Shops in the spotlight

February 20, 2019 BY

Remember when: Pauline O’Shannessy-Dowling and Amy Tsilemanis are enjoying the conversations sparked by photos and artefacts in the Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute’s generative Talking Shop exhibition. Photo: EDWINA WILLIAMS

THE Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute is encouraging Ballaratians to step beyond its intimidating exterior to explore the current exhibition, Talking Shop, in their heritage reading room.

Talking Shop has been curated by Amy Tsilemanis and focuses on Ballarat business and city life throughout the city’s history and in our contemporary society.

It’s a generative exhibition showing old and newer photographs, including Instagram shots from The Ballarat Life tag, as well as advertisements and ephemera.

Ms Tsilemanis is coming to the end of her three year curatorship with the BMI and wanted to bring out photos and artefacts in new ways.

“Talking Shop’s really just about connecting people in this amazing space which is full of both the history of Ballarat, but also ideas for the future,” she said.

“That’s the thing I love, just seeing people come in and talk to each other around the material.”

Pauline O’Shannessy-Dowling is Talking Shop’s artist in residence. She said the conversations and personal engagement sparked within visitors is joyful and nostalgic.

“People love saying, I remember when… I remember the trams and I remember what it was like then,” she said.

“It’s really quite exciting for people, I think, to be able to remember their own little piece of history and contribute it to something like this.”

Although these conversations happen, Ms Tsilemanis said it isn’t always easy getting people into the BMI in the first place.

“This space is quite special… but the whole ‘hidden treasure’ thing is a blessing and a curse because often people just don’t know we exist,” she said. “The amount of people that have said, I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve never been in.

“They might not necessarily use the library or be a member, but they can come in and be part of the Mechanics’ Institute in another way. This is a resource and a source of inspiration.”

When people discover the BMI and its impressive original heritage reading room, Ms O’Shannessy-Dowling said it transports them to another world.

“It will take you somewhere away from your daily worries,” she said.

“You sort of feel like you’re in some kind of movie set or some really special place where you can do special things. People are completely blown away when they have a look around.”

One of Ms Tsilemanis’s favourite pieces in Talking Shop is a very old, but coloured tourist advertisement. A business featured in the book was based at the front of the BMI building.

“It’s got the most beautiful artwork and descriptions about the streets,” she said.

“The Mechanics’ has always had the shops at the front.”

The Ballarat Life Instagram shots in the library’s entry, and vintage milk bar photos have been popular with visitors.

So have photos of Ballarat’s controversial Grenville and Sturt Streets intersection over the years. “It grabs people’s attention,” Ms O’Shannessy-Dowling said.

The public is asked to bring in their own images and memories of what it was like to shop in Ballarat in past times.

Instagrammers are encouraged to snap photos of the exhibition, interesting Ballarat shopping related artefacts or local shops around town that interest them with the hashtag #TalkingShopBallarat.

On Saturday, 2 March, people can come into the BMI’s community day to meet Ms Tsilemanis, Ms O’Shannessy-Dowling and contributing collectors, John Kerr and Max Harris. The exhibition closes on 27 April.

The Max Harris photography collection is also on show in The Batten Lending Library. It features images from the 1860s to 1960s that Mr Harris has collected over 40 years. Visitors can purchase prints to take home with them.

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