“Holding the Space”

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how tricky it was for me to keep up with all the things that the Audit is kicking up. Every encounter, every article, every little investigation generates more and more interesting things to pursue, more links to follow.

I’ve had to humble myself with just doing as many as I can within the time available, given the energy I can generate in the course of any given day. I remind myself that since we’re thinking about “sustainability” here, my first responsibility is to my own sustainable working methods – to not burn out in the process…

With that in mind, in the next few blog entries, I’m going to try and reflect on some of the interactions I’ve had recently.


a tafe group visits the audit room

Here’s a photo of a group of TAFE students that came to visit me in the Audit room. One of the great things about having your artwork in the “resource room” is that there are plenty of chairs and a big table – it’s an ad-hoc classroom!
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The Bottom Line?

…in which our hero recounts his double-pronged attempt to produce a numerical figure representing the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the In the Balance exhibition at the MCA; and wonders what to do with the results…

Campbell tests the meters...

It started here, and continued here.

And here it ends (oh, how I wish it would end here):

Having spent time with Nicky and Mark getting all the wattages for each light fixture, each video projector, and each television screen in the gallery, I was then faced with the task of adding them all up.

But first, Mark summoned Campbell the electrician to help out. Campbell arrived with a tool which would, potentially, make all my adding up work unnecessary: the Ammeter.

With a very excitable Mark champing at the bit, we three brave explorers plunged into the bowels of the building: concrete corridors threaded with large air-ducts and fat, colourful, dangerous-looking multicoloured cables, copper pipes – many clad with aluminium foil – ancient looking dials, and sheet metal boxes painted with turquoise enamel. A deep humming sound and an unexpectedly gusty airflow permeated these unpeopled corridors.
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The Paperchase continues…

As I was preparing for this project, I went and purchased some paper to get me started. I knew I’d have a fair bit of sketching up, brainstorming and printing to do, and I wanted something which was a bit “rough and ready” in its feel, like scrapbook paper. I found some stuff called “bulky news”, only to discover that it was not recycled, nor locally produced. You can read that sorry tale here.

So in an effort to pull my socks up, I invited some friendly sales reps from a few paper companies to come visit me in my office in the exhibition, to educate me about better paper practices.

visit from Nina the paper sales rep

Here’s Nina from Doggett Paper, chatting with Pat (my colleague from Big Fag Press) and I.
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Continuing Illuminations

After making a great start (thanks to Louise the Intern) on Great Third Floor Lighting Survey, I discovered that I needed to dig deeper… So last week I spent some time with Mark and Nicki, both MCA preparators, both experts in the fields of A-V technology and lighting respectively.

Here’s Mark, painstakingly working through each and every annotated video projector, LCD screen, DVD player, Macintosh computer and miscellaneous doohickey from our survey chart:

mca 3rd floor lighting survey

Mark is an artist. He has a particular interest and enthusiasm for this Audit project, partly because he’s insatiably curious about the behind-the-scenes workings of art galleries.

In fact, this is precisely what his own art practice is based upon: scraping away layers of time in an archaeological/cultural excavation. His work often results in some hidden aspect of the gallery being made visible (or audible). What lies behind hundreds of layers of paint? What does the relative humidity of the room sound like if it is translated into an audio signal? You can delve more deeply into his explorations here and here.
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In the Balance, on the Telly

Here’s a video clip from the ABC TV’s Art Nation TV show, by Fenella Kernebone.

If you’re sitting in the MCA looking at this on the computer provide, look up from the screen. There’s a diagram I made which is my imagined flow of inputs and outputs resulting from the television segment. Fenella and I discuss this diagram on the telly.

(I’ll post up a photograph of the diagram here soon for those who aren’t visiting the gallery to see…)

UPDATE: Here’s the diagram: (sorry about the blurry edges, I’ve got to get hold of a half-decent camera I think)

abc art nation environmental audit diagram

The Great Third Floor Lighting Survey

mca lighting survey

Exciting times in the Audit office. I’ve been joined by Louise – pictured above – my new intern!
If she can bear it, in between finishing her design degree Louise will be helping me out on some of the trickier aspects of my work at the MCA.

The first of her tasks, early last week, was to assist me with carrying out The Great MCA Third Floor Lighting Survey.

