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An Installation Of Epic Proportions, Commemorating Victims + Survivors Of Auschwitz

Creative People

It’s no secret we’re huge fans of locally handcrafted ceramics, but we’ve never seen a ceramics project quite like this before.

Artist Dan Elborne has taken his craft to a new scale, with an installation of epic proportions. His work, Deathgate, has been a long-term, labour-intensive effort – three-and-a-half years to make 1.3 million ceramic stones to be precise! The first ever exhibition of the work is now on at The Goods Shed in Toowoomba, until June 8th.

14th May, 2019

Artist Dan Elborne works and studies at the University of Southern Queensland in Toowoomba, and his primary workspace is the university ceramics studio. He also manages the wood/metal workshop so occasionally does project work from that space too. Photo – James Green.

He started the ‘Deathgate’ project in June of 2015. He spent six months in a development cycle before starting intensive production, it has been Dan’s longest work from ‘start to finish’.. Photo – James Green.

‘My current work is heavily reliant on time and labour. I think these two things are very broadly and universally appreciated commodities,’ tells Dan. Photo – James Green.

‘I’m interested in my work being accessible. While most people won’t care about the conceptual considerations of my work, I’d still like them to potentially see some value in either ‘time spent’ or ‘physical labour expelled’. One way or another I’d just like the work to speak on some level to as many people as possible.’ Photo – James Green.

Dan is inspired by visual artists, performers, musicians, designers, photographers/filmmakers and more mostly because of their working abilities and ethic. Photos – James Green.

Influence also comes from a wide range of sources like historic periods, locations and societal movements – these things are often circumstantial to particular projects. Photo – James Green.

Individually crafted ceramic ‘stones’. Photo – James Green.

Jo Hoban
Tuesday 14th May 2019

‘I think the role of artist is an essential one for a bunch of reasons: to spark important conversation, to give hope, to mourn, to protest, to enlighten, to teach, to escape, to remember… the list goes on.’ – Dan Elborne.

It’s safe to say that Dan Elborne is a man of his word. November 21st, 2018 marked 1,242 days (three-and-a-half years) after the Toowoomba-based ceramic artist started his epic Deathgate project. This same timeframe saw atrocities carried out against victims of the Auschwitz concentration camps during World War II. A total of 1,242 days encompass the time from the first mass gassing of prisoners, to the liberation of the camps.

For his Deathgate project, Dan committed to laboriously making 1.3 million ceramic ‘stones’ – one stone to commemorate each detainee of the Auschwitz camps.  Now, Dan is showing this work for the first time installed at a newly renovated heritage venue, The Goods Shed, in Toowoomba, where the artist lives and works.

To research his project, Dan visited the preserved Auschwitz II (Birkenau) camp site in 2016, during a residency in France. With an interest in exploring ideas of time and labour, and representing traumatic human experience, the visit helped to crystallise intriguing concept behind this work.

For the exhibition, the 1.3 million ‘stones’ imitate the actual stones that cover the railway leading through the gates of Auschwitz II (Birkenau) camp. Two separate lengths of ‘stones’ are on display, with one containing 1.1 million pieces for each person killed there, and the other containing 200,000 for each person that survived. It’s a 1:1 ratio to provide a direct visual reference to the 1.3 million statistics.

‘The process involved pinching small, individual pieces of clay, which left fingerprints on each one: evidence of individualised attention and human interaction,’ says Dan. ‘I just do whatever is necessary to get the piece done. At times this project has been mentally and physically difficult… but I started it, so putting it really simply, I had to finish it.’

Dan became interested in ceramics’ societal, cultural and historical connotations while studying visual arts: ‘Ceramics’ association to fragility and preciousness, its roots in basic necessity and survival, and its permanence providing a ‘historical record’ are all things that fascinate me,’ the artist says. ‘My practice broadly focuses on the way these things give the material a special ability to speak of lived human experience.’

While the subject matter is historically laden, the epic scale (both in size and timeframe) and tactility of the project is also uniquely beautiful and presents a potent visual reminder of the misguided nature of political power in recent global history. Sadly, all too relevant today!

‘Deathgate’ by Dan Elborne.
Until June 8th
The Goods Shed
Victoria Street, Toowoomba

Dan Elborne is currently studying a Doctorate of Philosophy in the University of Southern Queensland’s Visual Arts department, where he also works as an Associate Technical Officer. Keep up to date with his creative journey @danelborne.

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The Design Files acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files – we would love to hear from you.

Please email us here.