Melbourne’s Steampunk Sculptures

Strangers to Melbourne might think that the intersection of Flinders and Spencer Streets would be a central location in the city and this is one reason why there are so many hotels in the area. In reality it is a largely ignored part of the city that locals rarely visit, however the character of the area is changing to include a steampunk elements. The retrospective science fiction of steampunk can easily be imagined in Melbourne where much of the nineteenth century infrastructure remains.

David Bell, Raising the Rattler Pole – The Last of the Connies, 2013

David Bell, Raising the Rattler Pole – The Last of the Connies, 2013

Creating a landmark for the corner of Spencer and Flinders Street is David Bell’s Raising the Rattler Pole – The Last of the Connies, 2013. The 1:1 scale classic W class tram in stands at ten degree angle exposing what the Bell calls it “‘steam punk’ underbelly”. (More on the tram in Daniel Bowen’s Diary of an Average Australian.)  Bell has made other public sculptures including the Nest, 2012 in the Darebin Parklands.

Russell Anderson, Apparatus for Transtemporal Occurrence of Impending Space, 2014

Russell Anderson, Apparatus for Transtemporal Occurrence of Impending Space, 2014

Russell Anderson’s Apparatus for Transtemporal Occurrence of Impending Space 2014 stands on the boardwalk behind the World Trade Centre. The bronze, brass, steel and copper pseudo-scientific time machine offers a view through a porthole of the future. Part of the equipment is functional; crank the handle and look through the viewer like an antique flip card viewer on a pier. Anderson is a Queensland artist who specialises in interactive kinetic sculptures.

Mega Fun, Metal Fish, 2006

Mega Fun, Metal Fish, 2006

Not exactly steampunk but close both aesthetically and geographically are the giant metal fish in Wharf Lane. The fish were created by Mega Fun for the 2006 Commonwealth Games floating parade on the Yarra River. The spectacle becomes permanent; there were originally 71 large artworks depicting fish, there is another ell, split in two at  Kensington Community Recreation Centre.

Steampunk is not simply a fashion or a fad, the subject of shows like the Clockwork Butterfly (see my review) and not permanent public sculptures. The terms fashion and fad have been over-used, abused and have been miss applied to alternate aesthetics, like steampunk. Chris Reynolds, A History apparatus – Vessel Craft & Beacon, 1993 could be considered a proto-steampunk sculpture. Installed 1994-5 it is a twenty-four metre long series of aluminium and fibreglass forms, part of which is attached to some steel rails in the middle of Russell St., between Bourke and Lt. Collins Streets.


Dada and the start of WWI

On the September 15, 1914 the avant-garde film maker, Hans Richter was inducted into the German army. Two friends, Ferdinand Hardekopf, journalist, writer and shorthand prodigy and Albert Ehrenstein, a poet gave him a farewell party and they promised to meet in Zurich, in two years, if they were still alive. Was the reason for the Zurich meeting was that Hardekopf, a pacifist was around planning to go there? In Zurich Hardekopf was close to Hugo Ball.

Outside the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich

Outside the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich

A few months later Richter was seriously wounded at Vilna, Lithuania. One of his brothers was killed and another wounded that same year. After recovering from his wounds and being discharged from the army Richter did travel, as promised, to Zurich where he met with two friends. They introduced him to the artists Hugo Ball, Tristan Tzara, Hans Arp, Marcel Janco and Richard Huelsenbeck.

It is worth remembering that many of the future Dadaists were initial supporting the war and that a lot can change in a few years of war and the lives of young men and women. The theoretician of Dada, Hugo Ball was so enthusiastic that at the start of the war he boarded a troop train for Belgium. He got as far as Leige where he was arrested as a spy but released when the authorities realised that he was only an idealist. However, in Berlin, the Herzfeld brothers were anti-war and already publishing the left wing journal, Neu Jugend.

During WWI a small group of young pacifist artists gathering in Zurich to escape the war and created art that changed the art history. Dada was an anarchic anti-art movement that formed and spread to like minded individuals around the world, setting the ground work for the contemporary art. For as the last century has shown the world has not learnt the stupid futility of war anymore than they have learnt the stupid futility of Dada. In the words of Ferdinand Hardekopf: “Dada is dead. And you?”

Yesterday Australia committed troops to fight in the Middle East, yet again, as if the last three or four times improved the situation.

On my Black Mark Facebook I am reporting on the activities of the Dadaists a hundred years ago, on the day of their centenary.


Urban Murals & Brussels

Often public murals can look naff, too politically correct or otherwise too preaching they look like a school guidance councillor has designed them. Part of the grand socialist tradition of public murals promoted by the Mexican mural painters. Or simply decorative. But the comic book murals in Brussels escape these hazards because they are not propaganda for products nor ideas; they are just having fun with established comic book images. So the impact of these comic book murals is different from other public murals; there is no didactic function to them, they are simply fun.

Brussels wall 5

Belgium invented the comic book, along with French fries, shopping malls, art nouveau and a lot of other things that have made the modern world. Belgians are particularly proud of their comic books as demonstrated by the city’s many comic book shops, it’s statues of comic book characters and public murals of enlarge comic book panels around Brussels inner city.

