Wirltu : Moving Forward, Looking Back, Gazing at the Stars

Located at Grand Central Avenue Reserve, Hallett Cove, South Australia

This project was completed in early 2018, following a consultation and development process that took over 7 years. It was my very first experience in working on commission for a local council, which was both a great honour and also completely demoralising by turns. Art by committee is not my forte. I haven’t known how to speak about it until now, but I think today is the day.

Incorporating the voice of the Kaurna People of the Adelaide Plains, one of the Australian First Nations, into my art practice is not something I’ve been comfortable with – but leaving out the most important voice in a Public Art Project that sits along the Tjilbruke Dreaming was abhorrent to me. I respect that First Nations People may find it distressing that a non-indigenous artist like myself has incorporated a Dreaming story into her work. It was never my intention to take advantage of another culture for personal gain, only to spread awareness of the people to whom this land belongs. I’ve tried my best to be respectful, to engage in meaningful conversations with Kaurna Warra Karrpanthi in seeking permission to use the Kaurna language in naming this artwork, and in the telling of this Dreaming story, and in learning their right words to use. It is my hope that when people visit this place they are reminded of the Kaurna people who thrived here for thousands of years, whose connection to this land is older than dirt. To be respectful of the oldest living culture on the planet.

Wirltu is the name the Kaurna People of the Adelaide Plains have for the constellation we know as the Southern Cross. It is the claw of the Great Celestial Eagle who carries your soul into the heavens to live with the Ancestors as a star in the sky once you have passed away. (this is my understanding) I think that is remarkably beautiful. If you know of my other artworks you’d already be aware that in my Public Art practice I like to make places for people. I employ optical illusions to create spaces for people to take photos of themselves and their friends/family that have a little enchantment. I could not resist making an artwork in which you can see yourself being carried away by our most iconic constellation. The symbol of the Southern Cross is interwoven in our colonial history – from the Eureka Stockade to the Australian flag – but it’s history is so much older than colonial occupation. The roots of our country stretch back through Ice Ages.

I originally became interested in ethnoastronomy after listening to the brilliant lectures given by Paul Curnow of The Adelaide Planetarium. Paul was instrumental in this piece being resalised. He was generous with this time and knowledge and I can’t thank him enough. I can highly recommend his courses on the Australian Night Sky, I loved every minute.

Aerial photograph of the Amphitheatre at Grand Central Avenue Reserve, Hallett Cove, South Australia by Sweet Lime Photography The large oval shapes are the terrazzo stars. They are very large!

In the very beginning, back in 2011, Herron Way Reserve was a big lawn on a steep hill, covering tonnes of in-fill from the housing development project that took place in the 1970’s. There was a shabby playground with a truly epic 5-person swing and that is all. I lived in Hallett Cove at that time, and I was beyond elated when I was approached by City of Marion to apply to work on their redevelopment project for the area. I was over the moon when I won the project, and worked with the Council’s landscape architects to develop a proposal, which was based on feedback from the many community groups we consulted with. The suburb of Hallett Cove has a large population of immigrants to Australia, mostly from European countries, and their ideas for the site were based mostly on the status quo – big bronze statues of Anzac soldiers, or a Pirate themed playground. The employees of Marion Council were interested in a contemporary approach to the redevelopment. I am truly grateful for their faith in me.

detail of terrazzo by Sweet Lime Photo

I was enormously proud of the original proposal in 2013. We had planned for a truly epic playground covering most of the hillside with artworks that reflected the ethnoastronomy of cultures from around the globe. The redevelopment project was mothballed when it became part of an unethical politician’s election promises and stayed buried for several years. When it re-emerged it was a fraction of the original vision. The large amphitheatre with integrated artworks was one of the few elements to survive several years of committee meetings and steady budget erosion.

The anamorphic installation of Wirltu/ The Southern Cross is made in glow-in-the-dark terrazzo. At night time the stars glow blue-green, and the large lozenge shapes are perfect for lying on while you gaze up at the uninterrupted night sky. In the daytime the blue glass and white concrete in the terrazzo matrix give the stars their shape, the smooth polished concrete makes an excellent slide. It turns out it’s quite nice to sit on a star at any time.

I’d also like to thank Maurelio and the team at Monterrazzo for bringing my vision to fruition, and for letting me get my hands dirty in the process.

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