Be Spoken To: re-mixing words from Old Parliament House
An artist and a poet walk into the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House …
Bespoke and Be Spoken To
In 2014, the Museum of Australian Democracy and Craft ACT invited several artists to respond to the furnishings of Old Parliament House and create artworks for Bespoke: Design for the People. The artworks were destined to be displayed alongside the furnishings in the exhibition, Furnished: Suites, seats and suits. We jumped at the chance to participate, completely inspired by the group of eight hand-lettered timber signs which were displayed in Furnished.
We created a unique and engaging installation called Be Spoken To. Bearing in mind that parliament is a place for debate, discussion and occasionally protest, Melinda, the poet in our duo, copied and then cheekily remixed the text on the signs. Serious warnings like Strictly Members Only and Take Care on Polished Floor were transformed into phrases like Members are not about to be polished for the visitors.
Caren, the artistic one, hand-printed the re-mixed phrases using wooden and metal type adopting the colour scheme of the original signs and motifs from the building’s distinctive architectural style. The prints were then carefully mounted on more signs from the museum’s collection and displayed across from those already on display, as if in conversation with them.
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While intentionally playful in tone, the re-mixed signs encouraged visitors to also think about more serious concepts such as ‘representatives’, ‘members’ and ‘visitors’, and the temporary nature of parliaments and the buildings that house them. Several visitors nominated Be Spoken To as their favourite work in the exhibition.
Still speaking - between covers
When the exhibition finished in December 2015, we were so inspired by the experience that we continued to collaborate. Together we created an artist’s book, re-using the text from the Bespoke signs, and adding new poems and design elements, all inspired by the nationally heritage-listed building and its extraordinary history.
The result, 1962: Be Spoken To, is centred on the year 1962 and uses the calendar of the parliamentary sittings as a window into the life of the building. Melinda ransacked the Hansard speeches along with contemporary newspaper articles and other sources to craft extra ‘found’ poems. Caren hand-set, hand-printed and hand-sewed the whole into five enormous artist’s books (one spread covers half a kitchen table!). Each one slides into its own Tyvek ‘ghost bag’, inspired by the material the museum uses to store much of its collection, and one of the books is now in the National Library of Australia collection.
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We have also partnered with Canberra publisher Recent Work Press to produce a chapbook version of the work called Members Only. The chapbook includes all the poems and rearranged sign text from 1962: Be Spoken To in a format that can be easily held in the hand.
The cheeky signs, the artist’s book and the chapbook will be on display from 17 August until 3 September 2017 in Lines of Site: Finding the Sublime in Canberra at the M16 Artspace. We would love to chat with you about our work at any of the following events. No RSVPs required.
- Exhibition opening, Thursday 17 August 2017, 6 pm
- Launch of Members Only by Kate Armstrong of MoADOPH,Sunday 20 August 2017, 2 pm
- Artists’ Q&A, Sunday 27 August 2017, 2pm (including nibbles)