Brussels wall1

The justification for these murals on the basis of Belgium nationalism is thin; the population and visitors to Brussels enjoy the comic books. The Brussels Comic Strip Route was created by the comic strip museum by Michel Van Roye, Brussels Councillor for Urban Development and the Environment, in 1991.  It is an on going project and new murals are being added, form posts on a “comic strip route” around Brussels.

Brussels wall 4

The murals are encountered as surprising, engaging and entertaining aspects of Brussels. One reason for the success of the murals is that the murals are not placed on urban eye-soars in an attempt to ameliorate their ugliness; rather they are placed on suitable walls around the city where they compliment the urban scene. Comic book images frequently depict the urban environment and comic book design works with the architecture of the city. Frequently the murals employ tromp l’oeil elements integrates the image with the building.

Brussels wall 3 Tintin

Public art tributes to Belgium comic books do not stop at these murals; there is a comic book museum, the Belgium Comic Strip Centre, in a fantastic art nouveau building designed by grand master of Art Nouveau, Victor Horta in 1906. There is also a very large sculpture of a duo of comic book characters making a colourful and light-hearted splash in the business district of Brussels.

Brussels wall 2


The Many Faces of Dada

The Many Faces of George Grosz (Degenerate Comix) is a graphic novel by Keith McDougall about the life of the German artist, George Grosz, adapted from the writings of Weiland Herzfelde. (See my review of The Many Faces of George Grosz #1)

10157316_507860979324270_468397354_n

In #2 the narrative has changed from Herzfelde being the narrator to Grosz being the central character and Herzfelde’s brother becomes John Hartfield. For like George Grosz’s costume changes the Dadaists were often changing their names, working under different names or living under false names; their identities were mutating.

Who were the Dadaist exactly? Avant-garde cabaret act, radical artists, publishers, medical students every time you look they change into something else. If the Dadaists were alive today what would they be doing? Bands, zines… would they even be together at all? Given that the Dadaists appear to be a disparate bunch of hippies (Hans Arp & Hugo Ball), punks (Richard Hulsenbeck), new agers, goths, head-bangers (Max Ernst’s nickname was “Metal Head”) and other, perhaps, yet unclassified freaks. Back at the beginning of the 20th century there was still too few of any of them to bother with such classifications. However in retrospect the classifications appear clearer. “Freaks” that  very 60s word, comes from back in a time when they were still working out the identity of some of these youth tribes. In The Many Faces of George Grosz Grosz is presented as an unclassifiable freak, a proto-Dadaist.

McDougall has done his research both historically and graphically, at the beginning of Chapter 5 in Grosz autobiography there is a small illustration of a smiling man dressed up as an American Indian. In #2 Grosz takes the two Herzfelde brothers to see the Berlin’s Café Oranienburger Tor. The band at the Café Oranienburger Tor is described by Grosz in his autobiography: “the band leader known as “Mister Meshugge” carried on like a lunatic. He pretended to be quiet out of control and kept breaking his baton or hitting the poor fiddler over the head with violin.” (George Grosz, A Small Yes and A Big No, Zenith Books, 1982 p.75)

Dada history was made for comic books, the conjunction of text and images. What I dislike about many comics, including this graphic novel, is the way that story is drawn out, it worse than watching a TV series because the wait is longer. Now two years later #2 has arrived – will #3 be finished in time for the centenary of Dada? A century later it is worth re-examining Dada and the Dadaists.


Studio Visit

The sculptor, William Eicholtz’s studio is at the far end of a graffiti covered back streets of Windsor. He and other artists have shared this former factory space for about twenty years and the idea that the area will someday be redevelop keeps Will awake at night.

As is customary in Melbourne when visiting shared studio, Will took me around to meet each of the artists. Some I had seen some of their work before but had yet to put an artist to the art, or type out their name multiple times in a blog; that does help to imprint it on my mind.

The main studio space is set out like an open plan office where five of the artists worked. There was another room with ceramics kilns, Will’s moulds and two of his sheep that he had carved in marble in China and that had recently sold. As well as, a small store room for smelly chemicals and paints. Only Jennifer Pinder had a separate room; Jennifer was half way through a complex abstract painting of weaving lines that would give an ancient monk a psychedelic trip.

There is Janet Beckhouse who the Melbourne Now Exhibition Guide described as “one of Melbourne’s foremost contemporary ceramists”. Janet, like Will, has a rococo style to her ceramics but her version is much darker; beautiful, delicate and horrifying. There was a moment of terror as we look at her work as Janet’s black cat, Noodle jumped through the handle of one of her vases. It was such a tempting cat shaped opening and, of course, Noodle didn’t touch the vase.

Louise Rippert, a mixed-media artists who was working on a post-minimalism great grids of perforated, painted cardboard squares and transparent plastic. What Louise wants to emphasis is the way that her work changes as the viewer moves.

Rose Agnew was working on small paintings based on Alice in Wonderland for the Linden Post Card Show. She was not the only one in the studio planning to enter the show; Will was showed me some small base-relief, faux or imitation grate covers that he would be entering. Will’s small workspace was crowded with earlier sculptures. A small glass cabinet hanging on the wall with small bronze sculptures, Will’s stock room for studio sales.

