Facility for dystopia

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Stuart Elliott likes to toy with his audience, to create ambiguous art that offers a peek of the hangman’s noose, without revealing whether the rope is taut or limp.

He latest exhibition Facility 2—Beacon, hints at a dystopian future where science is rogue.

Inspired by a derelict and now-demolished building Elliott glimpsed in Gnangara, his imagination began to gallop and he constructed a gloomy narrative around the building which he dubbed “The Facility”.

“I wanted to set up a quandary as to whether The Facility was a place where some kind of neo-Josef Mengeles might ply his trade on botany for dodgy ends…or more open-ended, DNA-infused research and developments,” he says.

“Plants and animals, can they hybridise for mutual benefit?

“Or, in the classic scenario, are the inmates (plants) running the asylum (laboratory)?”

A series of dark oil paintings and sculptures followed, alluding to the building’s mysterious role.

A sci-fi fan who is reading a book about Area 51, he concedes he has lost a little faith in humankind.

“Human beings are difficult people to like,” he laughs.

“As Norman Mailer said, ‘we’re not intrinsically evil; we’re just really dangerous’.”

The 60-year-old is well-read and eloquent—he peppers the interview with references to ancient Greece, literature and existentialism—but his childhood years were not so studious.

The award-winning artist grew up in a Perth hills family indifferent to art.

He missed a lot of school and ended up working as an electrician in the Pilbara.

By the mid-’70s he had enrolled in art school and, after graduating, decamped to the artistic playgrounds of Europe.

“I couldn’t stand Paris and London in the 1980s, so I tried my hand in Edinburgh,” he says.

“I loved it—I could go to the pub, get shit-faced, and talk about art with a bunch of like-minded people. According to the existentialists you only get one shot at life—so you’ve got to go for it.”

In 2010 Elliott won a lifetime achievement award from Artsource and was artist-in-residence at the former Holmes a Court Gallery in Claisebrook.

Originally inspired by the enigmatic Cubist movement, he still enjoys teasing audiences about The Facility:

“On the bigger stage, can this research lead to universal help, is it just secret research or has something gone wrong somewhere…like a large, less benign version of the discovery of penicillin?”

Facility 2—Beacon is showing at Turner Galleries until May 18.

by STEPHEN POLLOCK

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