Listening to Clara, Ethel and Ada Australian Perspecta 1997
Listening to Clara, Ethel and Ada is to listen to the often quelled stories of another generation, of another way of looking at the world. There is something nostalgic in these names, the names of elderly women with a storehouse of domestic collective memory, the names of three well-trod streets in the newly gentrified inner-city suburb of Erskineville. These names evoke the traditional values of home and hearth, of close-knit community where neighbours were on a first-name basis and doors remained open to the life of those living close, where maternal wisdom could breach any rift. Yet together with nostalgia, this emphasis on the process of listening reactivates ways of thinking undermined by the ascendancy of economic rationalism in public debate. It affirms a different sense of time, it valorises the ineffable qualities of human interaction, and acknowledges the often unexpressed need for community we all feel at some point.
Sue Pedley’s project is concerned precisely with representing these issues. Her evolving installation, set up in a row of shops long vacant in the heart of Erskineville village, plays host to this different sense of time: a sense of suspended, slow time which seeks to elude the instrumentalism of the economic paradigms which are driving recent changes in her suburb, including the closure of essential regional services, the destruction of old industrial landmarks, and the relentless encroachment by private property of public land.
the economically-driven world.
Pedley’s weaving takes a very specific pattern: it is modelled on the molecular structure of gypsum, the main component of her favoured material, plaster. Pedley has long been investigating the subtle secrets of plaster, its architectural history as well as its chemical properties. In this installation, her rendering of plaster’s unseen inner intricacies embodies an apt metaphor for the seemingly fragile, yet inherently strong, community ties in her neighbourhood. Pedley’s obsessive treatment of plaster is an obsession with the basics, with a simple yet infinitely fascinating building material, with plaster’s sensuality, warmth and endless plasticity.
Pedley’s project of ‘listening’ also entails a fast and loose documentation of the groundswell of community opposition to certain developments in her suburb. Pedley’s project thus simultaneously plays the traditional galvanising role of community art, and engages in subtle aesthetic work. This interplay grants the project a greater complexity, characterised by that sense of non-instrumental time that renders Pedley’s studio/gallery/shopfront a place of respite from the exigencies of the economically-driven world.
This is an edited version of an essay first published in a catalogue for the exhibition Listening to Clara, Ethel and Ada held as part of Perspecta 1997.