Category Archives: Coburg

Pentridge – more on prison art

At the bottom of a box of old books, mostly about Africa that my parents brought over to my house I found Denton Prout and Fred Feely, 50 Years Hard, the story of Pentridge Gaol from 1850 to 1900 (Rigby Limited,1967, Adelaide).

It was an enjoyable read although not entirely focused on Pentridge Prison, there is a lot of other details about the Melbourne colony. Sometimes the book lost focus but I wasn’t bored, there is a dramatic short story about a night ride from Geelong to Melbourne that was indirectly connected to Pentridge. Towards the end there is a bit of an examination of nineteenth century penal theory and practice but the book is more about historical story telling than any overall thesis.

There were also a few more anecdotal details about William Stanford, the convict who carved the granite fountain in Gordon Reserve (above Parliament Station) including speculations on who was the model for the boy. However, amongst all these details the authors fail to mention, the crucial detail that Stanford had been an apprentice stonemason before immigrating to Australia.

Stanford Fountain, Melbourne

Stanford Fountain, Melbourne

“Stanford was allowed the use of a shed for his work. The magistrate also supplied him with a kit of tools, and when the artist wanted a model for the eagles which were to ornament the rim of the fountain , he arranged for a stuffed eagle hawk to be sent to Pentridge from Bendigo. Mr Paton also came to Stanford’s aid when he wanted a child to act as model for the nude figure forming the finial of the work – a youth holding up a basket of flowers. Stanford, it is said, made many request to the warders to allow one of their children to pose for the nude, although the warders were willing their womenfolk had other views.” (p.139-40)

The vast site of the old Pentridge prison continues to be rehabilitated and redeveloped into a housing estate. However, apart from the residential development and a few eateries there is little going on in the area. I notice that people keep on searching for ghosts in the grounds of Pentridge prison but it appears rather soulless in the daylight. The old carved granite bluestones retain character but the development appears lifeless. Stone work was a major feature of Pentridge’s prison regime in the early years of the prison, some of it perhaps carved with William Stanford himself.

Elliot Ronald Bull, Pentridge 1

Elliot Ronald Bull, Pentridge 2

Walking around Pentridge Village, as it is now called, I finally found the preserved mural by the aboriginal artist, Elliot Ronald Bull (1942-1979) in a yet unnamed lane, between Pentridge Blvd and Sentry Lane. Like Stanford, Bull already had already studied painting before being sent to prison. In 1960 (or 1962 or 1964) Elliot Bull painted the mural with ordinary house paint in “F” Division. (See my post on Prison Art @ Pentridge.) Although Bull’s mural at Pentridge is his most important surviving artwork (S. Kleinert, ‘‘‘Blood from a Stone”: Ronald Bull’s Mural in Pentridge Prison’, Australian Journal of Art, 14, no 2, 1999, p 93) There was nothing about its history and it probably adds less to the lane than it did to the prison yard.

Elliot Ronald Bull, Pentridge 3Elliot Ronald Bull, Pentridge 4


MoreArt 214

James Voller in Fragmented Patterns, uses the side of an industrial rubbish bin and a public toilet on Victoria Street in Coburg, as the support for photographs of the facades of suburban houses where the classical arch has become an architectural cliche. The sense of perspective given by these large scale prints distorts/transforms the surrounding environment. Is it a toilet block or the front of a small house?

James Voller, Fragmented Patterns

James Voller, Fragmented Patterns

A nineteenth century iron lamp post outside the Brunswick Town Hall is covered in gold leaf; Ria Green and Aliça Bryson Haynes, Everyday Monument. It made me question if I could remember the lamp post before this transformation.

Ria Green and Aliça Bryson Haynes, Everyday Monument

Ria Green and Aliça Bryson Haynes, Everyday Monument

Seeking to transform the way that people look at urban/industrial landscape of Coburg and Brunswick is the intention of the annual MoreArts exhibition of temporary public art. Not all of the art succeeds in this kind of transformation, some of it has just been plonked in a location.

Others suffer from other more complex urban problems, including tagging and stickers on the billboard style works of Benjamin Sheppard’s Crown in the Jewell and Chris Mether and Anthony Mecuri’s Bubbles. Not that this is a major problem in itself but it does highlight MoreArts ignoring the greater quantity, more permanent, but unofficial transformative art occupying the same area, the street art and graffiti.

Anthony Sawrey, No Tree or

Anthony Sawrey, No Tree (or do you see the street art?)

