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No System To Fail


Project Details

No System To Fail

Multi – Channel Video and Sound Installation
Galvinised Iron Bucket, Mop, Disinfectant.

No system to Fail is a multi channel site specific installation exhibited in the former Newcastle city central police station now known as The Lock-Up Gallery. The work was developed and made in consultation with lawyer Karen Wells, founder of the internationally acclaimed University of Newcastle Legal Centre and Barrister Robert Cavanagh who offered me the case of Eddie Russell.

Eddie Russell was a young aboriginal man who took his own life in Long Bay Gaol whilst under “observation” in December 1999. The work attempts to reveal the treatment or lack of treatment he was subjected to as both and indigenous person and a profoundly disabled individual with intellectual and physical impairments. This site specific immersive installation takes place across the two cells with the view to creating an experience for the viewer that illustrates the kind environment and treatment that Eddie endured. Using repetitive and disorienting moving image and text, the larger cell depicts the endless and futile transferring from one correctional facility to another; from one cell to another. In the background can be heard the sound of a late 1990s episode of the children’s television program Play School where Eddie often sought refuge. The smaller cell creates a more intimate and intense emotional experience and features text distilled from the hundreds of pages of medical reports, assessments, statements and quotes much of which was submitted to the second royal commission into deaths in custody. The room is filled with the performative sound of the cell gate being opened and floor being mopped and is permeated with the strong odor  of hospital grade NSW Government issued disinfectant that is used in all government institutions including jails. The mop and buck are left in situ with theatrical lighting serving as performative objects/relics.  The silent passages and corresponding text are Eddie’s own words describing his brutal encounter with the Bathurst Police. This event continued to deeply affect Eddie for the rest of his life.

From the perspective of both criminal justice and medical ethics, the lack of any real treatment plan to help Eddie, in my view, was tantamount to psychological and physical torture that only served to anger and frustrate Eddie to the point of suicide. Further the abuse that he suffered and his subsequent death continues to effect his family until today. In a broader sense Eddie’s case, like many others, must be taken into consideration as one of international justice and human rights. It can ultimately be seen as part of a continuing history of systemic abuse and genocide of the indigenous people of this country since invasion and colonisation and up to the present day.

John A Douglas 2018

Commissioned by The Lock -Up Gallery Newcastle for the group exhibition justiceINjustice curated by Carolyn Mackay.

 About justiceINjustice

Save for a powerful few, save for a few in authority, those seeking justice all too often find injustice. Justice for those on the margins, those who are poor, with a disability or in a minority, is all too often elusive.

justiceINjustice is a collaborative exhibition featuring seven contemporary Australian artists and three criminal lawyers. Through this project, miscarriages of justice, official corruption, wrongful detention, investigative failures and mistreatment of those on the margins will be explored via several high-profile cases that underline issues of the injustice and marginalisation.

This significant project has been developed with lawyers Karen Wells, Ray Watterson and Robert Cavanagh. Cavanagh and Watterson are co-founders of the internationally acclaimed University of Newcastle Legal Centre, highly regarded for their public interest advocacy work. Wells developed her approach to the practice of law through working on public interest cases whilst a student at the Legal Centre.

justiceINjustice will include the commissioning of six new works developed through a unique process of research and collaborative conversation between the artists and lawyers who have been directly involved with the particular case each artist is addressing. Case material, information about the inner workings of each case, the lawyers’ perspectives, and conversations with family members, have enabled the artists to produce deeply informed works that give audiences new ways of considering cases well known through the media.

Cases include the high profile public interest cases of Cornelia Rau, Roni Levi, Azaria Chamberlain, Eddie Russell, Kathleen Folbigg and a number of Hunter missing children’s cases. Cases have been included with the knowledge or permission of clients and/or their family members wherever possible. Curated by artist and criminologist Carolyn McKay (University of Sydney Law School) in collaboration with The Lock-Up, the exhibition features artists Corinne Brittain, Rob Cleworth, Blak Douglas, John A Douglas, Leah Emery, Lezlie Tilley and Richard Lewer.

Production Credits

Videography, Editing, Colour Grading and Text: John A Douglas

Sound composition and recording: John A Douglas

Installation Design: John A Douglas

Curator: Carolyn McKay


Special thanks to:

  • Eddie’s parents Helen and Ted Russell.
  • Dr Roderic Pitty – Lecturer in Human Rights, Deakin University
  • Karen Wells – Lawyer and Researcher
  • Jessi England – Director  The Lock-Up Gallery
  • Courtney Novak – Program Manager The Lock-Up Gallery
  • Maitland Old Jail Museum, Screen Hunter for clearance.  Administered by the Marketing and Communication Department at Maitland City Council.

Commissioned by The Lock -Up Gallery Newcastle, NSW 2018 :

John A Douglas identifies as an artist with non visable disability and is a descendant of the Walbanga people of the Yuin Nation.

copyright John A Douglas 2018