In Wollongong MacDonald reinvents historical imagery to dramatise civic life both past and present. Abstracted drawing and restrained colour washes lend a bittersweet nostalgia to the Legend and Legacy series. Nostalgia — from the Greek, literally ‘pain of home’ — prompts uncomfortable memories of a home- town with a proudly independent, left-leaning political culture that is now ailing, its Labour Council and local government squeezed between unscrupulous business interests and Labor Party factions who call the shots and pre-selections from afar. Too broken to fix is the Sydney line. Qui bono or who benefits? The artist inks in sinister, silhouetted figures lifted from the Illawarra Mercury — politician (Mark Arbib), former national union boss (Bill Kelty) and transport magnate (Lindsay Fox) — grouped like the three graces for a photo-op on (safely-held) Shellharbour beach. The fix is in.
MacDonald also pays tribute to happier legends. Linking past and present images of grass-roots action, we appreciate this legacy in recent struggles to save pristine Water Catchment Special Areas from long-wall mining, Sandon Point from over-development and McMansions unchecked up and down the coast. A watercolour from an Illawarra Mercury photograph shows a tent blown by the elements at the 2009 Helensburgh Climate Camp. It remains a delicately ambiguous, oddly traumatic image. Another shows Merv Nixon, local hero and architect of the South Coast Labour Council’s role in all the broad social movements of the 70s and 80s, marching on with shirt-sleeves rolled. New times have demanded new spaces and new ways of organising. Focus has shifted to more democratic but sporadic campaigns by rainbow-coloured community action. A generation on, local trades hall leader Arthur Rorris calls this shape- shifter ‘community unionism’. Today’s organised actions are spatially dispersed and loosely led. Will they slip more quickly into the quiet backwaters of local archival memory?
Cat Moore, Jo Holder from Local Studies: Legend and Legacy exhibition essay
Media: watercolour on Arches hot press 300gsm archival paper
Art Work source images: courtesy Local History Collection, Wollongong City Library
2010 – Local Studies 2: Legend & Legacy, exhibition cataloque, Woollongong City Art Gallery