As part of SafARI, Sydney 2014.
Written by Christiane Keys-Statham.
The redevelopment of industrial buildings is a common event in most large cities. In Sydney this form of gentrification has gathered speed in the last few decades, in line with rising property prices. Summer Hill, in Sydney’s inner west, is an area that will benefit from the forthcoming Inner West Light Rail Extension, which will bring new residents to the area and positively impact on property prices. On the edge of the suburb, the Summer Hill Flour Mill, built in 1922, is to become a residential and commercial precinct, with redevelopment commencing in 2014. In light of this transformation, the opportunity to commemorate the building and its past with site-specific artistic responses presented itself to the curators of SafARI 2014.
James Carey is a Melbourne-based artist whose practice revolves around the built environment. He seeks to disrupt our familiar and habitual perceptions of architectural space, particularly spaces that are abandoned, unused or on the cusp of major structural change. Using these sites as material, Carey interacts with the buildings themselves, creating interventions, social sculptures, paintings and drawings that gather impressions and imprints of the buildings and their unspoken histories. His aim is to capture an expression of the past, an image of the space, and to allow the history of these buildings to be recorded and memorialised one final time.
For SafARI 2014, James Carey undertook a two-week residency at the Summer Hill Flour Mill, where other artists have been working for some time within the Mungo Studios complex. Carey made excursions into the larger complex, responding to various spaces in a diverse variety of media. For Carey, one of the most important parts of the work is the process itself, the time spent uncovering aspects and details of the site and considering how to represent or translate them. The materials produced, shown in a gallery space, provided a glimpse of Carey’s time spent in physical homage to the building and its history, a remembrance of things past. The artist incorporated into his works the actual physical, performative processes of their making, with the number of steps he climbed daily to the top of the building resulting in an endurance drawing (89964 seconds [paces] of drawing [walking], 2014).
Carey has spoken of his interest in the ‘archaeology of the recent past’, and his initial approach to spaces as ‘auditing’. He deeply considers his spatial subjects in the manner of Augé’s urban ethnographer, turning a critical gaze upon our immediate surroundings, the non-places that we haphazardly update and redevelop without much thought for their histories and remnant atmospheres. Although these buildings were created for industrial purposes, their internal spaces were also defined by human usage. Carey’s inherent respect for the memories contained within these spaces points out that such delicate and often unrecorded histories should not be discarded as part of a constant urge to update and improve.