Subject to Ruin was first proposed as an exhibition by curator Adam Porter two years ago. By the time it opened at Casula Powerhouse, Friday, May 23, 24 participating artists were offering a wide range of interpretations of the title. Works varied from playful to contemplative, overtly political to discreetly personal in a similarly wide range of media.
The elegant fragility of Rachel Park’s draped toilet paper installation, left, suspended from the Turbine Hall’s four storey high roof dominated the entrance to the exhibition and responded to every slight movement of a passing visitor. At the far end of the space, in a gallery containing rolls of toilet paper and taut wires, children and adults responded to the invitation to have fun making and displaying their own creations.
Adam introduced the exhibition with a quote from leading Chinese artist Ai Weiwei – “The world is not changing if you don’t shoulder the burden of responsibility.” His introduction ends with – “Subject to Ruin, acknowledging the enactment of social responsibility, challenges structures of sovereignty, encourages a reinstatement of cultural value as an absolute human right and interrogates ideologies in a move toward open and fearless dialogue.”
It was a grand vision and one perhaps not achieved by everyone, but notions of decay and deconstruction, frailty and strength, identity through cultural representation or personal callings were all present. Endings and beginnings, growth as a process of renewal, sometimes the simultaneous presence of despair and hope, defiance and acceptance, and always questioning, exploring.
Abdullah M.I. Syed presented three meditative photographic works recording his placement of himself as Soft Target, at three different historic sites of conflict around the world. He sees his work as a form of poetic activism, where he invites the viewer to stand as he does and “examine sites that are filled with memories of war, terror and human remains.”
Prominently placed in locations outside the Powerhouse were yellow bikes created by artist Khaled Sabsabi from a series of eight (the symbol for eternity), Sold Salé, each mounted with a set of yellow rocket launchers. They were his response to conflict in Aleppo, Syria during his time there in 2007. Profound meaning and thought in Khaled’s work, often draws from his Islamic and Sufi cultural background. On the opening day of Subject to Ruin, Khaled crushed two of the eight bikes and placed them in two open suitcases.
On opening night, Abdullah took a certain glee in responding to the invitation accompanying Denis Dubois’s Stampford Case to pick it up and walk with it around the show. Moving the case set off a very audible alarm. Abdullah posted on Facebook – “Took it with me for a stroll outside the building and then placed it next to a plaster gun and Khaled Sabsabi’s amazing yellow bicycle mounted with a rocket launcher (loved the danger sign underneath) Sent a message to the curator about the new location of the case and left the premise. An amazing experience, with loads of laughs.”
The availability of the exhibition catalogue in another two or three weeks will assist audiences to access some of the work. The exhibition continues to July 6.
Subject to Ruin delivers a sad sting in the tail. Immediately underfoot in the main Turbine Hall is the Koori Floor, seen left in black and white, created by Aboriginal artist Judy Watson in 1993, advised and supported by local elders and Aboriginal artists. Click on this link to see the colour version, though other information on this site is now out of date.
It is described in my book as “a wonderfully evocative work, which seemed to ground the Powerhouse in its long indigenous past and reclaim the land on which it was built. The traditional names of the local people Gandangara, Tharawal and Darug snake their way across the floor and the rough concrete holes from which the feet of the turbine had been removed, became repositories of relics from the past.” (p.127)
With great care, those holes were lined with protective material painted with symbols and laid with items according to themes – small shells and bones collected from riverside middens, artefacts, stones and other pieces – all with deep significance and all telling their own stories. Over the top were set five layers of reinforced glass, intended to cope with the pressure of footsteps and heavy loads. They gave a sense of peering into pools, contemplating an ancient past illuminating the present and future.
In recent years, heavy condensation has obscured the contents, cracks have appeared in the covering and been repaired with heavy black tape. No newcomer to the building could have any idea what lies underfoot. In fact one of the holes, representing a cross section of a local scar tree, has now been filled with concrete.
Is there any chance that the meaning of this site, subjected to ruin, can find reincarnation in a process of renewal? Leave a reply.