Last night I made the trip out to Blacktown to experience the MCA’s latest C3West commission, Heather and Ivan Morison’s Sleepers Awake. The C3West initiative has been running since 2006 and is a partnership project connecting artists with non-arts government organisations and businesses around Greater Sydney. And as far as outer reaches of Sydney go, Blacktown is about as good as it gets. Unless you’re a resident of erstwhile “Western Sydney” (read: Parramatta and beyond…) or en route to the Blue Mountains, or after good Vietnamese in nearby Cabramatta, chances are, Blacktown isn’t somewhere you’re not going to be casually passing by.
Which is why projects like this are compelling in the way they seem to successfully and authentically integrate local audiences and artists with those of us who have the capacity and curiosity to make our way down the M4 (exorbitant road tolls notwithstanding…)
In truth I also had a vested interest in the work of Ivan and Heather Morison, and this work in particular. At one stage it was slated for installation in Peckham as part of the South London Gallery’s consistently brilliant SLG Local program. For reasons that now make sense (large, illuminated hot air balloon in densely residential, busy, occasionally threatening, corner of London…) the work was never realised there but out in Blacktown, set amongst the expanse of Bungaribee at Western Sydney Parkland, it has all the room it needs to breathe and exist.
Over the course of the last two weekends this illuminated beacon has risen at dusk and kept extraordinary company with a community performance festival. Last night we saw a short film and spoken word performance by a local Sudanese man reflecting on his experience as a refugee in Australia. It was raw and honest and incredibly humbling to see this pretty bloody awful experiences articulated so poetically. Then there was a performance by two young musicians from Minto and a “neo-burlesque” dance troupe taking on Picnic at Hanging Rock. We left before the end of the programme but there was B-boying and Indonesian dance demonstrations after that.
It really did feel like a community festival – and I say that hoping desperately not to be sound like some god awful patronising art snob. I say it because the Western Sydney artists, performers and musicians who featured on the stage were joined by obviously local families who turned up with picnic blankets and pillows and small children in pajamas. Their voices, their neighbours, their territory. Us blow-ins were the novelty really.
Reflecting on the way Sleepers Awake existed within this incredibly unpretentious environment – which was also literally expansive and increasingly cold and dark – I keep coming back to the idea of the google map pin. Except here the pin is enormous and illuminated – shining this mesmerising, benevolent, warm light on the parkland and the performance space and the picnic area. It said: this is somewhere, this is worth knowing/exploring/visiting, this place and these experiences and these people exist. Maybe that’s heavy-handed and emotional or naive and insulting but I think it’s a testament to the way a great work of public art – even or especially a temporary one – can provoke a new way of thinking about and negotiating a space, geographically or intellectually.
In some ways it reminds me of Mark Wallinger’s work at the 2007 Munster Sculpture Project in Germany. Zone was a three-mile long, fishing line-thin, taut cord that traced the route of the old city walls that once encompassed this ancient German town. The cord though, was strung meters in the air – cutting through buildings and around lamp posts and trees – and was only visible if you really looked for it – and even then you wouldn’t always see it. But knowing it was there, there was a conscious sense of realising you were either inside or outside this demarcated zone and not knowing what the difference was either way. It was an exercise in spatial awareness, in moving through space, in the act of marking one space out as different from another and moving fluidly and unknowingly between the two. A collapse of boundaries you know to be fundamentally invisible.
Well, anyway – those were my impressions. I’m just incredibly glad we made the effort to go and applaud the MCA on the ambition and success of this latest C3West project.
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