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CDU Arts Lecturer celebrates lockdown legends

Artists co-exhibiting at the Canberra Museum and Gallery
CDU Visual Arts Lecturer Dr Kate Murphy (second from left) celebrates frontline and behind-the-scenes workers in the COVID-19 health response in a new exhibition. Credit: Canberra Health Services

A legend was born during the pandemic when a captioning error in the subtitles for an Australian Capital Territory (ACT) COVID-19 press conference saw a reference to Canberrans misspelt as ‘Ken Behrens’.

On the second day of ACT lockdown, the comic relief of Ken Behrens swept across social media. He was embraced by residents of the capital city, and ultimately, absorbed by popular culture as a new term of reference for Canberrans.

But Ken Behrens has not only become a capital figure of cultural identity, he is also widely regarded as a lockdown legend – one of many legends – who are the focus of a new exhibition by Charles Darwin University (CDU) Visual Arts Lecturer, Dr Kate Murphy.

Alice Springs-based Dr Murphy, who creates and exhibits under the name of Ellis Hutch, is now showing her work Tracing Conversations at the Canberra Museum and Gallery until July 30.

This audio-visual artwork (sound and video) explores the outstanding contribution of frontline and behind-the-scenes workers to the COVID-19 health response in the ACT. For instance, contact tracers, epidemiologists and call centre operators.

Tracing Conversations highlights the contributions and shares insights into the experiences of the many, largely invisible Health Directorate workers in the wider Canberra community,” Dr Murphy said.

“While Ken Behrens (Canberrans) were masking up, staying at home and getting vaxxed – hundreds of people transitioned to new jobs or pivoted in their existing roles.

“They worked around-the-clock to establish testing centres, check on people in isolation and manage the movement of folks in and out of the ACT.

“These frontline and behind-the-scenes workers filled surge centres, managed quarantine facilities, spent countless hours on the phone and crunched enormous volumes of data with the aim of keeping the Canberra community safe.”

Those lockdown legends take centre stage in the soundscape that Dr Murphy has created, drawing on more than 40 interviews of staff from the ACT Health Directorate and Access Canberra.

“The work combines fragments from the interviews sounding out the experience of staff, working across all aspects of the COVID response, during the first two years of the pandemic,” she said.

These sometimes-confronting audio fragments are juxtaposed against the backdrop of gentle video imagery showing the ACT landscape surrounding Canberra.

The 1.5 hour-soundscape is the first in a series of Tracing Conversations exhibits, which are the culmination of her work through an Arts ACT Creative Residency with the ACT Health Directorate awarded to Dr Murphy, aka Ellis Hutch, in 2021.

Tracing Conversations is part of a wider exhibition, titled Stronger Together – Artists’ perspectives on the ACT COVID-19 frontline health response, which also displays the work of photographic artists and a watercolour artist.

Dr Murphy delivers a range of Vocational Education and Training (VET) and short courses, such as Certificate II and Certificate IV in Visual Arts through CDU’s Academy of the Arts at the University’s Alice Springs campus.

More information here.

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