Empire Rone

A literary retelling of my visit to the art installation Empire by Rone exhibited at Burnham Beeches Mansion in the Sherbrooke Forest.

Nicole Cullinan

Seville oranges, marmalade and ocean liners. She awoke with thoughts of a promising day to go on a journey, a visit to Burnham Beeches, the three-story streamlined modern mansion in the Sherbrooke Forest. It was designed by architect Harry Norris and completed in 1933. He told the owner Alfred Nicholas that it should be reminiscent of being on a cruise. She imagined it would be just like that and pondered the words of Rone on her way to the forest. “Empire Rone is about offering audiences the chance to create their own story; to temporarily transport their minds to another place, another time.”

She entered the mansion through a thick red velvet curtain reminiscent of a magician’s cloak. She had come for Rone. A street artist who had painted a series of twelve hauntingly beautiful portraits inspired by the muse Lily Sullivan; a local actress. His work is exquisite, exploring the materiality of life through the lens of feminine vulnerability.

Who is she, the girl in the portrait? She never looks at us. She clasped her hands for assurance, tilted her chin, stared at the stippled mouldy ceiling, and then all the way down to her feet, toes nestled amongst the autumn leaves.

The enigmatic beauty enveloped her. Gazing upon the botanical arrangement with detached melancholy, she dragged her hand over the earth, leaving a smudge of grey on her fingers. It did not linger like the earth of the wet, rich forest just outside the door.

The forest is calling her, the melodic sounds of nature entering her consciousness, each note carefully selected, pulling her like a tide, taking her past this moment to enter a new space. It has been tiring to inhabit this place. Not knowing if she wants to stay or leave. The loneliness of these large rooms invades her sense of self. What does she think as she stares beyond these walls? She hears voices of a time gone by. “You need a spell”…

She roams the spaces to find a place for a spell, a chance to rest. There is a moment waiting for her. A cup of tea by the window, the soft light caressing her face, then dipping just below her eyes. The smell of citrus in the air, thoughts of marmalade and toast.

Her mind drifts to a happy place, transported to the 1930s house in Menzies Creek, the home of her Great Grandmother. Everything seemed so big as she was so little. She remembers her fat bosom, the softness, the love. Climbing onto her lap to rest her head on the pillow. Learning the story of Marmalade. It all began with the Spaniards, their ship wreck, the abandoned Seville orange cargo and the woman who made a divine citrus jam from what appeared to be great misfortune.

Menzies Creek 1981

With full lips slightly parted and the glimpse of two perfect teeth, she contemplates whether to be satiated or sad. There is a well-set table, silverware, champagne saucers, and oysters. Where will her memories take her?

The nostalgia of revisiting Carlton. Memories of a time when fish swam on tables and peasants collected truffles on the hillside in France. The theatre of that little room in Drummond Street with the world view. A meal she will never forget. A time when anything seemed possible. Where it all began. Her joy in finding the unique and special.

Vue De Monde 2002

Her time coming to a close at Empire Rone. Her hand was drawn to her cheek in quiet contemplation. She appears calm despite the rising water and the possibility of being engulfed. The bow is tilting, and the air smells of seasickness; yet something seems to comfort her in this maudlin situation. She is not panicked; but unable to save herself, her fate resting in the hands of others. Each of us is unable to live in isolation. Her journey comes to an end.

It is time to leave Empire Rone he installation is an extraordinary memorialisation of a time gone by. The stoic irony of her impending removal hangs in the air. The ephemeral beauty revealed in the decay and imperfection is pleasing to the aesthetic senses. She looks back one last time; she can see the mansion grounded in the middle of the forest, like a ship that gets waylaid on its journey. Listing at equilibrium, confident she is going to be rescued.

r-o-n-e  Tyrone Wright (www.r-o-n-e.com)


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