Artist's donation brings hope to homeless
By Jacqui Taffel, Sydney Morning Herald 13 June 2014
For Raquel, home is having a shelf to hold her books and display photographs of her son. For Sami, it is cooking her favourite food, damper and scones, using her own stove. For Danielle, home is somewhere safe to share with her beloved dog.
The stories of four Sydney women, who have spent many years homeless, and some of Taiwan's most disadvantaged people are bound together in Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation's latest exhibition, a union that comes thanks to Sydney's Wayside Chapel.
Home shows the work of two Taiwanese artists, Chen Chieh-jen and Chien-Chi Chang. The two men are almost the same age and both produce striking black and white imagery focusing on marginalised social groups. Chen still lives in Taiwan.
Chang, a member of the international Magnum photographers group, moved to the US and then Austria. The Chain is a series of 45 life-sized photos of men and women at a Taiwanese buddhist temple, which operates as a psychiatric institution and chicken farm. The patients, used as workers, are chained together in pairs, with a more "stable" patient attached to another less stable. SCAF's executive director Gene Sherman found the images unforgettable when she first saw them at the 2001 Venice Biennale. They are now on display at Darlinghurst's National Art School Gallery, and for this commission Chang has produced a new video about his relationship with the temple and its inmates, Side Chain.
Chen's Realm of Reverberations installation at the SCAF gallery is contained in eight large boxes on wheels, custom-made from recycled plywood. Four show atmospheric videos about the Losheng Sanatorium in New Taipei City, a hospital for leprosy patients that was partly demolished to make way for a transport maintenance depot, displacing many of its long term residents.
Four boxes contain only a pair of headphones and a padded seat for listeners to sit or lie down to hear stories from the Sydney women, all visitors to the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross.
Chen requested the local interviews to be included in his commission. He also donated $8725, half his payment, to the Wayside Chapel. When pastor Graham Long was contacted about it, he thought it was a mistake.
"Because there must be artists somewhere in the world making money but I don't know them. That an artist would be that generous blows me out of the water," he says.
When a Wayside Chapel worker asked Danielle if she would like to be interviewed, she agreed, hoping it would help raise awareness of how people end up on the street. She was 24 when her partner died suddenly. She fell into deep depression and lost her job, home and contact with her family. After more than six years sleeping in caravans, hotels, cars and doorways, she now lives at a Salvation Army refuge, is on the list for public housing and feeling better about the future.
As Raquel observes, "I think humanity runs on hope, or else it would stand still".
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