INVISIBLE WORDS INVISIBLE WORLDS

Heritage Courtyard Pavilion, Parramatta Justice Precinct

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A site-based exhibition by Elizabeth Day.

14 October - 3 December 2017

Curated by Claire Taylor

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A site-based exhibition by Elizabeth Day, curated by Claire Taylor.

Elizabeth Day has had a long-standing interest in institutions and contexts of incarceration and care—historic and contemporary. The main thematic of her PhD thesis was the colonial imposition of the prison, which drew her to want to work with the aggregation of institutions in Parramatta North, which includes Cumberland Hospital’s East Campus (on the site of the Female Factory and Asylum), Parramatta Gaol, the Norma Parker Centre and the infamous Parramatta Girls Home. Her work there since 2013 has engaged with the historic shifts taking place with the highly contentious redevelopment. The works in the ongoing series Invisible Words Invisible Worlds are responses to the Parramatta North sites and can be read as an ethical commentary on the transgenerational trauma that has been manifested there. The series incorporates texts based on Day’s experience as a prison educator over the last 25 years. Displayed in a closed section of the Heritage Courtyard Pavilion these works can only be encountered from a distance, the viewer is kept on the outside looking in.

In one half of the series the texts emerge from (and are at times lost within) rafts of unravelled wool, glued and stitched onto muslin and felt, extending the Unravelling of Form series that Day has been working on since the mid-1990s. The title “offcuts of reason”, from a catalogue of Day’s from that era, asserts itself through these works and connects the different bodies of work shown in the pavilion. In materials these textile works reference some of the earliest manufactures of the women held in the Female Factory but Day’s works counter any notion of productive labour: it is instead a process of unravelling as undoing order, structure, and form; as unlearning conformity; as reconciliation. Not all the works have texts in them, a few are blank, others have a face of muslin over them. It is as if there are some stories that have yet to emerge and others that have been covered up.

The wool-based Invisible Words Invisible Worlds works are laid out across the floor of the platform overhanging the open archaeological pit in the pavilion. This is the area where the heritage displays are housed. The artworks are arranged to suggest footings of walls, marking wards of the former Colonial Hospital, whose actual footings are preserved in the pit below and whose architecture is referenced in the contemporary pavilion structure. On the glass walls dividing these spaces, Day is exhibiting the other half of the Invisible Words Invisible Worlds series: a series of transparencies of altered electron microscopy images of carbon nano-tubes that have been artificially “grown”.

The squiggly nano-tubes closely resemble offcuts of unravelled wool, and similarly have texts embedded in them. In the highly pixelated images, a grid emerges. For Day, these works make a connection between quantum invisibility and the invisibility of the voices of those who have been traumatised while incarcerated or in institutional care. Installing these works on the glass echoes the texts selected by heritage specialists to mark the pavilion’s outer glass walls, noting the cruelty with which the Colonial Hospital was synonymous, but the works speak most powerfully to the justice contexts that surround this site. Day was interested in constructing a wall of the transparencies to reference the sandstone block walls of many of the colonial institutions that connect to this site and Parramatta North, but installed here they are dispersed around the platform and pavilion partition, as if fragments of former structures that have come to light, along with their stories.

This exhibition was in the closed section of the Heritage Courtyard Pavilion, visible from the pavilion's exterior and from the main public section of the pavilion where MYCO LOGIC was presented.

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This project was assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body. The exhibition venue was supported by Property NSW. The electron microscopy imaging was made with the assistance of the University of Newcastle’s Centre for Organic Electronics.

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