Talulah Vane demonstrates what ‘local’ artists can do with local stories. Her installation Destination is inspired by her great-grandfather Tom Sulman – a student at the Academy in the early 1900s – and tells the story of his car racing career and its tragic end in an accident at Mt Panorama, Bathurst, connected to the Academy by the main artery west, the Great Western Highway.
Driving along that highway, it would be easy to shoot straight past Woodford Academy – but taking the turn into its rustic driveway, you are at once rewarded with a series of buildings nestled into their landscape rich with history. The Academy has led many lives: it has been an inn, a gold-rush watering hole, a private residence, a guesthouse and a boarding school, and carries the mantle of being oldest set of buildings in the Blue Mountains still in use. With a vibrant monthly program of events, Woodford Academy maintains its importance locally and is a destination in its own right.
On entering the oldest wing (c. 1834), two ethereal hanging sculptures of stained silk greet you.
For the current exhibition, Vane has enjoyed working with the Woodford Academy Management Committee who were most welcoming and supportive, providing advice on how and where the sculptural pieces could be installed. The building itself played an important role in the art-making process, with the artist working within its heritage constraints, finding suitable materials such as non-staining dyes for the silks.
The work is concentrated in the schoolrooms and adjacent hallway of the site and on entering the oldest wing (c. 1834), two ethereal hanging sculptures of stained silk greet you. These resolve themselves into a ghostly ‘cup’, a recurring theme in Vane’s work, symbolising the many trophies that Tom won, and providing a metaphor of ambivalence – his family affected by his fame and ambition, as well as by prolonged absences, his sudden demise and the subsequent disappearance of many of his trophies.
This dreamlike feeling continues in the old schoolroom. Moving forward between the wooden desks, your eye is drawn to the two windows, cloaked in silk. One is patterned with repeating motifs including the cup, and blows elusively in the air; the other decorated with sticks collected from significant locations and attached to a twisted metal fender, carries a far more ominous message. Looking down at the very first desk, the name ‘T. Sulman’ is carved in its surface, a remnant from Sulman’s school days.
Another silken sculpture is pinned with photographs from Tom’s life. News clippings, trophies and other items are displayed inside several small cupboards in the adjacent room. Photographs behind reflective glass, merge the viewer with the image, provoking further dreamlike thoughts.
With the highway rushing past outside, one cannot help but reflect on the power and danger of the motor car, and its place in the Australian psyche. Destination captures that dichotomy, along with the intersection of family history with local history. And it’s a perfect complement to the stories found within the walls of the Woodford Academy itself.
Woodford Academy is next open on Saturday 4 April, when you can view this installation as well as enjoy a performance piece, Palimpsest, at 1pm.
Refreshments are provided, including real coffee (!), tea and tasty cakes, from 10am – 4pm.
Fear not the highway, parking is available in Woodford Avenue.
Ondine (aka Mountains Muser) is an online producer with over twenty years’ experience working in the museums sector. Now living in the Blue Mountains, she gets to ponder her twin passions – art and science – while staring out the window of the train to and from the big smoke.