Edge of the trees. . – Radar Books – book review
Edited by Dinah Dysart. Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales, $49.50
It is an unusual, even extravagant move to publish a glossy, large format book entirely about a single artwork, but this is what the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales has done with Edge of the Trees. The work of the same name, a sculptural installation by collaborating artists Janet Laurence and Fiona Foley, was commissioned by the Trust in 1992 for a position on the politically charged site of First Government House, the forecourt of the Museum of Sydney. The title of the work, and its metaphor — the fringe of trees at the edge of a clearing as a line of contact between apparently conflicting forces, including but not limited to the meeting of Aborigines and settlers at the first landing — were originally derived from a quotation from the historian Rhys Jones, and developed by the MoS senior curator Peter Emmett into the project’s initial concept brief. At times the book reads as a vehicle for the publication of this brief, which is reprinted in full, and which, according to editor Dinah Dysart, is “already being used as a model document for the commissioning of public works of art”. This seems a clear indication of the book’s projected audience — architects and clients looking to follow best practice in “procuring” artworks. To this end, the book provides an unusually comprehensive overview and documentation of all stages of the process, from the initial concept and formulation of the brief, through the competition and research phases, the work of construction and installation, and on to the accolades the installation has received, It avoids (though only narrowly, at times) being a self-congratulatory and descriptive ‘scrapbook” of images by concentrating on specific accounts by contributors and critics of the work, including a stand-out essay by Andrew Nimmo.
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