Tag Archives: Melbourne

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.


Street Up

First a few terms:

Fling-ups – shoes or other objects hung on overhead wires by flinging them up. (not to be confused with throw-ups) I have to say that I’ve seen some good one’s recently.

Fling-ups, Windsor

Fling-ups, Windsor

Fling-ups, Collingwood

Fling-ups, Collingwood

Paste-ups – paper printed or drawn pasted up on a wall. Known in North America as wheat-pasting due to the glue used.

Paste-up, Fitzroy

Paste-up, Fitzroy

Throw-ups – A rough outline of a piece in one or two colours, areas not filled in or only filled in roughly. Lush does a lot of throw-ups.

Lush Throw-ups, Brunswick

Lush Throw-ups, Brunswick

Up-Cycling – the downwardly mobile cousin of recycling, up-cycling is decorating discarded objects on the street, like drawing on a discarded lounge chair or mattress.

Kaff-eine up-cycling, Coburg

Kaff-eine up-cycling, Coburg

I could go on in the usual slag dictionary fashion but there is more to this than just new terms; there is an up side to mashing a patois dictionary.

“The words we call expressions of aesthetic judgment play a very complicated role, but a very definite role, in what we call a culture of a period. To describe their use or to describe what you mean by a cultured taste, you have to describe a culture. What we now call a cultured taste perhaps didn’t exist in the Middle Ages. An entirely different game is played in different ages.”

Wittgenstein #25 Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology & Religious Belief (Basil Blackwell, 1966,Oxford) (Alternative from James Taylor: “To describe a set of aesthetic rules fully means really to describe the culture of a period.”)

The word ‘up’ used in these expressions is revealing about graffiti and street art culture. Things are “up” in the street, even pin-up girls, for one-upmanship is its core. The aim of graffiti and street art is to be on the up and up amongst the graffiti and street art community; to be more prolific, to cover more walls, to be more notorious, to get more Facebook ‘Likes’, to do bigger pieces, higher up in the heavens.

Up on a train

Up on a train


Ghost Signs of Melbourne

New Theatre

On the corner of Flanigan Lane there is the hand painted sign stating: “New Theatre”. Jeff Sparrow and Jill Sparrow give a short history of the New Theatre in their book Radical Melbourne. The sign dates from around 1937 when the New Theatre occupied “an old tin-doffed loft above a dishes garage next to the Duke of Kent Hotel on La Trobe Street.” (Sparrow and Sparrow Radical Melbourne p.28). The New Theatre was established by the Communist Party in 1937 and  continued into the 1990s. The theatre at Flanigan Lane saw the first performance of Bertolt Brecht in Melbourne. In 1939 the theatre was declared unsafe and closed down but the sign remains on the stone wall.

There are plenty of other ghost signs in that small network of lanes but the new theatre was the only one that I researched. The interest in finding and photographing ghost signs grows. My own take on it is less about the hand painted signs and more about the history and culture that the sign represents.

Telephones

The “Do Not Spit” signs at Flinders Street Station tell of a past Melbourne with an expectorating population that had to be told not to. The metal “telephones” sign in the Degraves Street underpass points to a locked door behind which banks of telephone booths once stood before mobile phones made them obsolescent. The boomerang shaped sign from former Brunswick continental supermarket on Lygon Street and Australian identity; for more see Our Fading Past – Our History in Old Signs.  I have not been able to find out anything about the sign for Balkan Club in Melbourne, but there has always been a Balkan Club somewhere around the city.

Loucas & Christororou boomerang

I am suspicious of the ghost signs from around Chinatown like “Commit No Nuisance” Heffernan Lane in Chinatown. These signs looks too good, perhaps they were restored in an earlier revival of interest in ghost signs. I saw them listed as number 4 selfie spots in Melbourne.The aesthetic popularity of ghost signs is leading to some being purposely revealed, restored or rectified.

commit no Nusaince + paste-up

After the collectors, the fans and the academics, comes the photography exhibitions of ghost signs. Stephanie Stead’s “Signs of Our Times” at the City Library in July was the first of these that I’ve seen but I’m sure that there have been others. Stead’s silver gelatine prints are black and white except for the signs that have been hand coloured in oils. This old fashioned technique matches with the old signs producing beautiful nostalgic images.


Sublime to the Spooky

I saw a few exhibitions this week that ranged from the sublime to the spooky in some unusual locations and some of the usual locations.

