Tag Archives: aboriginal art

Public Sculpture @ Footscray

Working on my book on Melbourne’s public sculpture has given me an excellent excuse to explore Melbourne. In Footscray I wanted to see and photograph two public sculptures. Adding to my desire of explore the city was watching The Secret History Of Our Streets an excellent BBC Two production that introduced me to the work of Charles Booth (1840-1916), a pioneer sociologist mapping the streets of London. (There is an online archive of Charles Booth’s work.)

In the busy commercial centre of Footscray at the intersection of Nicholson and Hopkins Streets in the pedestrian mall. There was a gentle mist rising around the rocks of Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom. The fine spray of water at the base of the rocks is intended to represent the smoke in aboriginal ceremonies. The series of rocks helps define the intersection, adds to the pedestrian area and the rocks connects the place to earth.

Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom

Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom, detail

Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom, detail

Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom, detail

The sculpture is very recent but people are taking to it; it was hard to get a photograph without someone’s child or dog getting in the way.

Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom is a sculpture by Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins. Vicky Couzins is from the Western Districts of Victoria and is a descendant of the Gunditjmara and Kirrae Whurrong clans and she was one of the trio of artists that created with Birrarung Wilam at Birrarung Marr. Maree Clarke is from the Mutti Mutti, Wemba Wemba and Yorta Yorta; she was one of the many indigenous artists involved with Scar – A Stolen Vision in Enterprise Park along the Yarra. (For more about Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom.)

Looking for Bruce Armstrong sculpture, Two People Hugging I found myself in a well designed neighbourhood of mostly public housing. The traffic of busy Moore St was gone; the pavement changed to pavers rather than concrete and even the sound of my footsteps changed. There were several small squares (sunburnt from the recent heatwave – I hope the trees grow in) in the area and public seating.

Bruce Armstrong, Two Persons Hugging

Bruce Armstrong, Two Persons Hugging

Two Persons Hugging located in a square midway down Vipont Street, a quiet street; you wouldn’t know that it was there unless you were a local. This square at the start of a series of stepped parks and playgrounds that lead down to the parklands along the Maribyrnong River.

Two Persons Hugging is an early work by Armstrong; I haven’t been able to find an exact date. The monumental carved wood is solid and the two persons are inseparable and awesome. The wide plinth at the base of the sculpture adds to the seating options in the square.

Bruce Armstrong was born in Melbourne in 1957 and after he graduated from RMIT in 1981 his sculptures are influenced by many mythologies creating archetypal beasts. Along with being represented in major art galleries and international collections Armstrong has public sculptures in several other Melbourne’s suburbs including Moonee Valley, Ascot Vale and Chadstone Shopping Centre.

The position of both of these sculptures, in their different parts of the suburb makes them landmarks for that small area, defining the way that people see, move and talk about the place. These two sculptures might only get a small mention in my book amongst the other work their sculptors have done but I’m glad that I took the time to see them and how they work with their locations.

The centre of Melbourne’s art scene will continue to move slowly counter clockwise around the centre of the city towards the western suburbs. It had already moved through St. Kilda and Prahran by the 1970s and was moving up to Fitzroy by the 1980s. Look out Footscray.


Birrarung Wilam and other public art

The aboriginal population of this area didn’t have a say in the establishment of Melbourne. They were dispossessed, their land was declared empty and unowned and Australian law legally reduced them to being part of the fauna and flora. Consequently they rarely figure in Melbourne’s public sculpture, they were not part of the collective consciousness of Melbourne for most of its history. They were being officially ignored and neglected.

Ray Thomas and Megan Evans, “Another View Walking Trail”, 1995

Ray Thomas and Megan Evans, “Another View Walking Trail”, 1995

Australian aborigines briefly appear on the bas-reliefs on the Burke and Wills Monument by Charles Summers. The story of the expedition is told in four low relief panels around the base of the statue. Burke and Wills were unwilling to deal the local aboriginal people, the sole survivor John King was help by the Yandruwandha people and lived with them until found by the rescue mission. To prepare the panels Summers lived for six weeks with local aborigines to design the figures on the lower panel and depicts them as dignified, well-proportioned people.