There was another space, a painter, also new to the studio, who wasn’t there when I visited.

After touring the studio I sat down to tea and marble cake with all the artists to talk about all kinds of things, from the balance between doing larger scale work and the limited studio space to the trial of Paul Yore. Was I just working on background information, developing contacts for future articles and blog posts? One reason why I haven’t written about artist’s studios is that the chaotic, communal studio environment is worse than an un-curated group show as far as viewing the art. I wasn’t sure, I was enjoying the conversation so much that I forget to take my camera out and shoot some ‘studio porn’ as Hyperallergic calls it. Finally, the main reason that I’d come to the studio, the commission for the figure of Justice for the County Court but that will have to wait for another blog post.


Street Up

First a few terms:

Fling-ups – shoes or other objects hung on overhead wires by flinging them up. (not to be confused with throw-ups) I have to say that I’ve seen some good one’s recently.

Fling-ups, Windsor

Fling-ups, Windsor

Fling-ups, Collingwood

Fling-ups, Collingwood

Paste-ups – paper printed or drawn pasted up on a wall. Known in North America as wheat-pasting due to the glue used.

Paste-up, Fitzroy

Paste-up, Fitzroy

Throw-ups – A rough outline of a piece in one or two colours, areas not filled in or only filled in roughly. Lush does a lot of throw-ups.

Lush Throw-ups, Brunswick

Lush Throw-ups, Brunswick

Up-Cycling – the downwardly mobile cousin of recycling, up-cycling is decorating discarded objects on the street, like drawing on a discarded lounge chair or mattress.

Kaff-eine up-cycling, Coburg

Kaff-eine up-cycling, Coburg

I could go on in the usual slag dictionary fashion but there is more to this than just new terms; there is an up side to mashing a patois dictionary.

“The words we call expressions of aesthetic judgment play a very complicated role, but a very definite role, in what we call a culture of a period. To describe their use or to describe what you mean by a cultured taste, you have to describe a culture. What we now call a cultured taste perhaps didn’t exist in the Middle Ages. An entirely different game is played in different ages.”

Wittgenstein #25 Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology & Religious Belief (Basil Blackwell, 1966,Oxford) (Alternative from James Taylor: “To describe a set of aesthetic rules fully means really to describe the culture of a period.”)

The word ‘up’ used in these expressions is revealing about graffiti and street art culture. Things are “up” in the street, even pin-up girls, for one-upmanship is its core. The aim of graffiti and street art is to be on the up and up amongst the graffiti and street art community; to be more prolific, to cover more walls, to be more notorious, to get more Facebook ‘Likes’, to do bigger pieces, higher up in the heavens.

Up on a train

Up on a train


Ghost Signs of Melbourne

New Theatre

On the corner of Flanigan Lane there is the hand painted sign stating: “New Theatre”. Jeff Sparrow and Jill Sparrow give a short history of the New Theatre in their book Radical Melbourne. The sign dates from around 1937 when the New Theatre occupied “an old tin-doffed loft above a dishes garage next to the Duke of Kent Hotel on La Trobe Street.” (Sparrow and Sparrow Radical Melbourne p.28). The New Theatre was established by the Communist Party in 1937 and  continued into the 1990s. The theatre at Flanigan Lane saw the first performance of Bertolt Brecht in Melbourne. In 1939 the theatre was declared unsafe and closed down but the sign remains on the stone wall.

There are plenty of other ghost signs in that small network of lanes but the new theatre was the only one that I researched. The interest in finding and photographing ghost signs grows. My own take on it is less about the hand painted signs and more about the history and culture that the sign represents.

Telephones

The “Do Not Spit” signs at Flinders Street Station tell of a past Melbourne with an expectorating population that had to be told not to. The metal “telephones” sign in the Degraves Street underpass points to a locked door behind which banks of telephone booths once stood before mobile phones made them obsolescent. The boomerang shaped sign from former Brunswick continental supermarket on Lygon Street and Australian identity; for more see Our Fading Past – Our History in Old Signs.  I have not been able to find out anything about the sign for Balkan Club in Melbourne, but there has always been a Balkan Club somewhere around the city.

Loucas & Christororou boomerang

I am suspicious of the ghost signs from around Chinatown like “Commit No Nuisance” Heffernan Lane in Chinatown. These signs looks too good, perhaps they were restored in an earlier revival of interest in ghost signs. I saw them listed as number 4 selfie spots in Melbourne.The aesthetic popularity of ghost signs is leading to some being purposely revealed, restored or rectified.

commit no Nusaince + paste-up

After the collectors, the fans and the academics, comes the photography exhibitions of ghost signs. Stephanie Stead’s “Signs of Our Times” at the City Library in July was the first of these that I’ve seen but I’m sure that there have been others. Stead’s silver gelatine prints are black and white except for the signs that have been hand coloured in oils. This old fashioned technique matches with the old signs producing beautiful nostalgic images.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,045 other followers

%d bloggers like this: