Jamie North unveils his latest public artwork
Borrowed Landscape – North’s new artwork for the Newcastle Light Rail public art project (a partnership between Create NSW and Transport for NSW) draws on his family lineage, heritage materials and plants to create an open-ended and dynamic artwork for Newcastle commuters to enjoy.
The title for your project, Borrowed Landscape, suggests the reuse of ‘borrowed’ materials from the wider natural environment. Tell us about that and what we can expect from your completed work.
The heritage materials used in Borrowed Landscape were excavated during the decommissioning of the heavy rail and construction of the light rail in Newcastle. The work “borrows” some of these items and reconfigures them in a form which considers their past usage and that of their natural origin. You could see the planting of Borrowed Landscape as an act of returning the sandstone to its pre-quarried environment by way of reuniting them with species that would typically exist in association with this material.
Part of your art practice is to work with concrete as a system for growing native plants. What has inspired this art practice, and will that be integrated into Borrowed Landscape?
Concrete is ubiquitous as a construction material and although it is very useful it is also very impactful, from its manufacture through to its built existence. My practice began by asking how this mostly impervious material can be addressed and by looking at how some native plant species readily exploit it, and in turn trying to emulate this exploitation in a sculptural form or system.
Rather than concrete, in Borrowed Landscape I have relied on the found sandstone and brick fragments excavated primarily from the old Honeysuckle train station. Because these materials have been previously shaped to perform a function, they still hold a tension between the fabricated and the biological elements of the work. This tension is often present in my planted concrete works.
Do you expect the native plants to change and evolve the artwork?
Absolutely. It is a tough site, with full-sun and wind exposure. However, the plants have been selected because of their ability to withstand these conditions and to exploit the porosity of the sandstone and any available moisture. The inclusion of the plants helps to make the work very open-ended and dynamic, resisting the idea of completion. The plants will grow to the extent that the sculptural structure and site allows.
Your practice has allowed you to connect with the industrial lineage of your family. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Most of my work draws on my familial lineage and offers me the chance to connect with it, in a way that I was not able to before I began my art practice. My paternal family migrated to Newcastle from Wales and England in the early 1900s, to work in the steel industry. My father did his bricklaying apprenticeship at the Newcastle Steelworks, and after many years bricklaying became a coal miner. In the years I spent as a professional photographer before I began seriously focusing on my practice, I often felt like as an outlier to my family, floating in a very different world. When I started working with my hands in my first studio and using materials and tools that my family would have used, I felt a very powerful emotional connection that continues to motivate me to this day.
What’s next for you?
I currently have two solo exhibitions, Worlds at Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney and Slag Studies at Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne. The work in these exhibitions contain directions for more sculptural investigations this year, using both glass and blast furnace slag. I also have several commissions in various states of engagement and completion.
Images: Borrowed Landscape (2019) Jamie North. Image courtesy of Transport for NSW.