REGULAR EXHIBITIONS IN A SHOPFRONT, MILLICENT; LARGE-SCALE OUTDOOR MOVING IMAGE PROJECTION, MILLICENT AND ROBE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
In 2004, Visionary Image was invited by Country Arts SA and the South East Regional Health Service to respond to the youth suicide crisis in the south-east of South Australia. Mental health services were looking for a way to engage with the area’s young people in order to reduce their isolation and disadvantage. After community consultation, the town of Millicent was identified as a high-need area and selected as the location of the project.
For disengaged young people, this small rural town did not provide any education and training alternatives or opportunities to develop creative interests. This left many young people feeling worthless and angry. A creative workshop program was established, running two days a week. A sense of hopelessness set the tone in the early workshops. The young participants’ predominant opinion was that their town was a ‘hole’ and that they were bored.
The challenge for Visionary Images’ Creative Director and a local artist was to stimulate people’s thinking, and to encourage those who attended the workshops to think more broadly. In early artwork development participants selected words and phrases from documented studio discussions and were shown how to make linocut prints. Hundreds of small, individual, well-crafted, hand-printed linocuts that simultaneously recalled and were the opposite of junk mail were created for delivery to the town’s letterboxes.
Many workshops later, the hopelessness that had permeated the first meetings had given way to a greater optimism. The young people had found a way to constructively articulate their concerns and feelings to the community and be acknowledged. The idea of belonging to something and of being able to make a positive contribution to the township through creating and showing public artwork began to capture people’s imagination.
An empty shop in the main street of town was established as the studio space. The front window proved an excellent ongoing exhibition venue for printed, hand-made and other work projected by a low-tech overhead projector. This space acted as an important interface and built community interest and interaction.
Building on developmental work the group went on to produce ‘Red Tape’, a larger-than-life moving image projection onto the Millicent Water Tower and also onto the Old Customs House in Robe, a nearby town. Artwork was selected from all stages of the project to represent the ideas that had been explored. The young people used digital media to express their views about boredom, drug use, isolation and alienation. Critical issues, such as what happens when you fall outside mainstream schooling, get caught up in the welfare system or carry the stigma of being born into intergenerational disadvantage, were placed on the public record during the show.
The projection, created by Millicent’s marginalised young people, who were generally seen in a negative light by the townspeople, had the biggest visual presence the town had ever experienced. The exhibition not only highlighted young people’s views but also had a profound impact on the way participants lived their lives and changed the way they, their families and the townspeople fundamentally viewed themselves and each other.