More Microparks

Microparks, or how local city councils in greater Melbourne are learning to practice the art of urban acupuncture trying to hit the magical lay lines of psychogeography. Melbourne is well known for its parks; Victoria’s car license plates once sported the slogan “the garden state.” Large parks surround the city but beyond that parkland in the inner city can be sparse. Local councils are finding vacant land between two buildings, at a corner or on an under-used section of road to rejuvenate an area with a park.

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The City of Yarra wants to create new open spaces in Collingwood as the area was originally overbuilt. Wandering the Collingwood gallery district I find a new park on Oxford Street with lots of decking, a drinking fountain and contained patches of grass. It looks as if it is primarily intended for sitting and eating lunch. There is another new small park only a few blocks away on Peel Street with its curved red seating and piles of concrete blocks, as if that part of it was designed using Minecraft.

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Compared to the earlier micro park on the corner of Gertrude and Smith Streets, where two benches and a hippy looking garden bed is dominated by the billboard advertising, these new parks are masterpieces in urban architecture and design. Novelty seats by artists are out, now seating has to have design features. (See my post Crazy City Comforts) and, basically be a comfortable place to put your bum. The architecture of discipline is out for these parks; the anti-sleeping, anti-skateboarding bumps are not visible but rather subtly understood in the design. Design is the key feature of these parks, not an anonymous utilitarian effort nor a naive hope that the community will do the rest.

In Brunswick off Sydney Road there is Wilson Avenue existing pop-up park from last year is now to be made permanent. Wilson Avenue in Brunswick, off Sydney Road. An urban bouldering wall allowing people to do more than just sit in the park.

Temporary or permanent these spaces are mostly about rejecting the dominate car culture to provide more space for pedestrians. It takes more than a few seats and a little bit of vegetation to make a successful urban micro park or pedestrian space. If you build it will they use it?

On the subject of sitting, with the television full of documentaries about Tony Robinson, Will Self or Alan Cummings going for a walk, I have decided that sitting is going to be the next big thing. Sitting is what is required for style and comfort. My cat does a lot of sitting; for her there are seats of power, seats of comfort and seats to explore. In the 21st century everything is extreme and there is the extreme sitting of Maria Abranivich sitting in MOMA for day after day. Public seating is a civic necessity for the aged, the sick, the tired. Having public seating reduces isolation. The Guardian reports on the City of Dijon in France introduced public armchairs, as it is easier for the elderly to get up from a seat with armrests.


Open Entry Art

The Linden Post Card Show 2014 at the Linden Centre for Contemporary Art has hundreds of entries. There are so many entries because it is a long established open entry show. (Did it start in 1986 when the Linden Centre opened?) Open entry means that anyone paying the entry fee of $55 for one work, $66 for two works, $77 for three works is exhibited. All the work must measure 8” (20cm) x 10” (25.5cm) (landscape or portrait) including any frame.

Linden Centre for Contemporary Art

Linden Centre for Contemporary Art

Looking at the entries and thinking why are there so few photographs, given that it is a popular media and the winner was a photograph. The winning entry was from WA artists and 2013 Archibald Prize finalist, Abdul Abdullah. His The Reintroduction of Australian Knighthood is a powerful, frightening and topical image of a masked thug draped in the Australian flag.

I was also thinking why are there so few artists that I recognise? With hundreds of artists on exhibition I started to wonder if I had missed an entry, forgotten a name (I don’t have a great memory for names). The mix of “professional, emerging, amateur or hobbiest” in the exhibition was not the problem because I regularly review that kind of mix of artists. But it did make me think that maybe there needs to be more short hand descriptions for artists, more words than: established emerging, professional, amateur … I mean what do you call an artist who has been around for a couple of decades but is not represented by any gallery and has not won any major prizes?

Linden Post Card Show 2014

Not that a lack of such terms is the biggest problem, the problem of the term ‘art’ is enough of a problem. Sometime in the seventeenth century, as the Enlightenment took the epiphany and mystery out of religion, Art emerged: Art with a capital A, Literature with a capital L and Music with a capital M. Robert Dixon’s The Baumgarten Corruption – From Sense to Nonsense in Art and Philosophy (Pluto Press, 1995) identifies the start of this process with Alexander Baumgarten’s use of the word ‘aesthetics’ in the 1750s. Roberto Calasso in Literature and the Gods (Vintage, 2001) places that start of what he calls “absolute literature” in 1798.

