Category Archives: Culture Notes

Final Post for 2014

This is my final post for another year. May I wish Happy 10th Anniversary to Richard Watt’s SmartArts on 3RRR, the Melbourne Prize, Blindside, Brunswick Arts Space and Trouble Magazine; all of which have made an impact on Melbourne’s art scene in their first decade. Another milestone worth recording is that John Buckley Gallery closed at the end of this year.

Melbourne Art Fair 2014 at the Exhibition Building

Melbourne Art Fair 2014 at the Exhibition Building

Thank you to everyone around the world who has read and has subscribed to this blog. It has been a strange year for me as one of the least powerful people in the art world, an online art critic, an independent writer and researcher, a blogger. I have been trying to be more professional about this doing freelance writing for a number of publications. I have my ABN (Australian Business Number) number now. (See my About page for links to most of these publications and also a few of my oil paintings).

I have spent a lot of time in 2014 in the Melbourne’s Magistrates Court covering the Paul Yore case. I have been out of my depth and out of my areas of expertise but it was important to report on the events. (See my post Are You Experienced?) Although Yore was found not guilty and police were ordered to pay all legal costs it left me with this feeling of dread that this will repeat as Australian culture refuses to learn. That case along with so many other aspects of Australian culture, racism, crimes against humanity, lack of human rights, all make me pessimistic about the future.

Sally Field

Sally Fields installation at the Conspirators

It seemed as if some of the major themes of the year was exhibitions titled Wunderkammer and doing art with the idea of taxidermy. Amongst my favourite exhibition this year were the Conspirators curated by Carmen Reid, Performprint by Joel Gailer and Michael Meneghetti at the Meat Market, and In Your Dreams, curated by Edwina Bartlem and Victor Griss at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick.

For a summary of Melbourne’s street art in 2014 see my previous post.

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I would like to take a break, have some more time for reading, my own painting and just relax in the summer heat but as I contemplate a break I start to receive the first invites for exhibitions in the new year. Unlike previous years many Melbourne galleries aren’t closed for all of January, there is an opening at Kings ARI on the 9th of January. So I hesitate to forecast how long this break will be.

I am looking forward to 2015 as my book on Melbourne’s Sculptures is now planned to be released in April.

Cheers,

Mark

William Eicholtz, Courage, 2014

William Eicholtz, Courage, 2014


Readymade in 3 Minutes

I guess that Alan Adler retired this year. Alan Adler was the man who ran the photo booth business in Melbourne for forty years. His analogue black and white photo booths are no longer at Flinders Street Station.

Photobooth

In September 1925 in New York City on Broadway Anatol Josepho opened the first photo booth machine. (Näkki Goranin American Photo Booth (W.W. Norton & Company, 2008, New York). The photo booth was a common modern experience that inspired many people in the pre-digital world to play with portraying their identity.

My own relationship with photo booth goes back more than forty years. I was just two when I had my first photo taken in one. My parents took me to a department store in Canada and inside the automatic glass doors, next to the gum ball machines was a photo booth. It made a profound impression on my young mind. I thought: “Modern.  Everything done by machine.”

Since 1984 I have been working on a project using photo booth machines, documenting my life with a strip or two of black and white photos every year. It started fooling around in London; the machines were everywhere because a weekly tube pass required a photograph.

Mark Holsworth, 1984, London

Mark Holsworth, 1984, London

I was aware of the history of art and photo booths: the Surrealists, Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol.

Francis Bacon’s photo booth photos are reproduced in David Sylvester Interviews with Francis Bacon 1962-1979 (Oxford, 1980) (p.42).

In 1990 Warhol exhibited several hundred photo booth photos at the Robert Miller Gallery in New York. In a review of the exhibition Hilton Als wrote, “What these photographs do suggest is what gesticulating – smiling and relaxing – into the void looks like.” (Artforum March 1990)

Louis Nowra “Grins to silent screams: the influence of photo booths” Art and Australia V44 #1 2006

HatBagUmbrellaMark, 1991

I delighted the strip format, like a comic book panels, in the limitations and the errors made by the mechanical processing. What you can and can’t control. Curtain or no curtain? How do you dress and position your body with in the confines of the small booth.

The photo booth photo is always taken on the way to or from somewhere, it is a pause on a journey. You step out of the public space into a private booth, draw the curtain, insert your coins and pose for the photo before stepping out into public again to await the finished results three minutes later. I went to the photo booths at Flinders and Spencer Street Railway Stations to take photos on the way to friends, to Geelong, Bendigo.

1997

Now my project has come to its natural, or rather, technological end.

