I Stay

Our weekend was chockers with fabulous art. On Saturday we visited the Carriageworks for El-Anatsui exhibition with not only his breathtaking tapestries made from discarded wine bottle caps and wire, but also some older works: ceramics, wood carvings, drawings. Then into town for one part of the Destination Sydney exhibitions – Margaret Preston, Grace Cossington Smith and Cressida Campbell at the S H Erwin. Today we went in late morning to the MCA for the incredibly busy work of Grayson Perry, and then an excellent exhibition of work from Tiwi artists. And there were Lloyd Rees’s extraordinary landscape drawings from the 1930s at the Sydney Museum on the way home.

But the biggest thrill happened in the street. I’ve passed Jenny Holzer’s I Stay many times but never stopped to look at it. It consists of text rolling up a couple of slanting pillars outside an office block in the CBD. It turns out that the text is excerpts from a large number of Aboriginal source – historical documents, poems, essays, etc. Only a few words are visible at any one time and the sources aren’t identified (unless, as a plaque explains you go to Jenny Holzer’s website http://www.istaybyjennyholzer.com/). The big revelation today was that if you stand and read the text for a couple of minutes, not only do you absorb the content of the fragment that happens to pass along the column at that time (in our case it was some thing about the colour of water), but when you look away, the rest of the world looks shaky and insubstantial – the buildings around you, all the solid realities of post settlement Sydney –  seem to waver like mirages. The word that comes to mind is unsettling.

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