Alder, Alison

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Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House


In this project, Canberra-based artist Alison Alder reinterprets and reinvigorates portraits of the first eight prime ministers. Developed from her fellowship with the Australian Prime Ministers Centre, Alder has found rich inspiration in the early period in the nation's democracy. Responding to the history and architecture of Old Parliament House, she has created an immersive installation with screenprints, animation and commissioned wallpaper in a small gallery just down the hallway from the former Prime Ministerial offices. Until the introduction of Movietone newsreels in 1929, the imprint of ink on paper in newspapers, journals, magazines, posters and ephemera was the primary source of visual information available to the Australian people of their prime ministers. The printed image had the power to influence opinions and provide a sense of familiarity with, or conversely distance from the leaders of the nation. Inspired by a picture of Stanley Bruce's cabinet where they were all wearing some type of lapel badge, Alder presents each prime minister wearing at least one badge referencing a key aspect of their time in office. Neither explicitly positive nor negative, she leaves us to form our own opinion. Visually arresting, humorous and thoughtful, Alder's portraits bring these historical figures a little bit closer to us. Through these portraits, combined with the Term-0-Meter animation tracking the amount of time each prime minister spent in parliament, and a site-specific intense patterned wallpaper honouring their wives, Alison Alder gives us a sense of a dramatic history that is lively, dynamic and with parallels to our own. "Primarily known as a printmaker Alder takes her understanding of printmaking to a subject – the first prime ministers of Australia – which seems at first distant but which is in fact a time that has much in common with ours. Importantly Alder’s time as a political printmaker holds her in good stead when presenting her subject as historical figure and dramatic graphic symbol that can be read as image and text – both cutting and humorous but always thoughtful and visually arresting." - Glenn Barkley





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