Since each of us was several, there was quite a crowd. Here we have made use of everything that came within range, what was closest as well as fartherest away. (Deleuze & Guattari, in the introduction to A Thousand Plateaus, 3)

'Reconfiguring The Wall'

Reconfiguring the wall (2006)--Panel 1, installation view
Emma Rowden

Artist's Statement: 
"The notion of other dissolves when we see the other as no different from ourselves.
I am interested in exploring the social ethics and politics of architecture and have taken the former asylum boundary wall at Callan Park as the starting point for my exploration. This project has evolved into a speculation on how architecture might express the formation of  new relationships between those framed as 'other'. To address the issue of social justice that the site provokes, I have overlaid the site, following an innovative Japanese precedent, with a public health retreat that provides employment and training opportunities for people living with mental illness.
Historically, the walls of Callan Park have reinforced the site as an environment that controls--by keeping some people in and others out--and I am interested in subverting this, both symbolically and literally. The site with its hidden narratives, oral histories, hearsay, and emergent 'other' voices provides a rich woven landscape into which to insert my program. Anecdotal stories of nurses climbing over the asylum walls past midnight sit alongside those of past traumas left unarticulated,, and all combine to the formation of an architectural language. The unusual sandstone carvings on Callan Point have inspired walls of heteroglossal textural interplay to reveal the past and present voices of the site. I see these voices emerging in one plane as being analogous to Mikhail Bakhtin's idea of the carnival, where the distinct individual voices are heard, flourish and interact  together, where each voice inescapably shapes the character of the others."
(Emma Rowden, catalog to the Bachelor of Architecture Graduate Exhibition, Not To Scale 2006) 

Panel 1: 176 x 254 cm; linen bed sheet belonged to Gertrude Ivo Brenan (1883-1978, great grand daughter of John Ryan Brenan who first built on the Callan Park site, 1839);  printed with architectural plans for the site (1:200), sectional perspective (1:50), longitudinal section (1:100); text;  map of former asyla sites of Sydney; stitched title of project (reconfiguring the wall) in stranded cotton thread

Panel 2: 108 x 248 cm; cotton, linen, silk, wool, plant-dyed with material from site;machine pieced, hand appliquéd;  printed, hand and machine stitched silk and cotton threads, paint; 

Panel 2 during construction (Detail)

Panel 3: 104 x 125 cm, torn cotton bed sheet belonged to Simon John Macintyre Tucker (1982-2005, great grandson of  Gertrude Ivo Brenan); one side printed with architectural plan cross-sections (1:100), perspective through courtyard between hospitality school and health retreat, text; appliqué; other side printed with image of boundary wall at Callan Park Asylum at its original height, site plan;hand  appliqué; text hand stitched with title of project, cotton Perle thread;

  Panel 3 (installation view)

Calico Tape: machine stitched text (referencing the many stories, 'voices' associated with the site)

The oral histories/heteroglossal voices. Fragments of oral histories 'on tape'.
Ariadne's thread: from classical mythology, the daughter of Minos and Pasiphae who gave Theseus the thread by which he escaped form the labyrinth (and the minotaur)...the beast in the basement of reason (who said that? Bataille I think).
The tape leads us through the many stories associated with the site and its alternative histories.

A Cloth Book of Maps:

Detail of one of the maps, contour map printed on calico, hand-stitched with cotton thread. 

Architectural Model:


Exhibition/Presentation History:
Not To Scale, Bachelor of Architecture Graduation Exhibition, Tramsheds Ranwick Campus UNSW, November 2006

Reconfiguring the Wall, paper presented at the Australian and New Zealand History of Medicine Conference: 'Medicine in Context' ANU Canberra, July 2007
                                              also at The Writers'Centre, Callan Park, for 'History Week'  September 2007  
"Based on site investigations for my architectural project, the paper explored the politics of architecture and historical interpretation in relation to the contentious topic of future development at Sydney's Callan Park, former asylum for the insane" (Emma Rowden 2010)
Reconfiguring the Wall (historical interpretation; textile art) the work displayed at Leichhardt Library as part of 'Broughton Hall: Private Prosperity, Public Vision' an exhibition by Leichhardt Municipal Council and History Council NSW, 19 September - 28 October 2007

Why make quilts?

"As I made my first one so long ago (I think I was about 13 or 14, I can't actually remember what drew me to it in the first place)...I think I liked the idea of making something useful - or more particularly something that I could use on a daily basis. I think its the same drive that is drawing me at the moment to making knitted jumpers and cardigans. I like the fact that its something close to my skin that is warming and comforting that I've made and pieced together. I know every stitch. 

