Service: Cleaning the house on the hill

Dr Lucia Usmiani
2013 Conference

This paper is an account of a performative artwork that was part of a group exhibition Domain: a Contested Landscape, staged in Hobart for the 2013 Ten Days on the Island Festival in Hobart, Tasmania. I reflect on how this project, called Service, as my first foray into performative work, related directly to my studio-based practice and began an artistic investigation into the notion of service as a supportive foundation for success. I was one of a team of 19 artists asked to reflect on the various aspects; social, environmental, physical, historical, of a 150 year old gothic mansion in the heart of Hobart, Domain House, and its surrounding landscape. Historically tenanted by various educative bodies in turn, including the University of Tasmania to which it was soon to be returned, the house had remained vacant and neglected for years and had fallen into a state of decay and disrepair. Through my work, Service, I chose to address the lesser aspect of the houses history and character by cleaning it daily for the duration of the exhibition. I moved Service carefully through the derelict terrain, trying hard not to be seen and, very often, succeeding. This paper tracks the outcomes out of this project as the performance challenged the comfortable assumptions I had about my own practice and the realisation that the work was not simply representative of the aspects of service but was itself, unintentionally, performing a service role.