Story behind the donkeys ...

If you have not yet noticed, go out onto the corner of Russell and Little Collins streets and, standing outside The Crafty Squire (carefully please!), look east and upwards at the Hero Apartments building. There you will see an art creation that has been named “Quicksilver Sentinels”.  

The Hero owners’ corporation committee has worked with City of Melbourne and curator Angela Brophy to bring new and exciting art projects to be displayed on this building’s large billboard. This artwork is the first of a series of Platform Commissions that commenced early in the year with the first work being installed in June this year.

If you look at the donkeys you may be tempted to think they are a strange “wonkey donkey” with eight legs and one head.  But actually that is not the case. There is a fascinating story about the image and how it came into being.  In the words of the artist, Susan Jacobs:

“The image was made during a research trip to significant land art sites from the 1960s and ’70s in south-western desert regions of the United States.”

“I made a spontaneous journey to a small ghost town called Terlingua, south-east of Marfa, Texas, near the Rio Grande.”

“The area was a mining district in from the 1880s, producing Cinnabar, a red-toned mineral ore from which the element Mercury is extracted. I became drawn to photographing particular ranch entrances, which appeared as typographic brackets; abstract points of definition within the epic landscape.”

“Often far removed from any other landmarks in sight, these demarcations between private land and public space took on the sense that they were watching over their designated properties like paired sentinels. These mules were photographed over about an hour, near the outskirts of Terlingua. Initially standing apart from each other like the ranch sentinels, they gradually came together.”

There is also a fascinating link with the Hammond and Allan bas-relief sculpture of Mercury on the front of the building.  Mercury is the patron god of financial gain, commerce, eloquence (and thus poetry), messages/communication (including divination), travellers, boundaries, luck, trickery and thieves. He is also the guide of souls to the underworld.

Quicksilver is an old fashioned word for the metal mercury – hence the link from the art piece to the Hero building’s Mercury.

And the word sentinels – these two quiet donkeys are standing there as sentinels, maybe protecting this iconic building that was once the Russell St Telephone Exchange and Post Office – the first post-war government building of any size completed after 1945.  It was recycled as residential in 2001.

As an interesting aside, note at the rear of the Hero bas-relief the lady is holding an analogue older type telephone dial.

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