Cover image of the review
A selection of posters from the Tin Sheds Archives, now held at the University of Sydney Archives. Photo: Maja Baska

Sydney Buries its Past

23 Jul 2022
Tin Sheds Gallery 14 Jul - 20 Aug 2022

I head towards Tin Sheds Gallery on my lunch break, before Sydney Buries its Past officially opens. To get there I pass the University’s Gothic Revival architecture, built during the second half of the nineteenth century from always-damp sandstone, as well as the newish glass buildings, where management work and where I sometimes go to use the toilets. If the founding architecture of the University aspired to Oxbridge, the new buildings glimmer like any other corporate headquarters (instead of gargoyles there’s CCTV). I was told once that the University sold a Picasso from its collection to pay for one of its newer buildings. I’m not sure if that’s true, but it prompts an image of a building suddenly turning back into a cubist painting. What else would we see in the city if buildings revealed their financial sources?

When I was at art school in Sydney, in the early 2000s, the Tin Sheds was often mentioned in passing. We were told it was an important moment, the place to be, for activism and art from the late 60s until the 80s, during the height of the civil rights movement and interrelated social justice struggles. Anti-war and anti-nuclear protests, environmentalism, feminism, Indigenous land rights, anarcho-punk and Marxist vernaculars spilt over Tin Sheds’s corrugated iron walls and into the streets. Their actions took the form of—mainly, though as this exhibition shows, not only—brilliantly inventive posters. But there wasn’t a lot of discussion, as far as I can remember, about how various artists and collectives that worked and hung out at and even lived in the Sheds (there was 24-hour access in the early years) addressed the city specifically; on how they organised themselves, chaotically and, at least initially, non-hierarchically, with whatever they could find or steal, fuelled by counterculture philosophies and calls for the democratisation of art; or what the lessons of the Sheds might be for artists who find themselves both inside and outside institutions, in varying degrees of uncertainty and agitation, and who may be (always are?) looking for alternatives.

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