Carla Gottgens Baggage, is a series of old suitcases supporting photographs of scenes from Gottgens life recreated in miniature models. Along with Gottgens Baggage at the Coburg Railway Station bike shed there was a little sign to indicate that it is an art installation in case the increasingly paranoid and insane people, who are increasingly treated as reasonable, sane and normal, might think it is a bomb. (“If you see something say something” – I see fear mongering and encouraging violence, paranoia and war crimes. What do you see?) At this point the attempt at a transformative experience is diminished.

Carla Gottgens, Baggage

Carla Gottgens, Baggage

Moreart has a badly designed guide, available online in PDF format, that needed to be rotated multiple times in order to read it. It has been a great irritation to use; I assume that it makes sense only if you know what it is meant to mean and have it printed out in hardcopy. So why bother putting it online in that state?


Street Art Notes June ’14

I should write a post about street art, I keep telling myself that, but what to write about? There is little to nothing is going on in the street. I’ve feeling jaded and I post some click bait: My Top 10 Melbourne Stencils. Still my point remains, so I will type it again; little to nothing is going on in the street. Sure another wall has been painted, sure another street artist is having a show in Collingwood, and sure Doyle has had another controversy with another mural but it is just more of the same.

Will Coles has been in the city again. Will Coles, Is This Art?

Will Coles has been in the city again. Will Coles, But is it art?

The only person currently doing anything worthwhile on the street right now isn’t in Melbourne. It is Peter Drew in Adelaide with his boat people street art. Peter’s paste-up boat people project is right for the streets because it is in the streets where the protest can be heard the loudest amplified with TV news coverage and Facebook. This visual form of protest has been called for by the refugee advocacy groups (see my post and my post). (This isn’t personal Peter; that’s one thing that critics and the mafia have in common – it isn’t personal)

No, I don’t want to write about Australia’s inhuman treatment of refugees again and again, it makes me despair. Should I mention that I came to Australia by boat, at this point? It was an ocean cruise ship, PO Oriana; even at the time I knew that it was a bizarre experience but that was nothing compared to the insanity of Australia current refugee policy.

I have to go for a walk and calm down in the cold air.

“Pillars of Community Celebration” by Aaron James McGarry

“Pillars of Community Celebration” by Aaron James McGarry

Looking at Coburg, my local neighbourhood there are stencil painted totem poles on corrugated plastic sheets attached to the trees in the Victoria Street Mall. They are “Pillars of Community Celebration” by Aaron James McGarry and the totem poles mix in with an earlier work by McGarry, in the mall, the koala bears in the trees. The koala bears are made from plastic shopping bags – and like his totem poles they will last for years. It is a new look for the area after the yarn bombing. Street art techniques continue to be employed on this busy local hub of el fresco eating and sitting.

Pillars of Community Celebration, Aaron James McGarry

Pillars of Community Celebration, Aaron James McGarry

Sitting is very important to this area; there are a group of men who regularly sit on the seats along the front of the library. There is plenty of public seating in Victoria Street Mall. Sitting is the contrary position to the pedestrians. Sitting is local, low energy and social. It has long been of interest to me (see my post of public seating in the city) although I don’t practice regularly it. On a suburban street I walk past a seat that some kind person has built into the fence of their house.


Melbourne’s Weather

On Thursday, taking advantage of one of the last sunny days of autumn, I bicycled along the Merri Creek to the old Kodak Bridge on Edgar’s Creek. I didn’t expect to find street art in the wilds of North Coburg but the pillars underneath this unused bridge is an excellent location. There above a couple of superb graffiti pieces with gold paint splatter highlights was a whole set of paste-ups by Phoenix.

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The graffiti writers below had carefully buffed their undercoat around Phoenix’s skull.

The remains of a camp fire under the bridge reminded me that although there are still pleasant days like this, the nights are getting colder. I’ve been resisting commenting on this for over a year now. I heard about Elmor Leonard’s rules for writing a novel – never start with the weather. Weather is dull conversation. However, Melbourne’s weather is part of its psychogeography, it influences the way that we move about the city, and it influences the writing of this blog.

Terry, the postman had a story for me about delivering mail in the city. “Looked out the back of the building it was all sunny, looked out the front of the building the city looked all sunny. Went outside and it was raining, directly above. Typical Melbourne weather.” That night we had the strongest winds in thirty years.