For me, it obvious that there is Art and art and after a walk along the Sunday market at the Esplanade, or even, a look at some of the entries in the Post Card show, you might agree. Oh, look another version of the Redhead brand match box, this time it is made out of bits of tin nailed together.

You might not agree, many people at the both the Post Card show and the Sunday Market clearly did not. The word ‘Art’ is probably more divisive than the image of the ‘Australian Knight’ by Abdul Abdullah.


Random Gertrude Street

A walk along Gertrude Street to look at the current exhibitions at Dianne Tanzer, Seventh and Gertrude Contemporary.

At Dianne Tanzer Paper Trails features new work by Victoria Reichelt and Carly Fischer. It is an exhibition of opposites, replicas of the paper products that have either, in Fischer’s work been casually transformed instead of normally thrown away, or, in Reichelt’s paintings, water damaged archived papers. A few weeks ago I’d seen Carly Fischer exhibition, Magic Dirt at Craft Victoria (see my review). Reichelt’s paintings depict the theme of archiving, files in shelves all with a heart sticker on them and its watery perils, split boxes of wet paper. I hope that Angy Labiris, who was exhibiting some very ordinary paintings at 69 Smith Street, ventures up around the corner and up Gertrude Street to see Reichelt’s great contemporary still life paintings. (I went into 69 Smith Street to see the recent renovations to the gallery, the art on exhibition was as ordinary as ever.)

I was about to go into Seventh Gallery when I was recognised. Diego Ramirez introduced himself, I had previously reviewed his exhibitions Happy Summer Tank and Radish. Ramirez has an exhibition A Primitive Movie in Gallery One and his studio is upstairs. A Primitive Movie is not a movie, it is an installation about a movie, Axolotl, another mutant creature from Ramirez imagination. It was a good idea for an exhibition, the movie poster projected onto the wall, a light box and a wooden kinescope screen but there wasn’t to the installation enough for my taste.

In Gallery Two Louise Meuwissen and Lotte Schwerdtfeger, Intense, Intents, In tents. Remember when you made tents with sheets and blankets in your house and how good it was? Intense, Intents, In tents is much better, it is beautiful, magical fun. Combining LED lights with embroidery works beautifully and reminded me of the artistic possibilities opened by this new technology allowing artists to work with light where previously this would have been a fire hazard. Louise Meuwissen was the winner of the Dumbo Feather Award at Craft’s Fresh! exhibition this year also an interview with her.

Gertrude Contemporary had a group exhibition from Gertrude Studios; a good opportunity to see eight artists working in Gertrude Studios. Installations, photographs, painting; Sean Peoples floor work intrigued me, the contrast between the artificial and the natural, and the connection to all the flower arrangements of art. It also reminded me of Duchamp’s Trebuchet, 1917. As an exhibition Gertrude Studios made as much sense as my random sample of exhibitions along Gertrude Street.


Are You Experienced?

In covering the Paul Yore story I felt hopelessly out of my depth, as an art critic I wasn’t experienced reporting on politics and law. I persevered, determined to follow the story to the best of my abilities for over a year.

From the start, covering the case felt like a futile task as I already knew the outcome, it was as predictable as continued government funding for the National Gallery. Sure, it might not happen, especially if people treated the outcome as predictable and that any energy spent on it wasted but realistically, what are the chances?

If Paul Yore had been found guilty it would just been a further repeat of what happened to Mike Brown with the sentence reduced to practically nothing on appeal. To expect anything else is to expect a revolution, art galleries ransack, Chloe seized by police from Young and Jackson’s…. As much as such a purge might be the wet dream of some right wing conservatives, it is not something that magistrates and judges would want to encourage. What they want is to preserve the status quo.

However in Australia, the status quo includes the random persecution of artists. I’m concerned that this could happen again, not in Victoria, not for a few years at least, after the police pay costs for the case, but to another artist in another state in a couple of years. Following the police raid on the Linden Centre gave me the feeling of the repeated witch hunts in Australian culture.

The typical Australian mob chants: “We don’t like it. Ban it!” Art, books, clothing, people…. “We don’t like it. Ban it!” The mob needs to shut up, listen to reason and understand that just because they are the mob doesn’t mean that they should dictate taste. That instead of banning art and the expensive circus of police raids and court cases that we should engage in a democratic discussion. But what are the chances of that happening?

