The Winter Cycle: Painting Sydney Park with fire and lime:

The Winter Cycle: Painting Sydney Park with fire and lime:

A little history:

The Winter Cycle was a project that had its original genesis in a dream. A dream about painting and how to escape the limitations of paint while still being true to the landscape that inspired it. Partly about landscape painting and partly about a sculptural interaction with the landscape this massive hybrid art work took several months to realize and culminated with the spectacular burning of a 50 metre long Moebius strip under a full moon. It began as an expression of whimsy and ended as the peak event of the second Mascon Festival of the Moon held at Sydney Park on the edge of the inner city of Sydney on the 24th August 1997.

Sydney Park itself is a large and unique 44 hectare expanse of reclaimed industrial land that sits between Newtown and the airport. Originally in the 1870’s the site was home to a huge brick making industry. When the brickworks closed down after WWII the massive clay quarry that remained was used as a rubbish tip. The clay pits that supported the brickworks themselves are also famous for the discovery of a full, intact skeleton of a Paracyclotosaurus davidi in 1910. The Paracyclotosaurus davidi was a prehistoric amphibian and the only known species to have lived in Australia.

It is also rumoured that a deceased circus elephant was buried in the tip sometime in the seventies but this may be an urban legend. Eventually during the sixties and seventies these vast empty clay pits were filled and the tip was closed. In the early eighties the whole site was dedicated as future parkland and slowly the rehabilitation of the site commenced.

One of the most defining landscaping decisions made was the creation of several large long and beautifully rounded artificial hills which were created around a central wedge shaped clearing. These hills were created in order to take advantage of the relative height of this corner of the park and allow for sweeping 360 degree views south across to Sydney Airport and beyond to Botany Bay and also give a spectacular long view north across to the city of Sydney itself. The four towering chimneys that remained from the brick kilns were retained and have been incorporated into the architecture of the park along with some of the old kilns and various other pieces of brick making machinery and these make up the heritage aspects of the park.

Sydney Park has also played an important role in various youth subcultures in the early days of its redevelopment although these were generally held without official approval. All through the 90’s and up to the present day the park is used for semi-regular Punks Picnics. This tradition began initially with a gathering of punks living in Newtown but it soon expanded to incorporate many of the other subcultures that proliferate in this vibrant inner city neighbourhood and its surrounds. The park was also appropriated and colonized from the early 1990’s by the Vibe Tribe for a series of huge free open-air rave parties. These raves were a fundamental part of the Sydney electronic music scene during this time.

The last of these parties, called Freequency, was held on the 8th April 1995. What happened that night became a pivotal moment in time for Sydney Park when things changed irrevocably. This event became in many ways the defining moment not only for the Vibe Tribe and its particular local subcultural audience, but also for South Sydney Council in its attitude to the use of Sydney Park itself.
On the balmy night more than 500 revellers were chilling out to the lo-fi acid sounds of the Vibe Tribe when the party was violently shut down by 40 riot police. At 2 am the police arrived and in frustration at not being able to find the generator that was powering the party or anyone that was in charge, formed a wedge-shaped riot dispersal position and charged the dance floor with batons and dogs. Nine people were arrested and two were hospitalized while countless others testified to witnessing ravers being beaten and harassed.

This extreme reaction by the Police eventually was the subject of a damning police investigation and some of the recommendations made where to have an immediate effect on the overall strategic management of the park. While this violent raid was the being of the end for the Vibe Tribe and their huge free dance parties it also proved to be a catalyst for subsequent subcultral developments that had a direct bearing on the evolution and creation my artwork The Winter Cycle.

Council, partly in an attempt to control future illegal gatherings with their attendant risks but also to diffuse the growing approbation from the local community about the raid and general management of the park began to not only allow, but to actively promote community arts festivals on the site. One of these was the Mascon Festival of the Moon. This fledgling and almost pagan inspired festival involved a fair day followed by a lantern parade and a firework display and quickly became hugely popular with the local community.

The Genesis of The Winter Cycle:

Given my long term proximity to this huge wild place and my previous successful engagements with the local area in the guise of various community arts projects, it really was not surprising that I found myself thinking more and more about ways to make use of this park. The public release of the findings of the police inquiry into the raid on the Vibe Tribe dance party at the brickworks and the Ombudsman’s recommendations in regard to this were taken very seriously by the Council and they were very very open to creative yet viable suggestions on how to make the sprawling vastness of Sydney Park seem benign and inviting to all. This sudden openness and interest by South Sydney Council in promoting interesting ways of using the park by local groups was the aimed primarily at community groups but they were also quite open to approaches from individuals with proposals for specific projects.

