The Ballroom

Welcome to the Ballroom.

And here on your right is your host — La Brava.

She inspired by the great divas from Dame Joan Sutherland to Tina Turner. While I was drawing her, I kept going back to this YouTube video of Tina Turner performing Proud Mary in 1988. It’s this amazing expression of womanhood that is strong and dynamic.

tina turner
Watch video on YouTube
joan sutherland
Dame Joan Sutherland. Photo by Clive Barda.

I wanted to try and make a sculpture that captures this: confidence, pride and beauty. She even has her own light because she is the star.

And she’s also a chimera but this time between an animal and an inanimate object; a running shoe. I think this is a very contemporary way of thinking about the world, to imagine bodies that are not all organic, but exist in between the organic and the artificial.

It’s kind of a cyborg thing, but not in a sci-fi way. It’s more of a reference this philosopher named Donna Haraway who is a bit of a hero of mine. La Brava evades that dichotomy of human and animal and other stuff because she is all of them, and she is revelling in it.

I love her!! Check out her nails! They were done by the Super Rad Nail Sisters in Fitzroy.

Behind her is the Mothertree. Peter made her. I said: “Can you please make a tree, but one that has grown out of a seed that is a mirror ball?”

Many cultures have representations of trees in their rituals and built spaces. This is because they have always valued the role that trees play in our ecology. Only recently has western science understood how trees operate in a forest. We used to think that they were singular isolated life forms but now we know that they can be connected underground. They communicate across the forest, and they can even nourish small baby trees for as long as 80 years. After that time, the baby will flourish when the big mama falls over and they finally have enough light to photosynthesise their way to full height.

Of course, this isn’t meant to be a realistic representation of an actual tree. It’s a ballroom mirror tree, it’s there but it’s almost not there. You look into it, and you see the building around you, and maybe you can catch your reflection in it.

The incredible pink neon light that emanates from it is a representation of what trees do when they photosynthesise. They turn carbon dioxide and sunshine into energy, and this is pretty much the only reason humans and other animals exist. This amazing, random chance that led an organism — plants — to make oxygen out of light. And everything flows from there. Another constantly repeated miracle.

Behind the mother tree is a ring of mushrooms. I’m fascinated by mushrooms. Technically, what we see and eat are the fruiting bodies of a network of tiny, underground strands called mycelium. They are neither animals nor vegetable but exist in their own kingdom (which is another odd technical term.)

Mushrooms appear when the mycelium wants to reproduce, and to me they represent fecundity. Mycelium is this amazing sensual organism that moves through the ground connecting different plants, breaking down vegetable matter into soil. It will mine minerals from rocks and pass that to trees in return for carbohydrates. Fungi are the unsung heroes of the ecological party, connecting everyone.

And this is the party room. The music tells us that. I asked Jess Green to create something between a soundscape and a song that says, “come to my party”. We wanted something that filled the space with life.

I was trying to channel the surrealist Leonora Carrington — I love her work. You look at it and all the strange creatures in it and the rituals they are performing, and you aren’t quite sure what’s going on and I hope you’ll think: "I want to go to that party!"

Leonora Carrington
Leonora Carrington, “Sidhe The White people of Tuatha dé Dannan”, 1954.

All over the floor are these glass bubble flowers, and they too represent fecundity which is the potential for life. The space is full of eggs and seeds and creatures that spread life.

It’s a shiny colourful, reflective world that celebrates life — as a concept and the specific experience of life returning to the city and returning to the ballroom.

It’s great just to be in this space. Most of my works begin with an idea and exist on their own, but this installation grew from the room itself. People once met and maybe fell in love in this room, but then it was abandoned, and stood deserted and forgotten. And now it is full of life again. You and the people around you have brought that life back. You catch your own reflection in the mirrored Mothertree and you know that you are here in this amazing place filled with history and ideas and with other people, you are building new culture together.