As a wee one growing up in a power town in country Australia, I regularly visited Dad’s “workshop” where I saw him as being “responsible for all electricity”. The Latrobe Valley has four power stations supplying 85 percent of Victoria’s electricity. These stations and the massive open cut mines supplying the lignite that fuels them, dominate the landscape and my family history. While a child’s imagination happily imbues a father with overblown powers and responsibilities, to some extent it was true. My father and his father were both apprenticed to the workshops as boys, working to maintain the turbines and brown coal extracting machinery for their entire lives. “Outages” meant furtive adult discussion about which turbine was “down” with Dad absent until full power production was restored.
Through visits to those workshops, I was dwarfed by the gigantic, industrially shaped and ordered, steel machines. The beauty I saw was enough for a transacted exchange between a father’s time and presence, and one more view of the workshop. As a child I was oblivious to the non-renewable nature of lignite, to the unsustainable endeavour that is coal-fired electricity and to the ongoing rape of a land that will never be rectified. Those workshop visits planted a seed that flowered into a greedy desire for hand-tooling, steel and the integrity of a pragmatic and unself-conscious aesthetic, where a bolt placement is due only to function, never prettiness. I often wonder if my drive to make is powered by a desire to re-gain my child-like delight in the industrialised landscape, the machines that produce it and exist because of it and the human endeavour of ‘The Central Maintenance Workshop’.
My design process starts with the material, often steel, greywacke and wood. I rarely plan. My materials dictate the process. I draw directly onto the surface, drawing and erasing until things look right. I add and subtract details and material until I’ve achieved a visual balance and something compels me to stop. I work on 40 or so pieces at a time. If I’m not sure what I need to do next I put the piece down and come back to it later with a fresh view. The decisions I make feel spontaneous, but the piece may have been sitting on my bench for many months while I passively work towards it’s solution.
The Latrobe Valley, Yallourn power station, the Morwell open cut mine.
Image sources: http://museumvictoria.com.au/collections https://climatechangerefocused.files.wordpress.com http://free-stock-illustration.com/yallourn+power+station http://econews.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/AGL-loy-yang-coal-mine