In 1951 the US stockpiled nuclear weapons, the Cold War was in full swing, and Stalin ordered the construction of a top-secret bunker in central Moscow. Sixty-five metres underground, it was to be an emergency command post HQ and long-range aviation communications centre. As I descended the 18 flights of stairs to see the rooms and tunnels, I thought about the Soviet leaders, their families, and the thousand or so military personnel who could exist there for up to three months after a nuclear attack, with certain devastation awaiting their compatriots above ground. In the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, 800 military personnel and technicians remained in the bunker for 13 days on high alert, ready to launch an attack if needed. The facility was declassified in 1995 and operates as a museum dedicated to the Cold War. Now known as Bunker 42, some of tunnels are hired out for interactive war games.
This work is part of an ongoing series about the experience of nuclear landscapes.
The photo series Plant Life (Chernobyl) depicts areas around Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant – site of the catastrophic accident of April 26, 1986.
A series of photographic fragments of abandoned film-scripts.
Several videos, made between 2005-2007, accompany this work. Link to Stati d'Animo.
Nine RA-4 Prints on Duraclear, steel hooks
Four Duratrans, lightboxes,
This work comprises both light boxes and prints. Some of these images were part of the Plus+Minus exhibition at Stills Gallery in 2000
Unique edition, 12 black and white line positive transparencies, each
BIRDS is a tale of radioactive pigeons, two pairs of twins and a massacre, set in a seaside village in the shadow of a decrepit nuclear plant. In this blighted environment all is entangled — birds, humans, plutonium — and nothing will be spared.
BIRDS is an artist film by Merilyn Fairskye, the latest in a series of photographic and screen works that explore the contemporary realities of nuclear sites and their legacies. With an aesthetic approach that emphasises the act of creation and construction over a passive recording and reconstruction of the world, BIRDS humanises the connections between the nuclear and the everyday at a time of great environmental threat and nuclear uncertainty.
BIRDS is inspired by real events that took place between 1998-2010 in the area around Sellafield, the large nuclear reprocessing site in Cumbria, UK. Martin Forwood, a long-time anti-nuclear campaigner (1947-2019), was Merilyn Fairskye’s guide when she visited Sellafield and Seascale, the neighbouring village, in 2016. On the way out of the village, they stopped in front of a pink house overlooking the sea. Martin related a story about the former occupants involving radioactive pigeons, two sets of twins, and a massacre. After several false starts, BIRDS is the result.
The real-life events behind this work, if related factually, could appear merely sensational and bizarre, and the larger resonances would be lost. BIRDS enters imaginary territory to shape a more nuanced context for these events in order to draw out what Kristine Stiles has called ‘the ever-present haunting of the nuclear age’.
Actors present different accounts as they were recorded in the media at the time. The imagery builds around the pink house, seaside and nuclear plant and accumulates and dissipates in different ways to create a sense of a volatile environment where all forms of life are entangled. The over-arching motif is the environment that the nuclear plant seeps into — land, sea and air — metamorphosing and mutating because of human actions and now, beyond human control. The birds are the constant presence, and unstoppable.
The actors’ voices are woven through a soundtrack that draws on experimental processes to give a voice to the birds and the environment. It was created by musician and composer Meg Travers, who constructed a 21st century interpretation of the Trautonium, a 1920s German synthesizer.
The original Trautonium, the first instrument capable of sculpting electronic sounds, was used by German composer and electronic music pioneer, Oskar Sala, to create the non-musical soundtrack for Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’.
To find out more see: UNLIKELY
direction, editing, camera
soundscape composition and performance
online editor, title design and grading
additional UK photography
NICK SHIMMIN, CLIVE PARKINSON
Dedicated to Martin Forwood & Janine Allis-Smith
© 2020 A PLUS & MINUS PRODUCTION | www.plusandminus.net
Merilyn Fairskye 2010
2-channel video installation
Duration 04:00 loops, colour, stereo sound
A video work for that commemorated the opening of the Woolloomooloo Mural Project on July 10, 1982 for the exhibition TIME AND SPACE at Hazelhurst Regional Gallery, Sydney, 3 July-15 August 2010.
