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.


Sublime to the Spooky

I saw a few exhibitions this week that ranged from the sublime to the spooky in some unusual locations and some of the usual locations.

Lucas Maddock, New Hypothetical Continents

Lucas Maddock, New Hypothetical Continents

Lucas Maddock’s New Hypothetical Continents is at Dome Gallery. Dome Gallery is at The Mission to Seafarers, one of the few old buildings in Docklands. Under the great domed space, the lights of Maddock’s new continent twinkle in the circular space. The continent’s scale matches the space and creates a beautiful spectacle in a location that resonates with sea transport. Maddock’s work references the modern fascination to discover or create a modern Atlantis. Maddock came public attention when he and Isaac Greener were part of the Melbourne Sculpture Prize in 2011 and his Apostle No.2 stood in Federation Square.

Like many people I went to see The Vivisector to see Andrew Delaney has sewn soft tissue sculptures; it was clearly a very popular little exhibition. It reminded me of soft versions of Damien Hirst, The Virgin Mother, 2005 as well as, what I know of the history of anatomical models. All the fabric hearts, arms and other body parts were very good and impressive but not brilliant. The work has a visual sensationalism with an instant appeal, of transferring anatomical models to fabric but after that what is left. It was a bit too slick, showing evidence of Delaney’s decade of work at Myer, as a visual merchandiser and stylist. It has a strange corny macabre aesthetic; the kind that does attractively present a fabric model of a foetus nestled in a broken down arm chair. I thought that the work looked better when I saw some of the work amidst all the clutter at his studio, Anno Domini Home at the back of Harold and Maude than in Edmund Pearce Gallery also on Level Two of the Nicholas Building.

Hidden Faces of the Archibald Exhibition, also known as ‘the Melbourne Salon de Refuses’, the best of the Victorian rejects from the Archibald Prize in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel. With the Archibald there are so many entries that these little side exhibitions have been going for decades, each with their own people’s choice prize. Looking at most of the portraits you can instantly see why they didn’t get into the Archibald: tired old techniques, awkward poses, really odd ideas (like, why is Ted Baillieu’s head on a tree?) or too obscure a subject for the Archibald’s idea of a notable Australian.

At Screen Space Patricia Piccinini Swell, 2000 made me feel slightly unbalanced watching the three screens of animated waves but I was more impressed with Leela Schauble’s Synthetic Species Motion Study No.7 because it was creepy and relevant to plastics in the ocean. However my preference for Schauble’s work may be influenced by the development of digital animation in the last 14 years.


West End Public Art

Melbourne’s west end is dominated by courts, the lawyers offices, the associated lunch and coffee places; it is not an area of the city that I regularly explore as both street art and art galleries are rare in the area. However, this year I have been in the area as I have been covering the Paul Yore trial. I did find some street art off Healeys Lane, a large stencil work by E.L.K. and some paste-ups by Sunfigo and there are a few public sculptures by Paul Montford, Andrew Rodgers, Tom Bass and Robert Juniper.

E.L.K., You are free...

E.L.K., You are free…

Flagstaff Gardens is like a suburban park in the city, the children’s playground, the adult’s playground (tennis courts and bowls), the residual base of small bandstand and the expanse of lawn. Its hill no longer affords much of a view but there is a Gothic revival sandstone obelisk monument to estimated six pioneers who were buried at its summit,  in 1871 the Department of Public Works then commissioned Samuel Craven, one of the stonemasons who campaigned for an eight hour day, to carve a memorial to mark the site of what was once called Burial Hill. Paul Montford’s bronze sculpture The Court Favourite stands further down the hill near the tennis courts.

Andrew Rodgers, City Living, 1996

Andrew Rogers, City Living, 1996

Andrew Rogers City Living, 1996 is a series of bronze figures of naked men, women and a baby rising up on hemisphere fans of bronze are up on a plinth. It is a kind of modern vision of escaping to an abstract spirit. Central Equity Homes commissioned the sculpture in June 1995 and donated it to the city in 1996. The sculpture is sort of hidden away a little way down Jeffcott Street; I saw it from the hill of Flagstaff Gardens.

Andrew Rogers, Rhythms of the Metropolis,

Andrew Rogers, Rhythms of the Metropolis,

There is another sculpture by Rogers nearby on the Queen and Lt. Bourke Streets, Rhythms of the Metropolis and more recent sculptures by him in the Docklands. Roger has a diverse sculptural practice from these modern bronzes to his gigantic dry stone wall land-art in desert locations around the world, his “geoglyphs”.

Tom Bass, Transportation, 1963-64

Tom Bass, Transportation, 1963-64

High on the wall of 160 Queen Street is Transportation 1963-64 by Sydney sculptor, Tom Bass. The figure with aeroplane wings stands in a boat triumphantly holds aloft a wheel, perhaps representing modern transportation. The form of the figure resembles a secular crucifix, this is modernism looking back to the ancient ways of representing ideas. In the niche beneath the sculpture is a small circle of benches and wheelchair ramp.

