Russell Street Sculptures

On awkward location of the wide median strip in the middle of Russell St., between Bourke St. and Lt. Collins St., there are two mysterious sculptures. This wide median strip was originally the location of Melbourne’s first underground toilet (and first public toilet for women) opened 1902 and decommissioned in 1994. The median strip also incorporates the ventilation point for the decommissioned Telstra tunnels that run beneath Melbourne’s CBD.

The sculptures are Chris Reynolds, “A History apparatus – Vessel Craft & Beacon”, 1993 (installed 1994-5) a 24m. long series of aluminum and fiberglass forms, part of which is attached to some steel rails. And Maurie Hughes, “Ceremony and Vehicle for Conveying Spirit”, 1996, made from silicon, bronze, galvanized and mild steel. The two sculptures are separated by centre of the road car parking and some plane trees; so although Maurie Hughes’s sculpture was intended to refer to Reynolds’ sculpture the two do not appear connected. Both of the sculptures are composed of several parts as well as long titles. And they both have a strange functional appearance implied by their liner design along the median strip.

One reason for these odd sculptures can be explained in the process of commissioning the sculptures. Chris Reynolds “A History apparatus” was part of the National Metal Industry Sculpture Project, a sculpture-in-residency program. It was a collaborative effort between the artist and the Australian Metal Workers Union, Aerospace Technology of Australia and the City of Melbourne. Maurie Hughes’ sculpture was linked to the redevelopment of Telstra’s former Russell Street exchange and funded by Telstra and the City of Melbourne’s Urban & Public Art Program. It was commissioned with a brief to “incorporate the functional and visually meaningful elements of the vent”; the vent is part of a decommissioned Telstra tunnel.

Maurie Hughes, "Ceremony and Vehicle for Conveying Spirit", 1996

Maurie Hughes’s “Ceremony and Vehicle for Conveying Spirit” has three elements: totem pillars, the chimney and a gate each with their own plinth. The wheels on the chimney and the smaller wheels on the base of the gate suggest movement but this sculpture is going nowhere. The chimney flue form is presumably above the old Telstra tunnel’s vent.

Chris Reynolds, “A History apparatus - Vessel Craft & Beacon”, 1993

Chris Reynolds’s “A History apparatus – Vessel Craft & Beacon” feels disappointing as a sculpture; given the whole apparatus with the rails and vessels, you expect it to do more. The sculpture leaves me with a sense of disappointment and failure.

I have not been able to find anything more about these two artists. Like other artists who received commissions for public sculptures from the City of Melbourne their careers have not been notable.

The sculptures in the middle of Russell St. do not attract much close examination; their eccentric meanings appear impenetrable. Looking awkward and out of place they fail to give a sense of place, or excite the imagination. The problems with these sculpture stem from their location and commission before the two artists even started work.

About Mark Holsworth

Arts administrator, artist, musician, philosopher and writer. Writes Black Mark - Melbourne Art and Culture Critic. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

3 responses to “Russell Street Sculptures

  • CDH

    Apart from the Bourke and Wills statue on Collins/Swanston, the war memorials and the 3 businessmen on Russell, I don’t think very much of Melbourne’s street sculpture. Most of it seems cheap and devoid of meaning. It’s like a bureaucrat in the state government opened a cheque book and said ‘lets buy as much culture as possible, at the minimum price’.
    The st George and Joan of Arc statues out the front of the state library are well made statues, but them seem to be trying to obsequiously appropriate European culture. The statues you discuss here are part of a slew of contemporary art installations that just seem pretentious and leave me feeling confused and jilted. The statues opposite the NGV are a weird eclectic mix of Roman busts and contemporary works, whose only similarities are that they’re in a perpetual state of disrepair (of course, that’s going to change for one of those statues in about 2 weeks now…)

    • Mark Holsworth

      What about Simon Perry’s work around the city, esp. the Public Purse? Perry knew that they could plonk that anywhere in the CBD and people would understand it. At the opening of the Space Invaders exhibition Ruper Myer, the Chair of the National Gallery of Australia spoke about street art creating a paradigm shift in public art. That will be the solution to bureaucratic public art commissions. Looking forward to having something new to write about.

  • mdonnellan63

    …but the tree – the healthiest plane in Russel Street and one of the best in all of Melbourne. The sculptures must be conferring them some sort of benefit. (or the toilets are leaking).

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