Donna Jackson on the art of industry

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Screen Shot 2016 09 15 at 1.45.00 pm2
Screen Shot 2016 09 15 at 1.45.00 pm2

Over ten days, the Art & Industry Festival will celebrate and investigate the ever-changing industrial and manufacturing heartland of Australia based in Melbourne’s western suburbs. This inspiring new festival puts a spotlight on the local industrial creators and resources in the Hobsons Bay area that is home to craft brewers, carmakers, designers, oil tanks and treasured heritage buildings. Culminating in multiple art presentations and activities, the festival includes custom-made fashion inspired by local industrial heritage; opens days at Toyota and Qenos; meeting industrial enthused creators from Spotswood, Newport, Williamstown, Altona and Laverton; and a family night at Seaworks featuring fireworks, car crushing, sideshows and songs. TAGG spoke with festival director Donna Jackson, ahead of this exciting program…

Let’s start off tell us  a little more about the festival?

Ok so this is the inaugural art and industry festival and the idea is to not do a festival of something that is predictable. I think we’ve got festivals right across the city now in different places and across the state and sometimes they can be generic. So as the as the artistic director of the inaugural art and industry festival, my inspiration was to look closely at the area that I live in, which is the Western suburbs of Melbourne, and to see what’s unique about it and a way to frame a festival around what’s authentic to this area.

And what are some of the things in the area that you think are unique and deserve I guess a bit more light shined on them?

I think that sometimes it’s looking at assets that people don’t normally recognise, so, the Western suburbs of Melbourne around Altona, Laverton, Braybrook, Newport, Williamstown, Altona – they’ve all got an industrial history. And so it’s the place in industrial heartland of Victoria and Australia where we have a history of building trains for many, many years building boats(?) we’ve also had a coal-fired power station now we’ve got a gas-fired power station that have both been built here, and it’s also through… it’s Science Works(?) we have the big pumping station which was used to pump sewerage out of Melbourne that turned Melbourne from being ‘Smelbourne’ to being somewhere that worked. So the history of industry is linked to the Western suburbs of Melbourne and we’ve got a lot of architecture and industrial design here in the buildings and the environment that we’re surrounded by. So the idea is to use some of those old industrial sites that people may not normally get access to and invite people in to explore them and to think about what’s important about the industrial heritage of this area.

But also we’ve got places like Toyota closing that builds cars in Altona and so in some places, the manufacturing is moving out, and it gives a lot of opportunity for artists and designers and makers to move into industrial buildings and do new and exciting things in those environments so that first of all there’s an opportunity to go out and find some of those exciting, new things that are happening in the area.

Is the decline in manufacturing in those sort of degrees of areas one of the reasons this festival has begun?

I live in the Western suburbs of Melbourne and I was working in events around Australia working in places like Mandurah, Western Australia, doing a kayak ballet for a festival in Mandurah, and then I was working in Canberra for the centenary of Canberra doing spin(?) car events for the centenary of Canberra in 2013, and the inspiration for the festival really comes from me thinking that I’d like to work in my own area where I live, and I’m based in Newport, in Melbourne, and I thought, well, how can I engage with the local community here, and as an artist and director, offer something? So my offer was to invite members of the community who may not normally be seen as artists, and to engage with them to create the festival. And so in the festival we’ve got people like Shane Paton, and he’s from a company called Quazi Design, which is in Hall street in Newport, and he’s designing furniture. And to say, well, furniture designers and builders are artists.

I did a show called We Built This City at Science Works where I engaged with the building workers and I had, and invited a brick layer to lay bricks as art of that performance and he was very highly skilled and very fantastic to watch like a choreographed piece watching a brick layer lay bricks and I wouldn’t say all brick layers are artists but I would say some of them are artists. And we placed this show in Science Works down in this pumping station down on Douglas Parade which is just this fantastic, gothic designed building and you can see in there that the brick layers in there were artists. It’s finding things that people don’t normally recognise as art and highlighting them in the festival.

Do you think that this is also bringing back or playing emphasis on a high level of craftsmanship as well? When we’re looking at the over development of places in Melbourne at the moment of high rises going up everywhere, is this going against that as well and taking it back to the highest quality of those sort of skills and manufacturing and the rest of it?

