Friday, July 20, 2007

On launching ECOPHENE

I was invited to launch the City of Melbourne's latest permanent visual art installation on Wednesday night. The work, Ecophene, has been placed in an archway beneath the old Sandridge rail bridge, on the north bank of the Yarra River. It's beautiful. Please visit it, and contemplate its message.

Here's the text of my speech from Wednesday's launch:

In her catalogue essay, for this latest of many public artworks funded by the City of Melbourne, independent curator Sarah Tutton describes Karen Abernethy’s Ecophene as “ghost-like and translucent”; while Abernethy herself describes the work as a 're-inhabitation' of the site where once, near to where we stand today, a small but significant waterfall marked the division between the fresh water of the river, and the salt water of the bay.

I myself would describe this artwork, as, a marriage - between the built form of the bridge above us and the natural world which the bridge spans; between the minds of the artist, Karen Abernethy, and the jeweller Kiko Gianocca, who collaborated with her on the project; and between the present, where we stand, and the past which Ecophene recalls.

Originally a temporary installation placed here in 2004, Ecophene has grown, in the same way that the city has grown up around this space on the riverbank, to become this permanent artwork that we see before us today.

It’s a beautiful work, a deceptively simple work; which speaks to us in a gentle voice, and engages so many of our senses. Our eyes, via the refraction and reflection of the light; our ears, with the sound each falling droplet makes as it merges with the river below.

It – almost shyly - invites us to watch and listen.

In doing so, Ecophene allows our hearts and minds to revisit the vanished past, where once the waterfall flowed - a rare and beautiful act of artistic tourism. In a world which is too often focussed only on the future, upon opportunities and profits to come, rather than subtle and sublime reflections upon what has gone before, this is remarkable indeed.

Ecophene provokes a certain sadness; it is a living monument to the destruction wreaked upon this river and its banks by the white settlers who built our city. It also provokes joy, allowing us to recall the delight we may have experienced as a child upon seeing our first waterfall, or in interacting with the water wall at the nearby National Gallery of Victoria, or more simply and directly through the memory of the cooling spray of a garden hose on a hot summer’s day.

But while Ecophene makes us aware of the rich history of our city, which is buried under bridges and tarmac and concrete; while it draws our minds back into the past; simultaneously this work encourages us to engage with the present – and indeed, the future.

At a time when so many of us, in recent months, have been preoccupied with the scarcity of water, Ecophene reminds us of the importance of water, not just in our everyday lives, but for this country that we too often take for granted, and its flora and fauna as well.

Ecophene weaves together threads of melancholy and history, environment and memory, destruction and joy.

In creating it, Karen Abernethy and Kiko Gianocca have become mediums, channelling the spirit of Birrarung, the river of mist, and of the Yarra Yarra Falls. They channel the spirit of the river and allow it to speak for itself.

If you listen, now, you can hear it.


susanna said...

apropos of your comments a few posts back, i would love you to meet my divinely gorgeous cousin from the UK. he is bookish and shy and i have always thought you'd make a perfect match. it's a pity he is in london.

i'm a lurker on your site from way back - perhaps it is impolite to launch straight into a suggested introduction without introducing myself first! forgive me.

richardwatts said...

Not at all, Susanna - launch into matchmaking at your heart's content (is your cousin coming back to Oz at any stage, inquiring minds want to know?). And thanks for commenting, by the way - I wish more lurkers would do the same!