Lucas Maddock, New Hypothetical Continents

Lucas Maddock, New Hypothetical Continents

Lucas Maddock’s New Hypothetical Continents is at Dome Gallery. Dome Gallery is at The Mission to Seafarers, one of the few old buildings in Docklands. Under the great domed space, the lights of Maddock’s new continent twinkle in the circular space. The continent’s scale matches the space and creates a beautiful spectacle in a location that resonates with sea transport. Maddock’s work references the modern fascination to discover or create a modern Atlantis. Maddock came public attention when he and Isaac Greener were part of the Melbourne Sculpture Prize in 2011 and his Apostle No.2 stood in Federation Square.

Like many people I went to see The Vivisector to see Andrew Delaney has sewn soft tissue sculptures; it was clearly a very popular little exhibition. It reminded me of soft versions of Damien Hirst, The Virgin Mother, 2005 as well as, what I know of the history of anatomical models. All the fabric hearts, arms and other body parts were very good and impressive but not brilliant. The work has a visual sensationalism with an instant appeal, of transferring anatomical models to fabric but after that what is left. It was a bit too slick, showing evidence of Delaney’s decade of work at Myer, as a visual merchandiser and stylist. It has a strange corny macabre aesthetic; the kind that does attractively present a fabric model of a foetus nestled in a broken down arm chair. I thought that the work looked better when I saw some of the work amidst all the clutter at his studio, Anno Domini Home at the back of Harold and Maude than in Edmund Pearce Gallery also on Level Two of the Nicholas Building.

Hidden Faces of the Archibald Exhibition, also known as ‘the Melbourne Salon de Refuses’, the best of the Victorian rejects from the Archibald Prize in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel. With the Archibald there are so many entries that these little side exhibitions have been going for decades, each with their own people’s choice prize. Looking at most of the portraits you can instantly see why they didn’t get into the Archibald: tired old techniques, awkward poses, really odd ideas (like, why is Ted Baillieu’s head on a tree?) or too obscure a subject for the Archibald’s idea of a notable Australian.

At Screen Space Patricia Piccinini Swell, 2000 made me feel slightly unbalanced watching the three screens of animated waves but I was more impressed with Leela Schauble’s Synthetic Species Motion Study No.7 because it was creepy and relevant to plastics in the ocean. However my preference for Schauble’s work may be influenced by the development of digital animation in the last 14 years.


West End Public Art

Melbourne’s west end is dominated by courts, the lawyers offices, the associated lunch and coffee places; it is not an area of the city that I regularly explore as both street art and art galleries are rare in the area. However, this year I have been in the area as I have been covering the Paul Yore trial. I did find some street art off Healeys Lane, a large stencil work by E.L.K. and some paste-ups by Sunfigo and there are a few public sculptures by Paul Montford, Andrew Rodgers, Tom Bass and Robert Juniper.

E.L.K., You are free...

E.L.K., You are free…

Flagstaff Gardens is like a suburban park in the city, the children’s playground, the adult’s playground (tennis courts and bowls), the residual base of small bandstand and the expanse of lawn. Its hill no longer affords much of a view but there is a Gothic revival sandstone obelisk monument to estimated six pioneers who were buried at its summit,  in 1871 the Department of Public Works then commissioned Samuel Craven, one of the stonemasons who campaigned for an eight hour day, to carve a memorial to mark the site of what was once called Burial Hill. Paul Montford’s bronze sculpture The Court Favourite stands further down the hill near the tennis courts.

Andrew Rodgers, City Living, 1996

Andrew Rogers, City Living, 1996

Andrew Rogers City Living, 1996 is a series of bronze figures of naked men, women and a baby rising up on hemisphere fans of bronze are up on a plinth. It is a kind of modern vision of escaping to an abstract spirit. Central Equity Homes commissioned the sculpture in June 1995 and donated it to the city in 1996. The sculpture is sort of hidden away a little way down Jeffcott Street; I saw it from the hill of Flagstaff Gardens.

Andrew Rogers, Rhythms of the Metropolis,

Andrew Rogers, Rhythms of the Metropolis,

There is another sculpture by Rogers nearby on the Queen and Lt. Bourke Streets, Rhythms of the Metropolis and more recent sculptures by him in the Docklands. Roger has a diverse sculptural practice from these modern bronzes to his gigantic dry stone wall land-art in desert locations around the world, his “geoglyphs”.

