Out with the old, in with the new - but still the tin sheds

16 June 2004

The new Tin Sheds Gallery, whose opening took place on 11 June as part of the grand opening of stage 2 of the Faculty of Architecture's refurbished Wilkinson Building at 148 City Road, is as smooth and sleek as its predecessor is rough and raw.

Adjacent to the building's entrance, it boasts a large front courtyard, air conditioning, and better lighting and other facilities for showing new electronic artforms – such as Deborah Vaughan's playful, 'humane technology' video works in eye full, one of the inaugural exhibitions currently showing at the new venue.

"Certainly I'm sad about the loss of the old site because it's a beautiful space that's hosted a fabulous range of exhibitions and activities over the years, but I'm looking forward to the new premises with all that that brings," said Jan Fieldsend, director of the Tin Sheds Gallery and coordinator of the allied Art Workshops which have also been integrated into the refurbished building in brand new studios.

"It's quite a beautiful space itself and all the artists who've seen it have been very impressed."

Though the site had changed, the name remains the same to signify the continuance of the gallery's well-known, particular profile within the art and the wider Sydney community.

"The Tin Sheds Gallery has always hosted a wide range of exhibitions, especially non-commercial work such as installations," Ms Fieldsend said. "It's been open to art that concerns itself with political issues, to emerging artists whose work may be a little unresolved, and to mid-career artists who want to do something unusual that they can't show in a commercial gallery. That's what the Tin Sheds Gallery means and those commitments will continue. That's why keeping the name is important."

Deborah Vaughan's electronic media works, well suited to the site's new facilities, sit well too in the political orientation of the Tin Sheds' tradition with their re-contextualising of domestic materials and the feminine and their concerns about cultural diversity.

Showing in the same venue is Perth-based Bevan Honey's exhibition of highly crafted, large-scale architectural drawings, Split - "a fitting show for the new space," as curator Jan Fieldsend said, "as much for the reference to sheds as to the Faculty of Architecture's role in sustaining an art gallery."

"In showing his work I wanted to carry the shed image from the old place to the new much like a migrant brings a precious memento," she writes in her essay for the exhibitions' catalogue.

Meanwhile, down the road, Margaret Roberts, whom Ms Fieldsend describes as a "ceremonial marker of place", addresses the closing of the old site which she has stripped to the bare essentials as part of her gallery encompassing installation, Red Check that features playground swings and a floor of large red oxide squares.

It was 35 years ago when the CSIRO laboratories became the Tin Sheds Art Workshops which also hosted exhibitions until the Tin Sheds Gallery was founded in 1988 in the adjacent building that had already seen transformations from sweets factory to car repair workshop to wind tunnel testing laboratory, then director's studio.

The art workshops and gallery have always had a close connection, Ms Fieldsend said, grounded in a belief in the value of interchange between professional exhibiting artists and people learning about art. Like her, Architecture's dean Professor Gary Moore believes their integration into the Architecture building alongside the Faculty's other disciplines "will enrich the dialogue about future directions for the designed and built environment."

As if in memorial to the old Tin Sheds, the galvanised tin/iron door of the new Tin Sheds Gallery has been kept in its unpainted shiny silver state.

Though the traditions of the Tin Sheds remain, Ms Fieldsend believes the different space and ambience will in time take the gallery into additional directions.

The old site has been designated for construction of Usyd Central, a new student services and facilities building. But the demise of the old Sheds will not happen quietly. A 'Farewell the Old Site' party for "friends, comrades and alumni" of the Tin Sheds is being held on 3 July, the final day of the closing exhibition, from 3pm till late.