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Making the Metro Tunnel – reflections by contemporary Australian artists

Domain House, Botanical Gardens

1 April – 7 May 2023

As the opening of the Metro Tunnel in 2025 draws closer, artists from across Victoria have been telling the stories of the making of this city-shaping project.  

The Making the Metro Tunnel – reflections by contemporary Australian artists exhibition covers several key areas of this monumental project – from the archaeological dig to the machinery and operation of the Tunnel Boring Machines, to the aesthetics of worksites and workers equipment.

Troy Argyros has painted several important found objects now under the guardianship of Heritage Victoria. Kenny Pittock’s ceramics playfully represent items that were not deemed significant but still contain clues to Melbourne’s social history, from old beer cans to plastic straws. (All non-significant items shared with artists are from the period post-European settlement.)

First Nations artists Jenna Lee, and Iluka Sax-Williams with Dan Bowran, have transformed fragments of post European settlement objects uncovered in the archaeological digs, into contemporary artworks. 

The exhibition also includes a new painting by Emma Coulter, related to her epic colourful mural that adorned the acoustic shed over the new Town Hall Station site from 2020 to 2023.

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Sculptor Daniel Agdag met with a tunnelling expert on the project, gaining access to diagrams of the Tunnel Boring Machine that inspired the design of ‘The Instrumental’. Michele Hamer’s intricate cross-stitch works use a warm material to translate photographs of giant road headers and a concrete tunnel into art.

Harley Manifold’s atmospheric oil paintings capture the activity above and below ground, of construction sites busy with machinery and industry during the construction of the tunnels and stations. Chelsea Gustafsson’s paintings pick up the common visual references that tied all the diverse working skills together—the highly recognisable items of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as hardhats, high visibility vests, steel capped boots, safety glasses.

In 2019, Metro Tunnel Creative Program partnered with the Royal Botanic Gardens, to offer four Melbourne artists rare access the State Botanical Collection at the National Herbarium of Victoria. Artists Caitlin Klooger, Tai Snaith, Dianna Wells and Oliver Ashworth-Martin have created wonderfully diverse responses to the Herbarium collection. Three of the artwork concepts have subsequently been reproduced as major hoarding artworks displayed around the Anzac Station construction site adjacent to the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria’s Melbourne site.

”The Metro Tunnel represents a fundamental shift in the way all Victorians will connect and move around the city and state.  It’s wonderful to see this transformative project being captured and brought to life by these talented artists,” says Project Director Linda Cantan.

The artists across the exhibition are available for interview.

Making the Metro Tunnel – reflections by contemporary Australian artists opens 1 April until 7 May 2023, Domain House, Botanical Gardens

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