Tom Bass, Transportation, 1963-64

Tom Bass, Transportation, 1963-64

High on the wall of 160 Queen Street is Transportation 1963-64 by Sydney sculptor, Tom Bass. The figure with aeroplane wings stands in a boat triumphantly holds aloft a wheel, perhaps representing modern transportation. The form of the figure resembles a secular crucifix, this is modernism looking back to the ancient ways of representing ideas. In the niche beneath the sculpture is a small circle of benches and wheelchair ramp.

Robert Juniper, “Shadow Form III", 1988

Robert Juniper, “Shadow Form III”, 1988

BHP House at 140 William St. was constructed between 1967 – 1972 and added Robert Juniper’s Shadow Form III out the front in 1988. Shadow Form is steel simplified organic form, a clump of steel plants amidst the glass and steel canyons of Melbourne’s central business district. The steel sculpture is appropriate for a steel framed building and for the former headquarters of the steel producer. The plinth provides seating mostly used by office workers eating their lunch.

What once was the centre of the city in the colonial days when the city’s focus was on the port and there was a flagstaff in Flagstaff Gardens. Now the old colonial stone buildings like the Langdon Buildings from 1863 abut modern buildings of glass and steel. The life has been slowly drained from the area. Melbourne has since looked south, north and east and real estate agents describe the area as ‘on Melbourne’s doorstep’ in billboard advertising for empty office buildings. There is the city’s first cathedral, St. James from 1839 with it odd octagonal top to the spire, surrounded by an old iron fence (although it would be a mistake to image that this is its original location, it was moved there in 1913-14). Further down the road there are the three spires of the theatre restaurant, Witches in Britches.


Conspirators

“Noooo! I don’t want to leave.” said the little girl to her father and walked defiantly away to look at the bandaged baby carriage creature with its grinning teeth on the far side of the gallery. She didn’t want to be torn so quickly from this world of strange creatures, uncanny objects and compelling machines and went around the exhibition again to see her favourites.

Sally Field

Her father wasn’t insistent, everyone in the gallery could see her point, this is a fantastic exhibition that well deserves a second look. Curated by Carmen Reid, Conspirators is at the Yarra Gallery in Federation Square and is part of the Czech and Slovak Film Festival of Australia. I hadn’t been or heard of the Yarra Gallery before, it turns out it is the building opposite ACMI where most of the Czech and Slovak Film Festival is being held.

The exhibition is by local artists with a similar aesthetic to the work of Jan Švankmajer. In Švankmajer’s stop-motion animations, ordinary objects, often as simple as stones, clay or cutlery, are both transformed and allowed to remain as it is. The walls of the exhibition display panels about his films and career and that also serve as an indirect explanation of the exhibition. Švankmajer’s themes of puppets and fetish sculptures are reflected in the work of a over a dozen local artists.

Aly Aitken grinning creatures of bandages and leather, like a combination of Švankmajer’s Little Otik and Bacon’s Figures at the base of a Crucifixion. The clay manipulated by Duncan Freedman’s Love and other machines, reminding me of early Švankmajer animations, like Food. Freedman’s hand cranked machines making desperate sexual allusions in a purely mechanical manner. Nadia Mercuri’s work with glass and spoons reminding me of many animations of cutlery by Švankmajer.

The surreal appreciation of objects that gave material form to the surreal vision. Displaying the surreal aspect of objects as totem or taboo, repulsively and attractively physical. Sarah Field makes a lot of use of hair: a tea trolley of hair cakes, on a cow skin rug (I wonder what hair would taste like with chocolate and tea?), her long haired mop and bucket, The Aesthetics of Seduction and Disgust, and her long haired toothbrush.

James Cattell

There are many fantastic sculptures in this exhibition. From Robbie Rowlands wooden suitcase that has been cut in a precise way, making what was once firm flexible whereas Terry Williams and Jenny Bartholomew’s grotesque stuffed objected are flexible by nature. The high light of the exhibition has to be the complex and macabre automata machines of James Cattell, that have to be cranked to be fully appreciated.  In curator and artist, Carmen Reid’s, Dwelling machines, two objects are connected with wires, threads or chains. Bringing these artists together creates an exhibition that, like the sculptures in it, is much more than the sum of the parts.

Carmen Reid


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