The Art of Numbers

This video artwork explores the history of mathematics, celebrating the art of curiosity and imagination in shaping how we have come to understand mathematical concepts.

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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: 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.

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

ABC Archives

Exploring Sydney's history through the ABC's radio and television archives.

ABC Archives are a treasure trove of street level recordings about Sydney’s changing urban landscape through time. These recordings have been accessed through previous creative commissions and residencies. 

Sydney Sidetracks. ABC Digital Innovation Pilot, and winner 2008 ABC Cross-Platform Content Award. Supported by ABC Innovation, ABC 702, National Film and Sound Archive, City of Sydney, Dictionary of Sydney and State Library of NSW. 

Launched 2008, produced and conceived by Sarah Barns. 

Please note the site (web and mobile) is no longer maintained by the ABC. 


ABC Past Forward was a commissioned project through ABC Radio National and the now-defunct ABC Pool platform. 

I negotiated a set of key television and sound recordings for release through Creative Commons licence, making these recordings available for anyone to use and remix (CC-BY-ND). 

Explore the open access resources here

Q&A with Gian Carlo Manara, cinematographer for Living on the Fringe (ABC 1964).  See here

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.

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.

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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?