As part of our ongoing work with Fremantle Prison, we were commissioned to create a public art installation on the Fairbairn Street Ramp.
The art installation was designed to depict and interpret the original use of the ramp as an arrival point for convicts to the prison. Fremantle Prison staff had developed the vision to create a piece that would activate this under-utilised space on the approach to this World Heritage listed site.
The client drew inspiration from similar metal installations that would ‘silhouette’ the artwork when backlit at night against the existing limestone wall. A particular challenge in this approach is the limited level of detail available when only working in 2-dimensions. It is important to ensure characters do not look simplistic or comical, yet are imbued with enough personality to tell a story that the public can relate to, interact and engage with.
Finally with any public art piece, special consideration is required to ensure it has the strength to endure – not only the elements but also the public.
Our design concept strived to embue each character with the essence and despair imparted so well in John Boyle O’Reilly’s novel – Moondyne Joe.
“The chain gang of Fremantle is the depth of the penal degradation. The convicts wear from thirty to fifty pounds of iron, according to the offence. It is riveted on their bodies in the prison forge and when they have served their time the great rings have to be chiselled off their calloused limbs.”
To ensure legitimacy and historical accuracy, we worked in close partnership with prison curatorial and interpretive staff, referencing historical artefacts, guns, shackles and clothing in Fremantle Prison’s collection. We also researched heights of people in that time period to ensure that the installation whilst interpretive, was also as authentic as possible. We then worked through multiple stages of hand illustration and individual character development before moving onto developing the narrative that linked all of the individual characters together to impart a story easily understood by visitors.
The culmination of several months work, a collaboration of artists and storytellers as well as a talented (and patient) team of steel fabricators who were willing to push the boundaries to deliver such fine detail in such an unforgiving material.
We’d also like to acknowledge the courage of our client and our signage partner – both of whom took a punt on the 20mm Corten Steel we specified. This thickness material had never been used in this way before in WA and was incredibly difficult to even source – let alone plasma cut!
We are incredibly proud of this particular project and look forward to it being enjoyed by literally millions of visitors to Fremantle Prison for decades to come.