Fire Station

Shaping Canberra

Reflection in the siren of a fire engine

Tim Brook, photographer and digital media artist, and Arne Hanna, musician and composer, have collaborated on a number of multimedia works. In the case of Fire Station, Arne developed the soundscape in response to the digital video Tim created as a result of his work with the Canberra Fire Museum collection and the volunteers who care for it. Tim started the project in January 2012 and estimates that each minute of his video is equivalent to roughly a month’s work.  

The story of Tim’s residency with the Fire Museum is one of serendipitous connections and a productive exchange of skills and interests. When he first moved to Canberra as a postgraduate student at ANU in the early 1970s, he lived in a university flat opposite what is now the Museum. Back then it was the Canberra Fire Brigade’s main station. On the basis of this personal association with the place, Tim visited the Museum to discuss working with the collection and found himself swapping stories with the men who had worked there in the 1970s and who now volunteer and drop in at the Museum. He was welcomed and soon also became the official ‘Artist-in-Residence 2012-2013’. The Museum Community as well as ACT Fire and Rescue—who provided sound recordings—provided Tim with help and encouragement throughout the development process. As part of the Fire Museum’s Centenary Open Day, Tim and Ruth Hingston selected, printed, organised and mounted a photographic display.  

The experience of working over a considerable period of time as an artist-in-residence at the Museum has shaped Fire Station as an artwork that reflects a community as well as a collection. The photographs highlight the functionality of material and equipment—and their beauty. In the animation, like the neat store room of tools, nothing is wasted. Every image, every move between images is to a purpose. Woven in with the images, Arne’s digital composition of audio material made from voice recordings, operational sounds and musical instruments is similarly evocative.   Together the audio-visual components of Fire Station create a sense of the changing work of fire fighters in the Canberra district over the last 100 years, and of the love and care that goes into preserving its record. They draw viewers into this world and invite them to see it through the eyes of those who know it, as much as they reflect that world back to the people who are intimately involved in it.