As soon as I made my first quilt though, I ended up giving away every other one I've made, so I think also I like the fact that I'm making that object for someone else. I like the bigness of the gesture when it is made as a gift, if that makes sense in that it takes a long time and there's a lot of me invested in it. 

In my more recent attempts, I think its the feeling of the quilted fabric and how that feels under the fingers, that draws me to it. The feeling of the different types of fabric together, and more particularly the feeling of the puckering of the fabric with the stitches - the more dense the better! I also composing the juxtaposition of colours and textures and patterns."
(Emma Rowden: personal communication,  September 14 2010) 


The site:
The area that was to become known as 'Sydney' was first occupied by the Wangal band (of the Darug/Eora language group. [See Janet Laurence/ Edge of the Trees (1995) in th 'Connections' Page of this blog].
There is a midden on the river shore that dates from early times (the location is recorded in the 'Cloth book of Maps').

Family Connections:
Emma asked me to help with the technical aspects of her project and the making of a quilt to present her final year architecture project. It was not until she had already chosen the Callan Park site, however, that by sheer coincidence I already had a connection through my maternal grandmother. I had grown up with stories of a big family home set on a river but had no idea they were true and, the place existed. By the tie we realised the connection, Emma had already located the documents confirming this in the Mitchell Library of the Sate Library of NSW. 

My great great great grandfather, John Ryan Brenan (1798-1868) was born in Limerick Ireland. He qualified as a barrister and solicitor, set up practice in Dublin and married in 1818. He traveled to New South Wales in 1834, where he was appointed Coroner for Sydney in 1835. From then he experienced a series of ups and downs in fortune (although from a reading of the details I think there may be have a certain amount of discrimination in the colony at the time--Ryan Brenan was Irish and a Catholic--although he is described as being "... fiery and somewhat intemperate when opposed.(and)...given to litigation" in the family history).
In 1839 that he bought the land at Balmain and built his home, Garryowen. Then in 1841, Ryan built Broughton Hall on the same site as an investment. In 1865 Garryowen and its surrounding land (except for Geraldine Cottage and its 50 acres where the family were by then living) was finally sold to cover mounting debts.

In family story it was claimed that 'Uncle Jo' (Joseph Justin Brenan c1823-1884, Ryan Brenan's youngest son) 'lost' the family estates in a card game one night. It was only after I met Emma and became involved in this project that I discovered that this was not exactly true. Garryowen was sold before Ryan's death, not after as the family story claimed. There were undoubtedly already financial difficulties in Ryan's time. And it was Uncle Jo who became legal guardian to his elder brother's nine children when their mother and father died of TB.  
Uncle Jo and his niece, Lily
My great grandfather, John O'Neill Brenan (Ryan's grandson, Jo's nephew) was born at Garryowen in 1856.
Th linen bed sheet on which Emma's designs are printed belonged to my grandmother, John O'Neill Brenan's daughter:
Gertrude Ivo Brenan

Love Will Nail You to The Cross: confinement, control,  heteroglossia,  institutions, justice, language/text,  narratives hidden/fragmented, telling of story

Lost Birds Series: landscape/environment, time (through)

Other Links Of Interest:
ABC Radio National 'All In The Mind' Crazy Like Us , 
ABC Radio National 'Up the Line To: Goodna (Part 1) Goodna (Part 2), Goodna (Part 3)' often confronting stories of a Brisbane Mental Hospital

Other Artists:
Dennis Del Favero Deep Sleep 2004
Anne Ferran: INSULA Book 1/ (bodies), Book 2 / (faces, Book 3 / (patient hands), Book 4 / (nunrses hands) 2003 
Sandy Jeffs A Thesaurus of Madness
Anthony Mannix: Journal of a Madman 1987-2003
Dorothy Porter:

Entry Garryowen/NSW Writers'Centre

Garryowen/NSW Writers'Centre

Garryowen: cupola above staircase

Garryowen: looking towards Kirkebride Buildings
(now Sydney College of the Arts)

See also: Reconfiguring the Wall

1 comment:

  1. Hi. I'm messaging from England. I'm researching a house in Sheringham, Norfolk and I think Gertrude may have been living there (or been a vistor) on the 1939 census. The lady of the house had moved to Henley when her death is reported in 1942 and she left probate to Ivo Gertrude Mustard (wife of Henry Christopher Mustard). Let me know if you think it may be her and I can send you further details as it's a bit confusing with other names mentioned as well so I won't clog up the posts if it is not her. Apologies for troubling you if it is not.