Towards a monument to the Great Strike (with Andrew Byrne), 2017

19 framed texts and images, and musical performance for massed brass and wind instruments, with solo voice, 45 minutes, performed by 33 brass and wind players, with solo voice, 5 August 2017.

Exh.: 1917: The Great Strike, curated by Nina Miall and, Laila Ellmoos 15 July–27 August 2017
 
 

This collaborative project is a proposition for a future monument to the Great Strike of 1917, one of Australia’s largest and most significant industrial actions. A set of plaques are written to be affixed to two, monumentally-scaled Brutalist architectural forms in Sydney’s Domain, built during the 1970s as vents for the city’s underground railway system.

The plaques draw on a range of associations: the rallies that occurred regularly at the Domain during the Great Strike; the ethos of the (then criminalised) Industrial Workers of the World in the Strike’s genesis and in the way it was organised and sustained; the importance of music, bands and singing to the way workers expressed their shared commitment to political ideals; the 1917 revolution unfolding simultaneously in Russia (and the curious echo between the vents in the Domain and El Lissitzky’s great unrealised revolutionary monumental form, the Lenin Tribune); the centrality of solidarity, and internationalism, as animating forces in the Strike and in other kinds of working class self-organisation at this time.

The plaques also reflect on what it is to stand in that place, between these two strange vent forms. We look out over a kind of emptied amphitheatre, feeling the breeze on our skin from the movement of railways underground we can only imagine. We picture alongside this imagining the rallies at the Domain in the weeks during 1917, the movement of bodies and voices.

 

 
The propositional monument is launched by a large-scale performance at Carriageworks for massed brass and wind instruments. This launch—and the musical language of Byrne’s composition—takes its cue from an archival image from 1916, now held in the collection of the Australian National University, where railway workers gather to inaugurate an honour board, alongside a brass band. It also takes shape around specific musical cues central to this moment, including the seminal song ‘Solidarity forever’, an important feature of workers’ gathering at the time and one of the principal means by which the continuing influence of WWI has been identified in the Strike’s grassroots organisation.

The project focuses on the way we measure labour and its relationship to time; the urgencies of solidarity and internationalism in how we organise ourselves politically; and how we gather ourselves to enact the futures we believe in. It also meditates on words themselves: how words can inscribe forms and gather us together; how words persist into a future, calling forth deeds.


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