Tin Sheds Gallery
March 15th – May 31st
DIRT, DUST & RUINS
Elvis Richardson | Tina Havelock Stevens | Jorge Otero-Pailos | Daniela Ortiz | Xosé Quiroga
Curated by Zanny Begg and Jennifer Ferng
Opens Thursday Night, March 14th 6-8pm
Today the majority of the world’s population lives in cities. This demographic fact makes the city a key element of contemporary life – a crucial node in a web of globalized trade, exchange and labour. Cities such as Paris, London, New York, Sydney can loom so large in our imagination that it is hard to think of their lights ever fading. But cities can endure marked changes in fortune. Take for instance Cartagena, Spain, that was founded in 227 BCE and has been continuously inhabited for over two millennia. This ancient city was once a crucial battlefield for dominance over the Mediterranean and an important source of wealth through its silver mines, today it exists more on the fringes of global politics.
Jorge Otero-Pailos’ installation The Ethics of Dust: Carthago Nova, 2011 provides a contextual starting point for the series of works in Dirt, Dust and Ruins. He presents nine latex casts of dust from a mine in the ancient Roman silver mining region of Carthago Nova, now Spain. This region was significant for producing the wealth and currency that drove an empire and also created some of the first atmospheric pollution that has been detected in core samples from Greenland. Otero-Pailos’ work invites us to reflect on the role that pollution plays in the functioning of empires, as well as in their legacy - for pollution can be as long lasting as the grandest cities and monuments. While Otero-Pailos cleans away residues of pollution, he also preserves it, treating it as part of the history of the buildings. Influential in Otero-Pailos work is John Ruskin, for whom dust formed “time-stains” that provided an essential way of understanding the historical value of the buildings that make up the city.
Exhibited in the same room as Otero-Pailos’ work is a collaborative piece by two artists from Barcelona, Daniela Ortiz and Xose Quiroga. 1st of May Camp is a photographic documentation of an intervention carried out in a mining town built for workers in the Volcán operated mine at Cerro de Pasco. Cerro de Pasco exists along the edge of an open cut mine that has been continuously operating for over 445 years. The “time-stains” here are so toxic it has been suggested that the entire town be re-located 35kms down the road to spare the residents a life fractured by explosions and pollution.
Ortiz and Quiroga counter pose the architecture of the miners' houses with that of the mining companies executives, in a series of oversized paste-ups on the side of the workers homes. The surreal counter perspectives they create open up alternative possibilities for understanding the geography of the town. While the camp is hardly a city, Ortiz and Quiroga’s images create a direct link between these outposts and the living conditions of the wealthy inhabitants of major cities.
The collaboration by Tina Havelock Stevens and Elvis Richardson offers a very different way of looking at “time-stains”. Their work intuitively connects the architectural ruins of Detroit with a collection of images sourced from the internet of homes for sale in Australia for under $250k. Elvis Richardson’s humble photographs of shabby low cost interiors of houses show a glimpse of what affordable homes look like for those priced out of living in the city. Her work is a portrait of the city by its absence, showing the drab hinterland that offers an “affordable” entrance to the punishing Sydney real estate market.
Detroit is a city whose fortunes have shifted markedly overtime; once an architectural gem of the automobile industry today the city is half derelict, populated by scrappers and a new class of urban hipsters looking for affordable places to pursue their lifestyle. The collapse of cities such as Detroit, offers a warning on the transient nature of urban landscapes.White Drummer Detroit is an observational portrait of this urban decay. Tina Havelock Stevens creates a traveling performance at the punishing pace of eleven locations in Detroit in a day: from abandoned motor factory floors to burned out storefronts, buildings engulfed by nature’s overgrowth, a grassy field in the shadow of a smelt, to the very steps of historic Motown Records. The energy of these performances belies the potent history layered within such a ruinous urban landscape.
These three works offer diverse ways of looking at the dirt, dust and ruins of our urban landscape.
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