BLOG (March 2006 - March 2009)


August 26, 2007

EAF : City Tags (24.8.07 Day 1)

The City Tags workshop facilitated by the EAF (Experimental Art Foundation) and headed by visiting art critic, curator and artist Calin Dan got underway on Friday with introductions, orientation, presentations and a bus tour around Adelaide and surrounding districts.

Introduction and orientation:

Workshop participants backgrounds and areas of practice are situated more or less in the visual arts (print/video/photography). I am the only participating sound artist, though a majority of the participants show a good understanding of sound and its application within their own and other art practices. During introductions, Calin asked questions relevant to each participants background, focusing specifically on where they come from, their heritage, family diaspora and how they relate to their city. These questions led onto a series of short discussions on space and memory, environments as habitat (places of residence), growing up with struggle, urban diaspora and 'conflict' in urban spaces. I'll be coming back to some of these themes over the next couple of days.


After an hour or so of formalities, Calin gave a short presentation of some work of his and discussed how it relates to themes associated with the workshop. More info can be found [here.]

Bus Tour

Around midday the tour got underway with 'guides' Francesca da Rimini and Caron Ward. Using the theme of 'lost/loss' the tour involved visiting various Adelaide-centric landmarks and locations. Fran and Caron had programmed the tour as essentially a 'mystery tour' with the itinerary listed with deliberate obscurities such as "The Big Drop", "Cataplasmic Aspirations" and "Unspecial K via Fuck off Fences".

The itinerary was as follows:

1. Pilgrim Church (aka "You built this city on the bones of our ancestors")

2. The River Torrens Beat and footbridge (aka "The Big Drop")

3. Blair Athol/Kilburn (aka "Unspecial K via Fuck off Fences")

4. Yatala Labour Prison (aka "Wiry Build. Bar None")

5. Mawson Lakes (aka "Cataplasmic Aspirations")

6. St. Kilda (aka "Stand up for the Queen" and "Leaving Alaska")

7. [Unknown Location] (aka "The Grainy Train")

8. Port Adelaide (aka "The heritage! Oh, the heritage!")

9. Pelican Point/Biodiversity Park (aka "Skeleton Mosque" and "The struggle continues")

The first location (prior to boarding the bus) reflected on themes of lost/loss from the perspective of dispossession and genocide. The Pilgrim Church on North Terrace (one of the first churches erected in Adelaide) was built with the sacred stone of the Indigenous inhabitants. This stone was also used in the construction of Old Parliament House and Government House (Genocide Corner.)

The next location was along the River Torrens and a visit to the gay beat of the 1960's and 70's. We were told the story of Dr. George Duncan who was thrown from the Torrens footbridge by two police officers after visiting the beat one night in May 1972. The murder and subsequent investigation led to sweeping reforms of gay rights by the South Australian premier at the time, Don Dunstan. There is a body of evidence to suggest that the murder of Dr. George Duncan was connected to the infamous "Family" serial killings of the 1970's.

The bus then did a drive through of the northern suburbs of Blair Athol and Kilburn, ostensibly a housing trust area and a designated area of residence for Afghan and Sudanese refugees. The State Government has recently approved a bill to sell over the housing trust homes to private enterprise, and thus force the current residents to seek more affordable housing. Essentially a push towards gentrification, such houses are expected to been sold at a starting price of $400,000 due to their 'close' proximity to the inner city. 'Fuck off Fences' refer to the trend in such suburbs to erect imposing spiked fences out the front of their houses. The sense of loss for the current residents must be palpable given their respective backgrounds, forced to undergo another migration (urban-style.)

Next stop was a visit to Yatala labour prison. Approval was sought prior to our visit as a dozen people taking photos and video capture of the razor wire perimeter would be certain to raise a few hints of suspicion. Especially since this is where David Hicks is currently held.

The 'asperational nighmare' that is Mawson Lakes was next on the agenda. A sickening eeriness was evident as we swept around the streets viewing frontyard/backyard-less houses with occasional meagre plots of open space and unhealthy man made river systems. Houses start at half a million dollars, built with cheap pre-fab materials. Four Wheel Drives are everywhere, replete with Gucci, Dior and vacant looking children. Glue sniffing kits and syringes are often found along the riverbanks and incidents of self harm and attempted suicide are high. Numerous billboards proclaimed 'Mawson Lakes is for Families' and 'Designer Living' and the ideal place to 'Watch Tensions Unfold' [!!!].

A drive through the disappearing market gardens of Virginia took us to the tiny suburb of St. Kilda perched on the perimeter of mangroves and salt lakes. Apparently birds migrate from Alaska in the warmer months to nest here. Despite the relative quiet and serenity of this location, the occasional thud and groan of the outer harbor could be seen in the distance.

Thousands of birds could be seen in the sky and around the grain silos at an unknown location (about 5km of St. Kilda.) Juxtaposition of the urban and natural environments was a dominant theme as the native dolphin populations (a few of which we occasionally saw in the inlet) are dying off due to the increasing pollution in the area. Fortunately, the birds can fly and seems to have adapted to their location with a good feed of spilt grain from the passing semi trailers.

Next stop was the old factories and warehouses of Port Adelaide which are due for demolition to make way for housing developments in the area (the boat houses are also slated for removal.)

The final stop was at Pelican Point (Outer Harbour) where we were given a tour of Bio-Diversity Park by local Friends Committee member Nick Davies. The site is the last of the original dune system along the Adelaide coastline and is currently under threat from the Maritime Authority who want to use the land for ASC's secured defence contracts. The ecosystem is comprised entirely of native regrowth and is the habitat for a variety of rare wildlife.


I have to admit that the tour was not what I had expected. It was a fascinating tour of Adelaide and especially sobering in its themes of loss: sacred land, mortality, migration, freedom, space, heritage, habitat and ecosystems. I would certainly say that my perceptions were challenged slightly at first as I was under the initial impression that we would be going around looking for urban tagging practices. However, it would seem (at least to me) that the theme of tagging has been extended to accommodate the broader scope of society and its relationship to a city undergoing change. The themes of space, memory, identity and conflict were dominant for me as we observed things that have or are disappearing and being moved somewhere else. The phenomenon of tagging and street art wasn't especially relevant to the tour itself, though the concepts which are attached to tagging (primarily identity in public spaces) were certainly evident in the thematic and conceptual breadth of the locations we visited.

So where from here? I'm currently enjoying a couple of days off this weekend before we re-commence the workshop on Monday. I can see a great deal of inspiration for my project and collaborations with the other participants. I'm still not exactly sure how I am going to apply these ideas to my primary practice of sound, though I think over the next couple of days these ideas will coalesce into something a little more substantial than amorphous thoughts and tinkerings.

Now I'm going to go and dig out some R.Murray Schafer and David Toop as well as my enormous tome on Auditory Culture and indulge in some light reading. Stay posted.

No comments:

intrepid visitors since 25/1/08