I really enjoyed excursions in primary school. Even when I had no idea where we were going, or why, I just wanted to break up the humdrum of the school-week. I trusted entirely when I boarded transport toward far away locations, listened eagerly to the crackly speakers of tour buses and followed blindly the raised hands and flags of our guides. This is probably one of the many reasons I relished Astrojet so much. Part mystery location performance art, part audio tour and reminiscent of another phase in my life.
Being reminded of a time when I was 10 was not the only remarkable part of this work; it was on the whole a wonderful site dérive from my everyday existence. Artist Zoe Meagher gave us the rare opportunity to reset our expectations, enter another time and submit entirely to her guiding hands and voice.
Leaving Melbourne CBD at 7.30pm we learnt the location of our excursion, the forgotten Astrojet Space Centre at Melbourne Airport. I was intrigued. It was built in July 1970, almost exactly one year after man walked on the moon. The Astrojet Space Centre had everything you would expect of a building claiming to be ‘a window to the space age’. It was wide-eyed and optimistic about the future of space travel and technology. The advertisements for the grand opening paraded all the latest exhibitions and modern conveniences (on-site cinema and eat in the ‘Quick Service Restaurant’) like they were the first of its kind.
As soon as the audio began I committed to the fantasy of being a patron in 1970. I imagined visiting the centre for the first time, eager and hopeful. When our personal headsets encouraged us to daydream about a technology-filled future of wonder, I did. When it explained the many sights of the Astrojet Space Centre, I got excited. I imagined exploring the Lenton Parr sculpture ‘Astra’ on sight and eating at its restaurant. I allowed the 70s disco backing music to wash over me as I saw the Melbourne city in a new light – a futuristic urban environment, idyllic and bright. I was seduced.
As we travelled we were urged to repeat the mantra ‘everything is exactly as I imagined it to be’. It echoed the optimism of the time. We arrived with high hopes.
When we finally arrived, I hid my disappointment: the Astrojet Space Centre had closed 3 years after it opened. In the time since then, it had been used for training staff by the Ansett Cooperation , another failed venture of another age. The Lenton Parr sculpture was gone, the doors locked, the interior badly damaged. I tried to pretend everything was exactly as I imagined it. For a time, the audio tour continued as though everything was perfect – as if all the dioramas and space-age models were waiting for us through its doors. And then, quite suddenly, the voice change tone, and we heard of the storm that had destroyed the centre. Looking through the window of the flooded cinema it all became clear: the building never lived to be the centre of the space age world it had so hopefully dreamed of being.
We finished the performance looking up at the cove in which the Lenton Parr sculpture stood. Repeating to one another ‘everything is, exactly as, I imagined it to be’ before returning home on the bus.
Much like travelling home from a primary school excursion we were abuzz with excitement, not disappointment. I chatted animatedly with my friends all the way to late-night coffee about everything from relational aesthetics to the synch-disco music. Much like those first magical trips you take as a child, I was not discontented. I came and saw forgotten space with fresh eyes, toyed with the ideals of another time, and learnt a new mantra for those times when we are often disappointed.
So what of Astrojet as a performance? Everything was, exactly as, I imagined it to be.
Astrojet September 5 -6. Leaving from Blindside Gallery.
You can get more information about this work and the very talented Zoe Meagher through her website.
This work was the last part of a series of four called Site is Set presented by the artist collective Field Theory. Field Theory work to support cross-disciplinary artists who, among other things, ‘seek new strategies for intervening in the public sphere’. It was also part of the 2014 Blindside Festival Meet The Public