Lindy Percival reported on Adler and his photo booth machines two years ago in The Age.  Local artist Marty Damhuis has a blog, flyingtale about his photo booth work; I wish that I’d seen his and Nadine Allen exhibition of photo booth photos at Platform in August 2009. See photobooth.net for more about photo booths including some of the artists who have used them.

P.S. Actually the remaining black and white photo booth has simply moved a few metres further along Flinders Street station near the entrance to Platform 1.

Interior of Photo Booth at Flinders Street.

Interior of Photo Booth at Flinders Street.


Free Books

The little Free Library in Coburg is along the Upfield bike track between Reynard Street and Moreland Station. It is a very well done; a neat little red school house style with a pitched roof and glass doors

.Little Free Library

The setting is completed with a matching red seat, a sign and a small garden, wedged in between a fence and the bicycle track. Guerrilla street architecture is practical way to help the whole community; public seating may be a useful as free books.

The sign reads: Little Free Library – Borrow, donate or exchange – Have fun – In memory of David J. Cumming – “Uncle Dicky”

I’ve no idea who David J. Cumming was but the little library is fun tribute to his memory.

little free Library

The collective noun for books is a ‘library’ and, although the Little Free Library is not a circulating library that circulates its collection by lending books, nor a research library that holds a collection, it is still a library. It is a street distribution/exchange library, that informally distributes books between people privately without records. Imagine encountering a free library a couple hundred of years ago, or in a totalitarian regime, an anarchic intellectual paradise.

It is an interesting cultural note that books are becoming increasingly difficult to sell new or old. New forms of book swapping are emerging: Book Crossing, Book Mooch and Little Free Libraries. http://www.bookcrossing.com http://bookmooch.com http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_swapping

According to Little Free Library Map there are also ones in Seddon, Kingsville and Hawthorn, and Thornbury. I didn’t find the one that was, according to the map, on Kendall Street in Thornbury near the Merri Creek. I wasn’t surprised, I’m sure that some come and go without being recorded, like many things on the street. http://littlefreelibrary.org/ourmap/


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.


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.”

Ghostpatrol Barkely Square 9

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


Erehwyna Enruoblem

There is so much variety in the architecture of Melbourne, from the early colonial basic rectangular bluestone buildings to recent constructions. In one city block you might see half a dozen or more architectural styles. The mix of European and international style architecture means that Melbourne can look like any generic western city.

Something apocalyptic happening at State Parliament when used as a film location

Something apocalyptic happening at State Parliament when used as a film location

Melbourne does this in many b-grade films: Queen of the Damned, Ghost Rider, and I, Frankenstein, to name a few. In Queen of the Damned Melbourne is made to look like London, England, in Ghost Rider it is an American city and in I, Frankenstein it is a generic European city. None of these films are really worth watching unless you are interested in how bits of Melbourne can be cast in different roles; in I, Frankenstein the entrance of National Gallery of Victoria appears as that of the central train station.

The city has been spared major disasters, fires or earthquakes, that destroys the old architecture and consequently Melbourne’s architecture is a fascinating mix of styles from the colonial to the classical with all kinds of revivals, Gothic Revival, Venetian Revival, Spanish Revival, Romanesque Revival, etc. thrown in to this mix. Melbourne is a place where the king tide of the eclectic architectural revivals of the nineteenth century washed up. Moving into the twentieth century there are examples of early modern architectural styles: Arts and Craft, Art Nouveau and Art Deco before the International Modernist style made all cities look the same.

Spanish Revival in Sparta Place, Brunswick

Spanish Revival in Sparta Place, Brunswick

Rudyard Kipling remarked on visiting Melbourne: “This country is American, but remember it is a secondhand American, there is an American tone on the top of things, but it is not real. Dare say, by and bye, you will get a tone of your own. Still I like these American memories playing round your streets…The Americanism of this town with its square blocks and straight streets, strikes me much.” (Tim Flannery ed., The Birth of Melbourne, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2002, p.358)

Late nineteenth century Melbourne was frequently compared to American cities due to its cable car trams and grid of streets. Rudyard Kipling referred to Melbourne streets by their equivalent New York names: referring to Swanston Street as Fourteenth Street. Possibly Kipling made this comparison was also made because Melbourne was the about same age as many American cities like Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Australia has a very odd relationship to America. Australian’s fear their second hand American status, yet Australia loves America as a protector. Australia swapped its loyalties to England in July 1966 for going “all the way with LBJ” as PM Harold Holt remarked at the White House. Melbourne’s own relationship with the USA is even stranger; Terry the postman told me about a letter that he delivered addressed to “Melbourne, Victoria, America”.


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