Installation F A I L

I think it’s really important to acknowledge when you get something wrong. So here is the story of doing just that.

Thursday night was ONO (One Night Only) 2 in Hobart. Matt and I missed the first one due to being overseas and were both thrilled to be asked to contribute to the next.

The premise of ONO is to use (through negotiation with the property owners) abandoned/derelict spaces around the Hobart CBD as one-off exhibition spaces. These spaces remain a secret closely guarded by instigators/curators Pip Stafford and Kate Kelly until artists are let in close to the time of exhibition to scope it out and then audiences informed where to be in the days leading up.

At some point, not long after the last event, it impressed (wrongly) in my brain that the next space would be an old motel or some kind of unused acommodation. I decided to that if given the opportunity to ONO, I would re-perform something I developed as part of my second year sculpture submission in 1994. The installation I performed it in was pretty rubbish but the performance itself, only ever seen by an assessment panel of four at the most, I thought could be worth a revisit.

An animatronic fetus (actually a motorised hot water bottle gored up with red latex) on a long umbilical cord that disappears up my nightie flaps between my feet at the end of a bed to which I am bound. Between my teeth is a rope that goes to a pulley in the ceiling and suspends an elephant over the hot water bottle. The whole thing is a scene of intense tension in sustaining a surreal balance. Never let elephant crush foetal-hottie.

I wanted to take it out for a spin again anyway – but…

When the offer came up of course I now have a very real fetus of my very own and the idea of doing this at this time seemed… unsavoury… well… not right anyway.

Keen to use the op to jump back into live performance I thought I could do another pre-conceived one in a bathroom – singing and playing my ukulele under a stream of running water like a shower for the duration. A bit of an endurance thing.

But the space was not accommodation but an ex-department store and to hijack either kitchen or bathroom was impractical.

So when I saw the space I was rather desperately looking for some part of it to click with me.

What did click was an unused staircase – a stairway to effectively nowhere but in actuality to the offices above and it needed to be blocked off anyway. I decided I wanted to use projection to transform it into a waterfall.

Initially I had decided the waterfall would be made up of nude shower scenes but after playing around on a very small scale with projection on tinsel (The tinsel, on minute scale, gave of flickers of mini-projection reminiscent of water reflection), I decided to fill the stairs with sparkle and thought the imagery would be lost on it. Instead I elongated some very high contrast rain footage.

On the bare stairs the projection immediately disappointed me from whatever angle I sent it. You know the old art event standby? Project scratched black waste super-8 into dead spaces to activate them? It looked like that. Poo.

I invested in a wee $10 worth of test-tinsel but couldn’t replicate the effect I was getting at home and to fill the stairwell would have cost me in excess of $100 that I didn’t have.

The end result came from Kate happening upon me chewing the whole thing over, and she mentioned the (unintentional) reflections that had resulted from the plastic I used in a work she had seen earlier this year.

After some of Matt’s help to wiggle the projector into a few other awkward angles, I got some cheap cellophane and we rigged it on a couple of clothing racks that had been abandoned on site.

I felt much better about responding to the site with this version, using the debris of the site as well as the actual architectural space and the cellophane reminded me of the crisp packaging that was once used there.

Hard as it is to photograph projected stuff – here is kinda what it looked like…

So… It’s fine. It turned out OK… but it just seemed to not at all suit the event.

The waterfall audio of rushing water and birds with an ominous thumping bass line underneath was really loud but the work still seemed too… quiet.

When folks asked me where my work was and I told them I kept hearing “oh yeah I saw that… that thing with the… lines…”

Installation FAIL.







On the day of the event, having finished my install two days before, I was thinking with some regret about the performances I wasn’t doing. I was thinking about performance artists I admire and particularly Yoko Ono. I decided that if given the opportunity to do it again, I will be the ONO Yoko.

A half hour before it all kicked off I went through the site with some sticky letters and tagged the place in her name (apologies to the person on whose projection surface I tagged… I didn’t realise the projection was due).