The footage of the opening of the Woolloomooloo Mural Project (artists Michael Dolk and Merilyn Fairskye) on July 10, 1982, originally recorded by Beth McRae, Erika Addis and Pat Fiske, was re-mixed and slowed down to inscribe a time and space for memory and reflection. Still photographs taken at the opening by Sandy Edwards have also been incorporated. Former BLF organiser and green bans activist Joe Owens was one of the the soundtrack.
Three-channel video installation, 3 custom screens,
Colour, stereo sound.
1. Echo Point, Katoomba, looking across to The Three Sisters. The Three Sisters, one of the Blue Mountains' most famous sights, tower above the Jamison Valley. A false Dreamtime legend was created in 1942 to boost tourism in the area. It claimed that three sisters fell in love with three men from a neighbouring tribe, but marriage was forbidden by tribal law. Battle ensued. The sisters were turned to stone by an elder to protect them, but the elder was killed in the fighting and no one the else could turn them back to flesh.
2. Menkaure's Pyramid, Giza, looking across to Cairo. The smallest pyramid, the tomb of Menkaure, was built sometime during the 26th Century BC. According to legend, Menkaure was a pious and beneficent king, in contrast to his two predecessors, Chephren and Cheops. In 1835, the remains of a wooden anthropoid coffin inscribed with Menkaure's name and containing human bones were discovered in the upper antechamber of the pyramid and removed. The coffin can now be viewed in the British Museum.
3. Pripyat, looking across to Reactor 4, Chernobyl. The ruined Chernobyl nuclear facility still contains some 200 tons of radioactive fuel. A steel and concrete shell was built soon after the disaster to contain the radiation. It is becoming increasingly unstable. A billion-dollar Safe Confinement replacement has recently been completed, designed to enclose the existing sarcophagus for 100 years. Within the lifetime of the new shelter, it is hoped that a way of dealing with the radioactive fuel and the breached reactor will be found.
2-channel video installation. Colour, silent
Duration: 3 minute loops.
Duration: 02:30, stereo sound
Single channel video.
Duration: 03:00, stereo sound
Single channel video.
My Favourite Australian is a project developed in collaboration between the National Portrait Gallery and ABC TV. Early in 2008, the ABC commissioned video portraits of a selection of well known and little-known Australians who were voted for by the Australian public.
The overall body of work, Stati d'Animo, invokes the trilogy of paintings (1911) by the Futurist artist Umberto Boccioni that addressed the mixture of dynamism, chaos, and anxiety of those who leave, those who stay behind and those who say farewell in the modern city of the early 20th century. The international airport replaces Boccioni's railway station as the principal site of human movement - a technological zone of passage in which people suspend their usual lives.
Stati d'Animo exists in several forms - as stills, a video essay, and multi-channel and single-channel video installations.
Stati d'Animo 2007-2011
Single-channel HDV. Duration: 24:34
5.1 Surround Sound, Stereo sound
Produced in Association with the Australian Film Commission.
Produced with the assistance of Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney.
Stati d'Animo/60 Seconds/07 2007
Single-channel video installation: wall projection, acrylic sheet
Original format: HDV, colour, stereo
Transferred to DVD, 04:45 loop
60 one-second sequences of anonymous travellers captured at 18 airports. Stati d'Animo/60 Seconds/07 is the final component of a body of work that exists in several forms -- as stills, as cinema projection and as single and multi-channel installations.
Stati d'Animo 2005
Three-channel SD video installation
Color, silent, 04:00 loops
1. SD single-channel video, stereo/surround sound, 25:00
2. 3-channel video installation, surround sound, 25:00 loop
Alice Springs is one of the most isolated towns in Australia. In December 1966 an agreement was signed that allowed the construction of Pine Gap, a US-Australian Joint Defence Space Research facility, as a base for global satellite technology and one of the largest ground control centres in the world, just 17 kilometres outside of Alice. The base connected the world to Pine Gap. This work considers how disembodied and shadowy the experience of being constantly connected can be. The work adopts a Pine Gap modus operandi. Sites are monitored, from the air and from the ground - Anzac Hill; the airport; the Pine Gap exit; Ormiston Gorge; Hermannsburg Mission; Kata Tjuta - to create a sense of a town and a landscape inhabited by shadows, mirages, and reflections. People inhabit this space tenuously. You never get to see them. You hear from them, or about them. Every one around Alice Springs has a story, or a friend with a story, that connects to the base. These anecdotes interweave with intercepts from recent news reports; ambient sounds; static; Morse code from Telegraph Station, the roar of road trains speeding down the Stuart Highway; a lone didgeridoo.