This is the first time that aboriginal figures appear in the history of Melbourne’s sculpture. After that public art representing Melbourne’s aboriginal population vanished. For over a century Aboriginal art and identity was official ignored. In the last twenty years it has slowly changed and there is public art representing Melbourne’s aboriginal population by indigenous artists.

Birrarung Wilam  shields

Birrarung Wilam shields

Amongst the new aboriginal art along the Yarra River in Burrung Marr there is Birrarung Wilam (meaning river camp) by Vicki Couzens, Lee Darroch and Treahna Hamm.

Made of stone, wood, stainless steel, bronze, nickel and audio installation, 2006, this is a complex installation with many elements. The twisting, textured eel path represents a major food source, the feminine mound “camp site” and the masculine the five metal shields along the riverfront. Marking the site’s eastern and western ends stand intricately carved hardwood message sticks representing the Wurundjeri/woi wurrung and Boonwerrung people of the Kulin Nation. The metal shields represent the five clans of the Kulin Nation.

Birrarung Wilam by Vicki Couzens, Lee Darroch and Treahna Hamm

Birrarung Wilam by Vicki Couzens, Lee Darroch and Treahna Hamm

Birrarung Wilam detail of rocks in performance area.

Birrarung Wilam detail of rocks in performance area.

The performance space is magnificent even remembering that the stones were moved by machines and not by hand while remembering that these ancient British monuments are themselves reconstructions. The best part the ancestral stones the petroglyphs of animals carved on the stones. The monolithic carved ancestor stones are placed to form a semi-circular performance area. Unfortunately they are sort of hidden behind ArtPlay, the children’s arts centre next to a playground.

Birrarung Wilam may be a very large and complex work but it is still dwarfed by the scale of this riverside park. There is room for an entire north bank of the Yarra River and meeting up with the carved poles of Scar – a Stolen Vision (see my post).

Indigenous artist were also represented in 2011 the Laneways Commissions with an all indigenous year that included Reko Rennie Neon Natives, a neon light display, Yhonnie Scarce’s Iron Cross in Brien Lane, Melbourne: Two Worlds a painting by the Wurundjeri Council: Judy Nicholson, James McFayden, Asley Firebrace-Kerr and Derek Smith is still up on a wall off Burke Street, and Urban Doolagahl by Steaphan Paton. Very few people in Melbourne would have heard of the Doolagahl before Steaphan Paton introduced them by his retelling of the story in an urban context revives an ancient tradition.

Melbourne: Two Worlds a painting by the Wurundjeri Council

Melbourne: Two Worlds a painting by the Wurundjeri Council, off Burke St.

This public art publicly acknowledges the existences of Aboriginal Australia in Melbourne’s collective consciousness.


Seven Exhibitions

The weather was perfect for a bicycle ride to Melbourne University today; I had various reasons to go including having another look at the sculptures on campus for a future blog post. I also saw a couple of galleries on the campus, the George Paton Gallery and Ian Potter Museum of Art and on the way back I stopped in to have a look at Brunswick Arts Space.

I thought that I might give George Paton Gallery a miss because the exhibition “Make it New” was just a student union photography competition and exhibition but as I was passing by the Melbourne Student Union building I felt that this reason was snobbish. I was glad that I saw the exhibition, the variety and quality was impressive; I had seen some of the photographs before in other exhibitions.

Ian Potter Museum had three exhibitions: Heat in the eyes, Colour Me Dead and Under the Sun.

“Heat in the eyes: new acquisitions 2010–13” has more than fifty works recently acquired through purchase and donation. This included works by some familiar names: Jenny Watson, Mike Kelly and Peter Tyndall. Trevor Nickolls’ exuberant painting “Gertrude Street, Fitzroy” is definitely worth acquiring for so many reasons.

