Australia 100-year-old zinc works to house inclusive music performance as part of Mona Foma festival

23:51  21 january  2021
23:51  21 january  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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When Hobart's Mona Foma festival (aka Mofo) moved north to Launceston two years ago, it faced an interesting challenge: how do you transplant a festival known for avant-garde performance and a subversive streak into a regional city half the size, where musical theatre and sports are the biggest

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a large ship in the water: The Nyrstar zinc works is a familiar and imposing sight for Hobartians. (ABC) © Provided by ABC NEWS The Nyrstar zinc works is a familiar and imposing sight for Hobartians. (ABC)

Only 10 minutes from downtown Hobart there's a mini city within a city, but it's a no-go zone to the general public.

For 100 years, the zinc works in Lutana have loomed as a tangle of dusty, rusty-looking buildings, conveyor belts and smoke stacks.

The ferry to Mona gives the public a taste of what's on the site and by nightfall its array of lights creates an even more intriguing sight.

Now, in the name of art, current owners Nyrstar are allowing the public in … well, past the "front door" at least.

Award-winning social change arts organisation Big hART has embedded artists and musicians to create an audio-visual installation.

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It, and a series of 30-minute performances, are being staged inside the smelter as part of the Mona Foma festival.

Big hART CEO Scott Rankin describes it as "a remarkable visual and audio work" that's "very hypnotic to watch".

"Time kind of stands still, the combination of slick video and hand rendered images is very strong," he said.

The genesis of the work was "part fascination and part personal contact", after a friend of Rankin's began working there.

"The zinc works have always seemed visually arresting both day and night for me, and associated with the trips to MONA on the catamaran, it seemed like a great artwork or sculpture on the banks of the river," Rankin said.

"It is very ingrained in Hobart, and it is very unusual to have an industry of this size so close to the heart of the city."

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Mention the zinc works to locals and many will talk about about the environmental legacy of a bygone era — a legacy the current owners are still managing.

Big hART wants to focus on another, perhaps now overlooked, story about its social legacy — in the early years the smelter set up social programs to support struggling families.

It even had an early insurance scheme funded by the business and zinc workers.

"It helped build the city of Hobart with whole suburbs building up around it, and thousands of families working there," Rankin said.

"It has been great to see people who have worked on site for many years seeing and hearing the zinc works in brand new ways."

A hallmark of the Tasmanian-based company is its ethos of being inclusive.

As well as Nyrstar, the "other big partner" is North West Support Services, an organisation helping people living with a disability to create lifestyles and opportunities.

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"For Zinc there are two talented musicians who live with autism working on this project — bass player Curtis Poke, and electronica artist Paul Corfiatis, who is actually the co-composer and working alongside lead artist/mentor of the project Aaron Hopper," Rankin said.

"As well as that, there's also visual artist Jacob Lish, who is super-talented and has done a lot of drawing. His work has been amplified through a collaboration with cinematographer Anna Caden, young Sydney media artist Jordan East and Hobart artist Eddie James."

Music from a zinc ingot

While on site they collected 270 sounds to create the audio-scape, some using zinc itself.

Hooper said the process was a deep dive into the world of zinc.

"The goal for the Zinc project was that we would compose using only sounds recorded within the Nyrstar Zinc Works or directly related to zinc," he said.

"By manipulating the sounds of tapped and struck zinc ingots, we created a virtual zinc piano.

"We used words from the zinc lexicon to create melodies with a technique called alphabetic junction.

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"We achieved our goal, and the tonal palette of the composition ranges from massive industrial to subtle and beautiful."

Burnie-based Corfiatis began experimenting with sound as a kid "manipulating cassette tapes".

He said he had revelled in the experience and challenges of reflecting the smelter in audio.

"Guitars plugged up to zinc samples, zinc blocks connected to pickups for percussion — this has been a challenging project totally out of my comfort zone," he said.

"When I was younger I was super nervous but during these days I totally thrive on these opportunities.

"It's been a good experience allowing others to get a taste of my capabilities."

'Creating positive futures'

Zinc is a spin-off of the company's successful Acoustic Life of Sheds series, which takes well-known musicians into working farm sheds.

Be it in a shed or a shipping container, Big hART revels in staging performances in unusual places but that was not the main driver.

"It's not just the site itself, Big hART is very interested in renewables and the environment and positive futures," Rankin said.

"Zinc as a product has the ability to extend the life of steel by 20 times, which in turn can extend the life of things like reinforced concrete.

"Concrete production is the third largest emitter of carbon globally, so there are strong alignments there.

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"We are interested in assisting young people to focus on positive aspects of where we live in Tasmania — things like renewables, rainfall, safety, community, clean air, wilderness, and for that to form the basis of feeling positive about creating futures here, rather than having to move away. Zinc fits into that."

So why is a major industrial partnering with artists?

"Engaging with our community is and has always been important to Nyrstar," said the company's stakeholder engagement principal, Caley Pearce.

"This project provides the opportunity for Nyrstar to connect with thousands of people and show what we do at the zinc works.

"We're really proud to be working on a project that celebrates inclusion and provides opportunities for young people living with autism and other needs.

"This project provides a unique opportunity for artists and the community to engage with Nyrstar in new ways."

The artists were allowed into "all kinds of nooks and crannies" to record the sounds of the smelter and create the visuals.

"It took two days for the sound recording and around the same amount of time to get the video footage," Ms Pearce said.

"While Aaron Hopper, the lead composer and mentor was onsite, we were hunting for big mechanical sounds, as well as smaller sounds, like glassware clinging in the labs, and the sound of air compressors."

Zinc also opened doors for the young women of the organisation's long-running Project O, which aims to empower those from disadvantaged rural communities.

They have helped stage the event and spent a week on site getting a first-hand look at STEM career paths.

Mona Foma's Hobart's season runs until Sunday.

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