MERILYN FAIRSKYE (c) 2003
Post production: GREG FERRIS@MSV
Voices: William Beattie, Frank Chien, Michiel Dolk, Neville Field, Russell Goldflam, Patrick Hayes, Rose Landes, Pamela Lofts, Pip Mc McManus, Lesley Savage, Lisa Stefanoff, Bill van Dijk, Trish van Dijk, Michael Watts, Mandy Webb
Pine Gap protest stills, 2002: Mandy Webb, Trish van Dijk
Dingoes audio - courtesy of Listening Earth
Satellite images - Australia, Afghanistan, China, India, Korea, Pakistan: images courtesy Jacques Descloitres and Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC
Iraq: Image provided by the USGS EROS Data Center Satellite Systems Branch
Thanks to Alice Springs Art Foundation, Araluen Arts Centre, Aurora Resorts, Robert Hindley, Beth McRae, Elizabeth Ann Macgregor, Rod Moss, Ognian Pishev, Trish and Bill van Dijk, Michael Watts, Mandy Webb, Iain Campbell, and Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney
Merilyn Fairskye acknowledges Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park as a World Heritage Area and Living Cultural Landscape, and Anangu culture and ownership of this Park.
Produced in association with the Australian Film Commission
(c) Merilyn Fairskye and the Australian Film Commission 2003
Three-channel production assisted by the Australia Council for the Arts
CONNECTED 3-CHANNEL VIDEO INSTALLATION
Two side projections show a range of apparently unedited scenes and outtakes that appear to assemble and disassemble the images on the centre screen, which is the core program of the 25-minute single-channel digital video of Connected. As people enter the space, their shadows interrupt/intercept the images on Screens 1 and 3 in a simple gesture of low tech interactivity.
A digital video/database installation, 3 channels, surround sound. Duration: 25-minute loop.
EYE CONTACT 2000
Installation version: DVD. Duration: 40min
colour with stereo sound
Screen version: Betacam SP Duration 8'17"
colour with stereo sound
Eye Contact is the culmination of a long-term investigation of the landscape of the face. Since 1990 I have been exploring the way the face has moral meaning for us, especially when we read a caption or a story that claims to identify the person's relationship to 'something'. Previously, I worked with painted images based on media images. This work focuses on the photograph and the near-anonymous subject. Since late 1992 I have systematically photographed people with whom I come in contact. There are 1000 images in the series. Many of these images have been used as source images in other works since 1992 e.g. Proposals for Rooms with Columns, Invisible Paintings, After Image and Double Exposure. Each image is 'captioned' with the person's first name, occupation and country of birth. They are mostly unknown people from a wide spectrum of racial and social origins who are instructed to adopt a neutral expression and to close their eyes before being photographed. The fact that their eyes are closed is important - on the one hand not dead or asleep, on the other, not awake, but somewhere in between.
These still images are presented in their final, complete form as a video installation with soundscape. This work was exhibited during 2000 at the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane; Stills Gallery, Sydney (included in the Olympic Arts Festival) and Araluen Galleries in 2001-2002. It won the 2001 Alice Springs Art Prize.
Producer/ director MERILYN FAIRSKYE
Camera MERILYN FAIRSKYE
Soundscape REACH AROUND & CHIT CHAT VON LOOPIN STAB @ AUDIO SWEET
Post production GREG FERRIS @ MSV
Post production partially assisted by The Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, MSV Media Services and DVM International.
Sydney Airport at Work Program. Commissioned by Sydney Airport Corporation Ltd. Installed October 2006.