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Looking through my notes from January: “Street artists painting in the heat of the day. Too hot for me to attend; there is a heat health alert in the city with a maximum of 36 degrees is predicted. I feel like I have become a vampire living in perpetual twilight – the sun, it burns! It burns!)” This extreme weather does effect the culture, artists living in rural areas have to prepare their art collections for bush fires.

Melbourne’s weather influences when I choose to go out. September and October’s uncertain weather are Melbourne’s choice for arts festivals. You roll the dice, you take your chances, it could be good, it could be fantastic, it could be horrible. Melbourne’s population are tired of the bleak wet and cold winter weather (now for my Canadian cousins when I say cold I’m not talking about freezing, sub-zero Celsius temperatures that you would call cold – Melbourne’s cold is a freezing wind coming off the antartic ocean with or without rain).

Then the are the heat waves of extreme baking heat, days above 40 degrees and nights where the temperature does not get below 30. There is no humidity, the sun bakes the leaves on trees and bushes to a brown crisp. After a sever heat wave lasting for days there is a feeling like jet lag as your body deprived of adequate sleep catches up with the rhythm of the day.

Although Melbourne’s weather is a major topic of conversation there is very little contemporary art about the weather. It is not as if there isn’t modern and contemporary art about the weather; consider Duchamp’s Unhappy Readymade exposed to the Parisian elements or Joseph Beuys’s claim of artistic responsibility for any snowfall in Dussseldorf during February 1970. The artists who do comment on Melbourne’s weather are the paste-up artists, including Phoenix whose street art paste-ups warn about global warming are exposed to the elements.

Phoenix Kyoto t-shirt


Sydney Road Coburg

The psychogeography of Sydney Road part 2; continuing my tram stop survey from my survey of the Brunswick end of Sydney Road in part 1.

Moreland Road the division marks the division between Brunswick and Coburg. Coburg was once the breadbasket of colonial Melbourne with its rich fertile volcanic soil. Originally called Pentridge Coburg changed its name to disassociate itself from the prison that originally was its major landmark. Across Moreland Road and to the west is Moreland Station. The micro suburb of Moreland is no longer much of a feature.

29. Mores Street, there is a vacant patch in this area the old “Hygienic Diary” is a reminder of Coburg’s past and the 7/11 the contemporary.

30. The Avenue, Kangan Institute’s Coburg Campus. The posh area of Coburg is in the roads off to the east. This division between the wealthy eastern side and poorer western side; a typical social organisation of Melbourne by compass directions. Woodlands Hotel that used to have its own horse racing track out the back.

Post Office Hotel

31. Reynard Street corner with the Post Office Hotel, the hotel is a lot older than its art deco facade. On the east side of the road there are is a new office block with an ALP Senator’s office on the west there is an Indian grocery, framers, Italian tailors making handmade suits and fish and chip shop.

32. With Harding Street going east and Munro Street going west. This is the start of the main Coburg shopping, transport and local government hub. The corner also sums up the whole of the Sydney Road shopping experience with bridal, Indian clothing stores, Islamic fashion and a few good places to eat.

Victoria Street Mall Coburg

33. Victoria Street mall and the Coburg Market. Coburg Station is through the mall and across multiple car parks. The facades in the shopping strip date from the 1960s and the modern style is now looking old fashioned. The very thin silk fabric shop that has been there forever is closing down. Lots of banks and take-away food shops.

34. Bell Street is the division between Coburg and Coburg North, another psychogeographical division in the rings around inner Melbourne. Bell Street is now a transport hub with bus stops and an entrance to the train station. On the opposite corner is a park with the Federation bicentenary pond in front of the church. Following the park there is line of churches next to the prison is a remanent of local council compromises with the multi-sectarian population that could not sustain all of them.This area creates a psychic barrier for the North of Coburg’s shopping centre. This area has schizophrenic relationship between sides of the road; the western side looks like a slum with demolition work, whereas the eastern side looks more like Parkville however over the following tram stops this process alternates back and forth. There is a lot of guerrilla gardening on the side streets to the west, the bike path is lined with flower gardens.

35.Champ Street is a city only stop; the entrance of Pentridge Prison is down Champ Street. (See my post on the rehabilitation of Pentridge Prison). This is the historic heart of Coburg is on the eastern side whereas the western side now looks like a typical main road in a light industrial suburb.

36. Rogers Street and the Drum Hotel, after this suburban houses start to appear along Sydney Road.

37. Gaffney Street; to the west is Batman Station and to the east the Coburg Lake Reserve. On the east side are shops selling blinds, catering equipment and on the west side there is an empty lot with flashing signs, tyre shop, the old Coburg Fire Station now sells auto parts.