Robert Juniper, “Shadow Form III", 1988

Robert Juniper, “Shadow Form III”, 1988

BHP House at 140 William St. was constructed between 1967 – 1972 and added Robert Juniper’s Shadow Form III out the front in 1988. Shadow Form is steel simplified organic form, a clump of steel plants amidst the glass and steel canyons of Melbourne’s central business district. The steel sculpture is appropriate for a steel framed building and for the former headquarters of the steel producer. The plinth provides seating mostly used by office workers eating their lunch.

What once was the centre of the city in the colonial days when the city’s focus was on the port and there was a flagstaff in Flagstaff Gardens. Now the old colonial stone buildings like the Langdon Buildings from 1863 abut modern buildings of glass and steel. The life has been slowly drained from the area. Melbourne has since looked south, north and east and real estate agents describe the area as ‘on Melbourne’s doorstep’ in billboard advertising for empty office buildings. There is the city’s first cathedral, St. James from 1839 with it odd octagonal top to the spire, surrounded by an old iron fence (although it would be a mistake to image that this is its original location, it was moved there in 1913-14). Further down the road there are the three spires of the theatre restaurant, Witches in Britches.


Conspirators

“Noooo! I don’t want to leave.” said the little girl to her father and walked defiantly away to look at the bandaged baby carriage creature with its grinning teeth on the far side of the gallery. She didn’t want to be torn so quickly from this world of strange creatures, uncanny objects and compelling machines and went around the exhibition again to see her favourites.

Sally Field

Her father wasn’t insistent, everyone in the gallery could see her point, this is a fantastic exhibition that well deserves a second look. Curated by Carmen Reid, Conspirators is at the Yarra Gallery in Federation Square and is part of the Czech and Slovak Film Festival of Australia. I hadn’t been or heard of the Yarra Gallery before, it turns out it is the building opposite ACMI where most of the Czech and Slovak Film Festival is being held.

The exhibition is by local artists with a similar aesthetic to the work of Jan Švankmajer. In Švankmajer’s stop-motion animations, ordinary objects, often as simple as stones, clay or cutlery, are both transformed and allowed to remain as it is. The walls of the exhibition display panels about his films and career and that also serve as an indirect explanation of the exhibition. Švankmajer’s themes of puppets and fetish sculptures are reflected in the work of a over a dozen local artists.

Aly Aitken grinning creatures of bandages and leather, like a combination of Švankmajer’s Little Otik and Bacon’s Figures at the base of a Crucifixion. The clay manipulated by Duncan Freedman’s Love and other machines, reminding me of early Švankmajer animations, like Food. Freedman’s hand cranked machines making desperate sexual allusions in a purely mechanical manner. Nadia Mercuri’s work with glass and spoons reminding me of many animations of cutlery by Švankmajer.

The surreal appreciation of objects that gave material form to the surreal vision. Displaying the surreal aspect of objects as totem or taboo, repulsively and attractively physical. Sarah Field makes a lot of use of hair: a tea trolley of hair cakes, on a cow skin rug (I wonder what hair would taste like with chocolate and tea?), her long haired mop and bucket, The Aesthetics of Seduction and Disgust, and her long haired toothbrush.

James Cattell

There are many fantastic sculptures in this exhibition. From Robbie Rowlands wooden suitcase that has been cut in a precise way, making what was once firm flexible whereas Terry Williams and Jenny Bartholomew’s grotesque stuffed objected are flexible by nature. The high light of the exhibition has to be the complex and macabre automata machines of James Cattell, that have to be cranked to be fully appreciated.  In curator and artist, Carmen Reid’s, Dwelling machines, two objects are connected with wires, threads or chains. Bringing these artists together creates an exhibition that, like the sculptures in it, is much more than the sum of the parts.

Carmen Reid


Three Sided Football

“It appears that the first person to come up with the idea of three-sided football was Asger Jorn, who saw it as a means of conveying the notion of dialectics. We are still trying to discover if there any actual games organised by him. Before the LPA organised its first game at the Glasgow Anarchist Summer School in 1993, there is little evidence of any games being played.”

“There is, of course, the rumour that Luther Blissett organised an informal league…”

“Luther Blissett Three-Sided Football League”, Stewart Home, Mind Invaders (Serpent’s Tail, 1997, London, p.56)

I’m not accusing anyone of plagiarism any more than I am claiming that any of the information in the quotes is accurate. Even though Gabrielle de Vietri’s Three teams 2013 has no reference to earlier three-sided football games in her extensive artist’s statement but Neoists like Stewart Home were kicking lots of ideas around, hoping that some would catch one of them and run with it. A further complication to any accusations of plagiarism is that: “Anyone can be Luther Blissett simply by adopting the name.” (Home, Mind Invaders p. 44)

Gabrielle de Vietri Three teams 2013 is part of the Basil Seller Art Prize 2014 at the Ian Potter Museum of Art. There are many differences in football codes, media and the expression of the idea, but both have the intent to refute the dualism of the game of football and thereby, through Neoist reasoning, refute the dualism in life.

