Georges River Residency 2022

Hurstville Museum and Gallery Artist In Residence

Carss Bush Park , Hurstville , NSW

Week 1

The residency took place during March and April 2022, immediately after significant flooding had impacted on the eastern seaboard of Australia. During the first week of the residency I focused on understanding the history and topography of Carss Bush Park and the surrounding areas. The park opened to the public in 1923, after a local landowner William Carss built a sandstone cottage on the site which now operates as a museum.  

The park has a wonderful history as a still water bathing reserve and tidal pool. The artist cottage is the site of the original first aid shed, next door to the lifesaving hall. The park features some very interesting sandstone structures built under the leadership by the first park ranger Herald Coxhead.  During the Great Depression- the local council placed Coxhead in charge of a team of unemployed relief workers to construct the works.

Drawing upon my interest in public leisure activities and cultural tourism, I am drawn to these artificial forms that also sit very comfortably within the natural environment that features well established native vegetation, rock caves and similar structures as well as several magnificent Norfolk Island Pine trees.

I began creating a visual narrative of the site by creating installations of pool noodles and bodies moving through spaces within the park and along the shoreline. I am very interested in utilising the pool noodle form that symbolises floating, swimming and leisure activities into the areas that have historical significance as still water swimming enclosures. These tidal pools are very prevalent along the New South Wales coast in particular- established in the 20th century by a largely colonial population that saw swimming in the open ocean as still somewhat of a dangerous activity. Tidal pools on the other hand, reflected a culture similar to the bathing resorts such as Brighton in England- and therefore a desirable and respectable leisure activity.

Images below (clockwise from left)- Pool noodles and Shoreline 1 , Figure on Shoreline 1 , Figure on Shoreline 2.  

Week 2

During the second week of the residency-I also began investigating the interior of the artist cottage and studio as a place for installation. As an artist who has always been interested in the performative acts of photography, I enjoy re -creating  the concept of the traditional slide night, when images from another time and place are projected into a domestic interior.  Rather than projecting images onto a screen or designated viewing space, I prefer to create more abstract images by projecting images directly onto furniture and other house hold objects – in this case the studio easel , shelving and venetian blinds.

I set up still life formations with the pool noodles and project subtle images inspired by leisure artifacts (in this case plastic toys) over them in a manner similar to a theatrical wash of lighting. I also utilise the other sculptural materials, including conduit and zip ties to add contrast to the commonly recognised colours and unique “skin” of the noodles.        

This methodology creates some beautiful, unexpected abstractions of objects, their shadows and the softer projected patterns being cast back onto the wall.  Technically this way of working creates some interesting challenges regarding depth of field, given the only light sources is that being cast from the projector.

As a result – these works are more formal abstractions of colour – while still invoking a sense of recognition that the objects are in fact pool noodles. Hence there is a duplicity between the play of colour pattern and light and the physical play associated with the objects themselves.

 Images below: Colour(Noodle) Play 1-4.

Week 3

By Week 3, I had made many small field sketches and working drawings and began working these up as a series of mixed media paintings.

I don’t work literaly from these field sketches – but rather create a series of abstracted works drawing from the field research as a whole. For me the sculptural form of the pool noodle cutting into the landscape provides the most exciting starting point for painted compositions.

I am influenced by a range of other practitioners when thinking about how sculptural forms intersect with the environment – particularly when “curated” in sculpture gardens and other similar environments. The garden at the Peggy Guggenheim  Museum in Venice is a wonderful example- featuring works such as Alexander Calder’s The Cow and Sol LeWitt’s Incomplete Open Cube 6/8.

I often then  go onto re create my photographic installations on site from those paintings – thus working in a continuously overlapping fashion between drawing, painting , photography and site based installation.   

I don’t try and disguise the fact that the brightly coloured forms are in fact pool noodles – I purposely include the text based safety messages that are inscribed on the objects  when I photograph them as well as aim to harness their unique proportions , surface textures , flexibility and identifiable colours.

Those works in progress do aim to capture essential the elements of the site – in particular the view from the artist’s cottage – the shape of the bay and the natural and man-made rock formations around the shoreline. I use loose brush strokes and several layers of oil paint (applied as glazes) to capture the sense of movement of wind across the water.

The works also include fragments of field work photographs as useful cues that map out the formal composition of the works. 

Images below: Carrs Bush Park Shoreline 1-5 (Mixed Media WIP).

Week 4

During Week 4 I had the opportunity to investigate other tidal pools and swimming enclosures in the southern outskirts of Sydney. My journey took me to the Gymea Bay Baths which are situated just over 7 kilometres away at Gymea Bay at the entry point of Coonong Creek. The  heritage listed baths themselves – which opened in 1931 would have originally served a similar function to the Carss Bush Park Tidal Pool- providing a curated and therefore safe and culturally appropriate site for leisure activities.