“Under the sun” is exhibition for the Kate Challis RAKA Award 2013 is an annual award for Indigenous creative artists. The $25,000 award winner is Mabel Juli for her minimal painting “Garnkeny Ngarranggarni (Moon Dreaming)”. The artists on exhibition are Teresa Baker, Daniel Boyd, Hector Burton, Timothy Cook, Mabel Juli, Kunmarnanya Mitchell, Alick Tipoti, Garawan Wanambi and Regina Wilson. I was taking note on the fibreglass resin masks by Alick Tipoti from the Torres Strait Islands, Hector Burton’s paintings of the trees around the waterhole with their fantastic colours, and the woven patterns in Garawan Wanambi (NT) paintings when my pen ran out of ink and so did my notes at this point.

Philip Brophy’s exhibition “Colour Me Dead” is about “changing perceptions of the nude in art from Neoclassicism and Romanticism”. It sounds more like an art history thesis than an art exhibition but Brophy has created an attractive and clever multi-media exhibition from his research. There is a movie, works on paper, digital art, sounds, lights and plenty to cogitate on. And here was I with out a functioning pen.

On my ride back I looked at the graffiti covered Upfield bike track (more research for future blog posts) and I stopped at Brunswick Arts Space. Where there were three good exhibitions. “I need a life, where can I download one? A drawing investigation by Alice Alva” fills two walls with drawings of debatable quality in a Barry McGee style hanging. Jess Kelly’s “Photosynthesis” has alchemical jars and life-size paper cut-outs of the lamppost growing leaves evoking a mysterious atmosphere. And Andy Robertson’s “Works, 2012” took a wry look at the documentation of contemporary art.


The Intervention @ Counihan

Jason Wing’s “Intervention: Criminal” speaks powerfully. It is a giant paste-up photocopy of a photo of himself with the words “An Australian Government Initiative: Criminal” on a sign hung around his neck. The image has all the sympathy of a mugshot. In 2007 by act of federal legislation the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) legislation better known as “the intervention” removed the rights of the Aboriginal population in the NT. The Australian government gains political power by marginalizing and criminalizing minority groups.

Jason Wing’s image is the centre-piece image of the exhibition “Ghost Citizens: witnessing the intervention” at the Counihan Gallery and features on the exhibition flyer. (In 2009 I wrote about Jason Wing’s first solo exhibition of  in this blog.)

My favorite images from the exhibition are Chips Mackinolty’s digital prints “National Emergency Next 1,347,525km” “…and there will be no dancing”; signpost the incredibly vast territory that as an emergency is absurd. I had seen Bindi Cole’s work at the NGV’s Studio space last year but her series of photos are well worth another look to see the absurdity of the idea of the standard image of aboriginal Australia.

The paintings of Dan Jones, Kylie Kemarre, Sally M. Mulda and Amy Napurulla provide a colorful accompaniment to the other works and the bleak subject of the exhibition. Fiona MacDonald’s woven archival print of the landscape of James Cook Island at Sylvania Waters in NSW provides the contrast and made me question who is need of an intervention. There is so much balance in this exhibition between the works of 8 Aboriginal and 5 non-Indigenous artists.

The excellent curatorial skills of Jo Holder and Djon Mundine OAM make this exhibition a powerful experience. The Counihan Gallery has done another great job at bringing together art and politics in this exhibition, a feature of their program this year.

The subject of the exhibition is extraordinarily important to Australia’s culture and its claim to be a civilized nation. Considering the up-coming federal election everyone should make an effort least see this exhibition and try to understand what is happening with the “Basic Card”, the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act in the NT and the “intervention”.


Brunswick Galleries by Bike

Black Dot Gallery – Brunswick Art Space – Tinning Street presents…

This week I’ve been riding my bike to a few galleries in Brunswick. It was fun to ride my bike to the Counihan Gallery last Sunday (see my review January @ Counihan). It is much better than using public transport to get to a gallery. Plus I got to see all of the graff along the Upfield bike path and around Brunswick. Lush has been bombing so many of his cats along the line. There were half a dozen people painting along the bike path on Sunday – they were only up to the outlines and blocking in – so there will be new pieces to see next time I ride that way.

