We walk the periphery of Melbourne’s Mantra Bell City Hotel at first light, while speaking to surreptitious footage of the hotel’s inner workings taken by day. Formerly a hospital, the 1950s nurses’ swimming pool within apparently transports one’s mind away from the six lanes of traffic at the hotel’s suburban entrance…
Until very recently Mantra had been a prison for over 60 refugees detained indefinitely on its third floor. These people were transported from Australia’s offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru through “Medevac” legislation. This legislation, now repealed, gave doctors the authority to send asylum seekers in medical need to Australia for treatment. Refugees were detained at Mantra for 16 months of their 8 years in continuing detention.
The daylight refracting from the hotel’s glass exterior contributes to the concealment of the workings inside, whereby a private institution has been used to conduct public business so contentious that it typically takes place offshore. During COVID lockdown the hotel was within the 5km radius I could walk. In a period in which public protest has been largely impossible, walking this perimeter and engaging with this politics now as an international community has both gravity and credence.
Jacqueline Felstead in an artist working across photography, sculpture, film and new media. She was awarded the 2017 Samstag Award which supported her research in Sculpture at Royal College Art, London over 2017-2018. She has been awarded an Asialink Residency to Objectifs, Singapore with the support of Australia Council; the Erna Plachte Award, Ruskin School, University of Oxford and studio residencies to Banff Centre, Canada, most recently funded by the Mary E. Hofstetter Legacy Scholarship for Excellence in the Visual Arts (2019). She holds an MFA (Monash), BA (Hons) Media Art (RMIT), BA (Social Science) and is completing her PhD at VCA (University of Melbourne) where she currently teaches in Sculpture.