Secret Archives of the Recent Past (1995)

Mori Gallery, 168 Day St, Sydney
June 1 - July 1, 1995

' ... the 'empty spaces' appropriated or created by urbanism – the clearing of vacant and occupied territory – are paralleled on the phenomenal plane by the tabula rasa imagined by modernist utopias, to the point where both levels intersect in the commonplaces of modern urban development. The task of filling these voids - what Ernst Bloch has termed 'the hollow spaces of capitalism' – is given over to architecture, which is forced, in the absence of a lived past, to search for post historical grounds on which to base an 'authentic' home for society. Thus on an even more literal level, architecture finds itself 'repeating' history, whether in traditional or avant-garde guise, in a way that itself gives rise to an uncanny sense of déjà vu that parallels Freud's own description of the uncanny as linked to the 'compulsion to repeat'. (Anthony Vidler, The Architectural Uncanny (1992)

From the late 1960s, inner-city areas of Sydney were low-rent locations, occupied by students, artists, political radicals and low-income people who couldn't afford to move to the burgeoning suburbs. By the 1990s many of these spaces were either vacant or derelict - ripe for redevelopment in the build-up to the Sydney Olympics - or repurposed by new tenants. This project revisited the sites of the earlier energy, picking up on their spectral presence as future promise.  

The exhibition itself was held in one such space - an art gallery between 1993 and 2014, that had been the headquarters of the Communist Party of Australia in the 1960s, when the building was bugged and under constant surveillance.

Images of the spaces, captioned with their addresses and current uses (at the time of the exhibition) were accompanied by Land Titles Registry Records, documenting the traces of changing ownership, from original land grants to the sometimes secret ownership of locations by banned radical political parties, registered in the names of respectable fellow travellers. The earlier histories of these sites were now hidden, and hence a secret known only to those who had participated in the actions of their occupants:  leftist parties, Women's Liberation, Gay Liberation, the Artworkers Union, Sydney Filmmakers Co-op, the Women's Press, Intervention Bookshop, women's health centres, women's warehouses and cultural centres. The Land Titles Registry Office, which preserved the bureaucratic histories of these locations was privatised in 2017. 

Margaret Morgan: Helen Grace: Secret Archives of the Recent Past (Photofile, Vol 46 November, 1995) ISSN 0811 0859 Reprinted in Blair French (Ed) Photo Files: An Australian Photography Reader, Power Publications/ Australian Centre for Photography 1999, ISBN 1 86487 053 2
Anne Ferran, 'Empty', (Photofile, No 66, September 2002, ISSN 0811 0859 Special issue on Traces