Lush, Brunswick

Lush, Brunswick

I hadn’t been to Black Dot Gallery in Brunswick East before. There is a gift shop/office space in the front and then a separate long room with a wood floor, white walls and track lighting. Black Dot Gallery is an aboriginal artist-run gallery space with a regular program of exhibitions.

Their current exhibition “Dandy Boy” is part of the Midsumma festival’s visual arts program. It is a group exhibition so the quality of the work varies. I was impressed by Cecilia Kavara’s “Identity Negative’ a 9 min projection of a high contrast image of Kavara removing white tape that covers her body, slowly disappearing, right until the final moment when she walks off with a few scraps of tape still on her.

On Friday night there were two exhibition openings in Brunswick and at each all the poles around both of the galleries had bicycles chained to them.

At Brunswick Art Space, there was “Entry”, the 8th annual Brunswick Art Space Contemporary Art Prize. With 91 works on exhibition there was a lot to look at and some obvious trends. Art with text was a major feature of many of the better works, like Lesley O’Gorman “No Shoes” but art text has been a trend for a century. There was also a lot of good art that was raw, brutal and rough; the best of these was Courtney Wills “Internal Series: ILEUM”, a lumpy chunk of wax that was slowly bleeding something sticky and red onto its elegant glass and steel plinth.

Belinda Wiltshire "Bask" 1985 & 2013 at Tinning Street presents...

Belinda Wiltshire “Bask” 1985 & 2013 at Tinning Street presents…

Tinning Street Presents… had “Your Old Self” an exhibition of artists reinterpreting an artwork from their childhood. It is an excellent theme for an exhibition, the artist’s childhood artwork and a current artwork united in painted circles on the gallery’s wall. It takes Picasso’s remarks about painting like a child to a new level. The exhibition included works by notable artists Sam Leach and Shaun Tan. Tan did a painting based on a childhood drawing “Fighting a Monster”.

I was riding my bicycle because I’m tired of public transport as a way of getting to see galleries. Myki is getting me down (my card has broken down twice) on top of the decades of neglect and poor service; Melbourne public transport is simply not good value for money. So I’m going to try to see more local galleries for a while. I still haven’t been to Ceres small works gallery Synergy Gallery @ The Red Train. Last month I rode my bicycle to the Library Gallery; I missed the Ros Bandt performances but saw the installation of her instruments. There are plenty of galleries within easy riding distance from my house and when I get my fitness level up there will be more.


Melbourne’s Footpath Decorations

I’ve been doing a lot more walking recently, as if I didn’t do enough walking already. When I’ve been walking I’ve been looking down at the footpath decorations. There are so many of them in Melbourne’s footpaths marking trails – Melbourne’s golden mile or something or how far out pavement dinning can extend. But I’ll concentrate on the ones with artist intentions.

In the 1990s the Melbourne City Council (MCC) has installed pavement markers that are part of various walks around the city, for example, “Another View Walking Trail”. Created in 1995 by Ray Thomas (Gunnai tribe Gippsland Victoria), and Megan Evans, in collaboration with Aboriginal researcher/ writer Robert Mate (Woorabinda/ Berigaba tribe Queensland). The trail includes red granite and brass pavement inlays by Ray Thomas and Megan Evans.

Ray Thomas and Megan Evans, “Another View Walking Trail”, 1995

Ray Thomas and Megan Evans, “Another View Walking Trail”, 1995

There is “People’s Path”, 1978-1979, in the Fitzroy Gardens, created by co-ordinating artist, Ian Sprague and participants from the public. The “People’s Path” is made of terra-cotta bricks designed individually by community participants, including myself when I was on a school excursion. Not that this gives me any kind of sentimental attachment to any of the bricks, as I have no memory of the impersonal decorative design that I created that day. Do these community projects, especially in a city like Melbourne with a large population create any sense of identity? As a path, the “People’s Path” goes nowhere, round in a big circle.

