Ben Chifley ‘Heroic’

The statue melts into its urban environment. The perforations undermine the heaviness of the material, turning structural steel into a gravity defying filigree, merging matter with the air and light around it. Viewed from edge on the figure disappears in an ordered vertical tangle of zig-zag trussing. This is a deliberate play off between an internal utilitarian structure that supports an external figurative icon like the old steel billboard frames that can be seen rusting on building rooftops, and an external message bearing skin. This is reversed in the statue as the frame and external skin are structurally interdependent.

This particular structure carries the likeness of Prime Minister Joseph Benedict Chifley and is derived from a small grainy photo of him posing for a group portrait with members of Atlee’s British cabinet in 1947. A pivotal and largely forgotten figure, Chifley was responsible for post-war reconstruction,initiating many policies and projects that helped define modern Australia including immigration and multiculturalism, the founding of the CSIRO and The Snowy Mountains Scheme amongst others.

This memorial plays with the absurdity of pushing a certain version of history as innumerable Lenin’s, Stalin’s, and Mao;s did. Visions of headless Lenins and toppled Stalins in the rupture of the Soviet Union inform my approach as much as the Winged Victory of Samothrace in the Louvre and the Big Merino at Goulburn. There are also Modernist echoes and resonances including Brancusis’ Endless Column, 1937 and Richard Serras’ Sight Point 1972-75.

The pose I have chosen is typical of Chifleys’ relaxed style. Rumpled suit, hand in pocket, the other grasping the bowl of his ever-present pipe. This pose belies the monumentality of the statue and severity of its internal structure and stainless steel surface. Pedestrians walking up the Phillip St hill or coming from Martin Place will see this statue as a giant billboard, a perforated architectural slab that mediates between the scale of the architecture and that of the human body.

– Simeon Nelson 1997

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