Rowe St. Last Drinks, Art & About Sydney. 2012.

Last Drinks

It’s been awhile between drinks. So a few updates to follow with news of what I’ve been up to and projects a’happening. Most noteworthy for now is the latest installation featuring as part of the City of Sydney’s 2012 Art & About Festival. The success of Unguarded Moments in 2011 led to funding for a major project for the 2012 Festival.

Last Drinks – One More Round at the Hotel Australia

Imagine a hotel so grand that famed French actress Sarah Bernhardt performed at its opening night in 1891; an establishment so glamorous that it was the hotel of choice for Hollywood heavyweights Katharine Hepburn, Shirley Bassey and Sir Robert Helpmann â?? and you will be recreating the famed Hotel Australia.

The video and sound installation project, Last Drinks: One more round at the Hotel Australia, is part of the City of Sydney’s 11th annual Art & About Festival running from 21 September until 21 October 2012. A series of night time installations will re-inscribe the hidden history of the precinct back onto the buildings and laneways of the precinct, enabling memories of sophistication and style to collide with the present day.

Visit the Last Drinks website to find out more.

Here’s a selection of videos from the project.

Last Drinks: Australia Hotel, Commonwealth Bank, Martin Place from sarah barns on Vimeo.

Last Drinks video installation, Commonwealth Bank, Martin Place Sydney from sarah barns on Vimeo.

Rowe St video projections for Last Drinks, Art & About Sydney 2012 from sarah barns on Vimeo.

Lees Court video projections, Last Drinks project, Art & About Sydney 2012 from sarah barns on Vimeo.

If you plan to make it along before the Festival finishes – do consult the map before you go. There are also signs and maps around the site and an msite to help you around. But to be sure, here is a map of the installations.

Unguarded Moments.  Hickson Bay. Art & About Festival 2011, Sydney.  2011.

Unguarded Moments: In full view

WHAT IF faces from the past were visible again, watching us in our streets and laneways?

This question was the premise of Unguarded Moments, a series of site-specific video installations featuring in selected locations throughout Walsh Bay and Millers Point during Art & About Sydney 2011. The project was supported by the City of Sydney and the result of a collaboration between designer Michael Killalea of killanoodle and myself as researcher and producer.

Projections drew from documentary films and photographs, featuring past & present residents and workers. In this way, the history of the working port, its waterside workers and its residents were re-inscribed back into its present day environment – exteriors of buildings, interiors of shopfronts, sandstone walls, and even the underside of a wharf. The website was also developed to provide more in-depth coverage of the many different films, photographs, and people that featured in the film projections. An intensely fascinating project, with incredible support from the City of Sydney and past and present residents of Millers Point.

Here’s a selection of videos projected as part of the installations. Produced by Michael Killalea and edited by Gabrielle Dowrick. Generous support from the National Film and Sound Archive.

‘Views’ – excerpts.

This projection features landscape imagery of Millers Point, rear projected through the front window of 44 Argyle Place Millers Point. Projection one of nine featuring as part of Unguarded Moments Millers Point, for Art and About Sydney 2011. Original photos sourced from a number of collections including the City of Sydney archives, the State Records Authority and the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority.

Local Lives – Abraham Mott Hall.

Projection featuring community photos featuring as part of Unguarded Moments Millers Point, featuring as part of Art & About Sydney 2011. This is a close-up of the projection shot from the roof of the Abraham Mott Hall.

Girl Eating a Sandwich – Walsh Bay

Video loop, 2011.
Rear projection
Shop 12, 23 Hickson Rd.Video loop, 2011.
Sourced from Rupert Kathner’s Australia Today: Customs Officer’s War Against Drugs (1938).
With support from the National Film and Sound Archive Australia.

Big Industry – Hickson Rd Millers Point

Video loop, Hickson Rd, Millers Point. Sourced from archival film footage shot on location. Credits include Waterside Workers Federation Film Unit The Hungry Miles (1955), Pensions for Veterans (1954) and November Victory (1953).

Power, Pickups and Protest
Projected onto Pottinger St, Walsh Bay.

hoxton_park

NSW Suburb Labs

NSW SuburbLabs is a pilot project connecting historical content in government and public archives and institutions to the testbed locations of the National Broadband Network in NSW.

The project was funded by the NSW Government in 2010 as part of its Broadband Testbed Trials. Two of the test-bed locations feature here: Middleton Grange and Kiama.

