, cut, fragmented and fractured, revealing layers of materiality and history. Located on the floor of the bluestone building, some of them look like remnants of past industrial production; off-cuts and detritus from the munitions factory that once operated in the area.

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The museum is the region, the region is the museum, 2014, installation shot, Living Museum of the West. Photo credit: Christo Crocker.

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The museum is the region, the region is the museum, 2014, installation shot, Living Museum of the West. Photo credit: Christo Crocker.

Four Hundred Feet (2014) by Avni Dauti is a filmic installation that weaves together multiple narratives that speak to the history of Melbourne, and specifically to the Living Museum’s industrial past. Beginning with a found 16mm film reel that documents factory workers making pipes on the Living Museum site when the Hume Pipe Company was in operation, Dauti embarked on a journey to have the film digitised onto a DVD via the modern technological process of telecining.Interspersed with this documentation is a series of static shots of the Living Museum site as it appears today, accompanied by a narration taken from James Flemming’s journal – which was written aboard Charles Grimes’ survey of Port Phillip in 1802-03 and arguably contains the first few sentences in the story of the European settlement of Melbourne, as well as observations made while travelling along the Maribyrnong River. In bringing together different moments of the Living Museum’s past and present, the film takes form as a ‘quasi-documentary’ that is not quite an objective document nor simply a personal reflection. In this way, Four Hundred Feet suggests that interpretations of history are never definitive. The title of the work is taken from the total length of single reel of 16mm film, which happens to translate to 13 minutes of moving image. As an ode to the original, outmoded medium, Dauti’s own film is also exactly 13 minutes long.

Kerrie Poliness is an artist well versed in the history of the Living Museum of the West, having been intimately involved in the running of the Museum for the past twenty years. This exhibition provides as an opportunity for Poliness to present a number of projects she has completed at the Living Museum that serve to interpret and conserve the buildings in the Museum’s park. Each of her works pay tribute to the sites’ previous use as a concrete pipe factory, Hume Pipes, and the revolutionary advancement made by its founder Walter Hume, whom developed a way of producing centrifugally spun pipes which revolutionised water supply, sewerage and drainage systems globally. Top Factory (1997), an interactive CD Rom program that provides a virtual walk-through of the now-derelict factory site where construction of the pipes took place, features a number of ‘hidden’ artworks by many of Poliness’ contemporaries, including Stephen Bram, Marco Fusinato, Melinda Harper and Rose Nolan. Poliness’ own contribution to Top Factory is a digital sculpture made by re-arranging the huge pile of remnant pipes left behind on the site after Hume Pipes operations moved to Laverton. The Pipestacks (1997) and 40 Pipe Paintings (2014) are a permanent installation presented adjacent to the ‘top factory’ that make real the design featured in Top Factory. Here Poliness has assembled a series of pipes in the manner they were stacked to cure when the factory was operating; her particular configuration appears to be systematic but has been made without a conclusive system – in Poliness’ words, the pattern ‘make senses and also makes no sense at the same time’. A coloured diamond that responds to the number of pipes in each stack – also featured in Top Factory – has been applied atop each monument.

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Geoff Robinson, The overlay of the Maribyrnong River between Braybrook and Avondale Heights onto the Living Museum of the West bluestone building as interpreted by Helen Grogan and Benjamin Woods through the oral history of Henry Dempster and Bob Simpson, 15 March 1984 / 6 September 2014, 2014, oral history of the Maribyrnong River and Braybrook by Henry Dempster and Bob Simpson interviewed 15/3/84 onto audiocassette, digitised and played back on iPod and headphones on plastic bucket chair, 30 coloured timber spatial markers (configured by artists Helen Grogan and Benjamin Woods). Photo credit: Christo Crocker.

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Sam George and Kim Munro and Lisa Radford, It has to be more than just two foxes and a hen deciding what to have for lunch, 2014, video, chairs, manila folders, dimensions variable, videos: 4:23 minutes and 5:13 minutes. Photo credit: Christo Crocker.

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Susan Jacobs, Frontier, 2012, epoxy modelling compound, cast hydrostone, brass, bronze, steel, graphite, clay, metal polish, bowling balls, found objects, bone, bismuth, neodymium magnets, metal balls chain, copper, lead, particle board, bornite, iron, timber. 700 x 800 x 300cm. Photo credit: Christo Crocker.

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Susan Jacobs, Frontier, 2012, epoxy modelling compound, cast hydrostone, brass, bronze, steel, graphite, clay, metal polish, bowling balls, found objects, bone, bismuth, neodymium magnets, metal balls chain, copper, lead, particle board, bornite, iron, timber. 700 x 800 x 300cm. Photo credit: Christo Crocker.

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1.
 The interview belongs to the Living Museum’s audio collection.