Category Archives: Public Sculpture

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


Federation Square & the Melbourne Prize

There is plenty to see and do in Federation Square; someone could probably write a blog and post nothing except all the stuff happening at Federation Square. There is a lot happening all the time both officially and unofficially: music, art, dance, food, videos and that is just what is happening outside.

Pop up Garden

I visited the Pop-up Patch, a vegetable garden in the middle of Melbourne in part of the disused carpark at the end of the Federation Square. There are patches used by restaurants and other people, including a planting of hops by Little Creatures brewery. It is a great little vegetable garden overlooking the Yarra River.

DSCF0364

I normally don’t write many blog posts about Federation Square, I spend more time on Sydney Road, Gertrude Street or Hosier Lane. This is more a case of overrated (and consequently over-reported) and underrated rather than an idea of an authentic Melbourne location. This week I have been exploring Federation Square, walking around looking at the finalists work in the Melbourne Prize for Urban Sculpture 2014. (See my post Installing Ursa Major.)

The six finalists for the Melbourne Prize for Urban Sculpture have work installed in Federation Square but don’t expect to see things of bronze, wood or stone on plinths. Juliana Engberg, Artistic Director of ACCA, said that the sculpture prize “reflects a shift in thinking, a long way from plonk space.” Another one of the prize judges, the sculptor Callum Morton, pointed out that the sculpture can be “propositional, monumental, performance based”.

Geoff Robinson, 15 locations/15 minutes/15 days

Geoff Robinson, 15 locations/15 minutes/15 days

Geoff Robinson was very happy to win Melbourne Prize; the $60,000 cash prize would make most artists very happy. His work 15 locations/15 minutes/15 days is a sonic sculptural event using the space and time of Federation Square. Robinson thanked the hundreds of volunteers who are ringing federation handbells, courtesy of Museum Victoria at the 15 locations each marked with a multi-coloured pole.

On the subject of sonic sculptural work, I have to mention the exhibition of The Instrument Builders Project (IBP) at NGV Studio. I love exhibitions of musical instruments, especially when I can use some of the instruments. IBP is an experimental collaborative project between Australian and Indonesian artists and musicians. It is also fantastic fun, with plenty of instruments that you could play on. Pedal power synthesisers, combinations between strings and percussions, foot pumped horns running on air power. Music as installations driving water and lights. There is a beauty in both the sculptural form of musical instruments along with the awareness of sonic potential in the object.

Back to the Melbourne Prize awards…

Kay Abude was completely surprised to win the $10,000 Professional Development Award. She had just been working in the Atrium, casting plaster ingots and painting them gold, before the Award presentation and was still wearing her work shirt and shorts. She didn’t think that she would win and hadn’t invited her parents.

Kay Abude, Piecework

Kay Abude, Piecework

Aleks Danko was the recipient of the Rural and Regional Development Award.

As I was leaving Federation Square on Thursday evening I saw a woman with a red plastic typewriter and a sign: “Free a Letter” sitting on the plastic grass. She was offering to type what you want to say. I wished that I could have found out more but I wanted to catch the 7:41 Upfield train and couldn’t hang around for another twenty minutes.

As I wrote at the start, there is plenty to see and do in Federation Square.


Installing Ursa Major

I was a bit too early on Monday morning for the Melbourne Prize for Urban Sculpture 2014 as some of the sculptures had not yet arrived. The information stands were up and installation was underway but for a while the only thing that I could of the finalist’s sculptures were Geoff Robinson’s coloured poles (“spatial markers”) that are part of his work, 15 locations/15 minutes/15 days. Then I saw parked on the Russell Street part of the square, where the tour buses pick up passengers a polar bear on the back of the truck and the name of business: J K Fasham Pty Ltd.

Louise Paramor Ursa Major

J K Fasham Pty Ltd in Clayton South is a firm that specialises in architectural metal fabrication, mostly windows and doors. They have also fabricated and installed sculptures for over four decades and have done work on public sculptures for Inge King, Anthony Pryor and Deborah Helpburn. Moving a large sculpture is an expensive operation it itself and can be a major item in the budget for a sculpture.

The polar bear was the most recognisable object in Louise Paramor’s Ursa Major, 2014, another one of the finalists in the Melbourne Prize. The sculpture is an assembly of unlikely objects, a chance encounter of the surreal kind in the warehouse that allows “industry, novelty and domesticity to collide”. The bear is seated on a stack of palettes, with a table balanced on its head and a slide on his back.

Considering the size of the plastic and fibreglass sculpture of the polar bear and objects and compared to some of the other sculptures that they have installed this was not going to be a demanding job. However, it was worth watching to observe a professional installation of a temporary public sculpture.

