Sunday, January 20, 2019

Hour of Long Shadows - An ANZAC Memorial Gate

HOUR OF LONG SHADOWS draws its inspiration from the Poem, “For the Fallen” by Robert Laurence Binyon,

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”

Severely cropped portions of Service Insignia projected in black onto monolithic concrete columns, like shadows cast from a single light source, evoke the solemn hours of remembrance from Binyon’s poem.

I was approached by the local RSL Sub Branch about this project in late 2018 through a friend who had recently joined the committee. The entry gate is a small part of a larger redevelopment which includes a set of memorial pillars, flag pole, tiered seating, stairs, deck and planted gardens. Not an inconsiderable redevelopment which was at that time, already well underway. But for whatever reason, this part of the project had stalled, and the Sub Branch were reviewing their options. Their vision for the gate, its form and location were clear, but they needed some help to deliver it.

The four pillared gate is not an uncommon feature of memorial spaces in Australia. There is a similar entry structure to a park just a few short kilometers away at Des Connor Fields, Ashgrove in Brisbane’s inner west. And the memorial park itself has a set of pillars which include plaques commemorating service personnel from the region. The challenge, as I saw it, was to develop an idea that was unique, reflected my own artistic purview and aesthetic, while somehow fitting inside the rigid constraints of the pillared form with all the historical and social inertia that carries. 

 Jugiong, New South Wales

 Memorial Gates, Yeronga

Des Conner Fields, Ashgrove

Artistic response, as it regards to the creation of memorial structures is a somewhat well-trammeled ground, frequently expressed through statuary, cenotaphs and cairns. However, there are notable conceptual approaches that spring directly mind; Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC, a striking and controversial monument at the time; and Tony Albert’s YININMADYEMI Thou didst let fall, a confronting and unequivocal work in Sydney’s Hyde Park. Tony Albert’s family has a long history of military service and as an Aboriginal man, he has a particular perspective, acutely aware of injustice in the treatment of indigenous service personnel. Maya Lin, an Asian-American had sought to solemnly pay tribute to the lives of veterans without political sentiment but her heritage and youth brought criticism and discrimination and ultimately, she felt the later addition of flags and statues diminished her vision.

As a young child growing up in Brisbane’s northern suburbs, my family would frequent the Kedron Wavell Services Club. Each Anzac Day we would march to the dawn service with the local Scout Troup and wriggle our toes in the hope we wouldn’t faint during parade. Sunday nights was a smorgasbord dinner of roast meat and vegetables followed by a movie and dancing in the Blue Pacific Room. We’d dress up, short shorts with socks pulled up to the knee, and pile into the Kingswood for the short drive down to the club. 

The Blue Pacific Room of my memory was a great dark hall with a stage and dance floor at one end, a bar at the other and tables arranged long ways in-between. There was no charge to watch the film, and I recall such classics as Cannonball Run and Every Which Way but Loose with a break in the middle for the projectionist to change reels and the gown-ups to refill their glasses. And regardless of whatever else was going on, at 7:00pm sharp, the lights went out, we all stood in silence and the Ode of Remembrance was played throughout the club, the only light in the room coming from a red fixture formed into a facsimile of the eternal flame. It’s a persistent memory from my childhood and not an unwelcome one.

The fourth stanza of Binyon’s poem is poignant and its broad adoption as an Exhortation for Ceremonies of Remembrance is apt. The reference to dawn and dusk in the third line calls to mind an image filled with long shadows, distorted and abstract, cropped and incomplete as shadows can often be, and opens an avenue to explore bold and dynamic shapes.

And shadows themselves invite a range of interpretations. A person of great stature or standing, could be said to cast a long shadow. Tragic events, deep loss, unfortunate circumstance and ongoing suffering all cast a shadow over our lives. The interpretation is open. Individuals will respond to the work depending on their own experience and recognition (or lack) of the symbology employed.

The location of the work, adjacent to a busy main road, presents another compelling reason to take a bold approach. The Walton Bridge reserve, within which the memorial park sits, is split in two by Waterworks Road. The two halves are connected by a pathway under Walton Bridge, but the main pedestrian route, playground and amenities are situated on the opposite side of the road. During the dawn service, participants approach from afar and march by. For the most part, the work will be viewed at a distance and in passing.

After canvassing a number of submissions, the RSL Sub-Branch selected Hour of Long Shadows by way of a majority vote. I was mildly surprised. Years of art making brings familiarity with rejection and I felt my proposal was unconventional enough to concern some members. But I’m thrilled we’re going ahead with it and I look forward to its completion. There are approval processes to get through but hopefully, well be on site in a few short weeks.