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Tipping Point, CAD Factory, Narrandera Tipping Point, CAD Factory, Narrandera
photo Lindy Allen
The CAD Factory started life in 2003 far from rural tranquility in Sydney’s inner-city industrial borough of Marrickville. It was an artist-run space presenting gigs, exhibitions and housing a recording studio. In 2010, CAD Factory founder Vic McEwan and partner Sarah McEwan opted for a scrub-change and moved to Birrego, 30 kilometres southeast of Narrandera in regional NSW, where they’d purchased a rundown one room schoolhouse. Here they’ve set up home and a base for a vibrant cultural organisation that is presenting an impressive program of community-focused events in the Riverina region.

Their schedule of projects has been growing steadily, starting small in 2011 with artist residencies and music gigs. This year they have a full year-long program including an eight-day live-in makefest at the Grong Grong Hotel, performances at Wagga Wagga Art Gallery as well as school workshops and activities that emerge from their residency program. The CAD Factory also has two major site-specific collaborative projects: Tipping Point (not to be confused with the green think-tank series run by Angharad Wynne-Jones), and a major art/business collaboration with the SunRice Co-operative.

Tipping Point

Vic McEwan describes the idea behind the work: “[The Tipping Point] is the watershed between the Murray and the Murrumbidgee. If rain falls on this side of the little hill it flows into the Murray, if it falls on that side it flows into the Murrumbidgee. We were looking at that as a literal tipping point but we also did interviews with local people about the tipping points that they have, whether they are psychological, environmental or social in relation to water.”

Interviews were conducted with people who have different relationships with the area and its water. Participants included Julie Briggs, a lawyer who deals with the legalities of water as a tradeable commodity; Graham Strong, a farmer and musician engaged in sustainable farming practices; Des Edwards, the former-Mayor of Narrandera; and Cedric Briggs, the area’s most senior Aboriginal elder. Briggs grew up on missions on both the Murray and the Murrumbidgee rivers and was part of the Cummeragunja walk-off in 1939 when 200 Aboriginal people left the mission in NSW in protest, crossing the river to Victoria, where many settled. McEwan condensed these interviews into full-page articles that were published in the local paper and then Vic and Sarah created illustrations, animations and sound works inspired by the material. After conducting the Cedric Briggs interview, they set up a workshop with the local high school and invited four Aboriginal students to illustrate his story.

The final presentation was a 35-minute audiovisual performance projected onto the ruins of an old brewery on the banks of the Murrumbidgee, on the edge of the town. The original idea was to create a sculptural screen out of the industrial pivot irrigation systems used on farms, but the iconic site was about to be sold to a private owner so they decided to change the plan—this fluid, responsive decision-making appearing to be a real strength of the McEwans’ working process. “We thought this is the only opportunity to use this; it’s related to water and it means we can take one of our projects right into the middle of town. So it was a bit of a strategy about exposing more people to what we do.” And it worked, drawing a crowd of 400 people. As one of the ten One River projects curated by Lindy Allen, Donna Jackson and Malcolm McKinnon, Tipping Point also will have a second life in Canberra as part of Robyn Archer’s Centenary program (see interview with Robyn Archer).


Following Tipping Point will be the culmination of the SunRice collaboration in which Vic McEwan, photographer Mayu Kanamori (Aus/Japan) and installation artist Shigeaki Iwai (Japan) will be artists-in-residence at the newly re-opened Coleambally Mill (the site was closed during the worst of the drought). McEwan and Kanamori have already stayed for a week to familiarise themselves with the site, watch the first harvest and also to allow the workers to get accustomed to the idea of having artists around. The deal struck by McEwan was that he would raise the money but SunRice would offer access to the factory and allow staff to be involved on company time—a significant investment and leap of faith for a corporation. The outcome in September is expected to be a walk-around performance with installations in the factory and adjoining storage areas.

McEwan discusses this art/business relationship: “I often work with community but I’m also interested in how to work with business. We’ve asked the CEO of SunRice to give us a document that tells us what they think they can get from our project that will satisfy their business plan. It means in the future we can go to organisations and say if you employ an artist to be in your factory for a month or two they can deliver this project that has these artistic outcomes but it can also satisfy these business outcomes.” However he’s keen to stress, “we wouldn’t be doing this with an organisation that we weren’t happy with. We feel SunRice is a moral company that has the community’s best interest at heart.”

Working the region

It’s testament to the McEwans’ charm and sensitivity that they’ve been able to develop these productive relationships with the local community and industry in such a short time. McEwan says when they first moved into their schoolhouse they were unable to get running water at the property. After the positive community response to one of their early events, the committee in charge of the private water scheme in the area agreed to allow them access to the facility. A fair trade of water for art perfectly exemplied holistic community cultural engagement. With Vic McEwan now working full time on CAD Factory activities, including putting the final touches to a fully equipped recording studio, projects and partnerships look to grow ever more ambitious. Over the next few years CAD Factory events will definitely be worth the roadtrip.

RealTime in the Riverina

Later this year, RealTime will be covering key arts events in the Riverina and surrounding regions working with The CAD Factory, Narrandera, Wired Lab, Cootamundra and Eastern Riverina Arts. We will be delivering a writing workshop in the region as well as online coverage including video and audio documentation of selected projects.

CAD Factory, Tipping Point, part of One River, Canberra Centenary, 24 August;; SunRice project, SunRice Factory Colleambally, 21 Sept;

RealTime issue #115 June-July 2013 pg. 25

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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