Being out of my depth with covering a criminal case there were things that I could learn, how to find court dates, get media statements from the police but as I learnt I also realised one of the drawbacks of being a blogger and freelance writer. What I was missing as a freelance writer and blogger was the experience of a large newsroom where I could have consulted with, or even collaborated with, the regular court reporters and the politics reporters.

Now I’m not asking for your sympathy but for you to consider a world with smaller editorial departments, smaller news rooms, more freelance journalists trying to tell larger stories. In the current world experience is too often dissipated rather than concentrated.

Sometimes I felt like a vulture lopping over to the carcass of an artist’s career, amid the flapping wings of other vultures and having a feed on the remains. Choosing to stop by Neon Parc on my rounds of galleries in the city to see if I could pick up something.

I wrote a summary of the case for the online art magazine Hyperallergic and an article for Vault Magazine that examined Yore’s use of collage and assemblage in the light of Max Delany’s testimony to the court.


Recent Public Sculpture in Melbourne

There are two recent public sculptures with botanical references: Fruition, 2013 by Matthew Harding and Moment, 2013 by Damien Vicks where the geometry of botany lends itself to contemporary sculpture.

Matthew Harding, Fruition, 2013

Matthew Harding, Fruition, 2013

The two giant seed pods creates a landmark for the corner of Flemington Road and Elliot Avenue are Matthew Harding’s Fruition. The sculptures mediate between the nature of Royal Park, the largest of Melbourne’s inner city parks and the artificial world of the roads and traffic. Royal Park is and has, up until last year, been bereft of any public sculpture. They are huge, with an axis length 6.5m and 4.2m, even when seen from the road, where most people will see this sculpture, they are larger than most trucks. Made of corten steel, a favourite of sculptors and designers because it quickly develops an outer patina of rust that protects the steel from further oxidation.

Harding studied at the Canberra School of Art and is a regular exhibitor at the Fringe Festival Furniture, Sydney’s Workshopped, McClelland National Sculpture Survey, Sculpture by the Sea and the Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award. Fruition is not the only public sculpture by Matthew Harding in Melbourne, there is his Mercury Rising, 2008 series of seats in the city, commissioned by Colonial First State. The three cast mirror polished stainless steel forms with inset stainless steel contour banding in the pavement. The contour banding and the title refer to climate change.

Damien Vicks, Moment, 2013

Damien Vicks, Moment, 2013

Damien Vicks, Moment was installed in 2013 at Guild Apartments, Sturt Street in Southbank. Moment is the beautiful flower in the buttonhole of the building. Few buildings are designed with a crest, aside from a corporate logo. This is Vick’s first public commission; in 2011 he won both the Association of Sculptors of Victoria Annual Exhibition and the Melbourne Flower and Garden Show Sculpture exhibition. Vicks has also been a regular exhibitor at Toorak Village sculpture competition.

The number of sculptures in greater Melbourne continues to grow at an increasing rate. There is also William Eicholtz’s sculpture Courage in Fitzroy and the Steampunk sculptures in the city. These are some recent public sculpture in Melbourne that I haven’t mentioned in my up coming book, Melbourne’s Sculptures, due for release in April 2015. They have all been installed while I’ve been concentrating on writing the history, not that this is a problem because it is a history and not a survey of the sculptures.


Drinking & Melbourne’s Culture

Over drinks at an exhibition opening last year I mentioned to someone that I should write about buying alcohol and the arts. Specifically the effects of liquor licensing laws in Victoria on Melbourne’s culture. Now, this sounds like the title for a thesis rather than a blog post, so I’m only going to sketch out a bit of background and look at some legislation that has had recent impact.

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From the colonial domination of Melbourne City Council by publicans to the power of the Temperance movement at the turn of the twentieth century liquor licensing laws has had a major impact on Melbourne’s culture. The six o’clock swill creating a dull centre of the city Melbourne’s culture has been influenced by liquor licensing legislation. Melbourne Little Band scene of the late 70s and early 80s were the result of a legacy of large inner city licensed venues with decreasing patronage due to a population shift to the suburbs. More recent changes to liquor laws, gaming laws and security laws have drastically curtailed Melbourne’s little live music scene.

