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Ideal City
17 August to10 September 2011

Notes by the artist

On a visit to Cowra’s Japanese Garden in 2007, a plan of the Cowra Prisoner of War Camp caught my attention. The Camp was built during World War Two to hold, among others, Japanese prisoners. It was built as a twelve-sided polygon with two main streets cutting the polygon into quarters, with the military keepers located outside the fence, in compounds as if they were in the suburbs. The figure reminded me of Renaissance plans. Later, I looked up Vincenzo Scamozzi’s famous scheme published in 1615. It too was imagined as a twelve-sided polygon in its city part and a twelve-pointed star through its peripheral ramparts. Scamozzi’s city proposed four quarters, with ramparts creating a star-shaped periphery.

The Cowra Camp was one of 28 such places in Australia during WW2. It is notorious for the Japanese insurrection, and the town is now known for its associated Japanese War Cemetery and the Japanese Garden on the edge of the township. Nothing now remains of the camp. After WW2, the barracks were used as a migrant hostel; I was there in 1949 for about four weeks with my mother.

The flicker between Scamozzi and Cowra, between northern and southern hemispheres, and between pure and applied art, began to insist on a project. Two works seen soon after the Cowra visit provided further inspiration. The first of these was a multiple sheet drawing/painting in red ochres by Swedish artist Jan Svenungsson, taken off an aerial photograph of a remote central Australian site. This was exhibited as the work of AIR STUDIO, at the School of Art , RMIT Melbourne in March 2007. (Looking back at images of the STUDIO work, I now note that the other artist involved, Katrin von Maltzahn, produced drawing after drawing using the octagonal plan of the Victorian State Library as a source image.) The second inspiration came when I saw Gulammohammed Sheikh’s Mappa Mundi of 2002-2004 in tapestry format hanging in the Yasuko Hiraoka Myer Room in the Asia Centre at the University of Melbourne. This large mandala-like composition scatters figures and geographic features over a large circle with four larger corner figures.

The ‘maps’ by Svenungsson and Sheikh put geographic formats to non-geographic tasks. All of this has been enough to spark the idea of drawing an Antipodean Ideal City, using maps and rulers to present images of the complex political and emotional conditions associated with Ideal Cities. The ideal city is a fusion of military control, rational organization and faith and hope for the future – these are founding qualities of OZ since the first fleet; and were repeated for the Fleets of Displaced Persons who arrived here just after WW2.


Alex Selenitsch
August 2011

Alex Selenitsch 2004 Exhibition
Alex Selenitsch 2006 Exhibition
Alex Selenitsch 2008 Exhibition
Alex Selenitsch 2010 Exhibition
Alex Selenitsch 2012 Exhibition
Alex Selenitsch 2013 Exhibition