photos: mikhail zenon

The Italian Talkative Square is a public, site-specific installation created by Italian visual artist Marta Ferracin. It consists of acoustic and sculptural elements. Both components aim to represent Italian culture, which is the largest cultural group in Five Dock and it’s surroundings. The acoustic element aims to stimulate the imagination of the listener through one of the oldest form of communication: the oral tradition. In order to highlight the Italian cultural heritage of the Five Dock community and add more authenticity to the unique stories presented by each participant, some of the musical and theatrical voices within the recordings have been left in their original language. The sculptural component of the work leaves space for the viewer to find hidden clues to the stories.

As well as encouraging a revival of Italian cultural traditions in Five Dock, The Italian Talkative Square is a way to reflect on the contribution that this community has made in transforming Australia, economically, socially and culturally. Many members of the Five Dock Italian community arrived in Australia during the post-war emigration (between 1950 and 1970) with only a pair of shoes, trousers and the shirt on their backs. Some didn’t know how long the trip could last believing it was just 2-3 days when they boarded the ship. Others travelled alone or had a chaperon. Many shared songs and dance, hoping for a better future. Although they were initially seen as different people in a new country, Italian emigrants were able to rebuild their own futures, as well as those of the next generation, thanks to hard work, will, creativity, friendship and family values.

Over a three month period Ferracin has collected auditory material generated through chance encounters on the street with the Italian community living, working, shopping and spending their free time in Five Dock. As she is familiar with Italian culture, Ferracin has been able to locate important community meeting points such as the Fred Kelly Place, the Catholic All Hallows church and RSL club. She has also attended important celebrations and festivities such as the Sicilian Trinacria Associations’s 40th anniversary and Ferragosto, in which the well known Italian singer Maria Venuti participated.

The Italian Talkative Square is a collection of stories, from both the past and the present, told by the older generation who mainly come from Sicily, the Aeolian Islands and the central and southern regions of Italy. The sonic pieces, told in both English and Italian, consist of stories, traditional music and field recording organized into three cultural themes and acoustic compositions. Each is fifty minutes long and is looped and transmitted through three pairs of stereo speakers. The speakers are installed within the sculptures and on top of existing public poles in Fred Kelly Place.

One pole is positioned closer to the Great North Road. It is dedicated to Italian traditions, celebrations and festivities such as food, the procession of saints (who are seen as the protectors of Italian villages), and Ferragosto. The second and third poles are found within the childrens playground area in the same square. One pole at the entrance is dedicated to legendary characters such as the Italian-Australian show band musician Jack Patane’. Others feature community members that have used their creativity to make Five Dock a vibrant and memorable place to live. Another pole hosts emigrant stories including the post-war ship trip, the arrival of the immigrants to Australia, and their settlement in Five Dock.

Three coloured, clustered sculptures are gathered around each pole, directing the visitors’ awareness to each different cultural theme, and making the acoustic experience even more immersive. The sculptures are made of recycled, everyday objects, collected as memorabilia and inspired by each individual story. From looking at the vibrant objects and listening to the narrative threads, viewers become immersed in popular Italian cultural knowledge, laughter, traditional music and recipes.

Capturing the curiosity of people that are passing by, this public artwork is surprising, charming and educates the audience as they sit on public benches or have a daily break. It also provides an opportunity for a younger generation of Italians, and other cultures living in Five Dock, to acknowledge their grandparents contribution to the history of multicultural Australia.

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