Neil Roberts

Lamb, Jennifer and Roberts, Neil,

Breaching the divide: nine artists exploring Goulburn, Catalogue excerpts, Goulburn, NSW: Goulburn Regional Gallery, 11 May – 8 June 1996.

Jennifer Lamb and Neil Roberts

… The people of Goulburn, like the world’s other people, are collectors, consciously or unconsciously, of objects: material items that become elements of their life, and that, in many ways, become who they are. Such a collector was the late Archie Hancock, a Goulburn identity who was an Alderman of Goulburn City Council in the 1980s. Neil Roberts knew of Hancock’s house on the road near city limits and knew it contained an amazing collection of paraphernalia, because Hancock was, it would seem, a compulsive collector. Roberts’ previous work has been about the things people leave behind when they die. Once involved in this exhibition project, he learnt about Archie Hancock who then became a springboard for his work for this exhibition. Although his work is inspired by the Goulburn identity, it is not about him, rather it is about the compulsion people have to gather things around them, to ground them within their lives. Nevertheless, everyone who knew and respected Archie Hancock will have an affinity with Roberts’ concept.

Jennifer Lamb

Artist’s statement

‘How Do We Survive’

[The Chaos and Tumble of events]

In 1992 I installed a group f works called What survives us in a Melbourne gallery. It sought to speculate on the notion of what survives after we die, whether the sense of love lives on or whether only the acts and events of a life remain. I took objects I retrieved from a family neighbour’s shed after he died and slipped them into an arbitrary and peculiar set of associations and histories. These assemblages were contrasted with the simple gatherings of a life lived, the inevitable accumulations over time, in memory and in fact, and the resonance of those gatherings on our neighbour’s widow.

The work in this exhibition, How do we survive, speculates on what happens as we live: how we manage to survive within and against the forces of life and community.

The springboard for these thoughts was Archie Hancock, the late Goulburn Alderman and character around town (although this work is definitely not about Archie). I was familiar with the old Hancock house out on the Sydney Road near McDonalds before I knew Archie’s story, and the accumulation of materials there spoke of a particular sort of struggle to survive and order a particular sort of chaos.

It is the role of objects in this sort of survival that I’m especially interested in–the history and memory inscribed into a thing through use and abuse, erosion, breakdown, and so on, and the values we choose to scribe to certain things for specific reasons. (Why did Archie Hancock retrieve and retain so many spectacles and clocks? Did they hold a significance for him? Did the years’ daily routine of gathering and sorting sustain some connection for him that would otherwise have withered away, a connection with community and place?)

We develop mechanisms of survival. We all embody ourselves in our surroundings in particular ways. Those surroundings set the pattern of that embodiment to a degree (how would Archie Hancock have performed his ritual gatherings in the sparse hostility of Canberra’s streets?), but we end up depending on more complex and unwitting strategies. This work grows out of these thoughts, seeking processes to order the ‘chaos and tumble’ of objects and sensations I had gathered in Goulburn and elsewhere.

I am looking for an expression of: the compulsion to find a pattern in our lives; the form of that pattern; the ‘inappropriate’ acting in consort with the ‘inexplicable’; compression as a form of endurance and containment; repetition as a time signature; certain material affinities (substances that might suggest comfort in a time of suffering).

Neil Roberts 1996.