KAITLYN Elsegood wears her heart on her sleeve.
From discussing her home in Hamilton Hill – a former brothel where someone possibly overdosed – to her great grandfather being prosecuted under ‘Evil Fame’ laws, and her own brush with addiction, nothing is off limits.
This searing honesty is reflected in the artist’s latest exhibition Falter, an abstract blitzkrieg on social injustice and how the privileged should be doing more to help the disadvantaged in Australia.
“Through my current roles I work with children and teenagers. In areas such as Kwinana, Rockingham and Hamilton Hill I have had my eyes opened to the inequality in my immediate community,” Elsegood says.
“There is a growing gap between the haves and have nots. Certain people are doing things really tough and they don’t get access to the same opportunities.
“Living in Melbourne I worked in disability – clients who didn’t have family or friends to advocate for them and were reliant on the system imposed upon them, circumstances greatly differed for the worst.”
This sense of injustice is reflected in her art installation A Boat Named Beelzebub, which was created from a 4m punt boat sawn in half.
“I got it off a man in Bassendean who had a pet goat named Beezelbub,” Elsegood says.
The hand on the floor represents her great grandfather, who was orphaned and arrived in WA alone, aged 11, in 1889.
He was blamed for his misfortune and then arrested under the “Evil Fame” laws, where at the time someone could be put in jail because they seemed a bit dodgy. He was left to navigate the WA legal system without any support.
“Sarah Krasnostein’s essay Not Waving, Drowning: Mental Illness and Vulnerability in Australia, explores the disadvantages experienced by people without financial means to access mental health services, and the detrimental impacts on the broader public when people are not able to access the help they require,” Elsegood says.
“It had a profound effect on me: For the most part I feel like to a certain level we are aware, but for many of us these issues are in our peripheral vision, not directly impacting on us, so we don’t have to address them or consider our role and compliance”.
Elsegood uses mostly “junk” destined for landfill to create her installations including car doors, fish netting, mirrors, window frames and even a Hills Hoist clothesline, which doubles as Yggdrasil, a sacred tree in Norse cosmology.
“I don’t have a studio and have been laying the fish netting out on my driveway and using a roller and about 30 litres of paint to cover it…I think the lead up to my exhibition has been quite entertaining for my neighbours,” she says.
Elsegood was inspired to become an installation artist after visiting the Dia Beacon museum in New York, as part of her Masters degree.
“The whole concept blew my mind: I was so moved by some of the works (as wanky as that sounds) the artists were so clever in what they could achieve through scale and materials. Going and seeing multiple paintings all jammed together didn’t really compare after that.”
The dark and sometimes tragic chaos that fuels an artist’s muse is perhaps best reflected in Elsegood’s current abode – a duplex near the Phoenix Shopping Centre which she bought for a snip after inheriting money from her grandfather.
“I couldn’t understand why it was so affordable and why my neighbour, who is quite spiritual, never seemed comfortable to come over for a cuppa,” she says.
“I eventually discovered the previous tenants had been renting and were running a brothel and drug dealing from it.
“Previous to that, the tenant had either committed suicide or OD’d in the laundry and their family had tried to sell it, but apparently there is a law that you have to disclose during a certain amount of time when someone has died in a residence, so no one wanted to buy it. They rented to the unsavoury crowd who were eventually kicked out, and then arrived me and the gentrification and lots of sage sticks…”
Falter is at The Naval Store on Queen Victoria St in Fremantle until Wednesday October 11.
by STEPHEN POLLOCK