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  • Writer's pictureHelen Wyatt

Inspections and Excavations

Four neckpieces are a contemporary and material response to ideas that exert huge influence on our personal lives by impacting our physical, psychological and social well-being. In this case they are the subject matter for my work: a road project. The road is an ‘everyday’ thing … except when it is not – when it affects a person directly and starts to carry loss and fragmentation.

Worn on a person, these neckpieces can’t avoid being extraordinary.

Who wishes to walk with me?

The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and hearings

Ever the old inexplicable query

The simple, compact, well-join'd scheme

As a point of departure I have chosen quotes from the American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892) in his Leaves of Grass (first published in1855). The texts are mere fragments of a very long poetry collection and speak of 19th century Romanticism, Humanism, Optimism, Hope and, to me, an idea of ‘progress’, companionship and faith in man that sit uncomfortably in the early 21st century.

In the modern Australian city of Sydney a huge network of tunnels is being built that includes a spaghetti intersection below ground (and above) that is on a scale the rest of world has never seen. I have located the ideas embodied in Whitman’s texts in the ‘hands’ of a viewer who is reflective and engaged with the massive building project. To many, the project is an out-dated concept in praise of the car and a scar through what developed originally as a largely English Victorian cityscape (albeit itself one imposed on Aboriginal land).

The building works are awesome. They are sublime in an atmosphere of wind, rain, relentless sun and destruction. Workers are dwarfed by the huge tools of engineering employed; images of Personal Protective Gear (PPE) disrupt the visual feast. It is my patch; my backyard. It is an historical moment.

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