Changes in the late-nineteen nineties opened up opportunities for new art galleries partially funded with their bar at exhibition openings. Many small art galleries, like the one that I was drinking at that night, use their openings to create a pop-up bar. It also influenced the creation of Melbourne’s now iconic inner city lane ways

Alan Davies, in his blog The Urbanist, argues that these changes were due to the implementation of changes recommended in the 1995 Nieuwenhuysen Report on the Liquor Control Act. The Nieuwenhuysen Report recommended a more European approach to the sale of alcohol as opposed to the monopolistic approach of earlier Australian governments that charged high license fees that restricted competition.

Davis reports that: “There were 571 on-premises (restaurant) licences in Victoria in 1986, but by 2004 there were 5,136.”

In Broadsheet Craig Allchin architect, urban designer and director of Six Degrees Architecture told Timothy Moore in “How Melbourne Found Its Laneways” that: “The Victorian state premier at the time, Jeff Kennett, was amending the laws to coincide with the opening of Melbourne’s first casino, which was designed to have a range of bars and restaurants along its river frontage. The casino’s owners didn’t want to take the risk of operating under a single liquor license, which could have been revoked if there was an incident of bad behaviour. They wanted to spread the risk. The state government created a new “small bar” license that suited the casino’s needs, providing it with several small-bar licenses. The unintentional result of the reform, however, was that it allowed lots of other small bars to set up all over the city.”

Ending the requirement of a bar to serve food made it possible for the many bars to open up in Melbourne’s laneways that transformed the centre of the city. Not that these effects were intended or foreseen but it is a good example of the butterfly effect of a small change to legislation on Melbourne’s culture.

Cheers


Shopping Centre Art

What was I doing at a VIP event at Barkly Square shopping centre in Brunswick?

What has happened at Barkly Square is that the service lane that bisected the shopping centre running parallel to Sydney Road has been change from a problem into a feature. The lane has become, according to the media release, “… a new arts and entertainment precinct which will celebrate the artistic and culinary soul of Brunswick.”

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A collaboration between Ghostpatrol and Bonsai fill two sides of the wall of the lane. Kyle Hughes-Odgers, a Perth based artist, has a wall with a brickworks reference as Brunswick once had a brick making industry. On another wall there is a giant owl by Twoone.

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It is not all street art, Tobias Horrocks, a local artist work with a post-minimalist ideas and cardboard. This was his first permanent installation. The basic cardboard form is repeated blocking and filtering the light from the window above the entrance.

Barkly Square is just a small inner-city shopping centre, a bland location for a few chain shops, near the beginning of the Sydney Road shopping strip. It is not the first shopping centre in Melbourne to feature street artists on its walls; QVC and Southbank both invited street artists in years earlier.

Media maker and festival director, Marcus Westbury has, what he describes a “strange obsession” with “he fate of old suburban shopping arcades.” He explains why on his blog. “I am, as far as I can tell, pretty much alone in believing they’re a rich vein of untapped urban and suburban gold. Or, to put it in language that hipsters, planners and local politicians can reflexively and instinctively respond to they’re kind of like lane-ways.”

In this case the it not so much as trying to artificially reproduce the iconic Melbourne lane but assimilating the rest Brunswick into the shopping centre. The usual mall food court has gone from Barkly Square, now there are cafes with outside seating in The Laneway, as it has been prosaically and practically named. The transformation of the area is the usual mix of work by street arts, planters, bollards, bike racks and funky design elements. It is still a working service lane but now is a mix use urban area.

Shopping centres need to reinvent themselves, in the wake of on-line competition, they need cater for more than just shopping. The holy grail of urban design to create a ‘meeting place’.

Samuel Louwrens, the Operations Manager for Barkly Square Centre Management is feeling inspired at the art and developments on the lane. He is enthusiastic about his new lighting for the art and was waiting for more suggestions from the public about what could be done with the lane. He pointed out that there are still more large blank walls at the far ends of the lane.

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At noon on Wednesday there was a launch of the lane in a temporary VIP area outside a cafe in the lane listening to a guitarist, Grey Milton launching Barkly Square’s busking program. Grey finished his set. There were two short speeches from the corporate investment manager of the property group that owns Barkly Square and then the Mayor of Moreland. Then the Melbourne Ukulele Kollective took over by this time there weren’t just invited guests but a small crowd of people enjoying the spectacle. To have about a hundred people in the lane showed that, at least for the moment, the plan was working.DSCF0329

Ghostpatrol Barkely Square 0


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