Visually this site is very different to the enclosure at Carss Bush Park. It is set in a narrow bay and is only accessible to the public via some steep stone stairs – evoking the sense of a much more secret location. The enclosure features a timber boardwalk and even marked swimming lane end plates. While not officially closed for swimming at the time of my site visit and research- the need for significant facilities upgrades combined with the impact of recent flooding created a sense of this site being although quite beautiful -sadly neglected. (Fortunately there is a masterplan being developed to restore the site).

I made a series of photographs and short video clips that aimed to capture the stage like platform of the timber boardwalk – sitting above the water that was full of flotsam and jetsam. The pool noodle structure and a subtle presence of the human form attempting to enter the water operated as a visual layer hovering above the inky and uninviting depths.

The use of the pool noodles – a symbol for family water based fun – now offered a position of irony – exacerbating the difference between their normal function and the dangerous swimming conditions. The messaging on the noodles including “use only under supervision “and “this is not a life saving device”  also symbolise our love for the water , but also concerns for its dangers that lie beneath the surface.

As Australian coastal and riverine communities are seemingly increasingly impacted upon by flood- these messages take on more complex meanings. 

Week 5

Midway through the residency – I began seeking out more locations along the Georges River that offered a point of comparison to the relative calm and intimate scale of the Carss Bush Park swimming area. I travelled east to the suburb of Dolls Point- featuring a beach of white sand that marks the entrance of the Georges River from Botany Bay itself. Here I discovered an old concrete wharf that is land locked by sand – so that it does not actually join the foreshore. Apparently, a series of severe storms several years ago caused the sand to build up between the jetty and the foreshore seawall and it has remained that way. I read this jetty as a monumental sculpture playing out on the beach and somewhat playfully could not resist thinking about the work of Robert Smithson and his famous earthwork at the Great Salt Lake in Utah Spiral Jetty (1970).

I intervened with the pool noodles on this jetty and made a series of images that responded to the drama of the landscape  by capitalising on the unique perspective showing the exposed end of the jetty that would not normally be seen. I was also very conscious that by orienting my  perspective – I could create a strong sense of convergence – as if creating a marker point to the other side of Botany Bay in the direction of Kurnell and Cook’s landing place.

The flexibility of the pool noodles creates an opportunity to make bold gestural lines that contrast the solid concrete and the white sand. The moving images in this series also capture the drama and turbulence of the tide as its washes up and draws back under the far end of the jetty. For me the dramatic potentials of this site represent many aspects of the contested nature of a post-colonial reading of the Georges River.

Week 6

I am also a keen kayaker and often find the best spots to make art by travelling over water. I discovered a fabulous place upstream from Carss Bush Park, at Bald Face Point at Blakehurst. It is a small south facing bushland reserve surrounded on three sides by inlets and the main channel of the Georges River.

I went back a few days later on the low tide to build some installations on the beach. It was great fun to hike down the hill from the road past the lookout and make some work among the sandstone formations.The softness of the pool noodles allows me to embed them in the crevices in the sandstone to create a sense that they are growing out of the rock.

What interests me about this place is that there are several jetties attached to palatial homes that are marked as private property (which of course they are). However the jetties span over the water …. which is in fact a public space. This is made further complex by the fact that there is evidence that First Nations people gathered food including oysters and fish here and so the conversation about ownerships of space is relevant.

Images below (clockwise from left)- Pool noodles and Jetty 1 , Oyster Hole 1 , Pool Noodles in Sandstone.  

Weeks 7/8

In the final phase of the residency, I returned my gaze back onto the culture of still water bathing along the Sydney shoreline and the sandstone structures that both decorated and delineated the boundaries of safe amusement and leisure.  

One of the most playful artificial stone structures in Carss Bush Park is European inspired sandstone archway that was constructed in 1934, prior to the construction of the tidal pool. Again, this site provides the opportunity for installation of pool noodles that offer both a similar curved directional line within the picture plane as well as a sense of contrast between the flexibility of the foam noodles and the rigidity of the stonework.

This arch does not appear to serve any function beyond decoration, although it does – even to this day create a purely visual point of decoration in the park, in contrast to other sandstone structures such as steps and walls that play key functions in creating the swimming enclosure.

This place of public leisure is relatively quiet when compared to some of the very popular and iconic ocean pools along the Sydney beaches. The Ross Jones Memorial Pool at Coogee was built in 1947and features some rather grand concrete turrets – while providing a safe place to swim while still being exposed to the dramatic wash and of the ocean waves- an experience for curated leisure in a very public domain.

This residency has provided me with a unique opportunity to research aspects of curated leisure sites along the New South Wales coastline with focus on:

  •  The history of ocean pools and sea baths
  • The human form traversing the space between the open water and the protected bathing area, and
  • Installation potentials of my introduced objects when used as an intervention against the natural and man-made stone structures of the site.

I look forward to resolving this body of work and furthering this research- which has been generously supported by the Hurstville Museum and Gallery and Georges River Council.

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