Client: Department of Fire & Emergency Services for Kensington Career Fire & Rescue Station
Location: Perth, Australia
Completion date: 2021
Artwork budget: $50,000
Independent Visual Artist
Public Arts Consultant
Kensington Primary School and Kensington Secondary School
Laser Cutting Fabrication
Canning Vale Powder Coaters
Oldfield Knott Architects
Multilayered feature fence artwork depicting the fire service designed by Paula Hart utilising illustrations created through structured drawing workshops with local school children. The project was commissioned for the new Kensington Fire Station by the Department for Fire and Emergency Services through Western Australia’s Percent for Art Scheme. Across the 36m wide Corten background the landscape moves from the Western Australian native bush environment through to urban buildings. The powder coated feature panels of a burning tree, fire engine and fire service personnel stand off the background in a double-sided manner so that the artwork can be viewed from both sides by different audiences.
For the commission the preferred location was a perimeter fence atop a retaining wall at the rear of the Kensington Fire Station facility. The 36m feature is viewed at ground level within the Station grounds, while from the outside is viewed above the retaining wall by the local community walking the pathways of the adjacent nature reserve.
WA is the biggest fire district in the world. The Fire and Rescue Service firefighters in Western Australia provide firefighting, fire prevention, safety and rescue services throughout the state. These highly trained firefighters operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year round to respond to a variety of incidents that threaten life and property. The Fire and Rescue Service includes career firefighters and volunteer firefighters, is multicultural, of all ages and includes women. They also have the vital role of protecting our precious wildlife and unique landscape.
This public art commission for the Fire Service had much to honour. We chose to approach this through community awareness, education and community connection. Community participation was achieved by involving the local Kensington Primary School and Kensington Secondary School, a specialist school for teens with varying levels of disability and education needs.
Even in today’s changing workforce and economy nothing quite fires the imagination of young people more than firefighters! The children’s absolute glee when we brought the firetrucks to their school and the combination of education regarding fire safety and the demonstrations of the uniforms and equipment meant they had lots of information to work with. I then guided the students through structured, guided drawing exercises allowing them creative freedom but also capturing all the details and activity they had just learnt.
The Fire Service team were bewildered at first by these raw drawings, but then I explained the student drew spurs to best illustrate the impressive Kevlar boots. Further investigation of the drawings revealed the accuracy within the imagery and the team were hooked. Besides, who doesn’t love a sweaty fireman in spurs!
My task was then to translate these illustrations, authentically capturing the unselfconscious charm of children’s drawing, while creating a strong visual work that has a strong aesthetic sensibility with sophistication and significance.
Laser cut metal panels are somewhat ubiquitous and so I was interested to play with layers and textures to create something unique. With the 36m fence facing into the enclosed Fire Station and outwards towards the public walkways of the nature reserve, I chose to work in layers so the work could be viewed from both sides and I could mix up metals and colours. Together with the installer and fabricator we designed a robust stand off fixing system. The ease of installation indicates we did very well with the accuracy of all those fixing points. The Corten weathering steel is developing its rust colour since installation. The artwork integrates well with the modern facility, native landscaping and surrounding bushland. I enjoy exploring stories of people, community, place and character, with a driving commitment to creating artworks that build a sense of identity and will inspire & delight the community. The artwork succeeds in achieving this. The children’s drawings evoke a strong sense of community pride and the Kensington Fire & Rescue Station staff enjoyed participating in the design process. The work fires the imagination with inspiration and creativity, and honours the vital roles of the service.