Vis­ual arts Bron­wyn Wat­son’s Pub­lic Works

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Bron­wyn Wat­son

ON a balmy Fe­bru­ary night last year, 350 peo­ple ac­cepted Si­mon Ter­rill’s in­vi­ta­tion to con­verge on the cen­tre of Ade­laide so they could be pho­tographed do­ing what­ever they liked. The re­sult­ing large-scale per­for­mance, Crowd The­ory Ade­laide, is the sev­enth in an on­go­ing se­ries of pho­to­graphic events staged around Aus­tralia since 2004.

In­spired by the won­der­ful crowd scenes of 16th-cen­tury Flem­ish painter Pi­eter Brueghel, who fa­mously de­picted ev­ery­day life, Crowd The­ory Ade­laide en­gages the pub­lic in the mak­ing of an art­work by meld­ing per­for­mance, photography and com­mu­nity col­lab­o­ra­tion.

Ter­rill, who lives and works in Lon­don, has said that he is fas­ci­nated by hu­man be­hav­iour in pub­lic places and by the way ar­chi­tec­ture can act as a gi­ant the­atre set, in­flu­enc­ing how we func­tion.

Crowd The­ory Ade­laide is in­deed like a gi­ant film set. Look closely at the mu­ral-sized, long-ex­po­sure photographs and you can see peo­ple and cars frozen in a par­tic­u­lar mo­ment. Some peo­ple are stand­ing still, while oth­ers act up for the cam­era. There is a per­son in a wheel­chair, peo­ple with brief­cases, peo­ple with um­brel­las, dogs, or piles of heavy books. Some hug, talk or play hide and seek. A cy­clist weaves through the crowd, while a Kau­rna elder, Un­cle Lewis, sits qui­etly, ob­serv­ing, dressed in his red kan­ga­roo-skin cloak.

Crowd The­ory Ade­laide was com­mis­sioned by the Univer­sity of South Aus­tralia’s Anne & Gor­don Sam­stag Mu­seum of Art, and when I visit mu­seum di­rec­tor Erica Green shows me the photographs of the crowd scenes, which she says are ‘‘ care­fully planned and chore­ographed to achieve a deliberate artis­tic out­come, but also de­pend, at their heart, on the un­pre­dictable spon­tane­ity and dy­namic anarchy in­her­ent to large gath­er­ings of peo­ple’’.

The event took place in Vic­to­ria Square/ Tarn­tanyangga, which dates back to the 1837 plan for the city of Ade­laide, when sur­vey­or­gen­eral Wil­liam Light pro­posed a ‘‘ Great Square’’ as the city’s heart, named af­ter the Princess Vic­to­ria who one month later would be­come the monarch of the Bri­tish Em­pire.

Crowd The­ory Ade­laide was timed to co­in­cide with the square’s re­de­vel­op­ment. Green ex­plains the aim of the mu­seum’s com­mis­sion was to cap­ture the square’s last mo­ments in its fa­mil­iar shape, be­fore its trans­for­ma­tion.

‘‘ Over the years Vic­to­ria Square has evolved into a some­what down-at-heel, di­a­mond­shaped park­land, sur­rounded and bi­sected by the city’s churn­ing traf­fic,’’ says Green.

‘‘ A loved foun­tain, Three Rivers, by lo­cal artist John Dowie [com­mem­o­rat­ing the visit in 1968 by the Queen and the Duke of Ed­in­burgh], an­chored the square’s iden­tity as iconic pub­lic space, yet its po­ten­tial as a mod­ern civic heart for the city re­mained un­re­alised, be­dev­illing city plan­ners.

‘‘ The Vic­to­ria Square site, in fact, had for cen­turies been a meet­ing place of the lo­cal Kau­rna peo­ple, known as ‘ the Dream­ing Place of the Red Kan­ga­roo’, a place for spe­cial cer­e­monies of the Dunda­gunya tribe.

‘‘ In 2002, the Ade­laide City Coun­cil re­named the site Vic­to­ria Square/Tarn­danyangga, and more re­cently em­barked on a $90 mil­lion project to trans­form and re­gen­er­ate the square.’’

The pho­tograph­ing of Crowd The­ory Ade­laide took place the evening be­fore the de­mo­li­tion of Vic­to­ria Square; how­ever, Ter­rill ar­rived in Ade­laide sev­eral weeks ahead of his one-night shoot to ne­go­ti­ate pro­to­cols with Ade­laide City Coun­cil staff and to se­cure the com­plex lo­gis­tics of nec­es­sary el­e­ments such as scaf­fold­ing and lights.

Be­fore the shoot, Ter­rill pro­moted the project widely around town, en­cour­ag­ing com­mu­nity par­tic­i­pa­tion to en­sure that a crowd turned up on the night. Then, in the space of an hour, Ter­rill did a se­quence of still photographs pro­duced from 10-sec­ond ex­po­sures. He pho­tographed the crowd, and the square, viewed from a high scaf­fold look­ing north, past Dowie’s foun­tain to­wards King Wil­liam Street. Three shots were se­lected to form a large-scale trip­tych.

Ter­rill, who was born in 1969, orig­i­nally stud­ied at the Vic­to­rian Col­lege of the Arts. In 2008 he was awarded the Anne & Gor­don Sam­stag In­ter­na­tional Vis­ual Arts Schol­ar­ship, which en­abled him to pur­sue fur­ther study at the Slade School of Fine Art in Lon­don. His work is held in pub­lic and pri­vate col­lec­tions in Bri­tain and Aus­tralia.

Green notes that un­der­pin­ning Ter­rill’s projects is an in­ter­est in sci­en­tific the­o­ries of com­plex­ity and the self-gen­er­ated en­ergy of hu­man crowd be­hav­iour. ‘‘ Crowd The­ory Ade­laide is not sim­ply the doc­u­ment of an his­toric mo­ment in the chang­ing life of a me­trop­o­lis but is also a so­phis­ti­cated ex­per­i­ment in com­mu­nity process.

"The trip­tych is quite large. When we even­tu­ally dis­played the fin­ished work in the dark­ened gallery space of the Sam­stag Mu­seum and could see it prop­erly for the first time, its im­pact was dra­matic. For me per­son­ally, there was a poignant alchemy about it, I guess through hav­ing been a par­tic­i­pant in the crowd. It was also fas­ci­nat­ing to watch peo­ple view­ing the work, all of them lean­ing for­ward in­tensely to scru­ti­nise the de­tail, no doubt search­ing for them­selves but equally ab­sorbed in the work’s al­lure.’’

Type C print. Three pan­els: 160cm x 93.5cm, 160cm x 202cm, 160cm x 93.5cm

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