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‘Those familiar with the demolition of Wellington’s Victorian buildings will relate to Geoff Weary’s video photographic installation at City Gallery Wellington’, writes Pauline Harper in Contract.
The central work, Failure to Materialise (1989), is a twelve-minute video made in collaboration with architect Mark Jackson. Jackson documented the demolition of Sydney's Anthony Hordern Palace Emporium on Super 8 for his 1988 documentary Universal Provider. Weary transfers Jackson’s original footage to video at an eighth normal speed. The Anthony Hordern Palace Emporium is destroyed … slowly.
Opened in 1904, the Emporium was designed for Anthony Hordern and Sons, once Australia’s largest retailer, as a monument to Anglo-Australian capitalism. It was a place you could buy anything and everything. Weary says, ‘The Emporium was a symbol of its time; of the Victorian ideal of the all-encompassing British empire and the concept of the Australian Commonwealth.’ In observing the Emporium's demolition, Passion of the Outside evokes the end of empire.
The video is set to music by British composer Benjamin Britten and poetry by W.H. Auden that dwells on the significance of a nation losing its cultural symbols. While the building crumbles, the voiceover quotes Cecil Rhodes, ‘I walked between the earth and sky and when I looked down I said, ‘This earth should be English.”’ Weary says, 'The voiceover presents the scale, power and domination of Queen Victoria’s Empire over her subject colonies.’
Failure to Materialise is shown on two monitors on five-foot-high plinths. Twenty-five stills from the video are hung in a grid between them. Weary also incorporates Wellington into the show, listing local places named after Queen Victoria on the wall.
Weary sees the work as social documentation and philosophical investigation. Harper says ‘the installation is not about loss but about where we are now. It questions the legacy inherited from our Empire past and where our culture is going.’
Passion of the Outside coincides with Now See Hear!, which commemorates 150 years since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Now See Hear! includes screenings of Weary’s film, From Occupied Japan (1989–90). Following the death of Emperor Hirohito in 1989, it combines images of suicide pilots and their belongings with a soundtrack of the ocean.