The new Visitors Centre for the Cairns Botanic Gardens and Tanks Art Centre was an initiative of the then mayor Val Schier and Cairns Regional Council in 2010. Funding was provided by Arts Queensland through Art + Place. The idea was to create an innovative building with collaboration between selected artist and architect. The project, was not totally completed until the LED sheet lighting was added in Feb 2012.
There was also a need to feature the surrounding Botanical Gardens with its birds, plant life and creeks.
As a meeting point for the Tanks Art Centre, I felt it was important to utilize the history of the site as an aspect of the visual material. The 'Tanks' housed oil for the American Navy in WW2. There are substantial pipes, which piped the oil to awaiting ships in Trinity Inlet, approximately 10 kms away.
Through the effort of some inspired individuals the 'Tanks' became an art centre in 1992-1993.
Site and Background
The project was multilayered, incorporating the earlier history of the tanks as oil storage units in WW2, when the immediate area of the 'Tanks' / Edge Hill housed American and Australian troops. At one stage the nearby area was also the location of Chinese Market Garden, which later turned into Gardens and then into the Cairns Botanical Gardens. In the 1990's the then Arts Officer Carrie Bies convinced Cairns City Council to restore the 'Tanks' as an art centre. The conversion process culminated in the new visitors centre.
The work was inspired by the history of the site and the mountainous horizons surrounding Cairns, with Mt Whitfield as the dominant landscape feature in the immediate area. The work inspires reflection on our own position within history and the environment, promoting a sense of an on-going narrative with the work's see-through and reflective qualities, layering the present moment over the historical content. Also art and architecture become indivisible with the artwork being part of the building, 'art built in'.
Approximately 40 square metres of artglass contain historical maps, drawings, objects and sayings floating as ephemeral elements within the larger water reflections photographed in the immediate area and Trinity Inlet. Photographed details of barramundi and crocodiles were taken from paintings made by Yirrgandji artist Patricia Singleton.
The work explores the surrounding environment through reflections in the waterways and through the ever-changing light/ skies. Layered with symbols and objects that have shaped the site from the past to the present, the work explores the notion of life, history/ imagery as ephemeral/ dissolving and constantly changing form.
Like pieces of paper in the wind, the aim was for a semi-abstract approach, where layered elements make a minimal impact on the overall background.
A more obvious 'figurative' aspect of the work is created by 'passers by' whose reflections appear in the glass. At night the odd shapes of the artglass cleanly lit by LED panels play an entrancing game with the organic contours of the highly reflective building.