This gesture accomplished in 15 minutes gave me infinitely more satisfaction than the waterfall I agonised over for 2 days.


(Incidentally it will come as no suprise to hear that my favourite work in ONO was by Leigh Hobba. A speaker wedged in an exisiting hole-in-the-wall and playing the sounds of someone hurling their body into the the walls of a very live room. But I was lucky to see it before it all kicked off. I think it may have suffered the same fate as the waterfall throughout the event and been just too… quiet.)


8 thoughts on “Installation F A I L

  1. Hi Sal. Sorry it didn’t quite hit the spot. Geez though – the idea of just walking cold into some spot like that and making art out of a bit of footage and some plastic bizzo, that has to compete with OTHER art in the vicinity – its got my hackles up and I don’t even HAVE hackles.

    Anyway – big gestatory howdies and smoochy love from family. Marcus made a family tree today and we left a snuggly little spot on it for Fabian.

  2. I disagree.

    I admit I could only be at ONO for about half an hour due to work commitments but in my lightning visit yours was by far my favorite work. It was an excellent combination of work and site. Nothing wrong with a quiet/gentle work amongst the clamour of the other pieces. I thought it was strong, confident, enough that it didn’t deign to compete for attention.

    Sometimes a piece can loses it’s appeal (to the artist) when it’s a rocky creation process but I really liked it.

    Well done Sally,
    Fiona Fraser

    1. Gosh thanks Fiona.

      You’d think after the struggle I’d love it more…
      But I’m really glad it ‘did it’ for someone. Actually you’ve just reminded me that someone else told me they really liked it too…

      OK. Go me!

  3. hey Sal,
    I agree with Fiona – I think there is something beautiful and courageous about the quieter works at ONO. I think your piece worked well and seeing the stair-way-to-no-where in use really tickled my fancy.

    I guess I have a funny perspective on the event – being the “curator” and all – but there are always places in the building that I get really attached to and that bit of stairway was one of them and I’m so glad you used it.

    “Yoko” made me giggle a LOT. And I kind of love the fact that you accidentally “vandalised” another persons work with your squishy letters.

    Leigh’s work was also beautiful – it took me a while to understand what it was. Scot C and I spent a good 10 minutes tramping around on the tent trying to work out if there were contact mics under there. Haha.

    There is always the risk with ONO that it is going to end up like a big, brown art mess (you know when you mix up all the paint colours and end up with poo) but I like the way the pieces tend to dip and avoid and collaborate and work together accidentally-on-purpose. It’s one of the things that I really try to not interfere with. I get excited about the sounds working together in a strange sonic mess when you walk into the building and finding unexpected quietness in works as you get closer.

    I think it’s when you have to trust your audience to spend the time with your work (I know that I was tempted to stand in my “grotto” and make sure people trod on the contact mics and actually sat in the chair) and, usually, they do.

    Thank you times about a million for your work on this project. You are VERY appreciated.

    1. For me Pip, the important thing is that the ONO crew weren’t disappointed so thank you for your comments. 🙂

      I think I just leapt at the thing in a panicky/overexcited way rather than a smart/calm way. For a while I thought I could have pitched it better if I had seen the last event, but then there hadn’t been a previous event before the first ONO and all the work from that looked awesome. Plus it was totally different, just as the nature of each ONO will be forward into the future. It has to be that way.

      I know what you mean about the risk of a big art poo and I think I was deliberately trying to get some ‘shading’ into it, but my own work left me a bit underwhelmed in the large shadow cast by Bob O’Connor, Mr Fikaris and Shaun McGowan in particular. While the Hobba was my favourite, these were what I came away thinking of as the most successful works within the space and even they paled in comparison to the bands who were just totally commanding.

      Back to me though (HA!)- all this means that I am PARTICULARLY glad to hear it worked for some other people and interested to note that I can’t necessarily always trust my judgement on these things and that this is why art communities are so much better than whackin’ off at your own desk in the dark etc etc etc.

      I really should talk to other people more often…

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