Illegal Catch was a work created in direct response to The Children Overboard affair in 2001.
The Children Overboard affair was an Australian political controversy involving public allegations by Howard government ministers in October 2001, in the lead-up to a federal election, that sea-faring asylum seekers had thrown children overboard in a presumed ploy to secure rescue and passage to Australia.
The government’s handling of this and other events involving unauthorised arrivals worked to its advantage. The Tampa affair had led the government to adopt stricter border protection measures to prevent unauthorised arrivals from reaching Australia by boat. Polls indicated the measures had public support. The government was able to portray itself as “strong” on border protection measures and opponents as “weak”.
In November 2001, the Liberal-National coalition was re-elected with an increased majority. The Australian Senate Select Committee for an inquiry into a certain maritime incident later found that no children had been thrown overboard and that the government had known this prior to the election. The government was criticised for misleading the public and cynically “(exploiting) voters' fears of a wave of illegal immigrants by demonising asylum-seekers”.
Illegal Catch was an installation at the New Contemporary Gallery, Queen Victoria Building, Sydney, Australia. The install was in the atrium space darkened and separated by a black curtain. 150 blown glass blue pebbles were suspended from the ceiling by two side by side nets. The glass was illuminated from within emitting an ominous glow of blue.
The nets were hoisted by a shipping rope using a block and tackle from the central beam, similarly to a fishing trawler hauling up its catch, beneath the suspended work lay a bed of seaweed that slowly decayed and stenched the space of the sea. A looped audio of a human heartbeat resonated throughout the space, as the audio looped a gap was produced giving an eerie feeling of the discontinuation of life, this was noticed by the audience to the point of stopping conversation mid stream until the heartbeat had resumed.