people who were affected were not able to return to their house or business until the buildings had been declared safe by engineers. Then the bulldozers moved in to pull down the unsafe structures, and the scene suddenly changed to one of noisy, dusty devastation. I would walk by a building in the morning – and it would be gone by lunchtime. I think I was able to look at the events with some sort of clarity because, although I was deeply affected, I was not in shock. It was a strange mixture of emotions: I was very attracted to the bizarre juxtaposition of imagery, and also seduced by the shocking nature of what I was witnessing.
My initial “earthquake” series of work focused not only on the shock and chaos that follows a traumatic event like that, but also on the strange juxtapositions that couldn’t help but unnerve. The early works relied heavily on the use of photographic collage within the painted surface, which by nature of the dissonance between the two mediums created a strange dialogue. This strangeness and ambiguity of surface in most cases made the viewer look closely to ascertain what was painted and what was collaged photographic detail, which echoed the strangeness of the city at that time: the peculiar contrasts that were everywhere as a result of and in reaction to catastrophe.
I think it was at this point that the concept of the past making way for the
future, albeit as a result of natural disaster, became a preoccupation.
D9 series: Brisbane
On returning to Brisbane I was then confronted with the demolition of three of my city studios over a period of only a few years. It is an irony that two of them were to make way for yet another “tallest building in the world” that never materialised.
I would walk by a building in the morning – and it would be gone by lunchtime. I think I was able to look at the events with some sort of clarity because, although I was deeply affected, I was not in shock.
These demolitions affected me greatly and it was with much sadness that I left each studio on the last night. It was these emotions of loss and sadness that framed my perspective and highlighted the haunting beauty of the ravaged buildings.
Roma Street studio. My first studio was in Roma Street in Brisbane City, in an area known as the “little Roma Street” precinct, as the back lane was named Little Roma Street. It was a small triangle of warehousing, retail, low grade office – and our building, which was formerly a branch of the National Bank. Much of the “jewellery” had been stripped from it, such as the fancy grill work that would have ornamented the
tellers’ booths and staircases, but it was quite the most beautiful rental studio I ever had. Luxuriously, it still had some small panels of marble. The city was still new to me but I was able to move in to it within weeks of arriving in Brisbane; I remember images of waking up late on Saturday mornings to people having their wedding photos taken in the park across the road. My neighbours included a retro-inspired shop, Chi Chi Deluxe; a fashion designer called Atomic Workshop; the local youth support scheme; and various other artists’ studios and art galleries. It was quite a little “community”.
The last act of the Little Roma Street community was the demolition party. There was music, speeches and lots of drinking. I made demolition-men biscuits that I sold for a dollar each as I roamed around with a tray. As soon as I made a few dollars I was off to the hotel (one block away and not being demolished) to buy more champagne. My friends and I drank our profits within an hour of making them!
As there was a delay before moving into my next studio in Queen Street, the artist I was sharing with and I stayed in our bank building until the last nights before demolition began. Those last few nights were frightening. Since most occupants and businesses had long departed, it had become something of a ghost town and the looters had moved in. I hardly slept at all as I was hearing terrible noises as whole doors
and windows were forced, staircases were being removed, pipes pulled out for copper. Thankfully, being a bank, we had a very big and solid front door, and although it got rattled, pushed and hit we stayed secure. We moved out less than six hours before the demolition company took over the site. I returned to watch as demolition commenced as I had every intention of documenting it, but was so distressed at the sight of the big wrecking ball hammering away at our beautiful bank building that I couldn’t stay. I even forgot to take photographs. This demolition was very different from my later studios as there was no careful dismantling beforehand: the lovely marble inserts were rubble along with everything else. It was a shock to return two days later to see even the piles of timber and rubble had disappeared. Despite the urgency of the demolition, the precinct was eventually scantily resurfaced in bitumen and stayed an open car park for over a decade.9
Despite the urgency of the demolition, the precinct was eventually scantily resurfaced in bitumen and stayed an open car park for over a decade.
Queen Street studio. The site was already rich in history and infamy as the sides of the building were charred from the “World by Night fire”. World by Night was the illicit, sister strip club and brothel of the infamous Whiskey Au Go