I was at that time in 1997 living only a couple of blocks from Sydney Park. The line of the long sinuous hill that faces Sydney Park Road runs for several hundred metres from Mitchell Road to the Princes Highway and ends with the drama of the four towering chimney stacks near St Peters Station. The smooth lines of this graceful artificial hill seemed a perfect place for a little intervention with the landscape. The Winter Cycle came in to being as a direct response to this particular and specific location and is a sort of landscape painting with the landscape serving as the canvas.

One night I found that I had been dreaming about the north facing hill of Sydney Park and this is where actual work began to evolve. I got a small group of artistically inclined friends around and asked them if they would be interested in trying to do something quite mad with me. Hmm they said as one…. depends….. what have you got in mind? Well says I …. we are all painters here and yet at times I feel limited by what painting is understood to mean. I love the landscape especially the odd sensuous landscape of Sydney Park but just making a tidy little oil painting on canvas just doesn’t seem to be an adequate response to the vastness and scale of the actual site itself. How would it be if we could actually use the side of the hill facing Mitchell Road as the canvas and inscribe right into the land itself in order to make a painting? Hmmm says they…. all sounds good so far but please be a little more specific….. and so it went on….. I produced a little biro sketch I’m made that morning and we began to meet and take it seriously.

Having put my proposed Hill Painting idea to my friends successfully I then began the task of writing the proposal up and taking it to the Council. This was in May of 1997 and because of the physical logistics involved in actually creating this hugely ambitious work it was going take a couple of months to fully articulate the project. The second Mascon Festival of the Moon festival was booked into the park for August and it was suggested to us that we approach the festival organizers and tie the proposed finale of our project in with the spectacular fireworks event they had planned for this night. When they heard what we were planning as the finale of our landscape painting project and saw what we had already begun in the first part of the project, they were extremely happy to accommodate our request.

The Winter Cycle: A hill painting project in two parts:

Calling ourselves the Grass Routes Renaissance (GRR) we proposed that as group of local artists all working in different media we had all been variously drawn to and affected by the unique topography of Sydney Park and wished to respond directly to the landscape itself by way of an interactive and holistic landscape painting using the land itself as the canvas. The theme was the desire to represent all that changes with the seasons over a period of time and all that remained constant. As winter changes to spring, and so on and so forth, we were alluding to the perpetual life cycle of nature with a sculptured painting that represented the moon, the sun, the elements and fire which in turn was an infinite cycle of growth, fruition, death and regeneration.

Part One:

Four 20 metre long pagan symbols representing the moon (luna), the sun (sol), the elements (elementa) and fire (ignis) were inscribed on the north facing hill of Sydney Park. These symbols were marked out with spray paint and when the ground cover had grown sufficiently deep the symbols were drawn into the hillside using lawnmowers. After the inscribed symbols were clearly visible they were then infilled with lime to echo the colossal chalk drawings found in various locations in England. These symbols were visible to users of the park, from the road by passing traffic, from the air by passing planes, from Centrepoint Tower in the very centre of Sydney its self and from Cyberspace. How unfortunate that Google Earth was still some time off in the future.

Part Two:
On the opposite side of the hill facing the Airport and bordering the main clearing of the Park, a 50 metre long Moebious strip (infinity symbol) was inscribed into the hillside using a Bobcat. On the night of the festival a specially prepared 120 metre long petrol soaked rope was laid in the cavity and in a spectacular finale to the project was brought to flame just after sunset illustrating the infinite nature of the natural life cycle to all the participants and guests attending the festival.

The project was a spontaneous expression of ‘joie de vivre’ by a group of committed local artists working collectively. The work in its totality represents the idea of a gift given to the community of Newtown by those artists who were involved in articulating it. It was at once complex and simple, easily understood by the people viewing it and with bridges to the community to participate in its finale. The work was environmentally appropriate, simply executed and left no residual trace. It was also very cheap to realise and delivered a high level of satisfaction to the audience and the local community as well as the artists who created it as well.

Grass Routes Renaissance (GRR) comprised Juilee Pryor, Catherine Keyzer, Mary-Anne Johnson and Jeff Corbett . No public funding was sought in relation to this project but immense assistance in kind was provided by South Sydney Council who provided unfettered access to the site itself and then backed up their delight with the whimsy of the project by allowing us unlimited access to the logistical support of their Department of Parks and Gardens. These marvellous men provided us with the lawnmowers we needed for drawing in the symbols on the first hill along with some tonnes of lime need to fill in the symbols. They also generously provided us with the services of a Bobcat and its driver for a full day to draw in the Moebious Strip on the second hill. To South Sydney Council go our very great thanks and to the organizers of the Mascon festival similar thanks are also due for incorporating our Flaming Moebious into the finale of the Mascon Festival of the Moon.

Juilee Pryor May 2009

The Winter Cycle: Painting Sydney Park with fire and lime:

Juilee  Pryor

Marrickville, Australia

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