The project differed from some other recent digital archives projects, in that it focused on what you could do with widely-accessible publishing platforms like WordPress and Flickr. It also benefited a great deal from Trove, launched by the National Library of Australia in 2010.

As I pieced together collection materials drawn from vastly dispersed collections relating to highly-localised sites, whose significance rested primarily on their having been chosen as broadband test-beds (rather than their particular historical significance), I was once again reminded of the the importance of storytelling, context and interpretation. The tools of the trade for curators and historians, whose work remains vital even as the data – in the form of digital archives – becomes accessible to many in ways not seen before.

And what stories!

Middleton Grange was only given its name in 2005, but explorations of the archives reveal many a fascinating tale about this perimeter suburb of Sydney. Hoxton Park, for example, has long been a place to which struggling inner-city types fled in search of easy money through property – a not unfamiliar tale to residents of the city today.

Living on the Fringe – Hard Times in Hoxton Park tells of what became of these small-time investors, with some wonderful maps of these subdivisions dating back to 1887.

It also happens that Australia’s first published poet, Barron Field, took up humble residence on the 2000 acres known as Hinchinbrook – publishing his much-maligned ‘Kangoroo’ while employed as a judge on the NSW Supreme Court.

Suburb Labs

Past Forward

ABC Open Archives on Pool

Through ABC Pool, I’ve been working to publish a number of the archival recordings featured on Sydney Sidetracks through an open access Creative Commons licence. That means they are now available for re-use and remix. The project is starting with the Sydney collection, but will be expanding to include other cities very soon.

The project has featured on the ABC’s social media website Pool. It launched on January 2011 and has since seen the release of a number of additional ABC TV & Radio Archives items into the public domain.

An example of some of the items I have cleared through this project include:

VP Day 1945

Voices

Through this project I cleared a number of voice recordings of infamous Sydney-siders, including the gunman Chow Hayes, the activist Juanita Nielsen and the colourful lady-about-town Bea Miles.

Living on the Fringe

As part of this ABC Pool project I conducted an interview with the director, Gian Carlo Manara, and undertook further research into the ABC’s document archives to uncover some of the unwanted press associated with the release of this once controversial documentary.

Q&A With GianCarlo Manara, Director of Living on the Fringe
Creative Commons License: Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives

GianCarlo Manara, director of the ABC’s 1963 documentary Living on the Fringe, shares some of his memories about the film with Sarah Barns.

SB: What opportunities were there for documentary makers working in Australia at this time? How important was the ABC in supporting documentary production?

GM: At the time we made Living on the Fringe, there weren’t so many opportunities for the few people with sufficient professional skill to make documentaries. The ABC was one of the first institutions to offer that chance, through programs like Big Country.

SB: Was this a difficult film to make within the ABC at this time?

GM: Documentaries like this weren’t very common. It was Allan Ashbolt in the Talks Dept who wanted to use television to make more political documentaries like this one. We worked together on Four Corners – our association grew from there.

SB: What inspiration did you draw from when making this film? (for example, Italian neo-realist films etc).

GM: I graduated in Film Direction and Scriptwriting in Italy in 1955. We all in the school were the products of Italian neo-realism. I personally have been also influenced by other filmmakers such as Grierson, Rota, and Cavalanti.

SB: Did your own migrant story influence this film in any way?

GM: No, I was not influenced by my migrant experience, but by the stark reality of the life of the neglected and the poor. The the media at the time always preferred to ignore this.

SB: How did people on the streets of Sydney react to your filming of them?

GM: Filming in the streets at that time was still a novelty. I often used a “candid camera” approach to catch reality. An exception was when I asked my sexy friend Diana Roberts, now the well know writer Di Morrisey, to walk around some streets in East Sydney. At this time many Italians and Maltese migrants used to hang around on Sunday morning. Migrants at the time were very lonely â?? no social life and above all no women! The “Latin Lover” was not yet a trendy image!

SB: What did you hope audiences would learn from Living on the Fringe?

GM: My hope was for the average viewer to understand that Australia was not just the land of milk and honey – that here, just like other part of the world, there were people in need.

SB: Do you think Sydney is a better city today than it was when Living on the Film was made?

GM: Is Sydney a better place today? It is a big question. It is certainly different – there is more social awareness in the area of welfare and help. Of course lifestyles are also very different. Is it better? If I look back at the Sydney of this time I see a child, and today I see an adult. But is the adult of today better than the child of yesterday? It is a big question… I often think about it, about the old beach carnival when the Life Savers were marching like soldiers, when the girls were wearing petticoats and Saturday night was the night of dance at the Trocadero! All gone! However the girls are still beautiful, and the Life Savers are still so important and so Australian!

