Visitors to the Prime Minister’s Suite at Old Parliament House might notice something a little different for the next month.
Beyond the Veneer: A Fresh Look at the Prime Minister’s Suite, opening on Thursday, is the first collaboration between the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House and Craft ACT: Craft + Design Centre.
The Prime Minister’s Suite evokes the 1970s strongly with its abundance of brown hues and timber panelling.
Craft ACT invited five artists to interpret a room or rooms of their choice, using any art form or material, as long as the work reflected an aspect of the space, its historical use or the personality of the people who used it.
Gabrielle Edwards, the exhibition curator in partnership with Craft ACT, said it was part of MOAD’s move to engage more with community groups.
Canberra artists Kirstie Rea, Patsy Hely, Gilbert Riedelbauch, Dianne Firth and American Russell Baldon, a Visiting Artist in the Furniture Workshop at the ANU School of Art, each brought their own responses and interpretations.
Edwards said Baldon was ‘‘intrigued by the comparisons between Australian and American democracy’’. MOAD director Daryl Karp added that he was fascinated by the idea of ‘‘the tyranny of distance’’.
In the entry foyer, Baldon’s two-piece installation Trestle evokes the railways that opened up and joined the east and west coasts of both countries as well as a bridge between the public and their leaders.
But it conjures up separation as well: visitors might serve as the connection between the two parts.
The work was made out of timber offcuts from the construction of the present Parliament House.
Patsy Hely’s ceramic installations are in three rooms – the assistants’ room, the speechwriter’s room and the office of the private secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
They suggest a human presence and in the case of the cups and saucers in the speechwriter’s room, conjure up some of the concerns of the Hawke government era with words and phrases such as ‘‘reconciliation’’, ‘‘poverty’’ and ‘‘national park’’ written on them.
Gilbert Riedelbauch’s Clear Desk Policy – a lamp on an empty mirror-surface desktop – highlights the public roles and personalities of the people who occupied the Suite, especially Peter Barron, a senior adviser in the Hawke government who maintained a ‘‘clear desk’’ policy.
If Only, a pair of glass blankets made by Kirstie Rea, reflects the long hours worked by many public service staff – evoking the longing many would have felt for an end to the day’s work and rest.
She had first-hand knowledge of this: Karp said, ‘‘Kirsty worked here as an editorial assistant and her dad was in the press gallery.’’
Dianne Firth’s quilt Plant Trees was inspired by the environmental policies formed in the Suite and covers a boarded-up window in the media room, providing a new ‘‘view’’.
The arc on it references the Arthur Boyd painting Interior with open door, Shoalhaven, that was hung in the Prime Minister’s office during the Hawke years.
The exhibition took several months from conception to completion and Edwards said the artists undertook a lot of research and spoke to former workers in the suite as well as visiting it to gain inspiration for their work.
Beyond the Veneer: A Fresh Look at the Prime Minister’s Suite is on at the Museum of Australian Democracy, Old Parliament House, until May 11, 2014.