This work was derived from
Six polished stainless steel column structures of varying heights are dispersed in a diagonal line from near Wentworth Street to the beginning of Rialto Lane where it meets the Square. Each structure houses acoustic sound activated during the day. Fibre optic lighting is activated at night. Each column's lighting is a movement between four monochromatic tones. The effect is of liquid, subtly changing colour. From one end of the square to the other, the colour spectrum is played out. The structures are supported off the ground by a central steel rod. Additional coloured light washes down from inside onto a white granite surround. The structures appear to float on light. The height of the columns coincides with high tide levels on six dates, from 4000BC to May 28, 2000. The sound component is no longer functional, but when it was, once each day, at the time of the lowest tide for that date, the repeated chiming of a single note could be heard in each column. At noon the sounds combined to play an interpretation of a transcription by a European circa 1825 of an Aboriginal song from the Sydney region.
Art at Work Program, Sydney International Terminal, Mascot. Completed Aug. 2000
This was an initiative associated with the 2000 Olympics. Several artists were commissioned to create an image for customized lightboxes that are dispersed throughout the new arrival terminals at the International Airport. This work is 1m high by 2m long. With this image, I knew that people would be viewing it as they quickly moved past. An anamorphic stretch, the overall image is to be seen out of the corner of the eye. There is a hidden image within it that is only visible as you approach the lightbox from an oblique angle.
Material World, Railway Square, Sydney. Commissioned by City of Sydney. Opened July 1999.
This work echoes the idea of the vanished colonial gateway to the city. Using anamorphic perspective, and digitally stretched and elongated images, the four light boxes in the tunnel play with perception and the changing position of the viewer - appearing to move as people rush past. Every now and then, the hidden image of a face appears and then disappears. The viewer moves through saturated colours reflected on the ceiling of the tunnel. These reflections themselves compress and stretch depending on the position of the viewer, and change in intensity as you moves along.
The windscreen images, no longer extant, were situated at either end of Railway Square, were where, under the bus shelters, people alight, or wait for the buses. These digitally manipulated images representing the four material elements - Air, Fire, Water and Earth. They have been photographed at inner coastal locations around Sydney - La Perouse, Kurnell, North Head and The Gap. Each of these sites has a particular and complex social and historical resonance. These locations approximate the entrances to Port Jackson and Botany Bay.
Air and Space (Grid): Foyer, Plaza Level, former State Office Building, 111 George Street, Brisbane. Commissioned by the Queensland State Government. Completed December 1995
Two blue channels and a red aluminium grid attached to the four interior walls of the skylight at the plaza level form a grid within the square of the skylight. An empty rhomboid is centred within the grid. It is anchored flat yet appears three dimensional when viewed from different positions. Red and white neon are visible at the top of the channel. As the spectator passes through the foyer space, the grid compresses optically, thus allowing the center shape to appear to compress into a square and then to stretch out again. At a certain time of year (April), the position of the sun at midday and its effect on the shadows cast onto the floor and walls through the skylight cause the shadow of the rhomboid to appear as a perfect square on the floor below. At night the effect of the neon light dominates the work. The glass pyramid surmounting the work is filled with reflections, which change as the position of the viewer changes. What is seen from below in full sunlight differs from what is seen when the sky is overcast. What is seen at night is different again.
Today, when only objects valued by museums and collectors are enshrined in the history of art, we may recollect and reflect on a historical moment of activism by artists committed to a different social future for art. It was a time of collaboration between artists, but also of collaboration with social constituencies beyond the prevailing institutions and middle class enclaves of art. The Woolloomooloo Mural Project represents such a moment of engagement by artists concerned to find different social relations for artistic practice in Sydney. It also commemorates a history of those who fought for a different, a more socially inclusive and environmentally aware future for Sydney.
