By Alex Jones
A CREEPY abandoned children’s hospital has become the setting for an ambitious and curiously haunting art installation.
Stunning photos of the exhibition include a ghostly portrait of a woman’s face reflected in the stagnant waters of a flooded library, a mildewed piano surrounded by piles of autumnal leaves, and two rusted bedframes strewn with dead branches below the face of a thoughtful woman.
Left vacant for nearly 30 years, the sprawling one-time 1930s mansion sits neglected, in a state of ruin. Australian artist, Rone, considered the site perfect for his latest project, Empire which is set amongst the decaying glory of a once-magnificent manor, Burnham Beeches, in Melbourne’s Dandenong Ranges in south-east Australia.
The Art Deco Streamline Moderne style property was built in 1933 as the family home of wealthy industrialist, pharmacist and founder of the Aspro brand, Alfred Nicholas.
Alfred Nicholas had only lived for a few years at the property when he died in 1937 and the family offered up the home for use as a 50 bed children’s hospital between the wartime years of 1941 and 1944.
The house was vacant between 1944 and 1948 before Alfred Nicholas’s widow returned to residence in 1949 following renovations and refurbishment.
After its glamorous heyday in the 1930s, Burnham Beeches also served as a research facility and then a luxury hotel until being shuttered in the late 1990s.
“When I first came up to check out the building I wasn’t sure what to expect,” said Rone, who first visited Burnham Beeches early last year.
“Once I got inside and realised that I had free rein on an entire mansion my mind was blown with ideas of what could be possible.
“It was quite overwhelming.”
The globally recognised artist then spent the following 12 months creating his spectacular display.
Thematically linked to the seasons, rooms have been furnished with over 500 individual antique pieces, which Rone and his team painstakingly sourced over a series of months.
Included is a grand piano that, for several weeks, was left to the elements in the mansion’s garden to achieve its aged patina before being transplanted back into the house — moss, leaves and all.
Appearing as ghosts or hazy recollections, a series of the artist’s evocative monochrome ‘Jane Doe’ portraits loom large on walls across the multi-storey mansion.
After an exhaustive search for a muse that could embody the mood and aesthetic that Rone envisioned for the project, he connected with screen actress Lily Sullivan who, as it turned out, was already a fan after seeing his Omega Project in 2017.
Rone says that Sullivan’s understated and timeless “girl next door” beauty cast her as a perfect candidate to inhabit the role of muse for what he describes as his most expansive and time-consuming project to date
Incredibly, given the amount of detail involved in the epic installation, Rone’s work on Empire coincided with the birth of his first child.
“From that perspective, the timing was quite intense but when an opportunity like this comes up there’s just no choice,” Rone explains.
“I knew from the beginning that this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to create something really incredible.
“I want people to walk in and feel like they can explore the possibilities of what might or might not have happened here.
“I love exploring the concept of how — and why — something so magnificent can be left to decline into ruin.
“Empire is about offering audiences the chance to create their own story; to temporarily transport their minds to another place, another time.”
“It’s not often that you can be so fully immersed in another era like this. It’s almost like we’ve discovered a forgotten time capsule and cracked it open for the world to see.”
The installation is available for public viewing until 22 April 22 2019.