Lifesaver OFF Duty - Evaporation Unit 1994

12 Jan 1994 : The Performance Space Gallery, Cleveland Street, Redfern, Sydney, Australia

This work, part of the group exhibition UNTITLED ‘94, comprised two interconnecting parts: Lifesaver OFF Duty was a scaffolding access tower. It quoted a sign on a small lifeguard’s post at Carr’s Park in Sydney’s south. Warning, illicit invitation, and jibe. Evaporation Unit was the quasi-scientific construction, a would-be cooling tower installed on the roof of the gallery.

The construction comprised a timber support platform for three rectangular metal trays containing 500 litres of water. In Evaporation Unit I referenced the water cycle of water being evaporated into the atmosphere and falling to earth again as rain. I wanted to demonstrate the water cycle in the gallery, linking outside and inside, inviting the outside into the gallery and creating a sky mirror, which referenced the sump-oil installation 20:50 by Richard Wilson and the architectural light-based interventions of James Turrell. With a few volunteer friends we resurfaced and painted the lightwell to achieve a freshly painted white reflective surface so that the light patterns created by the water were visible inside.

The concept for Lifesaver OFF Duty was one of directing the movement as well as the gaze of the gallery visitor. The scaffolding in the entry area suggested that the galley was under renovation, but in fact the visitor had to climb the scaffold ladder to access the viewing platform. This was a subtle way of making a surrogate performer of the climbers, visible to other visitors, to complete the work with the introduction of a body, and to give the experience of being both within the work and beyond the gallery. A recessed skylight was the principal site for the work. To access it I installed a scaffold which effectively blocked access to the gallery and to the other artists’ works within, making it seem that renovations were under way and the gallery was closed. The scaffold was intended to be climbed by visitors - an act of choice and curiosity. This led to a viewing platform within the skylight. Only from the platform could viewers see the large pool I had installed on the gallery roof constituting a water mirror, with a view of the cityscape beyond. Similar to my work Cloud Chamber (1993), there was the intention to suggest a quasi-scientific experiment. I employed office-style bulk refill water bottles inverted into a guttering trough. The trough fed into the trays outside at a constant level. As the heat of the day evaporated the water from the trays, water from the bottles within the gallery (on the other side of the skylight window) flowed outside to replenish it.

Anecdotally, I was working on the roof constructing the support platform for the trays during the catastrophic January bushfires of that year.

Project Details
Dates 12 Jan 1994 to 05 Feb 1994
Duration 4 weeks
Producer The Performance Space, ; Exhibition : UNTITLED '94
Category installations
Credits Curator: Billy Crawford ; Catlogue essay : Isobel Johnston ; Essay on Alan Schacher : William McClure ; Photos: Alan Schacher