Gabrielle de Vietri realised the idea of three sided football recording the development of the game. “The game was played on the oval of the Taylors Lake Football & Netball Club in October 2013 between the Horsham RSL Diggers, Noradjuha-Quantong and Taylors Lake teams.” Her dual-channel HD video in 16:9 ratio with sound is 30:07 minutes long. It is interesting to watch because all of the participants are enthusiastic and thinking deeply about how a game based on Australian rules football would work with three teams. If you can’t imagine footballers taking conceptual art seriously you must watch this video. It is really the integration of art and life, or at least football, which to many Australians is the equivalent.

The historicism of the what was once considered underground art means that it is time to reconsider Neoism. Neoism, the art movement to end all art movements, was just another Neo-Dada movement. The word that reverberated around the art world since it was first spoken in Zurich in 1916 is still echoing the echoes.

Was Neoism the art movement that ended all art movements? Since Neoism there really hasn’t been another art movement, just geographic clusters of artists (unless we count Stuckism as an art movement). I remember reading somewhere that Stewart Homes was criticised for taking Neoism seriously; now the whole art world (except for Stuckists) takes Dada and some of its off spring seriously.

On the subject of open identities, another open identity like Luther Blissett, Monty Cantsin has been in the news attacking a Jeff Koons exhibition with a blood X and marker pen a signature. There is something wrong attacking the authenticity of Koons when you are also attacking the authenticity of identity by adopting the open identity of Monty Cantsin. Splashing blood around just further confuses any message and, or metaphor. (Cries of: “No, I’m Monty Cantsin” continue to be heard off stage.)


Footscray Scores Again

With and With Each Other is now located on corner of Nicholson Street and Ballarat Road in Footscray. It is by the American sculptor, Tom Bills, professor of art and art history at University of California at Davis and a disciple of the father of hardcore sculptural minimalism, Donald Judd.

Tom Bills, With and With Each Other, 1998

Tom Bills, With and With Each Other, 1998

I have previously written about two other sculptures in Footscray: Bruce Armstrong’s Two Person’s Hugging and Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom by Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins. Footscray has scored again with this sculpture that City of Melbourne no longer wanted.

“For the past five years, With and With Each Other has sat in storage after it provoked controversy in 2002. Since then, the two giant blocks have remained hidden away at storage sheds in Clayton.” Clay Lucas, April 4, 2007 The Age.

With and With Each Other is a grey concrete minimalist sculpture of two mirror-image halves has been described as “looking like a pair of lungs” or “twin foetuses with erections.” It had been installed on a roundabout in Melbourne as part of the Construction in Process Sculpture Festival 1998 with a three-month permit but had remained on the roundabout for 4 more years. It was replaced on the roundabout at Peel and Dudley Streets by Island Wave, 2003 by Lisa Young.

Footscray isn’t a suburb that many Melbournians would associate with great public sculpture but they have never been to Footscray and hold attitudes about western suburbs that date back decades. Footscray is changing as Melbourne slowly turns west and the suburb now has an impressive collection of public sculpture. The Footscray railway station and other parts of the centre of the suburb are being redeveloped but you can still Franco Cozzo’s Furniture whose late night advertising in the 1990s has been burnt into my mind.


Paul Yore Trial Day Two

On the second day of the contested hearing of the charges of production and possession of child pornography against Paul Yore. Magistrate Amanda Chambers will decide if the case at 9:30am on 1st of October.

Mark Newman Delany, commonly known as Max Delany, the senior curator at the NGV had prepared a report for the court on Paul Yore and his art including the his installation at Linden Gallery. It was labelled defence exhibit #4.

Max Delany explained to the court about collage and assemblage. He explained that the crucial factor in collage is that the cut is obvious, that it is evident that it has been taken from one source and placed in a different context. That the cut does violence to the image, it is unnatural; by removing the the image from its context the image no longer functions according to the context. That advertising images in a collage do not function as advertising.

Max Delany was asked by the police prosecutor, Acting Sargent Kirei Wall about the artistic merit of the pieces of cardboard that the police had cut out with a Stanley knife. Max Delany told the court that they were not now part of Paul Yore’s art work and were in the context of a court of law. He would only comment on Paul Yore’s work as a whole and went on further about the artistic merit of Yore’s work. When he was asked would it have artistic merit if the art was made by anyone else, Max Delany replied: “This art couldn’t be made by anyone else.”

The magistrate then asked the very difficult question of what factors constitute artistic merit. Max Delany’s list: professional discourse and recognition, technical and formal qualities, conceptual and historical qualities, poetic (creating new meaning in the everyday) and context.

Summing up the case for the defence barrister Neil Clelland asked the court if the material constitutes child pornography at the time that it was part of the installation, Everything is Fucked, between the 14th and 17th of May. Clelland made arguments about how images are produced and how they depict.

What is it to produce an image and how is this different from making art. That the artist does not produce the images in a collage but does make the collage.

What is it for an image to depict and that this does not depend on intent or that it is perceived as but that it is seen as depicting by a reasonable observer.

The police prosecutor, Acting Sargent Kirei Wall argued that Australian Classification Board only classified the submission on Paul Yore’s installation and not the whole installation. She also argued that the children were hurt because their images were included without their permission and that their photo was placed with a photo of adults in sexual poses or a sexual context without respect for their rights and reputation.


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