From Our School House was a site specific installation created in collaboration Vic McEwan during my residency at the Old Birrego School, a remote, disused, one room school built in 1886. This is a documentation of the work, which opened to the public on 15 April 2011 by Judith Blackall, Head of Artistic Programs, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney.
Judith Blackall’s speech:
I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land and waters we meet upon, the people of the Wiradjuri Nation, their Elders past and those present.
It gives me great pleasure to have been invited to speak this evening, I actually attended a one-teacher primary school like Birrego in the Wagga area from the ages of 5 to 11. My parents had a farm at Coursing Park, near Downside, and there was a small school on the corner of the property. So it’s wonderful to be back in Wagga and I am delighted that initiatives like the Cad Factory are moving out of the major cities bringing contemporary art to rural and remote locations.
At the Museum of Contemporary Art in recent years we have been involved in a range of projects which take the work of contemporary artists out of the white cube of the gallery and in to communities. Presenting art works in the refined spaces of a gallery like the MCA or Wagga Art Gallery is relatively easy, it’s far more challenging for artists and curators to work in, and with, communities, with people who, in their daily lives are dealing with other issues, big challenges like prolonged drought, too much water, salinity, foot rot, rust and so on. From their perspective, the world of art is another planet.
But art is important and useful in that it can gather people’s memories and tell stories, and in a community like this, there are thousands of stories and experiences from generations of farming people and before them early settlers, and for even longer, Aboriginal people.
Mayu Kanamori is an artist who is interested in hearing people’s stories and working with them. She is experienced across the disciplines of theatre, writing, performance and photography and, with the expertise and creative professionalism of colleagues like Vic McEwen, can turn stories into inspiring and engaging experiences for audiences. Using new technologies such as high powered digital projections and interdisciplinary skills of theatre and visual art and documentary image making, the stories are captured, interpreted and presented as multi-media installations, amazing experiences. Who would have thought that these fascinating local stories could be made so big, so alive and wonderful, lighting up the old school room and the Birrego night ?
Creative initiatives like this in our communities are a gift; they are enriching and stimulating, they enliven our imaginations and respectfully bring new energy and engagement to people living in rural and remote locations. They help put places on maps, people in cities will hear about the project and be talking about it, people will investigate it on the website and travel to see the projects as word gets around that something new and exciting is happening in Birrego.
So congratulations to Mayu and thank you for your engagement with local residents, from the workshops with the Boree Creek school children to your conversations with the older generations of farming people and former pupils.
Also I would like to congratulate Vic McEwan and Sarah, it takes courage to come to a community and start a new project. Their Artist-in-residency initiative has been supported by Regional Arts NSW and by the Wagga Wagga Art Gallery. It’s a wonderful night, thank you all for coming and I hope you are excited to experience the new life of old Birrego School, she’s got a great and exciting future in the good creative hands, minds and imaginations of the artists who will come here.
15 April 2011
Judith Blackall Head of Artistic Programs,
Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney
– Mayu Kanamori