Yes and I think that’s also there is a disposable culture now sometimes in building and making and we’re looking for things that are authentic, that can last for a long time and that are quality and to have things that last longer and that are of more value. For example we’re doing a fashion event called IF – Industrial Fashion to open the festival, and in that we’ve invited local designers to be inspired by local buildings, a lot of the architecture that’s been around for a long time, and then to make quality garments and to see people who sew, not just people who sew, but it actually is designers who makes quality products that have structures under them and architecture and design linked with fashion. And I imagine that these costumes and outfits that are being made for our fashion event that we’re opening the festival with are the sort of things that will last and be around for a long time because they’re crafted and designed well. That’s on Friday the 18th of November at 8 o’clock. We’re starting it with designers and makers and we’re building costumes, but we’re actually using quality sewing and structure and I think these will be around for a long time. Because things appear on screens and then disappear, there’s also a desire to have things that are crafted and that we take a longer time to make.

We’ve just looked a little as the past. What do you think is going to be the future of the Hobson’s bay area? What do you hope is going to be the future and what do think the community should embrace to move forward as a collective, as a unified body?

Well I think there’s a thing about the Hobson’s Bay area that’s just the diversity of people who live in the area from all different backgrounds. There’s been people, waves of immigration who have come into places to work into different industries, and there were waves of ten pound poms who came out to work in the plastic industry in Altona, and the plastics industry is actually doing very well, and they’re not disappearing. And we’ve also got the petrol chemical here… tax and environment with mogul(?) and those companies  tend to be doing very well, and they employ a lot of local people who are very committed to their work places. But we’ve also got people moving into old factories and warehouses. For example we’ve got Two Birds Brewing, who are also in Hall street in Newport, and they’re two women who are designing and crafting new boutique beers. And so there’s a little factory down there – and there was hardly anybody using those factories along Hall street –and now we’ve got Two Birds Brewing in there and we’ve got people coming from all over Melbourne to sample their boutique beers. So, I think the future will be opportunities for artists in the Western suburbs, and as long as they’re linking in to the past of the area and telling authentic and interesting stories through art, that I think they’ll have an audience. So, a feeling here at the moment that something is happening in the Western suburbs, something exciting. And part of it’s sad, but things like Toyota disappearing, there we’ve got other companies that are blossoming, and then we’ve got opportunities for artists to create new art products or engage with the community, to give them surprises and ideas and glimpses about what the future might look like. So it’s a complex environment and I think it’s an exciting time here.

So as the population grows, how does it keep its own identity in the wave of gentrification across the rest of Melbourne?

I think that the thing that’s interesting about using the word gentrification which sometimes can be used when we’re talking about industrial sites but then have little bars in them, and that’s happened in lots of places around the world – one of the places that I saw was Manchester in England where they had a whole wharf side area that had you know wasn’t being used any more and then it was turned into a really groovy bar.

I think that sometimes when we use the word ‘gentrification’ it can look quite “oh, this is superficial and only yuppies can have smashed avocado there, which has been one of the debates in the papers at the moment, but, because we are linking to authentic stories – so one of our events is Spark, which is an old style family night of fun – and that’s Friday the 25th, 6.30 to 10 o’clock – that’s in Williamstown at Sea Works, which is an old wharf, and when you go into that wharf down there, we’re going to be doing angle grinding and we’re going to have fireworks and we’re going to have people doing sign writing live on the spot, and furniture makers welding, and bands, so you might go, “oh well is that gentrification?” Well actually, when you walk in there, because this is an old wharf that’s been there since the 1850s, it doesn’t feel like gentrification. Not everything here is clean yet, and feels totally homogenised. There’s old ropes there, there’s old boats, and you can still walk out on the pier and see Melbourne from the Williamstown side, and it feels – and you know – that thousands of people have worked on this wharf for years and years and years, and what we’re doing links to the story of those people working on that wharf for hundreds of years. So, I think you avoid gentrification by linking into authentic and real stories that have a bit of depth. One of our artists is Zoya Martin and she’s doing a project called Talking Hands. And what Zoya’s done is that she’s photographed different workers’ hands from across the region.

And she’s photographed the person who makes footballs, the AFL football. It’s these hands with the knobbles on it and how hard and rough those hands are from, you know, crafting leather to make footballs. She’s also photographed a nurse who was helping to deliver babies at the Williamstown hospital and you could see her hands and how soft and strong her hands are from “catching babies” as she describes it when children are born, to our sign writer, Tony Mead, a close up of his hands where he’s learned for thirty years to hand paint signs. And he’s a really good example of the complexity of the area. He’s learned a craft for thirty years, which is hand sign writing. Now he’s going into being  able to do hand sign writing, but he can also use a computer, print on to Perspex, and do LED signs. I think it’s interesting to see that we live in an exciting time when we need to value our old crafts but also be aware that the world’s changing, so we’re not just living in the history of the past. And that’s why it’s exciting. It’s often art is interesting when we’re at that friction of complexity and we can fill the spark of change but we’re not really sure where we’re going.

For more information on the festival click here.

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