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Umbilicus was a photographic exhibition and installation examining attachment, memory and loss as experienced through the Mercy Hospital for Women’s recently vacated East Melbourne site.
From its birth in 1971 until the closure of this site in May 2005, MHW affected the lives of thousands of Melburnians. While capturing the legacy of the people, places and objects which sculpted the site over the past three decades, Umbilicus explores the sense of place and belonging that arises during a long physical, emotional and spiritual relationship with a specific location.
First exhibited at ‘fortyfive downstairs’ gallery, Melbourne, 2006. Thanks to the following people and organisations for their involvement and support: City of Melbourne; Australian Catholic University; Mercy Hospital for Women; Bond Imaging; Bimbo Deluxe; 3RRR; 3CR; RMIT Union Arts; Pollen; Image Science; Merle Hathaway – Director, Horsham Regional Art Gallery.
“Many years ago I had to vacate a share house in which I had lived for a couple of years. The house was to be demolished.
While initially being quite pragmatic with respect to packing and moving, some time later I returned to walk through the house one last time and was surprised by the emotions and memories I experienced: memories of sadness, joy, loss and ecstasy; of love lost and won … and lost again; of dress-up parties and dinner parties; of setting the chimney on fire after piling on a few too many waxed fruiterers’ boxes to hear the sublime sound of fire roaring like thunder; all these memories and emotions rolled into one as I found myself quite upset and realised that I had a significant sense of attachment, which although not to be lost entirely, would only ever again be experienced in my mind’s eye.
In not dissimilar ways the Mercy Hospital for Women (MHW) has touched the lives of countless thousands of Melburnians since its birth in 1971. I was born there in November of that year. In May 2005, after 34 years at its original East Melbourne home, the MHW was uprooted and transplanted to a new ‘state of the art’ home in Heidelberg.
But what happened to that left behind: the building, its furniture and fittings that helped support so many lives? What became of the architecturally designed chapel, the cafeteria, the library, the morgue? And in what ways does one’s memory record an experience such as this?
Using photography, installation and projection, Umbilicus examines the contemporary issues surrounding the sense of place, belonging and attachment that arises during and after a long physical, emotional and spiritual relationship with a specific location. Umbilicus captures the legacy provided by the people, places and objects which sculpted the East Melbourne site over the past three decades. It examines the departure, abandonment, decay and beginnings of a reincarnation of the site.
The images and artefacts you see in this exhibition provide a documentation of relocation activities, still life images of architectural design and discarded remnants, portraits of people with a strong connection to the site, and actual physical items from the site. Umbilicus paints a multi-layered portrait of the East Melbourne site and I hope it prompts people to examine and re-live their various relationships with, and sense of attachment and belonging to, such emotionally charged sites.
Nearly ten years on, I sometimes still drive by 144 Kent Street, Richmond – my old share house. And the old wood-fired ‘Lux’ stove, lovingly rescued by one of my family members, now graces the backyard of my current rental house.”
Charlie Sublet, October 1, 2006
Catalogue Essay by Merle Hathaway – Director, Horsham Regional Art Gallery, 2006
‘A Sense of Connection’
“What leads us to return to places we once inhabited? Looking at photographs and objects from of our past helps revive old memories and reconnect us to our past. This new body of work by Charlie Sublet is, like most of his work, about connection.
Some time ago he documented the closing stages of life at the old East Melbourne home of the Mercy Hospital for Women. We are drawn into empty rooms and corridors, once scrubbed and disinfected, now shockingly littered with rubbish, paper towels, old books, leftover equipment and furniture. Close-ups of plugs hanging out of their sockets and a haunting crucifix, shadowed on the wall by the scars of its removal, add to this sense of disconnection and transition. One particularly nostalgic piece shows a hazy yellow balloon marked “Goodbye, 15/05/2005”.
Some of his peopled images have a surreal or ghost-like character; the midwife appears faintly against a background of glossy corridors and the gynaecologist is somewhat hazy in his stripped-bare operating theatre. An ex CEO sprawls forlornly in an office surrounded by unplugged cords in one atypically down-to-earth shot. In another, Sublet stands behind his mother in the room where she thinks he was born.
Charlie Sublet is attracted to overlooked but important aspects of life. In an earlier series, he documented, in confronting large scale, sellers of “The Big Issue”. A freelance photographer, he prefers to work for not-for-profit organisations, documenting community events and issues.
In Umbilicus, one senses his strong attachment to objects from the past. Small or everyday items are of significance. In his own garden he is something of an amateur archeologist, unearthing objects long buried by previous owners. A blue enameled stove, rescued from a former family home, has pride of place along with a toilet filled with strawberry plants: perhaps connecting points for him. To these relics have now been added significant discards from the Mercy Hospital: a trolley, old signage and implements of unknown use, some to be shown in this exhibition.
These are very beautiful, subtle and somewhat haunting images. A high tonal palette and soft pastel colours reinforce the dream-like nature of a particular place at a particular time. Only the deserted chapel with its soft down-lighting and natural timbers has warmth. There, a sense of spirituality somehow remains.”
Merle Hathaway – Director, Horsham Regional Art Gallery – 2006
All words/images Copyright Charlie Sublet and available for purchase. The Umbilicus images are Limited Edition.
All images Copyright Charlie Sublet and available for purchase.