Sites of Sydney

Welcome Readers, to the first issue of the UTS student journal, Ideas in History. This is a journal which showcases some of the very best student writing from the first year BA Communication subject, Ideas in History.

Ideas in History to give you some idea of both the subject and this journal is organised around an encounter with some of the key (some might say ‘big’) ideas that have informed and shaped the development of knowledge or theory together with practices in the arts and social sciences. In the first iteration of the subject in Spring Semester, 2009 and in this first issue of the journal the very many ideas encountered have been collected together under the rubrics or notions of ‘tradition’; ‘modernity’; and ‘post modernity’. The theme which links each article herein as it discusses and problematizes these conceptual categories is that of Sites of Sydney. This arose out of a series of assessments in the subject in which we asked all our students to visit a site, space, place, museum, gallery or installation anywhere in Sydney. Students were then asked to respond to their chosen site, place or installation in terms of the ways in which they saw those big concepts ‘tradition’, ‘modernity’ and ‘post modernity’ at once both configuring those sites and making possible critical reflection upon and understanding of their sites.

After their first site visits students were asked to map out a proposal for an article based upon their site/place/installation drawing upon the key ideas in the subject to do so. Once these proposals were completed they were then circulated for peer review – every student read and reviewed 2 other students’ proposals. Once the peer review process was complete students then began work on their full articles. In the penultimate versions of the best student articles collected here you will then be reading work that only draws on much of the theory/knowledge that is central to the arts and social sciences but which also exemplifies the practice of knowledge production in the arts and social sciences. That is, each article is both an outcome of research, reflection and writing on those ideas /the theory by each student author, and it is at the same time an example of the outcome of the practice of academic knowledge production organised as it is around the peer review process.  The work of our student authors collected here is certainly the result of some outstanding individual initiative and effort but like all academic knowledge production it is based on the collective effort of peers (as reviewers) as well as that human history of intellectual effort collected in the works of ideas contained in the innumerable books, essays, journal articles and texts of all kinds produced for all time.

In this our first issue we are delighted to publish in alphabetical order: Luke Bacon’s analysis of the old Eveleigh rail yards in Redfern, Sydney recently transformed into the art gallery, growers’ market, community arts site now named, ‘Carriageworks’. Following this is Jessamine Finlayson’s critical reflection on the exhibition, Femme Fatale, held at the Police and Justice Museum in Sydney. Jessamine interrogates changing ideas about ‘crime’ committed by women and associated practices of punishment.  Crime might also be a theme (albeit an implicit one) in Tim Graham’s article on the Historic Houses Trust site in Western Sydney, ‘Rouse Hill House and Farm’ – a site based on the original ‘crime’ of Indigenous dispossession and which now is testament to the ‘criminal’ Anglo-European assault on the landscape and fauna of the country now reaching its apotheosis in enduring drought and all the associated symptoms of land degradation and climate change. Similarly, Scott McGuiness reflects on the colonial and post colonial legacy of Indigenous dispossession from the vantage point of an archaeological site in Ultimo named, ‘The Quadrant’. In an installation titled, ‘Past Connections Present Lives’, Scott interrogates the conceptual links established here between the original owners of the land, the Gadigal people, and their present descendants.

Sydney’s colonial past and post colonial (or is still colonial?) present are an inescapable feature of any clear-eyed analysis of contemporary Sydney and its sites and Ashley Matthews article is no exception. Ashley takes us to the heart of present-day Aboriginal Sydney on the Block, in Redfern. From here she reflects critically on western/Anglo-European knowledges that have constructed Indigenous people as either having ‘tradition’ or having ‘lost’ their traditions.  

The crux of Nina Pace’s article which follows is that notions of ‘tradition’ have produced tropes about Aboriginality that belie the hybrid nature of identity. Nina’s starting point is ‘The Dreamers’, an exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW; another site which instantiates the Indigenous present in Sydney. 

Following on from Nina is Tim Patrick’s analysis of the place of religion and specifically, Christianity as yet another critical feature of the Australian past and present. In ‘Get Me to the Church on Time’, Tim uses St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, to reflect on the relationship between ‘tradition’ and ‘post modernity’.

Likewise, Annie Peachman is also interested in the idea of the postmodern and the notion of post modernity for the ways in which each can inform our understanding of street art and graffiti. ‘The Lady of Edgecliff’ in Sydney’s inner eastern suburb of that name inspires her article. And in Ellie Schneider’s article that follows Annie’s we find an account of the ways in which notions of modernity and post modernity  might inform our understanding  of Sydney’s avant garde art movement particularly as this is exemplified in the work of Brett Whitely whose studio is now managed by the Art Gallery of NSW.

Ideas about the avante garde, post modernity and identity all come together in the next article by James Vaughan who is inspired by a visit to the gallery of contemporary Chinese art, ‘White Rabbit’. James reflects on the ways in which the art works exhibited at ‘White Rabbit’ reveal a society as he puts it, ‘constantly redefining itself against the ideological backdrop of modernity and post modernity’.

The ‘West/Orient’ binary is a key theme in Xiafou Wang’s article which follows. Xiafou’s reference point is not, however, China but Africa or rather, Nigeria and the work of the British artist of Nigerian birth, Yinka Shonabare, exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art. What interests Xiafou and forms the basis of his critical reflection on this exhibition is the way in which Shonibare’s work ‘debunks the essentializing categories of the ‘modern’ and the ‘traditional’, and in the process blurs the boundaries between ‘European’ and ‘African’ identity.

Last but of course, not least is Colleen Wood’s article, ‘When Pressed’, a lyrical analysis of exhibits of pressed, dried plants and flowers at the National Herbarium of NSW. As Colleen carefully peels back the history of the antiquarian collections held at the Herbarium and juxtaposes these with its contemporary exhibits and curatorial narratives she reflects on the ways in which the ‘modern’ and ‘empire’  science of collecting and classifying has laied the foundation for an Australian ecology that is at once both very ‘postmodern’ and ‘traditional’.

We hope you enjoy reading these articles as much as we did.

Virginia Watson – Subject Coordinator

Peter Kandlbinder – Journal Online Production and Subject Assessment Coordinator

Katherine Gordon – Director, Communication Program, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.