The Illuminations – from workshop to showcase
In June 2011 the museum commissioned a significant artwork as a focal point for its Designing Democracy exhibition which celebrates the 1901 Federation of the Commonwealth of Australia. The celebrations are captured in a volume of hand-coloured photographs of Federation arches held in the Museum of Australian Democracy’s collection. The album, ‘Views of Sydney’, provided the inspiration for the design of the commissioned artwork. The Illuminations, by glass artist Wendy Fairclough, is a contemporary response to the 1901 celebrations and comprises twenty hand blown glass vessels etched using a cameo technique to create a panoramic evening skyline of the celebrations. Federation arches, bunting, flags, revellers and eucalyptus leaves feature prominently on the black and gold glass vessels whose forms are derived from the domestic ware of the Federation period. Vases, lamps, measuring flasks, pharmacy bottles, a ginger jar and even a saucepan are among the everyday objects that together form this extraordinary and illuminating installation.
The artwork was created by Wendy Fairclough at the nearby Canberra Glassworks in Kingston over several months earlier this year before being installed at the museum at the end of June. Canberra Glassworks partnered MoAD in the development of the Federation-inspired artwork, with visitors to the Glassworks able to see the artist at work during its production. The various shapes and sizes of the vessels, combined with the fragility of glass, meant that a special crate had to be constructed in order to safely transport the twenty objects the short distance down the road from the Glassworks to MoAD. The inside of the crate is a three dimensional jigsaw puzzle of separate numbered compartments and trays to ensure that each precious object is individually cocooned and protected from damage, shock and vibration. Even the stoppers from the bottles and jars have individual compartments like chocolates in a chocolate box. The compartments are fitted out with blocks of foam or profiled according to the shape of the object in order to provide maximum cushioning, and then covered with an inert silk fabric which adds further protection from scratches.
Once the crate had been meticulously fitted out and carefully packed at the Glassworks it was transported by specialist art transport to MoAD, where the objects were unpacked from their individual storage compartments, photographed and catalogued into the museum’s collection database. The artwork was then ready to be installed in the exhibition space. Two of the museum’s Registration staff painstakingly reassembled the jugs, jars, saucepan and bowls under the watchful guidance of Wendy Fairclough, ensuring that the individual vessels worked together to reflect the artist’s intention. The result is a striking arrangement of familiar and unusual shapes which echo the festive celebrations depicted on their surfaces—a fitting tribute to the celebration of Federation and a welcome addition to the museum’s collection.