If the name Agatha Gothe-Snape sounds familiar, it’s because this accomplished artist was recently the subject of a prominent Australian art event. Exhibiting talent on both sides of the canvas, the artist was the subject of this year’s winning Archibald Prize portrait.
But prior to receiving this honour, during the 20th Biennale of Sydney in 2016, Gothe-Snape undertook the first phase of her contemplative work Here, an Echo. It’s part of our permanent public art collection, City Art.
The artist invited participants to help produce the artwork by joining her on walks through the city. The elements of the artwork were gathered on these walks, which also contained performances with dancer Brooke Stamp and other collaborators, and conversations with locals and historians.
Today, Gothe-Snape’s work culminates in an e-book, documentation of the walks and a series of phrases on the road surface of Wemyss Lane in Surry Hills. The phrases can be read from north to south, or south to north. The artist deliberately chose to use road-marking paint to inscribe the texts.
“I wanted the texts to appear in a material of the city,” she says. “As it [the artwork] is absorbed back into the laneway, it will become grimy and weathered, and will soon be less visible. In a way, drawn back into the fabric of the city that produced it,” she continues.
Of course, like any poem, the meanings of the phrases in the artwork are open to your interpretation. Here are brief descriptions shared by the artist herself.
It was Jimmy Smith, an advisor on the project, who reminded me that Sydney Harbour is the physical doorway to the British colonisation of this country. In Wemyss Lane, the physical doorways open into discrete worlds within the buildings that occupy the blocks.
“A single stamp”
I was excited to find that Philas House, the stamp collecting association of Australia, was one of the tenants based at Wemyss Lane. In my conversations I was struck by the value and desire that can be attached to a single stamp – a small but precious object, especially as we use postal mail less and less. I liked the idea that the whole building was like a letter, posted through time to us.
“Dwelling, lying around”
Whenever I was in the laneway, I was very conscious that many of the rooms that face it are bedrooms or lounge rooms. I liked the idea that just adjacent to the lane were sleeping and resting bodies. We were also thinking about dwelling as a way to absorb ambience – rather than always rushing, deciding to stay still and listen.
“An untimely foundatin”
This phrase came from a description of the laneway in its early days, when sewerage flowed down the gutters. But it came to really make sense when the sink-hole and perpetual rain prevented us from installing week after week!
In Sydney, it sometimes seems as if the only thing we talk about is real estate, which strikes me as strange as we are trading in a stolen resource. Nonetheless, property, and our drive to possess it, shapes the daily life of many Sydneysiders.
You can see Here, an Echo now at Wemyss Lane in Surry Hills.