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  • Writer's pictureSim Luttin

Mement(o)s of Disquiet and Beauty

Looking for inspiration to nourish me, I walked through the streets of New York City and slowly noticed details underfoot. I was particularly drawn to the metalwork embedded in the pavement and bitumen: steel and iron grates, utility hole covers, cast metal steps and urban metalwork garden edging. As I encountered many circular and geometric solid and open grid constructions, I began to see the beauty in the formal elements and repetition. I could visualise fragments transformed into miniature objects: keepsakes that could be worn on the body serving as urban signifiers and reminders of moments past.

When I returned to Melbourne, I looked through the photographs that I'd taken, and I decided to focus on the formal qualities of the metalwork I'd documented on my iPhone. Sometime later, I was urged to research the origins of the metalwork I'd seen in the streets, to understand the history and origin of the grates.

My research led me to US filmmaker Natasha Rahejathe's short documentary 'Cast in India'. It was illuminating while also incredibly confronting. Rahejathe's film revealed the disquieting context that New York City manhole covers are made. Yet, despite this, I loved discovering that the grates are handmade. I loved watching the process of making, of melting metal, the pouring, the moulds the stamping down the earth. Even though the conditions are such a far cry from what's allowed in Australia and other Western countries, I am enamoured and in such awe of the makers. While I'm unsure how to reconcile my mixed feelings, I hope to make some sense of the objects through my response through making.


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