Altered States

My review of Canberra Museum & Gallery’s nostalgia-filled  Altered States exhibition, which might’ve flown under your radar. For this and a look at what else is happening around the place check out the first edition of Exhibitionist for 2011 – off street stands or over HERE.

Major exhibitions at Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG) have largely been art focused in recent years, but for Altered States the CMAG team has truly taken on the ‘museum’ mantle, delving into their holdings of heritage objects and images to mount this social history exhibition.

Altered States looks at the at times uneasy relationship Canberra has with its past and the meandering journey it has taken in forming its identity as the capital of a nation. The focus of the exhibition is upon Canberra buildings that have been lost, salvaged and repurposed over the course of the last 100 years. Many have been demolished, while a lucky few remain as distinctive and much-loved architectural features.

Visitors to the exhibition are given the opportunity to not only learn about how and by whom these landmark structures came to be built but also to gain an indication of the soul of these places – what it felt like to be there in another time.

Of particular interest is the iconic Albert Hall, these days the distinguished host to many an antique fair or market day. Altered States reveals the Hall as its dashing younger self – packed to the rafters during wartime socials. A stunning evening gown is on display, as worn by one bright young thing to an Albert Hall dance, shown alongside examples of handwritten invitations. The impression of an era of properness, pomp and ceremony is belied only by the cheeky glint in the eyes of the youngsters in the 1942 photograph.

The Yarralumla Brickworks is another curious old beast, built in 1913 and currently being sized up for future redevelopment. Saved from being demolished in 1976 by builder Alan Marr, the gorgeous stone building went on to house weekend markets and artists studios in the early 1990s. Also around this time came the hilarious notion that the imposing structure would make a great locale for an adult magazine photo editorial, in true Vaselined lens soft focus fashion. The resulting spread is displayed in the exhibition to prove it.

Particularly stirring my nostalgia is the Griffin Centre, demolished in 2005 to clear way for the new ATO building in Civic. Although you could never call it pretty, the photographs of the old Centre bring to mind carefree days of gigs at the Youth Centre, or hours spent loitering at the old 2xx radio studio.

We all recognise that Canberra has a love affair with the wrecking ball, having little patience for the tides of time or regard for its own short history as a city. What Altered States reveals however is the fact this isn’t an altogether recent state of affairs. A well-timed look at the way we were and the way we are, for Canberra lovers and history geeks alike.


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