The beautiful is useful brings together new artworks by Lisa Liebetrau and Shannon Lyons to investigate the history of the Point Heathcote Reception Home. Through their site-responsive practices, Liebetrau and Lyons explore Heathcote’s progressive approach to the treatment of mental illness and the lived experiences of its nurses and patients. The artists have investigated the institutional history of Heathcote by delving into the rich archive of objects, images and oral histories held in the City of Melville’s Heathcote Collection. By immersing themselves in the collection and responding to the built environment of the site, Liebetrau and Lyons pay homage to the caregiving environment that existed at the hospital.
This exhibition is presented as part of TILT, an annual site-responsive commission presented by Goolugatup Heathcote and the City of Melville. This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through Creative Australia, its principal arts investment and advisory body.
TILT 2023 artists Lisa Liebetrau & Shannn Lyons, & curator Brent Harrison
TILT 2023 brings together the work of multidisciplinary artists Lisa Liebetrau and Shannon Lyons, to investigate the institutional histories and spaces at Goolugatup Heathcote, that was home the Point Heathcote Mental Reception Home. The exhibition, which is curated by Brent Harrison, explores Heathcote’s progressive approach to the treatment of mental health and the lived experiences of its patients and nurses. Through their artwork both Liebetrau and Lyons have responded to the architecture of the buildings and the gallery space as well as the objects, images and oral histories held in the City of Melville’s Heathcote Collection. Through their different approaches to studio and research based practice, Liebetrau and Lyons pay homage to the caregiving environment that once existed at the hospital.
BH: Have you worked collaboratively with each other before?
LL: We haven’t worked collaboratively together before, but we did have a relationship as Shannon was my supervisor during my Honours degree at Curtin University. She helped to guide me through my studies as someone who was more established in their career and was also working site-specifically.
SL: I don’t see it as a collaboration, but we have come together for this show on equal footing. We have a rapport and have worked together in different capacities, but this is the first time we have worked on an exhibition together.
BH: Are there any key similarities/differences that have become apparent in the way you approach your work?
LL: I think I am more interested in looking at archives and collections and the histories that are embedded in those objects. So that is always my first point of call and usually guides the whole process.
SL: I think I do a lot of research initially, but you don’t necessarily see that evidenced in the outcome. Interestingly, from the start of this project I think we both came to the same point in terms of thinking about how there was going to be some connection to the wall colours, the windows that used to be in the gallery and the history of the space being used for caregiving. I think we have different ways of approaching production, you go hard line in the archive and I go hard ball in the studio.
LL: That is a good way of putting it and we both want audiences to understand how the idea of caregiving is central to the project. We work differently but we value the same things.
BH: How has working collaboratively on this project changed or influenced your processes?
LL: I really enjoy how Shannon lets the process guide her and how you look at the research but you slowly tinker with it. I am the opposite and I need to get the full picture before I can begin to reimagine it, whereas I feel like you are okay with not knowing everything and are more playful.
SL: I like operating in the unknown, but I think that my mind went to the same place that yours went to when we found out about the exhibition. I wanted to make the window that used to be in the gallery, but I put it to bed early because at our first meeting you said you were going to make it. My default is to reproduce something from the architecture and this show has really changed the way that I have worked because I didn’t allow myself to fall into the same routine, which is why I am doing something different.
BH: What conditions are necessary for you to be able to create? Do you have any rituals or routines that help you to work?
LL: My routine is always research first, so I can get an idea of the story and the time the space was open. When I first started in the studio, I took a walk around the site and listened to the oral history collection. I tried to reimagine what it would be like to be a patient and was thinking about some of the things that they might have done like looking at the clocktower or the river. I was just trying to put myself in their shoes. Then I got into the studio and conducted more research and considered how this all comes into play with the paint and objects I am using. It is a ritual often compassing yourself in the environment which was nice with the residency because you were at the place where you were going to have the show.
SL: It definitely starts with the site. It is always important for me to spend as much time as I possibly can in the space that the work is going to exist in. It has been really fortuitous that this particular space is really close to where I live and I spend a lot of time onsite, not necessarily in the buildings but the park outside. So, I am here a lot and I think about the project a lot but not necessarily engaged in the process of making the work. When I am in the studio it is purely making time. Having the residency has been perfect and allowed me to be on site more and to spend time in the other buildings that aren’t the gallery, which has informed the colour, form and composition of my work.
BH: In both of your practices you make site-responsive artwork. What is it about the history of Goolugatup that draws your interest?
LL: For me personally, the fact that it was such a progressive mental health reception home for its time is very important to me, as someone who receives outpatient care and deals with their own mental health disorders. Responding to it at this time in my life is very important too because the patients at Heathcote could have been us and I don’t think their stories are different to people’s stories today, particularly the nurses who 100 years on are still burnt out. So, for me the stories are still relevant today and that is why it is even more pertinent today to respond to this site than ever before.
SL: I don’t think I could have said it better than Lisa. The fact that now most of the mental health care is given in the community and not in institutions like Heathcote is telling that this sort of history is important to dig back into and remind ourselves of. Although there are still institutions that exist most people are treated in the community which is a major benefit to everybody.
GOOLUGATUP: Brent, what was it that drew you to wanting to work with Lisa and Shannon on this project?
BH: I was really interested in working with Lisa and Shannon because of the site-specific nature of their practices that I felt was the perfect fit for responding to the history of the Point Heathcote Mental Reception Home. Both Lisa and Shannon have a record of responding to unusual spaces that have been converted into contemporary art galleries, but their work has never been shown together so TILT felt like a wonderful opportunity to do that. They both have very different ways of working, which has been interesting to discover, but they have each responded to the history of Heathcote with care and sincerity to the experience of the patients and nurses who worked here. The exhibition will hopefully create an immersive space that invites audiences to consider the site’s progressive history of mental health treatment in Western Australia.
Goolugatup Heathcote is located on the shores of the Derbal Yerrigan, in the suburb of Applecross, just south of the centre of Boorloo Perth, WA. It is 10 minute drive from the CBD, the closest train station is Canning Bridge, and the closest bus route the 148.58 Duncraig Rd, Applecross, Boorloo (Perth), Western AustraliaAccessibility and amenities
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