Tampa microcosm

Mireille Juchau

Mireille Astore, Tampa

Mireille Astore, Tampa

Mireille Astore, Tampa

How did you get in?

…How do you get out?

Do you get tired walking up and down?

Do you get bored?

…Excuse me…excuse me…excuse me!

Are you allowed to talk?

Are you the artist?

Are you part of the artwork/sculpture?

Are you meant to be in there?

What’s in the suitcase?

What’s this about?

Thank you for doing this!

You’re sick in the head!

Brilliant…very clever…congratulations!

Do you speak English?
Mireille Astore, Tampa

Mireille Astore, Tampa

Mireille Astore, Tampa

Ranging from abuse and hostility to identification, curiosity and concern (including a touching handwritten note passed through the bars), reactions to Mireille Astore’s sculpture/performance on Sydney’s Tamarama Beach read like a palimpsest of the wider public mood on asylum seekers.

From her lonely cell of bamboo stakes, Astore documented the responses of passers-by to her 18-day ‘internment’ as part of the 2003 International Sculpture by the Sea Exhibition. Her photographs capture the iconic beach, foam-capped waves, lifesavers, schoolkids and tanned bodies that surrounded her 24.6m x 3.2m patch of sand inside the bars.
Mireille Astore, Tampa

Mireille Astore, Tampa

Mireille Astore, Tampa

Astore’s Tampa referenced the rescue of asylum seekers from a leaking boat by the Norwegian ship Tampa after the Government’s refusal to let them ashore before the 2001 elections. Amid the swimmers, personal trainers and sunbathers, Astore built her cage of 2.1m bamboo bars, each 15cm apart, in a scaled-down version of the Tampa. Carrying all her requirements in a suitcase, she inhabited the cell from 10am to 6pm for 18 days. Through photographs and diary entries she recorded the responses of passers-by, later posting these on her website. (www.crixa.com/mireille/Migrant/Tampa.htm )

Group of young girls: “Excuse me…why aren’t you talking to us? Are you supposed to be in there? We want to get in…damn it! Why don’t you talk to us? Nah! Nah! Nah! We vote One Nation. You’re probably a filthy rich bitch! Why don’t you go home and cook dinner for your husband?…Look, did you see that? Even Americans were talking to us and you’re not. Who do you think you are?”
Mireille Astore, Tampa

Mireille Astore, Tampa

Mireille Astore, Tampa

Astore’s transcript of exchanges reveals a public at turns admiring and admonishing. While some people insisted she interact with them or made offerings of food and drink, others considered her work an incitement, giving them license to vent their opinions. On her website diary, Astore records the following:

“A football lands on me inside the Tampa where I am sitting immobile for the last hour. It was thrown by a group of young adults. They ask me, ‘Excuse me could you pass the ball? Hello…can you pass the ball please? Will you do us a favour and pass the ball?’ A man [interrupts]: ‘Would you ask a person in detention now to do you a favour? This is real…this is happening now!’ A middle-aged woman: ‘Come on, be nice to them and pass them the ball! It’s only a sculpture!’ The young woman from the group slithers through the bars and grabs the ball. I break my silence and tell her that she disappoints me. The same middle-aged woman: ‘That’s not a very nice thing to say!’”

Astore writes, “The inversion of the gaze as an exploratory tool and an illustration of the privileged artist’s position were critical to the outcome…the sculpture and performance acted as a dichotomy between the sense of freedom and grandeur the individual experiences at the seashore and the imprisonment refugees faced as a result of their trust in the most basic form of humanity at that seashore”.

Just as assumptions and generalisations abound about the stories and personal details of asylum seekers, Astore’s performance generated similar responses, with some passers-by wanting to impose their own, often stereotyped versions of how she should look, behave or perform:

Anonymous: “It’s hot in the sun, isn’t it! Ah! well! You’ve got the skin for it!”

Male photographer with tripod: “Excuse me, could you please stop walking and sit on your suitcase with your head cupped in your hands. Please… please…please…”

Young man to group of friends: “Hey…she’s Lebanese like me!”

A fellow artist in Sculpture by the Sea: “Mireille! This is an aggressive piece, you must explain it to people when they ask you. Most people don’t understand art!”

A woman sunbather in a sarong: “You’ve been here a week now, have you discovered yet what it’s like to lock yourself up?”

A video of the work and the complete set of 200 photographs Astore took throughout the project will be shown at Conny Dietzschold’s Multiple Box Gallery, Sydney in June this year. It will also be shown internationally at the National Museum of Contemporary Art Bucharest in Romania in February.

Tampa, Mireille Astore, Sculpture by the Sea, Sydney, Oct 30-Nov 16, 2003

RealTime issue #59 Feb-March 2004 pg. 36

© Mireille Juchau; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2004