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A city speaks and Biennale artist transcribes its words in Surry Hills lane

We speak to Agatha Gothe-Snape, the artist behind 'Here, an Echo'

Here, an Echo

Wander down an inconspicuous laneway behind Oxford Street and you’ll find an artwork by Biennale of Sydney artist Agatha Gothe-Snape. In it, she has distilled local conversations and histories and inscribed these in giant block letters written in road marking paint.

Here, an Echo, located on Wemyss Lane in Surry Hills, brings poetry to a location that might otherwise escape attention.

Artist Agatha Gothe-Snape has distilled local conversations and histories. These are inscribed in giant block letters written in road-marking paint.

Agatha deliberately chose to use road-marking paint to inscribe the texts. “I wanted the texts to appear in a material of the city,” said Agatha. “As it [the artwork] is absorbed back into the laneway, it will become grimy and weathered, and will soon be less visible. In a way, it's drawn back into the fabric of the city that produced it.”

In 2016, Agatha took multiple walks from Speaker’s Corner in the Domain to Wemyss Lane with her research partner, dancer and choreographer Brooke Stamp. Experts in the history of the locations, residents and businesses, as well other artists, took part. The artist also met and talked with businesses that surround the laneway – she got a haircut at Sterling Apothecary, had a tour of Gemmology and Philas houses and held a function at Harry’s Hotel.

Agatha believes in the gentle way public art can capture the history and activity of the streetscape and bring a fresh awareness of the city to people walking by.

“Art in the public realm has an incredible potential to pose open-ended questions and offer insight into things that aren’t immediately understood.

“People enjoy things that aren’t completely obvious – this leaves spaces for them to fill in the blanks – the space between the words.”

Like any poem, the meanings of the phrases in the artwork are open to your interpretation. Here are brief descriptions of a couple of the phrases, shared by the artist herself.

“Physical doorways”

“It was Jimmy Smith, an advisor on the project, who reminded me that Sydney Harbour is the physical doorway to the British colonisation of this country. In Wemyss Lane, the physical doorways open into discrete worlds within the buildings that occupy the blocks.”

“A single stamp”

“I was excited to find that Philas House, the stamp collecting association of Australia, was one of the tenants based at Wemyss Lane. In my conversations I was struck by the value and desire that can be attached to a single stamp – a small but precious object, especially as we use postal mail less and less. I liked the idea that the whole building was like a letter, posted through time to us.”

Here, an Echo was commissioned for the 20th Biennale of Sydney and remains as a permanent legacy. Read the explanations of each text that forms part of the artwork.

Published 31 August 2017, updated 26 June 2018

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