Artists in Conversation Series: Dominique Chen

Windmill of your mind: Stories inspired by Queensland’s oldest building is the latest exhibition by Queensland State Archives (QSA). The exhibition, showcasing the artwork of students from the Queensland College of Art at Griffith University, alongside treasures from the state’s archives, focuses on the Old Windmill on Wickham Terrace in Brisbane.

The heritage-listed Old Windmill has stood witness to much of Brisbane’s 190 year history and some of these intriguing, and at times disturbing, historical events were highlighted in a recent short film created by QSA staff.

Exhibition image

The many layers of history on this site, encompassing Indigenous sovereignty and colonial advancement, inspired Dominique Chen, one of the talented artists who contributed to the exhibition. Chen created a stunning collage-inspired photographic print entitled My Brother’s Keeper.


We recently caught up with Dominique and asked her about the iconic building that inspired her artwork, and if she knew much about the history of this Spring Hill landmark before she commenced this project.

Growing up in Brisbane, the Windmill was a familiar sight perched on the hill – its age apparent amidst the growth of modern buildings. I only knew of its general convict origins and was completely unaware of its diverse and changing histories, services and functions within a growing colonial settlement. A real testimony to the changing nature of Brisbane society over the years. Implicit in the site is also a rich and extremely long Aboriginal history, which for various reasons has been either neglected or omitted from Brisbane’s shared cultural history.

Dominique was interested in the connection between the original images, held in the QSA collection, and the role this site has played in the history of Brisbane. We wondered about her experience of drawing artistic inspiration from historical Queensland stories. Dominique told us:

I loved working with the archival images and getting a deep sense of the site through my research. Responding to the images and stories was a very tangible way for me to process my place in the physical and cultural past – particularly with the site being so ‘close to home’.

In her Artist Notes, Dominique describes how she used the palimpsestic nature of collage to make reference to the overlaying histories of the Old Windmill – from a place of convict punishment, grain grinding, executions, surveying, time-keeping, observation and signalling, radio and telephony research to tourism. She also acknowledged the ongoing sovereignty of Aboriginal people in the Brisbane region, and looked at the windmill as an expression of colonial advancement, ideologies and relationships to land.

Our artists participating in the exhibition told us that the experience offered some revealing insights, so we asked Dominique about what she took away from this experience.

Creating work for the exhibition has been a reminder of the value of reflecting upon our collective cultural past. The Old Windmill and its stories speak of Brisbane’s societal journey up until this point – its inherent values, beliefs, attitudes and expectations. Equally the stories that aren’t included, written about or told, speak volumes. Looking back and processing the past allows for some much needed perspective, objectivity, ownership, and inspiration as we move forward.

Chen with artwork

The Windmill of your mind: Stories inspired by Queensland’s oldest building exhibition can be seen at Queensland State Archives, located at 435 Compton Road Runcorn. Opening hours are 9.00am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday, as well as the second Saturday of every month. Entry is free of charge and the exhibition runs until December 2017.

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