Concealed in the cold concrete walls within the lower level of the State Savings Bank in George Street, Brisbane, a disused vault played temporary host to a compelling installation of objects, surfaces, and sounds. Moonlighting: Second Circulation, by artist, Ruth McConchie, is one of the latest in a series of her object-based artworks shown in the Brisbane region—though the first to find its home in such a unique, and secluded space, hidden from the commotion amidst the Public Service area of Brisbane.
Within its conceptual formation, and in its title, the installation references a significant event in Queensland’s past. On the 11 May, 1987, after several articles in The Courier-Mail, Australia’s longest running investigative journalism program, ‘Four Corners’ aired an edition titled ‘The Moonlight State’, delving into the high-level corruption of the Queensland police. Leading to the Fitzgerald Inquiry that culminated in over one-hundred convictions, the jailing of the Police commissioner, and the end of the eighteen year reign of Queensland Premier, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, ‘The Moonlight State’ exposed the debauchery seething just below the surface, at all levels of the Queensland police system. It upturned sordid events through its graphic depiction of the strip clubs, the brothels, and the underhand dealings between police and organised crime syndicates. As exemplified by this notorious historical event, the ability to use fronts, or guises of respectability to cloak elicit activities or persons is a concern that has reverberated throughout McConchie’s oeuvre, and constitutes part of the title of this installation.
An extension of the artist’s exhibition at the artist run organisation, Boxcopy, titled Standard Oil Company: He has prickles on his face (2012), Moonlighting: Second Circulation incorporates a space accessed only by a pre-booked appointment with the artist. After travelling down a lift, and then through a dark, cavernous, concrete hallway, the installation is revealed behind a locked door. The interior is reminiscent of an office, containing desks and shelves littered with books, stationery, and other paraphernalia. Divided into three sections, the first room is rather clean, sterile—a reception area. The second is slightly busier, with books lined up neatly along a desk. The third and final room is hidden by a slightly opaque wall, flimsily constructed with panels of calico. With only a small opening, forcing us to crouch down to enter, this final room evokes a sense of displacement—it seems like a messy storage room, away from public view. The back wall is coated in a disheveled wallpaper of calico that ripples over it, like a desert of tiny sand dunes, or morning-after bedsheets. In this final room, we feel as though we are somewhere we should not be. Each section in McConchie’s installation seems progressively more residual of human activity—of day-to-day interactions. Yet, within all of the spaces, a somewhat perverse sense of abandon lingers. This sectioning off is perhaps suggestive of the compartmentalisation of day-to-day experience, only representative of a fraction of our lives—but perhaps laden with the suggestions of our private, unseen selves.
This intimate space is distinctly different in all physical aspects from that of a white cube gallery; our experience of art within institutional settings, is still crafted, organised and labored over. McConchie constructs the chaos of a workspace—one that is still and silent (aside from a howling soundtrack, made of recordings of the building itself), perhaps forgotten, yet frozen in time, like the stiff, treated calico crumpled over the walls encasing the back room of space. Can you touch the array of objects scattered across the tables and shelves? Can you resist? The artist affirms that many have succumb to the urge—but who would know what has been arranged by McConchie, and what has been moved by the visitors to the space. Aside from the ridged calico, painted with corn flower glue, the installation contains an eclectic collection of objects; pens, clips, pencils, mugs, notepads, books—all familiar, utilitarian, touchable, movable, replaceable. Does it matter if these objects have been moved since installation? Do we care? We are not in a gallery, walking by an artwork cordoned off with white tape, we are in an artwork—an environment, our footsteps echoing throughout the space, complimenting the howling sounds of the cold concrete vault.
Currently, at www.thestatesavingsbank.com you can find an eclectic, disproportional collage of documentary photographs of the installation, installation space, and the Savings Bank itself. Confusing, and chaotic, to complement the installation, the documentation carries its own sense of mystery and intrigue. It is these elements that make McConchie’s installation works transformative experiences. They place us within environments where we are unsure of ourselves, our surroundings or what to make of them. Playing on our own voyeuristic desires, McConchie explores the multiple layers of identity and persona of social environments and public/private spaces.
Ruth McConchie, Moonlighting: Second Circulation, 2013. Installation details. Courtesy the artist.