there forever, gone tomorrow

virginia baxter in port adelaide

Angela Valamanesh, New Metaphors

Angela Valamanesh, New Metaphors

Angela Valamanesh, New Metaphors

“PORT ADELAIDE—IT’S HAPPENING!” READ THE SIGNS AROUND THE LARGEST WATERFRONT URBAN DEVELOPMENT BEING UNDERTAKEN IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA OVER THE NEXT DECADE. IN THE VISION AND FRAMEWORK DOCUMENT FOR THE NEW CITY, JAN GEHL, PROFESSOR OF URBAN DESIGN, TALKS ABOUT PORT ADELAIDE IN RELATION TO OTHER RECLAIMED WATERFRONT CITIES IN THE WORLD AS “JUST WAITING TO BE RECONQUERED. “ HE SEES THE CENTRE AS HAVING “LOST ITS CONNECTION TO THE WATERFRONT…THE WORKING HARBOUR IS IN THE PROCESS OF BEING TRANSFORMED INTO A RECREATION HARBOUR WITH THE OPPORTUNITY TO REINVIGORATE PORT ADELAIDE CENTRE AND RECONNECT IT TO THE WATERFRONT.”

Transforming this historic city has unearthed predictable disputes to do with insensitive development. Hoping to generate more complex discussions around what constitutes a sense of place, artist and local resident, Linda Marie Walker responded to her strong feelings about the Port with an “ephemeral public art project” entitled There Forever. As part of the Port Festival, the event involved eight artists creating works that each in their own way addressed the subtle striations of history that are potentially warped in any major urban re-design.

“The title refers to the idea that everyday attention, deliberate action, and continual work is required in relation to the infinite memories and physical bearings of a place to ensure that these remain as part of a place’s past and future”, says Walker in her curatorial statement.

Yhonnie Scarce traces the trajectory of Fanny Graham, an indigenous woman born (1925) at Point Pearce Christian Mission on the York Peninsula and buried there (1967), who spent part of her itinerant life in the Port. The artist creates a kind of map, sewing coarse red thread onto tough black canvas, in the process engaging with people moving through the Visitors Centre. At the climax of the event, she will fold the cloth and place it beside the paper dress pattern and white gloves in the suitcase which lies open on the floor of the project headquarters in the old ANZ Bank building in Lipson Street.

Julie Henderson has taken up residence for a time down at the harbour, slowly acquainting herself with some of the people who gather and work in the sheds and shacks there. Her DVD, installed in the door of one of the boatsheds, documents the artist’s conversation with the boat builder who has worked there for years. His face never appears, only his body and the materials of a craft to which he is clearly devoted. Ambivalent about the luxurious life his boats may go on to enjoy in one of the Port’s proliferation of planned new marinas, the boatbuilder says of his boat’s new owner, “I think he called it Georgia.”

Nearby is the Radio Shack in which Henderson has spent long periods listening to men from the amateur radio club. She’s filmed their idiosyncratic environment and recorded their conversations and documented one man transmitting a message in Morse Code (he chose “the moving finger writes and, having writ, moves on…”). Henderson also stages a performance at night on the site of the old shed 5 (“Look for two lights, bring an umbrella”).

Inside the shack, Julie Henderson says she can’t quite settle on what constitutes the art of this project. On the website she muses: “Perhaps the work is impossible or perhaps it is already there and I just need to notice its formation among other things. I am in the space of the swamp, the dock, the boat-builder and the amateur radio club and I’m localizing and taking small opportunities to meet them. I’m in their place—it is an open shape with details that we inhabit together for now.”

As in all the works in There Forever, a sense of quiet and detailed evidence-gathering pervades amidst the more urgent atmosphere of impending disappearance. As part of the redevelopment, and lacking obvious “heritage” status, the Radio Shack may be razed anytime soon, like the nearby boat sheds.

Elements of the works that can be pinned down form an intriguing exhibition in the bank building which is the project’s HQ. Denuded of all but its elegant proportions, this house is full of subtle surprises.

In the ceiling of one room, Jess Wallace’s video, Buoyancy, references the buoys in the river that have been out of bounds since 1869 by Declaration of the Marine Board Act. Wallace projects young swimmers flouting the law, as kids at the Port have done for years, freely floating them above our heads.
Jonathan Dady, The Cardboard Piano Shop;

Jonathan Dady, The Cardboard Piano Shop;

Jonathan Dady, The Cardboard Piano Shop;

A wall away, in perfect light filtered through large windows and reflected off the buff colours of the paint-stripped house, Jonathan Dady’s elegant cardboard piano makes silent music. Down the hall, Julie Henderson’s harbour video sits atop a 1960s TV set transmitting interference from the Radio Shack.

Downstairs, James Guerts’ Bridge Drawing Water displays the beginnings of the artist’s collection of casual markings gathered from the wharf and drawn onto the walls of the house. Another surprise— one stair tread is painted gold.

Angela Valamanesh’s New Metaphors began in the mangrove sites once pervasive around the Port but now almost invisible. In the basement below a studio in Divett Street, she installs a small drama. Peering down from the street, we are faced with two miniature deckchairs addressing a series of clay replicas of pheumatophores—aerial roots of mangroves that grow above the low tide level to allow the plants to breathe. Says Valamanesh “I’ve been wondering why mangroves are of interest to me as a visual artist. I think it’s that they are plants that live in both water and land and have characteristics which visually link them to human and animal life.”

Jonathan Dady’s proliferating pianos make another appearance, this time displayed inside a graceful disused shop on the main street. Starkly lit, and randomly displayed, they maintain their sense of grandeur—prototypes perhaps for the aspirations of a working class area gradually succumbing to gentrification.
Michael Yuen, Flash

Michael Yuen, Flash

Michael Yuen, Flash

Among the performance works which my sole foray precluded attending was Michael Yuen’s Flash: “At this place and time for a brief moment a large flash of light and burst of sound will saturate the surrounding region. The point of origin will be the Port Adelaide Lighthouse.”

And throughout the nine days of the event, Teri Hoskin was travelling (on foot, by car and train) each day at daybreak and dusk from her home in Adelaide to a series of pre-figured locations in Port Adelaide. She took from these “points of perception” and posted on the web a series of images and sounds, adding to her ongoing assembly of “useless knowledge” valued solely for the role it plays in the minute everyday of life (http://ensemble.va.com.au/9days).

Last night the bridge opened to the sound of breathing under water. It closed again, the two sides met ungainly, like this sentence.

There Forever, various sites around Port Adelaide, curator Linda Marie Walker, artists James Geurts, Bridge Drawing Water; Jonathan Dady, The Cardboard Piano Shop; Julie Henderson, Continuous Wave, Forms For A Dialogue; Michael Yuen, Flash; Jess Wallace, Buoyance; Teri Hoskin, B Part Renaissance; Angela Valamanesh, New Metaphors; Yhonnie Scarce, Fanny Graham; The Port Festival, Port Adelaide, April 21-29

RealTime issue #79 June-July 2007 pg. 4,5

© Virginia Baxter; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2007