There are brass pavement inlays outside of the front of the Melbourne Town Hall and a little bit further up Swanston is Robert Jacks graffiti inspired “Personal Islands”, 1992, in brass and bluestone.

Brass ticket outside Brunswick Town Hall

Brass ticket outside Brunswick Town Hall

Footpath decorations can also be found in the suburbs, there are brass pavement inlays outside the front of the Brunswick Town Hall. The brass inlays survive much better than pavement mosaics, the ones along Brunswick St in Fitzroy have deteriorated; I don’t know how the Hotham Hill Pavement Inlay by Bernice McPherson from1995 has faired (it is located on the corner of Buncle St and Catyre Cr in North Melbourne).

Deteriorated mosaic in Fitzroy

Deteriorated mosaic in Fitzroy

Although Melbourne has many footpath decorations and a great street art scene writing/tagging in wet cement has not become a street art form. I have never seen anything in sidewalk concrete that could be called art, no matter how broadly you want to apply the term. It is the most basic of text and slogans. Scratching into wet cement is a largely an opportunistic act. (The character of Wanda from the Canadian sit-com Corner Gas is a serial wet concrete graffiti writer, see Season 5, Episode 16 “Coming Distractions”.) See also my post Maps &  Trails about trails of street art.


Gertrude St. Culture

There are many art galleries (a few years ago there were 7, hence the name of Seventh Gallery), art supplies, bookshops, boutiques, cafes, restaurants and antique shops spreading along the street. Rose Chong Costume Hire has extravagant window displays and Arcadia Café has exhibitions on their walls. Most of the activity is concentrated in a few blocks north between Smith St. and Brunswick St. is a microenvironment of greater cultural significance than its size.

Seventh Gallery, Gertrude Street

At the corner of Brunswick St. the housing commission flats start, part of a slum reclamation by the state government, at Gertrude St. The high-rise housing commission flats have not been as successful as the gentrification that the arts brought to the area. Here, as elsewhere in Fitzroy, there is a slow gentrification going on.

Life, like the numerous pubs along Gertrude St. ranges from down-and-out to up-market. The two sides of the street are distinguished by housing commission flats on one side and on the other, rows of 19th and early 20thcentury shops, post office and pubs. Preserving the turn of the 19th century buildings with their eclectic style architecture are a mix of charities and boutiques continues west. The gentrified area is slowly spreading – initially from the Collingwood end – oddly creating a quiet area closer to the city. It started from Australian Print Workshop established in 1981 and a cluster of galleries around the corner on Smith Street that moved the focus to this end of the street. Darren Knight Gallery, now located in Sydney, was originally just around the corner on Smith St. along with Australia Galleries. Back in the 1980s the sculptors Geoffrey Bartlett, Augustine Dall’Ava and Anthony Pryor shared a studio on Gertrude Street.

Australian Print Workshop, Gertrude Street

Gertrude St. is the one place in Melbourne where there is a strong Koori presence. The old Post Office building on Gertrude St. that was once painted the yellow, red and black of the Aborigine flag has been painted white and turned into a restaurant. On the corner of Gertrude and George Streets three thin bronze figures with aboriginal motifs on their torso stand. They are  “Delkuk Spirits”, 2002, by Kelly Koumalatsos, a Wergaia/Wamba Wamba woman from the northwest of Victoria and a graduate of RMIT.

Kelly Koumalatsos, Delkuk Spirits, 2002, bronze

On Lt. Napier Street, the laneway next to the old post office, there was some Koori street art by the Bellamah Tribe in 2006: the use of ochre colours, images of goannas, lines and track marks set this wall apart. There were great sprays of paint, black brush marks and tags. It has since been covered up with other pieces since. The Bellamah Tribe wall was an impressive and distinctive and I hoped to see more of the Koori street art but apart from Reko Rennie, that has yet to come. In 2012 the AWOL crew did do a tribute the original owners of this land, who were never asked permission to construct Fitzroy and Collingwood.

AWOL Gertrude Street

I always see something interesting on my walks along Gertrude Street; what was the most interesting thing that you saw there last?


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