Cementa: Back to the Future


Cementa is a not-for-profit association dedicated to contemporary Australian art. Cementa’s major production is a biennial festival in the town of Kandos in the NSW Central West.

HR Hyatt-Johnston (as one half of The Twilight Girls) is a Cementa veteran. Art Guide invited her to look back at her 2015 experience as she got ready for Cementa 2017.

My first experience of Cementa in Kandos, NSW, (at the base of Combamolang Mountain) was Cementa 2015, its second iteration. The Twilight Girls (Jane Polkinghorne and myself) were invited to exhibit and we were collaborating with Mark Shorter in his guise as Renny Kodgers. We had previously travelled there together in order to check out the various sites that were available. Ann Finegan, co-director of Cementa, gave us a brief history of Kandos and its closed cement works as well as a tour of the town and its surrounding landscape.

Our film 50 Ways to Kill Renny Kodgers screened on the opening night at the Railway Hotel. As it was crowded I preferred to sit outside and observe the audience and their reactions. I had not counted on the family atmosphere of the hotel and the swarm of kids that were very interested in our film. Eventually the parents wondered why their children were so quiet.

Our film was very B-grade with hammy stunts and tacky special effects including the dispensing of Renny by a lawn mower and his spaghetti innards flying everywhere.

Another fatality had his tomato sauce based exsanguination via a vacuum cleaner induced injury. When the mothers in particular realised what their little darlings were actually watching, the kids were retrieved by the ears and removed from the vicinity. However as soon as they were no longer being observed by adults the children quietly repositioned themselves against the windows outside and continued viewing.

This time The Twilight Girls promised there would be no unnecessary nudity or violence!

In June 2016 Jane and I were back in Kandos revisiting sites including Dunns Swamp (Ganguddy), which originally provided water for the cement works. We ruefully admired the abandoned buildings and grounds of the cement plant from afar. Its sheer scale and poignant dominance still seemed to loom over the town it had spawned. It had been made clear to us several times that under no circumstances were we to explore the site without permission! However, Kandos Museum had some very helpful staff and a wonderful collection of old sepia toned photographs of the factory when it was active, cement bags in varying states, retrieved equipment and an original ambulance in immaculate condition. We would have to make do with that.

3. Kandos
Photograph by HR Hyatt-Johnston.

Image courtesy HR Hyatt-Johnston.

Not to be missed (and an installation in itself) is Bruce McMaster’s Shoppe and Garden Centre. It was an Aladdin’s Cave for me. I was catapulted back to my childhood growing up on a small farm outside Yarramalong. It was like my father’s garage (which housed everything under the sun except a car) but so much bigger and better. A veritable Steptoe’s Den, it is a labyrinth of lost treasures, histories and precious things, of assorted rusted fittings, old farm wares, hundreds of propagated plants, new stock, and last, but not least, cats… and more cats. Bruce is a big supporter of Cementa and very generous with the use of his building as a site for various artists installations.

Back in Sydney, the cement works keep haunting our thoughts. We had recently watched Der Golem from the 1920s and remembered The Cars That Ate Paris had been filmed in nearby Sofala. We start envisioning a billboard for Cementa 2017. I make another trip back to Kandos to take more photographs of the welcome signs and to visit the museum again. Fiona MacDonald from the museum and the photographer Mike Oakey were of enormous help with our project.

Two weeks before the opening of Cementa 2017, our work is finished and our billboard, Welcome to Cementa…. just don’t think of leaving, is printed. I’ve delivered it to the chief installer Terry Burrows so that it can be installed early. And I get a sneak-peek at what some of the other artists are doing in Kandos.

Terry is also exhibiting in Cementa 2017. His work Home is already in situ in his studio, the boat reclining in his window references both refugees and his relocation to Kandos from Sydney. Anne Graham will be installing fountains for her House of Shade and Shadows in Terry’s backyard. They will obscure his meadow, a landscaped feature that I had thought was an overgrown patch of weeds. I still do. The main street of Kandos at night has a filmic eeriness with its golden glow from the street lamps. This is an ideal ambience for Paging Mr Hitchcock, a filmbyJohn Conomos, which will screen in the Museum.

I keep thinking of Bruce’s cats. I want to read The Cat Inside by William Burroughs and Charles Bukowski’s On Cats again before returning for the opening. I am pleased our billboard will be located on Bruce’s building. Other exhibits installed there will include Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro’s two-channel video installation, The Drag, and a mixed media durational performance installation called Screen Test (revived)-The Devils Tower by John A Douglas. I am looking forward to John’s re-enactment of the Roy Neary character from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Mark Shorter will be back too (he survived his 2015 outing in 50 Ways…) with Chop Dig Chanty. His performance will include digging a hole during the four days of Cementa 2017. Maybe The Twilight Girls will stage an intervention: finish the job on Renny and put that hole to good use.

Cementa 2017
6 April – 9 April

Feature Words by HR Hyatt-Johnston