This was by no means an easy task. Nor was it the first attempt at such a survey. Nor is it yet finished. I’ll explain why…
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Visitations: Ruminations, Resonations

I’m enjoying myself in the Environmental Audit office. Here are a few highlights:

Here’s Catherine Moore, who, as it turns out, was the Greens Party candidate for Eden-Monaro in the recent federal election (she got about 11 percent of the vote). And she is an artist:


In this picture, Catherine is making some chalk alterations to my diagram entitled “The Ins and Outs of An Artwork”. The problem with this diagram, you see, is that it shows the artwork as the result of a bunch of “Ins”, and as the source of a bunch of “Outs” – but it does not encompass the cycling that occurs, wherein the Outs can regenerate themselves and become Ins once more (if you get what I mean)…

I really appreciated the time that Catherine took to hang out with me and chat about what it means to be an artist versus being a politician. She’s now running for mayor of her local council – and she’s slightly worried that she might be successful. Politicians should be representative of the people, and yet if she gets caught up in the practice of politics, it could turn into a full-time career in itself, meaning she might no longer have the time to continue her own painting, collage and sculptural work.

But which is more important?

star asterix

Here’s Ion. He’s a musician, and an instrument maker, and he works at the MCA as a Visitor Services Officer (VSO).


Ion was “on rotation” around the galleries, invigilating the exhibition when he stuck his head around the corner of my room.

“What’s going on here?”, he asked in his laconic way.

I showed him the blog, which is available for visitors to browse on a computer set up in the resource room where my audit is nestled. He was drawn to one particular entry, in which I pass along the ideas (crazy or otherwise) of some MCA staff, as to how they might change the day-to-day running of the organisation.

I asked Ion if he had any such ideas to contribute, from his point of view as a VSO. “Not really,” he said. “We VSOs probably have the smallest footprint of any group of workers in the whole museum. All we do is stand and watch visitors and occasionally chat with them. What could we do to reduce our carbon emissions?”

He then reconsidered, slightly. “Well,” he said, “we do go to the toilet a lot. Having toilet breaks is something of a way to break up the day for us.”

Now, before you sick the unions onto him for suggesting that the MCA bans toilet breaks for VSOs, Ion was in fact suggesting that the MCA might want to look into using recycled toilet paper. They must go through a lot of it each day.

In fact, I don’t know whether the paper they use is recycled or not. I’ve added it to my homework to find out.

Anyway, once Ion had settled in to thinking about all this stuff, he began to consider his own cultural production, outside of his job at the museum. This, he said, causes him some existential pain. Ion loves making custom musical instruments, particularly a sort of specialised marimba. His marimbas use a variety of Indonesian rainforest timber to make their sound. The instruments, and the music they make, have evolved together. You can’t just substitute a fast growing plantation timber, it doesn’t sound right.

A merimba looks something like this (although this one obviously is not handmade):


These days, you can’t even buy this wood here in Australia – it has to be specially imported from the USA (to where, presumably, it has just been exported from Indonesia). Ion sighed deeply and went all quiet. Just in the telling of this tale, I could see his mood swinging downwards.

I tried to come at it from another angle – chipping in that his instruments are made to last forever – that he would produce just one of them (at very high quality) in the same time that a factory might churn out several thousand thirteen-dollar crappy el-cheapo-store ukeleles which will find their way into landfill before the decade is out. His is a labour of love – a sonic way of making us appreciate this beautiful wood which was dwindling away and might soon become extinct – a veritable musical-material heritage project, goshdarnit!

“Anyway”, he said, “this is all academic. Making and playing these instruments is what makes me who I am. I can’t stop, and I’m going to keep on doing it as long as it’s still possible.”

Funnily enough, when I googled around to see if Ion was represented on the interwebs, I found this page, with the following written about him:

Ion’s work for some years has involved the design and construction of original instruments or sound machines, often using recycled materials – such as wood from demolished buildings, or parts of an old sewing machine, in an ingenious way. He uses railway signal bells as instruments and a shoe iron. Among the instruments which he builds and plays are a giant wooden abacus or counting machine, in which wooden beads are turned by hand; a violin machine, which is made from the sewing machine and violin; marimba; and various drums, including a simple box drum that was formerly a packing crate.

The Audience Travel Audit

The Audience Travel Audit is tallying up nicely. This is a way for those who stumble into the audit booth at the MCA to bring attention to their own before and after. I ask visitors how they got to the museum, and where they came from, and we plot these details on the blackboard in coloured chalk pencils.

I am constantly having to reassure shamefaced car drivers that nobody’s judging them, indeed it’s anonymous anyway. I just want their data! But as it turns out, many more folks seem to be taking public transport to visit the MCA:


(This photo is from a few days ago. When I get a sec, I’ll give a more accurate update on the league tables.)

And here’s Bec adding herself to the Travel Audit map at the exhibition opening night:

bec puts herself on the map

…and a closeup of the map epicentre in progress (different forms of transport are colour-coded: blue is train, red is car, yellow is bus, and so on).


I overheard one staff member of the Art Gallery of NSW wryly remarking to an employee of the MCA, that if I had just been collecting visitors’ postcodes as well, I’d be basically doing the job of the organisation’s Market Research department. Hmm…