Law, art, and time in the architecture of the High Court: A chronotopic analysis

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Gaia Ewing


High Court of Australia, art, architecture, law, legal system, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, history


Law does not exist in the abstract. Rather, it is performed and experienced within spaces: for example, in parliaments, courthouses, and prisons. Each of these spaces tell a story. How high a judge sits in a courtroom, which flags are flown above the parliament, and the thickness of bars on a prison cell all contribute to shaping a certain narrative. In buildings of national significance, the story told is that of a nation: its values, ideals, and history. Analysis of these narratives can provide deeper understanding of what a nation deems important and how the law treats its legal subjects.

This essay analyses the narrative produced by the art and architecture of Australia’s High Court. It applies chronotopic theory to examine the spatial and temporal features of the Court and its effect on Australia’s constitutional narrative. In literary scholarship, a chronotope refers to the forms of time and space that characterise particular genres: the ‘distant future’, for example, is definitive of the sci-fi genre. Chronotopic theory more broadly conceives these feelings of time and space to be interconnected and influential upon the overall tone of a narrative. This essay uses chronotopic analysis to explore the tension between past, present, and future within the High Court. It argues that the Court’s art and architecture convey a story of Australia’s colonial past as ‘finished’, erasing the past injustices of the law. The remedy, this paper suggests, is a larger and more critical body of artwork in the High Court, specifically works that reflect on the law’s treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

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