On the banks of the Maribyrnong River there’s an imposing, five-metre-high colonial-era bluestone wall. Very few people get behind it. This is Jack’s Magazine, a heavily fortified munitions storage facility built in the 1870s and decommissioned in the 1990s. Now it’s a benign historical curio, mostly untouched, under lock and key for most of the year.
But this weekend, Jack’s Magazine becomes an art gallery as artists Georgia Nowak and Eugene Perepletchikov curate a selection of works that discuss the cultural significance of bluestone and the history of the site for a show called Jack’s Reloaded: Material as Memory, as part of Melbourne Design Week.
“There are a lot of intersecting histories in this place,” Nowak says. “We’re sitting on the third-largest volcanic plate in the world. Bluestone was used to construct Pentridge Prison, but also Wurdi Youang, a stone arrangement that’s potentially older than Stonehenge.”
Inside Jack’s Magazine is a series of long, dark, cool, cavernous halls. Gunpowder stored here was used in Victoria’s gold mines and for munitions during the World Wars. Now, sound and video art fills the space.
Perepletchikov walks me to the top of the barricade-like mounds that surround the building. Skyscrapers are visible in the distance. By 1890 there was enough gunpowder on this site that an accidental ignition would be catastrophic, with the effects of the resulting explosion reaching what is now the CBD, 10 kilometres away.
Nowak and Perepletchikov hope to reawaken the forgotten history of this place. All the artworks here respond to the site, or the historical importance of bluestone, or both.
Sound artist Philip Samartzis has created a five-channel audio installation from wind patterns recorded on the site. The collective Artist Film Workshop has created a digital model of the magazine interior, which is projected onto a wall using 16 millimetre film. Nowak and Perepletchikov have created a video work combining footage of volcanic plains with archival footage of the construction of Melbourne bluestone icons, from Pentridge Prison to the NGV. Nic Burridge’s sculptures are made using gunpowder blasts. But beyond the artworks, this is a rare chance to see a piece of architectural history.
Nowak’s background is in architecture, and Perepletchikov’s is in film. Both of these careers inform Material as Memory. Perepletchikov is interested in documentary and the arrangement of history. As an architect, Nowak says she’s used to shaping the landscape. But as an artist, she can go deeper. “[As an architect] I draw a line, [then] someone digs a hole, or builds a wall,” she tells me. “[As an artist,] I want to engage with the landscape and think about the land we’re building on.”
Jack’s Reloaded: Material as Memory is at Jack’s Magazine, Magazine Way, Maribyrnong on March 23 and 24 from 10am to 5pm.