It is difficult in retrospect to overstate the significance of the battle for Victoria Street and the battle for Woolloomooloo; one was lost, the other won; both had an impact on the future of the inner city suburbs. Woolloomooloo was a working class community shaped by shared memories of the Depression and War years - a community in decline and revitalised by the struggle to save the area from private redevelopment. The residents' campaign succeeded with the intervention of trade union green-bans, the Whitlam Government and the NSW Housing Commission. When we first approached the Residents Action Group in 1979 through local advocate and architect Col James with a proposal to create a public artwork on the pylons of the Eastern Suburbs Railway, it was made clear to us that the residents wished to see their own history represented. Our own artistic concerns and interests were to be subsumed by this. The result, on eight of the 17 pylons, was a montage form of social portraiture in which the documentary record of street life culled from personal photo-albums and State Archives intersected with the media record of social protest and community activism. We commissioned artists Robert Eadie, Ruth Waller, Tim Maguire, Vicki Varvaressos, Angela Gee, Bob Clutterbuck, Toby Zoates, and Robyn Heks to create billboard paintings that addressed a range of themes on seven of the remaining pylons. We always envisaged that the history murals would have a limited life. We gave them ten years at most because of their location in a public park and thoroughfare, exposed to the weather. In response to community concerns however, the Sydney City Council recently intervened to preserve the murals as an enduring historical record that has become identified with the area.
As a unique record of time and place, film and photography have a documentary immediacy unavailable to any attempts to revive popular history painting as a public art. The footage of the opening of the Woolloomooloo Mural Project on July 10, 1982, originally recorded by Beth McRae, Erika Addis and Pat Fiske, has been re-mixed by Merilyn Fairskye - slowed down in order to inscribe a time and space for memory and reflection. Still photographs taken at the opening by Sandy Edwards have also been incorporated. Former BLF organiser and green bans activist Joe Owens was one of the speakers at the opening. His speech provides the soundtrack. Like the murals, the gathering reveals itself as a commemorative event and celebration owned and shared by the community and its supporters.
Michiel Dolk and Merilyn Fairskye
(Catalogue text for the exhibition Time and Space, Hazelhurst Regional Gallery and Arts Centre, July-August 2010)
A site-specific triptych incorporating aerial imagery, glass, reflected light and colour, and the red granite of Castle Hill
Cutheringa evokes several journeys - through Aboriginal history and mythology to the present associated with Cutheringa, the original name given to Castle Hill in the centre of town, the red granite almost-mountain. This history and mythology around the name Cutheringa haven't been recorded, but the name apparently survives as one of only two known indigenous place names in the Townsville region.
In the context of the Emergency Department site, the artwork is evocative rather than descriptive or narrative. There is no set story here, rather a field of possibilities. The visible traces of the glare of the sun hitting the camera lens, and the fragment of wing in the exterior panel, reveal that this is no cosmic heavenly apparition, but rather, the familiar view from the inside of a plane, looking down through the clouds, this time to Townsville, visible as glimpsed fragments, and earthed through the solid materiality of the red granite of Castle Hill that sits amongst the image.
The artwork is in three parts.
Exterior and interior photographic sections using high resolution, Vivid Image Exterior, red granite section.
All with specialist lighting.
Aqua - a site-specific public artwork incorporating time-lapse imagery, glass, reflected light and colour, and the movement of people. From a distance you see an abstract field of aqua, then, closer, an image forms an aerial view of a swimming pool, the horizontal field anchored by the black lane markings, and, even closer, a man floats in time and space across the surface of the water. The image provides an unexpected conceptual interruption to the busy streetscape. An iconic Queensland image, at the same time abstract, painterly and figurative. Appearing out of the blue like a mirage, it offers an oasis of cool in the heat of Brisbane.
The large tree near the wall on Albert Street becomes part of the work, a living screen that reveals and conceals, depending on where you happen to be. As you get close the image dissolves into a grid of pixels. A glass mural, one tile per pixel, covers the entire wall. The overall effect will be to glow and reflect intense colour in the shade that falls on the wall, and to sparkle in the sun. An intense vibrancy creates an effect that recalls the gestural and painterly qualities of Impressionism.
A transformative exchange takes place between the image, the adjacent walls, the surrounding streetscape, the movement of vehicles, weather conditions, the position of the sun, people in overlooking buildings, people passing through/using Albert Street. A sense of duration is embedded into the photographic moment of the swimmer in the pool.
