Jennifer: Donning a yellow work vest allows you to get away with anything in Western Australia. At least, this is the notion put forward by the exhibition entitled “Yellow Vest Syndrome”, officially opened at the Fremantle Arts Centre on Friday night.
Featured Western Australian artist George Egerton-Warburton put this theory into practice when he went to a construction site, resplendent in a yellow work vest, and began erecting his own building. He didn’t get too far, but successfully illustrated the cheeky attitude that we can be opportunistic and exploit the cover afforded by the conspicuousness of a yellow vest.
Other Western Australian artists among the thirty featured in the exhibition have adopted metaphorical yellow vests. Mark Parfitt has constructed a Grass Production Factory, parodying competitive neighbours in a contest to create the perfect lawn. Unlike Egerton-Warburton’s construction worker, Parfitt’s lawn could never be mistaken for the real thing. However, it represents the effect of economic development on the suburban landscape and on the vision of suburban utopia. This change in idea of what prosperity and happiness for Western Australians entails has been brought about by the resources-driven boom the State has recently experienced.
For curator Jasmin Stephens, the exhibition focuses on the boom-time perception of landscape and country. It seeks fresh perspectives on the “gold rush” mentality that automatically equates economic development with progress. The cover afforded by the yellow vest empowers artists to challenge this prevailing idea. At Friday night’s opening, Stephens applauded the great degree of diversity and innovation exhibited by the artists, as well as their sense of adventure in how they have commented on economic development.
Thoughts of tormented spirits lingering in the reputedly haunted building were far from my mind as I wandered the rooms of the Fremantle Arts Centre at my leisure, glass of Western Australian wine in hand. This is surely due to the unrestrained creative energy exuded by each of the 62 pieces of featured art, and the convivial ambiance created by fittingly-named local musicians Ghost Hotel. Regardless of its reputation as the most haunted building in the Southern Hemisphere, one cannot fail to appreciate the historic landmark that is the Fremantle Arts Centre. In the fading light, as the Fremantle Doctor rushes over its imposing stone walls and sweeps through the courtyard, one is awestruck by the starkness and immensity of its facades, interrupted at intervals by the irregular distorting surfaces of the high diamond-paned windows. It is fascinating to reflect on the course of its history- constructed by convicts, inhabited by those unfortunate Western Australians condemned as “criminally insane”, and now a building which showcases and celebrates contemporary visual art.
In my lifetime it has always existed as an Arts Centre. However, my perception of the building has been moulded by my knowledge of its history. Despite the financial boom Western Australia has recently experienced, my perception of the Arts Centre as an integral and defining feature of the Fremantle landscape remains steadfast. Indeed, in times of change, buildings of such history are an invaluable and enduring reminder of what life used to be like.