The Past is Our Future; The Future is our Past exhibition created by the Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery’s 2021/22 artist in residence Nigel Helyer, is the work of more than a year of field research and engagement with Broken Hill.
Growing up in the UK and studying art in Liverpool, London and then the University of Technology, Sydney, he now lives in Jervis Bay on the NSW South Coast.
“I’m basically a sculptor, sound artist and I do a lot of work in public art projects,” he says.
“A lot of them, I collaborate with scientists and environmental situations, environmental data turning scientific knowledge into, kind of, cultural knowledge.
“I also write a lot and I do a lot of work for radio or sound pieces as well, quite a wide range, but usually connected to the natural and social environment,” Mr Helyer said.
Not new to Broken Hill he has been frequenting the area for about 20 years, bringing students of his out to sculpture camps around Menindee and surrounding areas.
Taken aback, on his first trip to Broken Hill, at the large city in the middle of the bush, the first thing that struck Mr Helyer was the naming of the streets with 32 named after minerals and chemicals.
One of the works in his exhibition is called Broken Hill Street Plan B, where he has renamed every street in the town off the periodic table.
“Basically, I think the city fathers lost the plot and should have named the entire place after the periodic table, so that’s what I’ve done in a tongue in cheek way,” he laughs.
“I have also written a series of texts that are sort of landscape/dreamscape things which includes Einstein and other people.
“Talking about the transformation of what was once just remote bush into a city, one driven by fairly powerful industrial interests.
“So, as I say I am always interested in the environmental, but also the social and historical environment that goes with it.
“I think that sort of tension between the environment, the transformation of an environment and the processes of industrial capital are really very interesting as is the harshness and toil that went behind it to create that economy.
“Another issue I am also interested in the way the Australian economy is basically one of extraction, whether it’s mining, farming or fishing.
“They are all basically extracting industries, they have heavy impacts on the environment.
The project – and this exhibition – are multimodal, spanning installation, audio, sculpture, text, and digital outcomes.
The project is described as Helyer’s investigation in the emergence of history in the present and through deep engagement with community members, groups and sites – including working closely with the Barrier Industrial Union Band to revive traditional union scores.
The exhibition is on until November 20.