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Foothold

Foothold (Airspace, 2020) emerged from reading about a major transcribing project to identify and record deteriorating headstones at Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney. The project was led by the Australian Society of Genealogists (ASG) over eleven years (1981-92). Personal recollections of the methods used to render the weathered and collapsed headstones legible, influenced the material sensibility of this work. Techniques employed by the ASG included pouring water over tombstones to make indents standout and the use of mirrors to cast shadows to make inscriptions easier to read. Rubbing headstones with chalk was another method. Gypsum is a key ingredient to make chalk and can damage a headstone due to the expanding and contracting qualities of the material. Interested in the tension between the human quest for preservation and the processes of decay, I turned my attention to an animal largely considered an accelerator to the decomposition of burial sites.

Rabbits are common in cemeteries, where soft soil, short green grass and slabs of stone for shelter are ideal for rabbits to burrow, feed and breed. Rabbits weaken the foundation of graves, often resulting in their sunken and collapsed state. The cemetery as a shared habitat between rabbits and humans (both dead and living) has narratives in both superstition and destruction. According to Celtic folklore, the fact that rabbits burrowed deep underground meant that they were in direct communication with the gods and spirits in the underworld. The rabbit foot as good luck charm also carries permutations of this idea and is shared across a number of cultures.

Foothold considers the cemetery as a glossary of layered and traversed histories and contemplates human acts of preservation within an environment of quiet decay. How the cultural influence of cemeteries shapes a physical habitat for rabbits, whilst squarely positioning them as pests.

The Sleeping City – The Story of Rookwood Necropolis ed David Weston, Hale and Iremonger , 1989