Rone doesn’t like to cut corners… unless he’s decapitating a vintage Chesterfield armchair to appear submerged. ‘That wall is four-and-a-half metres and that is three-and-a-half metres. If we have a row of books every 30 centimetres, that’s eight rows,’ the Melbourne-based artist calculates, as we peer into The Study he is creating. Tyrone Wright’s precise project-manager demeanour comes as a bit of a surprise, when it really shouldn’t have. If you’re familiar with his art, it’s clear that the same exacting detail applies to both his large-scale murals and the 40-something spreadsheets he’s been coordinating to bring Empire to life.
‘…that comes to 64. So I thought to myself, OK, go find 64-metres of hardcover books that are the same height. That’s where I started.’ It seems an arduous task that someone so internationally-acclaimed might outsource. Nope. Scouring Gumtree and racking up miles around Melbourne, Rone pulled it off. Then he proceeded to paint one of his stunning ‘Jane Doe’ artworks – this time in the image of actress/’girl-next-door’ beauty Lily Sullivan – on the library of books, before flooding the entire room to create a captivating reflection. Inspired by a leaking, OH&S-liability ceiling and concept sketch from years ago, The Study is arguably the most ambitious room of the 12 spaces that have been transformed at this neglected Art Moderne manor.
Following the wild success of his now-demolished The Omega Project, the artist was invited by past-collaborator Shannon Bennett of the Vue Group to ‘come and check out a place I’ve got up in the hills, maybe you should paint a wall there… it’s empty at the moment’. It was, in fact, the sprawling Burnham Beeches: the once glamorous 1933-built home of wealthy industrialist Alfred Nicholas, which later became a research facility, children’s hospital, and luxury hotel. It had been vacant for decades.
For all the exceptional location’s promise, this was a risky gig, especially as it was self-funded up until some support came through just a few weeks ago. ‘I’d taken a dedicated six-months off before our first baby came, and decided to go for a drive up the hills and look at this place. When then I saw it and I thought, well, there goes the next year!’ Rone explains. ‘It was a very serious sit-down conversation with my wife as we didn’t know how our life would look after a baby. Yet, it was the most incredible opportunity I’d ever been offered… Could we make it work? If we did pull it off and at least break even, It would just blow peoples’ minds. That alone would be worth doing it for!’
On subsequent visits, potential collaborators were equally intrigued and quick to sign on. Interior stylist Carly Spooner of The Establishment Studios was back, after teaming up with Rone for Omega, and has proved integral to the sourcing of items, propping authenticity and the final film-set-like styling. After linking up over Instagram, Wona Bae and Charlie Lawler of Loose Leaf added their botanical sculptures, including an incredible twig-lined hallway, while composer Nick Batterham has scored the scenes, incorporating months of ambient audio recorded in the estate’s gardens. Further elevating this immersive installation, is the bespoke scent design by Kat Snowden and cinematic lighting by John McKissock, along with an area for before-and-after augmented and virtual reality experiences.
As well as bringing together the exceptional team to realise his ambitious vision, Rone has done everything from sleuthing second-hand furniture across the city to collecting bundles of branches from around the property, and even pilfering from the onsite café’s coal ovens to dust the entire installation! If you can look past the transfixing details – epic murals upon aged wallpaper, trees growing through walls, a forgotten Champagne tower or that grand piano that was left outside to weather for weeks – the dedication to seasonality, tonality and historical accuracy is astounding across the vast spaces.
Rone encourages visitors to walk in and explore their own imagined possibilities of what may or may not have happened here. Meanwhile, his own veiled narrative draws on aspects of Johnny Cash’s melancholic music video, Hurt (2002), and the project takes its name from the Trent Reznor lyrics delivered ever so harrowingly: ‘and you could have it all, my empire of dirt’. Standing in His Room, while Her Room is far down the hall, Rone explains, ‘already they have become separated, maybe he has lost her. I guess the whole concept of Empire is: I’ll give it all up for you. Having that realisation about what is really important – It’s not all this material wealth,’ he gestures. ‘You have the feeling that it has all been walked away from. That this grand stuff, without her, is nothing.’
Empire truly is something. Spine-tinglingly unforgettable, it shouldn’t be missed!
Empire by Rone
March 6th to April 22nd
Burnham Beeches, Sherbrook Road
Book for day and night sessions at R-o-n-e.com.
Limited-edition art photographs of Empire, taken by Rone, are available to view and purchase in an on-site gallery. Just like his meticulously documented The Omega Project, which has now toured internationally (photography, VR and AR), Rone hopes Empire will continue to be experienced into the future and in alternate locations – stay tuned!