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Installing Peace – Peace and Nuclear War in the Australian Landscape. (1985)

14 May

Peace and Nuclear War in the Australian  Landscape. An installation devised and assembled by Darani Lewers, Tanya Crothers and Jan Birmingham. At the Adelaide Festival Centre Gallery March 29 – May 5 (1985), the Gryphon Gallery Melbourne June 8 – July 26 (1985). Ivan Dougherty Gallery Sydney August 17 – September 7 (1985). Previewed by Mark Roberts. First published in Tribune 2369, 27 March 1985

Darani Lewers, Tanya Crothers and Jan Birmingham (left to right) sitting on a section of the 'duck board' whihc weaves through their installation 'Peace and Nuclear War in the Australian Lanscape'. - Photo: Mark Roberts

Darani Lewers, Tanya Crothers and Jan Birmingham (left to right) sitting on a section of the ‘duck board’ which weaves through their installation ‘Peace and Nuclear War in the Australian Landscape’.

Darani Lewers, Jan Birmingham and Tanya Crothers took almost three years to create Peace and Nuclear War in the Australian Landscape. The installation was assembled in a studio situated in an old wool shed in Ultimo, but its official opening will take place in Adelaide on March 30 to coincide with the Palm Sunday Peace Rally.

Dominating the installation are a number of constructions and large hanging canvasses on the theme of peace. These canvasses are divided into two groups. The ‘bush canvasses’ affirm life by evoking natural patterns of birth, growth and regeneration, while the ‘urban canvasses’ are concerned with human cycles of rest, work and leisure. The bush canvasses represent both original, unspoilt images of the Australian countryside and the cultivated landscape of modern agriculture. Pieces of a car, cricket stumps, a goal post, a tennis racquet and a wall of torn posters for rock bands are used in the urban canvasses. The images of peace conveyed by these canvasses is not always a happy one. There is a recognition that pain and suffering can be a basic part of nature. As Jan Birmingham pointed out, “there is a possibility of perfection in nuclear war. Peace is not perfect, but it is infinitely preferable to nuclear war.”

Connecting these various images of peace is an unstable ‘duckbord’. The duckboard was designed and constructed by Frederick Chepeaux and was based on the duckboards at the bottom of trenches in World War One. It snakes its way around the canvases and past various images of war, which, although not as imposing as the peace images, covers a large section of the floor and threatens to engulf peace.

A further dimension is added by the unstable nature of the duckboard. While most of it is built on top of bricks, a number of sections are supported by large inflatable rubber tyre tubes.  When you step onto an unstable section you feel as though you are about to be ‘tipped onto the X-rays of different parts of the human body, assorted charred pieces of ‘human debris and horrific newspaper headlines about nuclear war.

There are two videos incorporated into the body of the installation. Simply titled ‘Peace’ and ‘War’ they were produced for the installation by Sally Bongers and Paul Elliot. A grant from the Music Board allowed the artists to commission a young Sydney composer, Wendy Hiscock, to write a 15 minute piece of music.

The strong emphasis on peace is intended. Jan Birmingham explained how they had begun to work with the idea of using images of war, but realised that powerful sections of the media have appropriated many of the more terrifying images of war and made them seem glamorous and exciting. So the installation now concentrates on “the concept  of making peace stronger”. What is emphasised is not the act of destruction, the mushroom cloud and missile systems, but what would be lost, the familiar images of the Australian landscape which we take for granted.

A number of related activities have been designed to take place around the installation while it is in each city. In Adelaide it will be part of a larger exhibition in the Festival Centre on the theme of Peace and War. A peace conference will also take place in the Centre featuring Dr Trapeznikov from the Soviet Union and Dr Abrahams from the USA.

In Melbourne a seminar run by the Arts and Craft Teachers Association on a proposed peace curriculum will be run in conjunction with the installation. While in Sydney a number of events, including a Conference on Positive Peace Practices and a poetry reading organised by the NSW branch of the Poets Union will take place.

It is hoped that the installation will be able to continue touring after September. But that depends on the amount of support generated over the next six months. So make an effort to get along and see it when it is in your city.