My Space Sarah Duyshart
The Age, October 2, 2009 link
IN THE gloomy basement of a tall, gothic building at the end of Bourke Street, artist Sarah Duyshart is dusted with flour. This building has been used by the tramways, by nuns - the Sisters of Mercy - and by wine merchants storing their barrels. Duyshart has installed huge vibrating sieves full of baker's flour as part of a visual art installation called The Lure of Echo. It is serenaded by a rich soundscape - footsteps, rumbles, water and sonorous low booms - that Duyshart recorded while exploring the building.
How did you find out about this building?
I was looking for an underground space. I was aware of some spaces beneath Federation Square but then I found out about this place through Creative Spaces, run by the City of Melbourne. I find old places incredibly evocative. This one, built in 1890, lets you really have a sense of Melbourne's past, which is wonderful to work with. When I first went down into the basement, I felt it was extremely intimate. You have the sound filtering through from above, and the heritage cage lift in the centre of the building is always echoing as it goes up and down. You have a strong sense of people always coming and going - there's a mood of what's gone on in the past contrasting with the current occupation. And you get the shadows of people walking over the glass bricks in the footpath in the street up above. That contributes to the sense of intimacy, because you know they're mostly unaware of what's going on here, down below. I like that sense of seclusion, a fragment which has been forgotten. The reason I was so pleased to come in contact with Creative Spaces was that they bring to light places which would be otherwise impossible to find.
Did you have a project in mind when you saw this place?
I did, but I wanted to link the sound with the space, so the acoustics were integral to it working. I had to find the right space: and this was it. In installing, I really feel that the two have become one - the artwork and the location.
With such an impressive space, with such character and history, it must be hard to make sure it doesn't become the dominant personality?
That's right. When I first came down here, I thought this site is too gorgeous to offset and find the beauty in my art. I particularly went looking for quite a dilapidated venue that feels forgotten and abandoned, with leftover fragments of the past. I had concerns about this space initially - but I think it has worked really well. The sounds that I've chosen have really contrasted with the lightness and ethereality of the sieves and flour.
Tell me about the soundscape.
I spent many a trip in the cage lift going up and down, recording. The other sounds are from old trams, the trains, footsteps of pedestrians, the ballroom upstairs. The ballroom was gorgeous: one day it was raining and the rain was pouring through the walls. I had my headphones on for recording and everything is so amplified, so the reverberations and the echoes were fantastic. I also incorporated tinkling glasses - the wine cellar. And a didgeridoo referencing the Koori people who occupied the land before the buildings were built. The entire flavour of the piece being meditative captures the stillness the nuns would have had.
How do you go about working with sound and imagery at the same time?
This piece stemmed from a good few months in my studio filling it up with anything I responded to - all these ephemeral materials such as eggshells, soap, flour. All the mediums I'm attracted to have a fleeting transience to them. I always strongly respond to sound, but I kept thinking, what is the most immaterial art form I can think of? For me that was vibration, sound.
Why is this ethereal quality so important to you?
That's my journey, walking through the world. I've always felt as if I'm looking through objects, not at objects. That's the only way I can say it. Always, everything's translucent. With my paintings and drawings everything's foggy and misty, romantic and mysterious. It's just how I'm located in the world. I have tried to translate that in this piece as intuitively and naturally as possible.
What is the effect you are hoping viewers will experience?
I hope they experience an incredible stillness, a pause. The funny thing is, I never stop. I'm running around like a mad hatter every day and yet I create pieces which command the viewer, hopefully, to stop in their tracks. For me, it really helps me to pause and reflect … I think it is very easy, despite our best efforts, to be consumed by the humdrum of everyday life, and for me it creates a space and makes the ethereal physical. It allows the part of me to speak that gets drowned out by everyday life. In this piece, the subtleties become the focus.
In choosing your materials - why flour? What do you think it evokes?
Flour is so ubiquitous, it is such a mundane and everyday material. There's a real humility with that. I like the fact that something humble becomes a centrepiece. I like substances which are common - it crosses cultures, genders, politics. Flour is something, it doesn't matter if you're born in the Middle Ages or now, that everyone relates to in a similar way.
The Lure of Echo, part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, is at 673 Bourke Street, city, until October 11.