The image, reworked for this context and codified into pixels
The proposed art-work featuring 'brickwork', consists of 3 interrelated elements:
The proposed design brings clarity to a complex design brief and embodies the history of the site with a sculptural and architectural celebration of bricks in a bold signature motif. The use of brick is consistent with the Design brief. Few bricks with clay sourced and manufactured on site are available to the project. It is proposed to source commons pressed and coal fired in the same manner, from a brick manufacturer such as Namoi Valley Bricks. For both sphere and wall, bricks will be selected to resemble the original red-belly, and the sandstone and coal seam strata of the quarry wall, in particular the relationship between three colours - red ochre, pale yellow ochre, and grey.
The principal site identified for artwork, on the main axis, the avenue between the school playground and the lake observation platform is framed by trees. The plan therefore appears to require a work, sign, object or monument towards which the gaze is directed along the axis.
The brief suggests the use of bricks, which are not available on site. There are few extant bricks on site other than those in residual structures submerged in the quarry lake. At the risk of bringing coals to Newcastle, it may be necessary to bring bricks to Wallsend.
With audio track, 4 track audio remix, loop duration 05:00.
Adapted from an original sound composition by Robert Hindley.
Exhibited Toxicity, Sydney College of the Arts Galleries, 2011
In this collaborative project (4 artists, one writer), toxicity has been encouraged to take a handful of its potentially infinite number of forms. The surest thing about toxicity might well be this: it can never be eradicated from any world we live in, we have to live with it.
Around 1990 I was working a lot with the image of the face, depicted in a away that tried to evoke what I thought of as a 'space in between' (sleeping and waking, breathing and not-breathing, the conscious and the unconscious). I made a series of large diptychs, paintings from the series smoke of various people smoking. The phenomenon of breathing interested me, as did the non-scientific idea of the idea of smoke being unverifiable, loose in the air, unable to be seized, like a shadow. These paintings hovered somewhere between photography and painting.
My very early interest in anamorphosis remains, here translated into a possibility that is hinted at through the spaces that exist between the material planes or surfaces of the work.
from the site-specific series Proposals for Rooms with Columns
This series of works was exhibited in New York, Sydney, Brisbane and Townsville between 1991 and 1993.
Exhibited at Roslyn Oxley Gallery9, Sydney, 1989 and Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 1989, and individual paintings were later exhibited at Art Gallery of NSW, Art Gallery of Western Australia and Artis Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand. They were acquired by Art Gallery of NSW (Alchemy), Art Gallery of Western Australia (Iran Air), and Queensland Art Gallery (Leibschaft).
Merilyn Fairskye is a visual artist living in Sydney whose recent video and photographic work explores the effects of powerful events of real life on humans and the environment. Current projects that explore the relationships between technology, atomic landscapes and community have taken her on location to the Polygon in Kazakhstan, Sellafield, Chernobyl, and other key nuclear sites. This has resulted in an art film, video installations and photographic series that have been exhibited in Australia and internationally.
Her work has been presented in over 180 exhibitions and festivals, including at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern London; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; Art Gallery of NSW; Songzhuang Art Museum, China; the National Palace Museum, Taipei; Al Jazeera International Documentary Film Festival, Doha; the International Film Festival Rotterdam(6 times); Videobrasil; Kassel Documentary Film Festival and the Sydney Film Festival. Her feature-length art film, Precarious, was nominated for the 2012 Al Jazeera Documentary Channel long-form film award.
PO Box 590
Newtown NSW 2042 Australia
e-mail: Merilyn Fairskye
Her work has been recognized through artist residencies in the US, Italy, France, UK & Australia, numerous Australia Council and Australian Film Commission grants and a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship. It is held in most public collections in Australia, the Museum of Modern Art, NY, and the Getty Center, Santa Monica. It featured in the three-part television arts series The Good Life, (ABC TV), and My Favourite Australian, (ABC TV) and has been extensively written about in the art and general press including Sydney Morning Herald, Artlink, Cahiers du Cinema, Asia Pacific Arts, Art & Australia. It is the subject of a book chapter in A Secret History of Australian Art (Rex Butler).
Fairskye has been invited to submit proposals for numerous public art works with substantial budgets. These invitations provided opportunities for research and development of her artistic ideas on a conceptual and material scale not possible in gallery contexts. She has been awarded a total of 12 major public art commissions, alone or in collaboration with other artists, since becoming a professional artist.
She is Honorary Associate Professor at the Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney.