When the Walls Aren’t White: Site-specific Art in Non-art Museums

By Lucy Hawthorne.

Published by The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper will critically examine site-specific art in Australian heritage sites and museums, in particular the way in which artists have responded to, resurrected or in some cases ‘created’ a sense of Place.

Since the early 1990s, there has been a growing trend in Australia of artists being commissioned to make work in non-art museums, frequently in the form of site-specific art that relates to a site’s sense of Place. For many artists, loaded semiotic spaces, such as the historic houses or heritage sites referred to in this paper, provide rich material to which they can creatively respond. Such art has the ability to revitalise tired or inconsistent archives and displays, revive buried pasts, present alternatives to a museum’s ‘official history’, as well as attracting a wider and varied audience.

Two recent art projects undertaken in Tasmania, Australia, will be used to illustrate my argument: the Port Arthur Project and the Trust project. The Port Arthur penal settlement, now largely in ruins, was the site of a large art exhibition in 2007, with 23 artists making work in dialogue with the site. Port Arthur’s paradoxical status as a historical site of incarceration and horrific abuse, its current popularity as a tourist site, and the strange beauty of the sandstone ruins on the tip of the Tasman peninsular, make it an obvious target as a loaded site for artistic response. Likewise, Trust (2009) utilised historic houses around the state, such as Home Hill and Clarendon House. Participating artists were commissioned to research the site, its original inhabitants, or its general history, with the aim of producing original artworks that contribute to our understanding of these usually neglected historic homes.

Keywords: Site-specific Art, Museum, Place, Tasmania, Heritage Buildings, Heritage Sites, Heritage Houses, Colonial Sites, Port Arthur, Tasmanian School of Art, University of Tasmania

International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp.121-132. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 9.302MB).

Lucy Hawthorne

PhD candidate, Art & Design Theory Department, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Lucy Hawthorne is an artist, writer and PhD candidate at the University of Tasmania, Australia.

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