If walls could talk, art exposes living history of Gaol

Garbiel Curtin grew up in the shadows of Beechworth Gaol.

A boy fascinated by the imposing building, set against the town’s picturesque streets.

For most of his time in Beechworth, the prison sat empty, unoccupied and forbidden.

“I moved from the UK to Albury just before I turned nine, we lived there for eight months and moved to Beechworth in 2004, the year the prison closed, and stayed until I was about 17,” he said.

Mr Curtin’s childhood fascination with the building and its vast history led him to curate a three-day exhibition held within the prison’s walls.

Titled A Thousand Times The Rolling Sun, the exhibition features work by emerging artists and former prisoners, and hopes to highlight the less-focused upon history of the gaol. 

“There’s a very specific narrative told in Beechworth about the prison, it’s quite lucrative, focusing a lot of the Kelly gang and the gold rush history,” Mr Curtin said.

“Because no one was able to enter the prison for so long it sat as a quite domineering presence which spoke to that history, but I’d like to try expand that narrative.”

Mr Curtin said through discussions especially with tour guide Darren Sutton, he developed the view the gaol was not an entity with a single history but a living labyrinth of experiences. 

“One thing I really love about the prison is all the appendages inside it,” he said.

“It’s like a living building, you see where guards have encounter a problem, in their eyes, and added something to fix the problem.

“There’s a little metal strip you’re told to watch out for when you go into the solitary confinement cells and it was installed so friends of the people in solitary couldn’t roll them cigarettes under the door.

“There’s a lot of strange add-ons, it’s incredible pragmatic and I like the idea of that exchange, it points to it being a living, growing thing constantly shifting rather than what it’s often thought of as a static rendering.”

Mr Curtin said work by the former prisoners was included not to fetishising their experience, but to show a wide range of work from artists with different experiences. 

The exhibition will run from Friday through Sunday from 10am to 4pm, with an official opening at 6pm Friday.