Louise Paramor Ursa Major unloading

The sculpture is installed in a little used part of Federation Square at the back of the Atrium overlooking the Yarra River. It was a precision operation carried out with care, attention to detail and professional experience. The sculpture was attached to the concrete base with long steel bolts.

It was installed by two men, a truck with a crane, a pallet jack and another small crane. The second crane was a fantastic little piece of machinery, with retractable bracing legs that lifted the single track vehicle off the ground. It was perfect for the small pedestrian space.

Installing Louise Paramor Ursa Major

Louise Paramor Ursa Major Fed Square

Everything went smoothly. Louise Paramor, the artist was watching and photographing the process.

“We can still move it, if you want.” I heard one of the men say to Louise.

In the end the biggest problem was where to put the laminated “Do Not Climb” sign and how to attach it. It was a problem for the artist and Melbourne Prize organiser, Simon Warrender; the two men from J K Fasham Pty Ltd were packing up the small crane and moving it back to their truck.

Louise Paramor Ursa Major installation finished

Louise Paramor with her Ursa Major

Louise Paramor with her Ursa Major


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?


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.


Writing about Justice

Getting back to my visit to William Eicholtz’s studio a couple of weeks ago. The reason for the visit was to talk with William about his relief sculpture of Justice on the County Court Building in Melbourne. I had neglected to mention it in my rough survey of public art in my blog post on Melbourne’s west end.

I realised that I had neglected to write about the history of these sculptural features of architecture in my upcoming book, Melbourne’s Sculptures. I realised that classical crests had continued into modernism, for example Norma Redpath’s Victoria Coat of Arms, 1968, on the outer wall of the NGV on St. Kilda Road or her Facade Relief, 1970-72, for the Victorian College of Pharmacy, and then into contemporary art with Eicholtz’s Lady of Justice, 2002. Did they deserve a separate thematic chapter? Are there that many of these crests or allegorical goddesses? It is the kind of panicked thoughts that an author has after completing a book.

I ended up selling that story to Justinian, I thought that the best audience for the story would be lawyers. I seem to be writing a lot about matters of law lately.

There has been news about the model for Eicholtz’s figure of Justice, Hannah Russell, the then president of the Life Models Society. Two days before I visited William the Bayside Leader had story about Russell having her nude photographs ban from a local art exhibition.  Such are the puritanical times that we have to live through.


Melbourne’s Steampunk Sculptures

Strangers to Melbourne might think that the intersection of Flinders and Spencer Streets would be a central location in the city and this is one reason why there are so many hotels in the area. In reality it is a largely ignored part of the city that locals rarely visit, however the character of the area is changing to include a steampunk elements. The retrospective science fiction of steampunk can easily be imagined in Melbourne where much of the nineteenth century infrastructure remains.

David Bell, Raising the Rattler Pole – The Last of the Connies, 2013

David Bell, Raising the Rattler Pole – The Last of the Connies, 2013

Creating a landmark for the corner of Spencer and Flinders Street is David Bell’s Raising the Rattler Pole – The Last of the Connies, 2013. The 1:1 scale classic W class tram in stands at ten degree angle exposing what the Bell calls it “‘steam punk’ underbelly”. (More on the tram in Daniel Bowen’s Diary of an Average Australian.)  Bell has made other public sculptures including the Nest, 2012 in the Darebin Parklands.

Russell Anderson, Apparatus for Transtemporal Occurrence of Impending Space, 2014

Russell Anderson, Apparatus for Transtemporal Occurrence of Impending Space, 2014

Russell Anderson’s Apparatus for Transtemporal Occurrence of Impending Space 2014 stands on the boardwalk behind the World Trade Centre. The bronze, brass, steel and copper pseudo-scientific time machine offers a view through a porthole of the future. Part of the equipment is functional; crank the handle and look through the viewer like an antique flip card viewer on a pier. Anderson is a Queensland artist who specialises in interactive kinetic sculptures.

Mega Fun, Metal Fish, 2006

Mega Fun, Metal Fish, 2006

Not exactly steampunk but close both aesthetically and geographically are the giant metal fish in Wharf Lane. The fish were created by Mega Fun for the 2006 Commonwealth Games floating parade on the Yarra River. The spectacle becomes permanent; there were originally 71 large artworks depicting fish, there is another ell, split in two at  Kensington Community Recreation Centre.

Steampunk is not simply a fashion or a fad, the subject of shows like the Clockwork Butterfly (see my review) and not permanent public sculptures. The terms fashion and fad have been over-used, abused and have been miss applied to alternate aesthetics, like steampunk. Chris Reynolds, A History apparatus – Vessel Craft & Beacon, 1993 could be considered a proto-steampunk sculpture. Installed 1994-5 it is a twenty-four metre long series of aluminium and fibreglass forms, part of which is attached to some steel rails in the middle of Russell St., between Bourke and Lt. Collins Streets.


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