But one thing is for sure: the “greed” that today is often rampant was not so much at the time, even if everyone of course attempted to make some â??quidsâ??!

The BLF Green Bans

The Unruly City

The Unruly City

The Unruly City: Sydney in the 1960s and 1970s

Sydney has long been a city well-known for poor planning decisions, reflecting a historically laissez-faire approach to urban design. Planning advocate J.D. Fitzgerald lamented in 1917 that Sydney was “a city without a plan, save whatever planning was due to the errant goat”. “Wherever this animal made a track through the bush”, he observed, “there are the streets of today”. Sydney historian Paul Ashton has subsequently called Sydney an “accidental city”, because its planning history has been shaped by, at best, opportunistic development and disjointed or abortive attempts at holistic planning. As declared by one frustrated onlooker: “There is no such thing as planning [in the city of Sydney] – [ it is] all opportunism on the part of every agency.”

That can make for some fairly unruly spaces at times, as local residents and activists have intervened to protect their homes from speculative property development, then and now. A particularly notable period for citizen activism in Sydney was the 1960s and 1970s, when a colossal development boom utterly transformed the city. When developers capitalised on relaxed building height restrictions and relatively low interest rates, much of Sydney’s Victorian-era buildings within the CBD were demolished, replaced by commercial high-rise.

Residents, activists and builders’ labourers joined forces at this time demanding the right for greater consultation in planning decisions. In their heyday the BLF Green Bans were successful in holding up more than $300m worth of development across Sydney. They saved many buildings – most notably the Rocks, a tourist mecca today – but not all. They also encouraged the development of stronger participatory planning processes in Australia. But when residents dared to speak out against the loss of their homes, they encountered the darker side of Sydney’s criminal underbelly…

Victoria St, Potts Point

There are a number of sound recordings here clustered around Victoria St, dealing with the tumultuous period between 1973-4 when resident action forced delays to the construction of the Victoria Heights towers overlooking the city.

BLF Green Bans in The Rocks

Listen in to the sounds of the Rocks in 1973, when the BLF were fighting to save the historic Rocks precinct from redevelopment.

Picture 25

Sydney Sidetracks

Sydney Sidetracks is a multi-platform initiative supported by ABC Innovation to explore the distribution of the ABCâ??s audio-visual archive using map and mobile interfaces. The site was launched in November 2008, featuring over 50 stories about Sydney, which represent â??points of interestâ?? on a map that users can explore either online or out and about in Sydney using their mobile phone.

You can read an interview with me by Seb Chan of the Powerhouse Museum here.

I’ve also reflected on some of the highlights of the Sidetracks collection here.

In 2009 Sydney Sidetracks was awarded Best Cross-Media Content project in the ABC’s Digital Innovation Awards.

jaywalking

Jaywalking Sydney

Jaywalking Sydney was a Research Fellowship undertaken through the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) Centre for Scholarly and Archival Research in February-March of 2007.

This was an exploratory exercise to identify how archival recordings about specific Sydney locations could be made available in-situ using mobile devices (ipods, mobile phones etc).

The essential idea was to test how use of audiovisual archives in this way could offer the opportunity to experience decisive and transformative moments in an areaâ??s development over time, to experience what happened ‘right here’. More broadly the research would establish new ways to explore and experience Australiaís audiovisual archives by new and existing audiences.

Outcomes included a soundwalk dealing with Victoria St Potts Pt, a Google Map featuring extensive audio-visual archives of Sydney’s film history and an essay called Jaywalking Sydney. More details can be found here.

Research for the Fellowship was framed by a particular focus on Sydney’s urban development, on stories and features about changes to the built environment itself. With this in mind, research was focused on the following questions:

  • What exists? What kinds of archival material is available that relates to specific locations around Sydney? What kinds of sound recordings are held by the NFSA that contain ambient archival recordings of key locations? Here I was testing feasibility of actually embedding ambient archival audio into a present environment, starting by locating what actually exists of this nature.
  • What motivated these original recordings? Why have sites and sounds been documented, and what motivates their preservation by the NFSA? How in particular does the NFSA identify audio recordings of significance, and are there different motivations at work to its collection and curation of arhival video?
  • How can existing archival recordings be made available on location? What technologies are available, what platforms? What are the opportunities and challenges of working in this way?