Pumphouse

Rodney Spooner
Mildura Arts Centre

Mildura was once the stage for the Australian Sculpture Triennial, yet over the past two decades art activity has been virtually dormant. The issues of distance, finance and a supportive local community infrastructure, which proved problematic, seem finally to be resolving themselves. A little Government risk capital in the form of the Artist-in-Industry grant to the SunRISE 21 Artists-in-Industry Project two years ago is emerging as a highly successful venture. The project has drawn together five national and international artists, practicing in an alliance with local industry and rural government departments such as the CSIRO and Murray Darling Basin Commission.

Rodney Spooner has been teamed with the First Mildura Irrigation Trust [FMIT], completing the first installment of his project in the form of a three-room installation. The work is centred in the Mildura Art Centres' historic Chaffey Mansion––Rio Vista. Spooner's works have characteristically raised debate on issues of 'Space', how matter and philosophies collide and align themselves in various time frames. His previous work brought subtle physical interventions, such as slabs of concrete, columns, fictitious shop fronts or exquisitely constructed matchstick geometric forms, into the public domain. His cool, pared down aesthetic initially appears subtle but then seems incongruous in these settings, attracting audiences via the intervention of curiosity.

Rodney Spooner's current installation, Pumphouse demonstrates his quest for audience interaction. The work is comprised of three small rooms referred to as the servants quarters: they reflect notions of class and historic references. The interconnected rooms house three large photographs depicting FMIT pumphouses. These large red brick edifices, built nearly a century ago, were constructed to withstand the unpredictable Murray River and guard the physical heart of industry in this district––the irrigation pumps. As in previous works, Spooner highlights certain motifs which give viewers an entry point to what is not an easy work to access. The circle, evident in round windows in the architecture, has been isolated from the photographs, highlighting the significance of all things circular associated with this region: irrigation pipes, the seasons, whirlpools, ripples in the river and the philosophical issues, cycles and recycling. Circular holes have been physically cut out of the carpet and relocated to other rooms (creating virtual wormholes connecting the spaces). The walls have been painted the same murky brown of the river water up to the height of the dado line. Spooner has researched the Chaffey archives and analysed the floral motifs on wallpaper in the other rooms of the mansion. These too are included on the walls of the 'servants quarters', adding another layer of historical context to the piece.

As we enter the gallery we are greeted by two gleaming gold and black icons of the irrigator's trade––large backhoes––perched as if in some curious courting ritual on the gallery lawns. On entry to the gallery space one notices the photographs first and can be absorbed in the narrative of the cycles evident in them, the circular gaps, askew placement of architectural features and ripples created in the sky/foliage. There is virtually no signage; the audience receives a pure visual experience. The fear is that a general audience may miss the significance of the other elements, the muddy water coloured walls, the holes in the carpet and the physical interplay of the three rooms.

Rodney Spooner, Pumphouse, 1999. Installation detail. Courtesy Mildura Arts Centre. 

Rodney Spooner, Pumphouse, 1999. Installation detail. Courtesy Mildura Arts Centre. 

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For more on Rodney Spooner click here.