Bill Lane, author of The Older Industrial Parks, tells us the story behind five of his favourite images from the project.
Strange neighbours is a common theme in older Australian industrial parks with ad hoc development spread over many years. Different building materials tell us about when buildings went up and the budget of the owner. Blocks may sit empty, be used as dumping grounds or as temporary storage for many years.
Here a “temp” building, cut in half for transportation, has found it’s final resting place in an empty paddock at the end of a cul de sac. It’s unusually big and quite old. Where did it come from? How was it used? We have a unique opportunity to examine both the interior and the exterior for clues but both are surprisingly unhelpful. The only signs of its past the torn top of a poster and a small “tag” on an outside wall.
Beyond the carcass of this building we see two suites of precast buildings. Each neat, identical and nearly anonymous (one piece of generic signage tells us almost nothing). The contrast between the split carcass of the temp and the more permanent buildings is stark.
When compared to the mega blocks of newer industrial parks, the plots of older industrial parks are more modest in size. Inevitably, over time successful businesses need more room. Sometimes that means moving if things are going really well but usually it involves absorbing plots where and when they become available.
When crowded offices and workshops overflow with “essential” parts, and moving isn’t an option, shipping containers and nearby empty blocks become the basic building blocks of temporary/permanent storage.
Here containers have become fences and shelving, with an odd museum of cast offs accumulating on the roof. In front of the gate a broken pallet says “come and get me”; no doubt to be used as part of a pre-work bonfire in a scrap yard around the corner.
While working through this project I was very aware of Lewis Baltz’s work in ‘New Industrial Parks’. This was underlined when he died while I was still working on the project. Consequently this was very much a study of influence for me.
The earliest pictures taken on this estate were taken in daylight and were generally more stark and minimal: more Baltz-like. But there are many differences between the new buildings that Baltz shot near Irvine and these older estates near Newport in Australia.
Part of that difference comes from 30+ years of change, but much of it is cultural. The question was how to visually respect those differences while also acknowledging the influence that inspired the work. The shift from day to night was key to representing that difference. The images became less stark and more ambiguous. They no longer talked about the impact of developers on the landscape, but instead shifted to consider the micro-impacts of individuals over time.
In many ways this image embodies that shift. The building is not that different from those Baltz photographed. But the light is gentler with just a few soft shadows on the left edge. The space is less minimal.In fact, it is cluttered and messy.
It’s possible that this softening seems dishonest when compared with Baltz. But this isn’t fertile farmland despoiled. This is forgotten acres on the border of a refinery. This isn’t about outrage for paradise lost so much as how do we live with this new social landscape.
Industrial parks and graffiti go hand in hand for many of the same reasons I go there to take photographs: after dark there are very few people to bother you and lots of walls you can use to express yourself.
Most graffiti seems to me to be a form of resistance you turn to when you have no direct contact with lived art. It seems sad and yet at the same time offers hope. Any act of resistance is an act of hope in my eyes. Especially when there are patrons willing to support the artist as is evident here.
Who could have imagined that this forlorn looking workshop would house a patron of the arts? On a different night in a different corner of this park a storage manager came out and we got talking. It turned out he had a growing and substantial collection of art works (around 40 pieces, mostly prints) by local Vietnamese artists.
Most of the buildings in this estate have been built with a variety of pressed metals attached to wood or metal frames. A number are made from bricks of various sizes. But increasingly empty blocks are being filled with contemporary precast buildings.
One big generational difference is that these newer spaces are much more aware of appearances. Older spaces can be split into two broad categories : junk yard neglect or well oiled machine. Both of these have their own kind of beauty but neither is concerned about the eye of the observer. The owners are focused on what they think they need to do for the work they do.
Contemporary spaces worry much more about how they appear. We are all potential customers and the ‘brand’ must be considered and maintained. This is evident here in the neat lawn (probably the only lawn in the entire estate), the row of equidistant trees and the surprisingly clean windows; all of which borders on the surreal when seen in context with the refinery towers in the distance.
Add to that the darkened room of mannequins and the well lit room of nothing and you get an image where the toxic old world and a shiny image obsessed reality co-exist.