Susan Milne and Greg Stonehouse


Interviewees: Susan Milne and Greg Stonehouse

Interviewer: Noelene Pullen (Development Officer-Local Studies for The Hills Shire Library Service)

Date of Interview: 1 Dec 2009

Transcription: Glenys Murray, Dec 2009

This interview represents the personal recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee


Noelene: The site chosen by The Hills Shire Council for its public art was Castle Grand, which is on the corner of Castle and Pennant Streets in Castle Hill. The building houses Castle Hill Library, the Castle Hill Community Centre with its function rooms and the Castle Hill Early Childhood Health Centre. The site is a meeting place, a place where the community can come together to chat, explore, communicate, learn. Just be part of a cultural hub. The activities in the Castle Hill Library allow people to find information, learn more, participate in various programmes and activities and learn a sense of community and identity.

The Castle Hill Water Wall was officially launched on 21 September 2009. It includes images and words reflecting the history of the idea of community in the Hills Shire. There’s a Parish Map of Castle Hill showing neighbouring original land holders and photos of cultural activities, local churches where the community met regularly and early transport enabling communication, such as the horse and cart, early motor car and steam tram which was achieved by the community in the early twentieth century through successful long-term lobbying.

The Water Wall also includes some Aboriginal Darug words approved by Darug man Richard Green that represent the concept of community. They include a word for “let’s talk” and also “let’s all walk together”.

Council accepted the tender of Milne and Stonehouse to undertake the public art at Castle Grand.

Greg: There are many types of public art. There’s even computer digital art, there’s outdoor sculptural art that only appears for a couple of weeks. It encompasses a broad spectrum of art performance activity. For The Hills Shire this public art work engages with the public 24/7 really. At night time when the lights shine through the glass and the water, you get a different effect to the day time, where the ripples of the water will be magnified by sunlight. The way Susan and I have approached public art as artists and arrived at this point in our practice is quite different. I became an artist a little bit later in my twenties. I have always juggled it like most artists with trying to make some money and be creative.

Susan: I feel quite fortunate because I always knew that I wanted to be an artist. So it was a natural progression to move from a gallery artist through to an installation artist to public art. At the moment we still do the whole three of those but the public art is our main driver and we mostly work on public art within public spaces.

I think one of the more exciting aspects of working in the public domain is the collaborative process. (Examples of Milne and Stonehouse public art include the Elizabeth Street Footbridge Parramatta and Float at The Ponds. Images of these can be found in the above video.) Greg and I enjoy working on projects together and also collaborating with other professionals like you hearing the stories and all the historical references but also working with engineers and lighting designers and architects and planners.

Greg: We were invited to submit an expression of interest with a number of other artists and we were successful in going to that next stage. At that point Stuart who was the Cultural Officer suggested quite strongly to us to make this work really local, to embed it within the character of The Hills Shire. That was an interesting challenge to be put to us with this and therefore it was obvious that we had to go and talk to you about what was part of that cultural psyche at The Hills. We're in a library and all round the world libraries are in a state of flux, because where they were the holders of knowledge and the archives of knowledge,

 Garthowen - built on the ridge line at Castle Hill

now they are the portal, they’re social activity, there’s a coffee shop, there’s a lot more interesting CD’s and information has an E in front of it, knowledge has an E in front of it. So they’re interesting places. So we thought oh well the illuminated manuscript becomes this strange doorway into it. Then we got our friend who writes computer code to do an algorithm for reading. It was a paradox. It was ironic because reading is such an imaginative discovery.

The sense of character that we explored with Noelene was about the physical space along the ridge lines and that sense of being above the plains. It was interesting to talk about the character of the people. The strong sense of Christian idealism, compassion and that was explored as Noelene pointed out in a number of homes and places where the less fortunate were given that kind of education and help and nourishment.

Susan: I think the other thing that is really important, it’s fantastic to have all the historical and all the referencing to the community but it’s also really important to bring it into a contemporary art piece and to make it relevant right now and hopefully grow with that sense of being a contemporary piece. So it’s about having the many layers including the new and the future in it as well. I think one of the ways with this work and particularly the illuminated wall art piece that’s going to go in is the use of the technologies used to develop the art work and also the use of lighting and water as almost the active part of the artwork and changing it from a day to a night piece.

Installing the Water Wall

Greg: These processes for glass making were slumping the glass so that the letters would form as the glass became slightly liquid it forms around some of the letters. We sand blasted so some of the old maps of the area are sand blasted pieces. There’s a rust inlay to add another layer so there’s almost three layers. It's toughened and put together and inserted behind the water. So the work is really quite interesting in that process. Hence what happens to the imagery from the design sense where it’s all very apparent and visible. You can search and find some of the architectural remnants and the text and when it’s all done and formed into the glass and the material takes over, then the work becomes a lot more of a discovery and people can see the little bits of it. Then the website and the Library becomes much more important because then the people use the artwork as a portal to the understanding of local history and the local culture and identity.