Many years ago now, I saw a fabulous talk by a British architect and academic, Jeremy Till. Aside from wearing a delicious pea green suit that I was completely taken by, he presented a very affecting talk entitled Angels with Dirty Faces. I have talked about this many times before, so apologies to my friends who’ve already heard it, but in this lecture, he presented the idea that architects should be this particular kind of angel. He professed that we must always maintain an overview through distance, always keeping an eye on the big picture. This is our angelic side. But we must also dwell on the ground, we must get our hands, or faces, dirty. Getting our faces dirty in the context of architecture means engaging with context and the unpredictable complexity of individuals and communities. If we manage to strike this balance between perspective and engagement, then we could be the best kind of architect.
The current activity for our Branch – developed by guest artist Narelle Jubelin (Australia/Spain) working in collaboration with local artist Lucy Bleach – engages with the work of a Tasmanian architect whose designs modulate between these two modes of participation. Esmond Dorney is a well-known Tasmanian modernist architect who practiced from the 1930s until his death in the early 1990s. Their project, in two components, centres on the St Pius X Catholic Church in Taroona, designed by Dorney in the 1950s and the former Dorney family home, built at Fort Nelson. (1966). I should note that I am writing about this project from a distance as I’m currently completing an artist’s residency in Queenstown. Our president, Paula, who is curating the project, has been the conduit to understanding and reflecting on the process to date.
The first part of the project began this week at St Pius X . The building is widely recognised as the first Modernist church in Australia. While sitting well within modernism in form and detail, it could be considered to be at the ‘dirty faces’ or grassroots end of the architectural spectrum as it was very much a building of the community. The funds to design and construct the building were raised by the church congregation and Dorney worked closely with them to fit a long, distinctive, barrel vaulted building amongst a cluster of eucalypts. The quality of light provided by these trees was a critical part of the architectural delight of the building, but over the years, the trees have been removed as the dropping limbs of the particularly species on the site became dangerous.
So this week on May 1, which is the International day of the worker, artists Narelle Jubelin and Lucy Bleach, horticulturalist and garden designer Kris Shaffer, our president Paula Silva and Paddy Dorney (Esmond’s son) came together with the church congregation to plant new trees as a way to symbolically reinstate the original eucalypts and initiate the church’s community garden. Connecting to a series of subtle aspects of this situation, the original trees have been replaced with a safer eucalypt species with common names Ghost Gum or Weeping Gum that has a very similar leaf to the original. Using donated fruit and vegetables harvested from the gardens of the congregation, a picnic lunch was baked by Lucy and was shared amongst the group at the culmination of the planting. Members of former CWA Taroona branch, Marie Brownlie and Anette Hitchman joined in the planting and picnic and shared stories with the congregation members, some of them neighbours.
The second component of the project took place in the Dorney house. Sitting high on the slopes of Fort Nelson, this building is closer to the ‘angelic’ end of the spectrum, being more about the pure expression of ideas. The building a unique object with vaulted living spaces, extensive glazing to the river and large conversation pit, seems to reflect an idealised or utopian take on family life. Jubelin is interested in ‘inhabiting’ this Modernist narrative in order to consider ways to celebrate, shift and consider the future possibilities for this currently uninhabited house. The artists invited some of the project participants to inhabit the building, including the council fire officer who resides in the adjacent building, to recount their own subjective experiences of modernism. In the centre of the house, guests spoke of their memories and aspirations, while Narelle transcribed onto the windows the footnotes from a 1975 seminal text by RoseLee Goldberg Space as Praxis that speaks of space not as physical and measurable but performed instead. The fugitive text written on the floor to ceiling glazing, seemed as though it was both enveloping and floating over Hobart’s CBD cityscape hence becoming the third space of this collective piece.
Having participated in and observed both parts of the project Paula describes, “On May 1, while a baked meal was shared, seeds were put on the ground, memories and aspirations were spoken. Continuous care is needed for those to grow and expand.
Narelle and Lucy’s project pays homage to the important grass roots work done by communities such as the St Pius X Church congregation and the CWA.”
Judith Abell, Branch Secretary, CWA CBD Branch.
Narelle and Lucy are guests of the CWA CBD Branch. For bios, please look at our Branch Profile page.
The gorgeous photographic documentation was captured by local Hobart photographer Sarah Foley.