Charles Rice explores Alison Bennett’s panoramas depicting interior domestic spaces of Hill End

Rice, C 2004, ‘SPACE AND IMAGE INSIDE HILL END’, Architecture Australia, vol. 93, no. 4, pp. 40-1. (Rice 2004)

Subtitle:  A recent exhibition of ‘stitched’ digital photographs by Alison Bennett gives Charles Rice an opportunity to consider inhabitation as an ongoing process of negotiation and the interior as both image and space.

The article is a review of an exhibition of the Hill End interiors at the Sydney Mint.

The images depicted are interiors of buildings in the historic ghost town of Hill End, which was once a thriving gold-mining town of 8000, now deteriorating with 120 people, including the photographer.

The images are digitally produced photo-panoramas with ragged edges showing that they are composites.  The spaces shown are not as one would see them if visiting – more like if the viewer had eyes on the sides of the head as well as the front and could see three walls at once.  The spaces depicted show original 19th century features, and include some of dwellings currently inhabited – with some modern features (e.g. electric kettle juxtaposed with antique stove).

Rice states that the elongated panoramic image offers ‘the viewer insight into the tension that exists at Hill End between the historical and the contemporary.’  P. 40

Rice considers that the modern residents are in a state of ‘continual negotiation between now and “back then”.’

By contrast, Bennett has photographed interiors of Craigmoor House, now preserved and presented to simulate life in Hill End’s gold rush heyday.  Rice states that the Craigmoor House interiors give the impression of being ‘simply frozen in the past’. 41

A third set of images is of derelict buildings, showing decay and ‘the complete dissolution of the interior’.  41 However, Rice considers these point up the fact that habitation is needed for a space to retain its authenticity… ‘they demonstrate in an affecting way that inhabitation is about constantly needing to make and remake an interior, rather than simply assuming it fixed in time and timeless.’ 41

Rice feels that the current inhabitants of Hill End are constantly haunted by images of the past and that this influences how they construct their own interior spaces, much as many of us are influenced by home improvement programs (and advertising, home maker magazines and real estate articles).

Rice concludes that the very impossibility of the perspective of Alison Bennett’s images leads one to consider the spaces depicted as images, contemporary representations of historical spaces, with continual interaction between the present and the past.  They lead to consideration of domesticity as it was then, and how this relates to how we choose to make our own imagined domestic interior spaces into reality today, influenced as we are by the past and contemporary influences.

The images may be viewed on  Alison Bennett’s website.  http://www.alisonbennett.com.au/page12.htm  An online copy of Dr Charles Rice’s article is available at http://architectureau.com/articles/exhibition-52/ .

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