38. Carr Street and Renown Street; on the east side is Lake Park Kindergarten, Budget Motel and Car rental and on there are west side substantial two story brick houses.

39. Mercy College on the east side and the brick houses continue on the west side. Next there is pedestrian overpass followed by a Funneral Services next to the Aged Care home.

40. Bakers Road where the tramline ends with a new centre road, terminus stop. On the east side is a business selling blinds and the Salvation Army Divisional HQ. On the west side there is a vacant lot being turned into a garden, a bench has been installed and trees planted. The houses are weatherboard now. North of this the road continues with a motel and other auto related businesses a clear indication that you are now entering car territory.

End of tram line Coburg


Buffing & Christianity

Recently I saw some Christian buffing in Coburg. What is “Christian buffing”?

Christian buffing Coburg cross

The painter had painted the whole wall except for a stencilled crucifix that had neatly been painted around; you can see the white paint splatters on top of the black spray paint. Buffing the crucifix was refused on religious grounds. It would be an act sacrilege for a Christian to erase a crucifix by painting over. It didn’t matter for the Christian buffer that the original stencil included the blasphemous remark “LOL”; that was removed in the buffing.Lol cruxifition

The issue of buffing is more complex that even I had thought; with this example raising the complex issue of iconoclasm. Iconoclasm is the religious or anti-religious destruction of religious images. The complexities and paradoxes of iconoclasm were explored at a symposium at Newman College that I attended in September last year. It covered iconoclasm from the Biblical to the Renaissance idea that early Christians had an antipathy to the visual arts and to the destruction of petroglyphs on the Burrup Peninsula. I’m sure that the political realities of buffing are more complex in a more religious place than Coburg. I should be writing an academic paper about this and not just a blog post – “iconoclasm and graffiti”, or “urban street iconoclasm”.

Christian buffing coburg whole wall

Meanwhile on the streets of Coburg, after the wall had been buffed someone else had added more graffiti and so the cycle goes on.

Other interesting piece of buffing, that I seen on Melbourne’s streets:

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In a city lane there was buffing around an early Baby Guerrilla paste-up.

Altered buffing, unknown artist, Brunswick, 2011

Altered buffing, unknown artist, Brunswick, 2011

 


Piano Piano

There are pianos everywhere in Melbourne from the City Square to the Palm Plaza in Dandenong. There are 24 pianos on Melbourne’s streets this January, most of them are in the CBD especially around the Arts Centre. All the pianos have been donated and then decorated by various artists and arts groups. They are part of Play Me, I’m Yours by British artist Luke Jerram. You can play on them any time that the small boys have stopped making big noises on them.

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I stop to look at the painted piano in the City Square and Yarn Corner’s yarn-bombing. The now annual yarn-bombing of the City Square looks great this year. A great deal of thought, knitting and crocheting has gone into it with the patterns and the co-ordinated colours are a real step up from last year.

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Luke Jerram has an very impressive CV with many diverse projects from his glass microbiology models to his interactive waterfall in Bristol. His Play Me, I’m Yours project has been installed in many cities around the world. (Have a look at his website.)

Play Me, I’m Yours, was made possible by the Betty Amsden Participation Program, a four year program of large scale “art for all” participation events. Betty Amsdem OAM is a major sponsor of the arts in Melbourne (as well as,  3MBS, the RSPCA and Guide Dogs Victoria) and a vocal advocate for philanthropy.

Ultimately both the pianos and the yarn-bombing are radical gestures that empower the community to create for themselves rather than simply being spectators in this event and festival driven city. It is something that the Revolutionary Dadaist Council of Berlin would have approved.

There has always been a piano for people to play on the mezzanine floor of the City Library where their exhibition space is located. I was looking at “A Celebration of Co-Mix: an exhibition of past entrants from the Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing Award Graphic Short Stories. (Comics have come along way in my life from the subject of moral panic to the Lord Mayor’s award.) As I was looking and reading the exhibition an old woman slowly moved her walker towards the piano. At first I thought that she was just looking for a place to sit down but then she started to play. I could hear why she had made the effort; for a woman who was barely able to walk she played with a smooth ageless grace.

I had less grace when I played some 8 bar blues on the piano in the Victoria Mall in Coburg. The upright piano sounds soft when played outdoors.


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