“I recently dined at Cupitt with a large group, indulging in a set lunch menu designed to share. There wasn’t a complaint to be had,” writes reviewer WENDY JOHNSON
The show comes from the shared interest in Canberra’s built history of Phil Page, a retired architect with a career spent in the Parliamentary Triangle and Katie Hayne, who has a background in design and anthropology. Both are also painting postgraduates at the ANU School of Art and Design.
Page looks at the city from the perspective of a planner, someone who knows the various plans that Canberra has used and discarded. His paintings reference the European influences of some of our buildings such as St Peter’s Basilica, which hovers over Commonwealth Park where a Catholic cathedral was never built.
Athen’s Parthenon echoes under the National Library like a perspectival shadow. The Foundling Hospital of Florence with its ribbon of arches is doubled to become the Sydney and Melbourne Buildings.
He uses plywood to help the audience think about construction. Bright colour washes threaded through with fine black pen. I’m drawn in close by the thin black ink lines that loop and trace recognisable shapes, but it’s worth stepping back to let my eyes move around the central grouping, “Axial Instability” (2017), to see how Page has turned the lake back into a river, flowing in and out of view.
There is also a small series that layers contemporary sites with the memories of their rural origins. Each has faux gold-leaf embellishment, used by Page to query value: has it been worth it? What is more valuable, good arable land or imported public servants?
Katie Hayne also thinks about value, about the way bureaucratic Canberra makes and loses communities. Her paintings focus on the social experiences of public housing, particularly the many government houses being demolished near the city to be replaced by designer apartments. One work is a salvaged cupboard door, painted to say “YOUR DREAM HOME AWAITS YOU”.Her subjects were once dream homes: they are the “pair houses” and “garden flats” of Lyneham’s De Burgh Street complex. They were built in the early 1960s to a Bauhaus concept, with their very visible placement along the central drive into Canberra a deliberate move to feature the latest in European theories of affordable social design.
As the title of this joint show suggests, style and theory are unstable things. These houses are now considered both an eyesore and a waste of valuable real estate. Hayne decided to capture the buildings before their demolition, visiting the site to make sketches and take photos for her paintings. As she sat drawing, residents would come out and talk to her, and she became part of their community, listening to stories and integrating them in her work.
They are small, gentle paintings. There are few people, but when examined, many signs of life. Where the stories appear is in the titles of the work such as “Kolka and Darcy’s Home”. Others are snippets of conversation or reactions to the paintings themselves when given a preview such as “Ivy – they never come and cut it back”, “Didn’t you know the roofs are flat?” and “I should have brought the bins in”.
The houses and flats are in the process of being emptied, ready for destruction. The sentiments of some of the current tenants is encapsulated in painting with one titled: “My little urban forest, planted 40 years ago, woodchips soon, sad”.
It’s a thoughtful, thought-provoking exhibition, helping the audience see how complex this planned city has become as it increasingly escapes its master plan.
Caren Florance is writer-in-residence at Australian National Capital Artists. The full text of her review can be read at anca.net.au