A Transposition of Space – An essay by Esther Rolfe

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Verge Writing
Throughout February we had an amazing project happening in Verge called ‘A Transposition of Space’. It involved an art exchange with Concord (an art space in LA), but we also had sleep overs, dinner parties and dream analysis. One of the participants, Esther Rolfe, wrote this essay…

A Transposition of Space

Esther Rolfe

Like all landscapes, the urban space around us has been contoured by multiple layers of social, cultural and environmental history. Perhaps you can see the remnants of other eras, however, for the most part the everyday rhythms that have shaped the area around us are invisible.  Dissecting these multiple layers of history is akin to an archaeological dig. Artefacts in the shape of records, photographs, maps, memories and stories are unearthed and deciphered as we attempt to understand the surrounding urban fabric and our place within it.

A Transposition of Space is an exploration of the past and present urban landscapes surrounding Verge Gallery, Sydney and Concord Gallery, LA. The artists, actors and writers from Sydney participating in this collaborative exchange are: Cecilia White, Kate Beckingham, Bartholomew Oswald, Heidi Abraham, Sahar Hosseinabadi, Justine Holt, Lucas Davidson, Penelope Cain, Fleur Wiber, Brigitte Gerges, Christopher Hay, Michaela Savina, Harriet Hope Streeter, Finn Davis, and Victoria Baldwin. Blending fact and fiction they have explored and dissected the multiple layers of history that Verge Gallery sits amidst, creating a series of artworks, artefacts, maps, stories, and performances that bring voices and ghosts from the past into a dialogue with the present landscape. Some of these works have been sent in a pass-the-parcel style package to Concord to be unwrapped, unfolded and deciphered. In return Verge Gallery received a package of items from Concord including films, historical and social background information, maps, posters and images from past Concord exhibitions, and a copy of the first edition of Concord Press. These articles were examined and interpreted; the meaning and stories drawn from them overlayed and intermingled with elements from the landscape around Verge Gallery to create a dialogue that spans the globe. Throughout the duration of the exhibition the conversation between Verge and Concord will continue through the exchange of stories, performances, questions and answers, and even dreams.

Dialogue and exchange are central elements of this project. Though perhaps this is true of all exhibitions, since the gallery is by nature a space that enables a discussion between the artist, their surroundings, and an audience. A Transposition of Space, however, also allows artists and audiences to enter into a dialogue with multiple urban landscapes, voices from the other side of the world, and whispers from the past.  Giving an in depth description of the works and performances featured in the exhibition is difficult at this time, since many of pieces are still unfolding and taking form as the process of exchange and collaboration between the galleries continues. Instead I will explore the dialogue that is at play between the artists and their surroundings by providing a brief overview of the landscapes these works and performances channel and reinterpret.

Verge Gallery sits between the suburbs of Darlington and Camperdown. Both have changed dramatically over the years and have been shaped by alternating periods of construction and destruction brought about by changes in land use and demographics. The traditional owners of the Darlington and Camperdown areas were the Cadigal people and the Liwura Gundidj people respectively – both clans of the Djargurd Wurrung people. With European settlement came land dispossession, starvation, disease, violence, and massacres, which decimated the population and forced surviving members of the Djargurd out of the area by the 1860s. From this time onwards the area became increasingly developed as factories and workshops were set up along the railway line. The influx of working class families were housed in rows of two storey terraces, which still characterise the area despite the fact that the factories are gone and the workers’ families have been replaced for the most part by students. In the 1850s construction began on the University, and in the 1880s the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital was built. Since this time the area has been increasingly dominated by these two institutions. From the late 1950s onwards the University of Sydney expanded the campus into the Darlington area. This resulted in the destruction of around 650 dwellings as well as shops and factories, leading to community opposition and resentment.  One of the most recent clashes between locals and the University occurred in 2011 when a group of squatters occupied the long abandoned St. Michael’s College on City Rd in protest to the lack of affordable student housing. They were forcefully and heavy-handedly removed by the riot squad. The building was originally a Catholic hostel for the homeless but became a student residential college when the land was acquired by the University. It now stands empty. Fenced off from squatters and vandals it waits to be demolished, the slogans of protestors still visible on the walls.

Founded in 2011 Concord is an artist run space in Los Angeles. The artists participating in A Transposition of Space are: Arjuna Neuman, Marco Di Domenico, Eirik Schmertmann, Erin Schneider, Clifford Pun, Francisco Janes, Fabian Euresti, Elizabeth Wiatr, Annie Danis, Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal, and contributors to the consortium of Concord press. Since none of the Verge artists involved in the project have visited Concord, our knowledge and impression of the artspace and area around it has come entirely from their website and the items they sent us.

‘Concord is a socially engaged art project with the goal of building and           bridging community(s) through art and ideas. We function as a platform            to promote culture where our dynamic projects act as research into        community, site-specificity and institutional critique. We are interested in       creating a self-reflexive art gallery and communal/public space.’

‘A few things about Concord are stable: it is a home and studio for      collaborating artists, it is an exhibition and project space that supports           emerging artists and experimental initiatives, it is a creative drop-in           centre for the underprivileged neighbourhood, Cypress Park and it is an       evolving story that accounts for the many things that go unaccounted for.’- http://www.concordspace.com

Like looking through a keyhole, our view of Concord does not allow an intimate knowledge of the space, however it does distil certain features and characteristics of it. From the above statements we can see the importance Concord gives to community engagement and forming a connection with the area in which the gallery is situated. Several items in the package we received revealed an interest in the local history and environment, as well as a focus on engaging audiences in a dialogue and knowledge exchange. Also in the package was a copy of the first edition of Concord Press, which is based on the concept of creating an archive of the gallery that blends fact and fiction. This exploration of the fluidity of history and narratives is also a key element of A Transposition of Space. Along with the items we received from Concord was a set of instructions detailing how each article was to be used. We were instructed to use the enclosed maps and images to envisage Concord gallery, and to then combine and align this visualisation with Verge gallery to create a sense of place that united the two spaces.

By exchanging and reinterpreting the histories and layers of meaning embedded around Verge Gallery and Concord, A Transposition of Space seeks to create a dialogue that spans not only the globe, but also reconciles voices of the past with the present landscape. A call and answer across the globe, we weave together our interpretations of the complex urban geographies around us, as we seek to explore our fluid understanding of space and our position within it.

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