Tag Archives: Southbank

Designland

Melbourne is becoming like Disneyland; years ago John Birmingham pointed this out in his book Dopeland. The spectacle of gas flares outside the casino, buskers, sidewalk artists and sculptures every 500m. I walk along it often; I like pedestrian spaces. I’ve enjoyed meals in the restaurants along it and taken visiting Canadian relatives to this attraction. I’ve also often thought about Birmingham’s “Disneyland” remark.

Following a design trend that has worked for many other cities, Melbourne has been rehabilitating its river and docklands areas. The banks of the Yarra River are a designer public space from Birrung Mar down to the Docklands. The designer city came to Melbourne with the arrival of the Casino and the transformation of Southbank. Melbourne’s rehabilitation through designed environments has extended further including the north bank of the river.

The rehabilitation of the Yarra River’s city foreshore has included a large number of public sculptures. What are these sculptures supposed to do in this designed urban environment? Architecturally the sculptures seem to function only as a way of breaking up the pedestrian spaces. Some sculptures became lost amongst the commercial frenzy of Southbank cafes (see by blog post: Ophelia will return).

Sometimes it is hard to determine in this designed environment what is a sculpture and what are sculptural architectural elements or a marketing design concept like the jocular three fins projecting from the river water or the fake half sunk ship outside of the Melbourne Aquarium. Or something else, entirely like the lighting design.

Some of the sculptures along the Yarra try to recreate a sense of history in a post-modern way while others are just sculptures in a modern sense, independent of history or reason. There is no consistency in taste or style for the sculpture; novelty is preferred in this environment.

Two of these sculptures, “The Travellers” and “Constellation” are about the variety people who have immigrated to Melbourne. “The Travellers” by Lebanese artist, Nadim Karan (on Sandridge Bridge across the Yarra River) and “Constellation” by Bruce Armstrong and Geoffrey Bartlett (between the King and Queen Street bridges). “Constellation” is five large figureheads reflect upon the ethnic and cultural diversity of Melbourne’s settlement. Not that most people would see this in the sculptures; they would merge into the overall design of the area.

Nadim Karan, “The Travellers”

Bruce Armstrong and Geoffrey Bartlett, “Constellation”

The shopping mall mentality of urban planning has created a spectacle that although it attempts some signs of authenticity, like the antiques on the wall of chain Irish pubs, only adds to the feeling of hyperreality. Even when the art attempts to connect to the past they only add to the feeling of hyperreality. Like the old anchors along the foreshore or the giant knot work anchor suspended over a plaza in outside the Docklands Stadium.

I like these many of the sculptures along the Yarra but is this Disneyland the right environment for them?


Ophelia will return

Ophelia hasn’t jumped in the river and drowned she has been removed for a full restoration and will be returning to Southgate in November. Not Hamlet’s Ophelia but Deborah Halpern’s “Ophelia”, 1992, the concrete and ceramic sculpture with the face that was named “the official face of Melbourne” by Tourism Victoria in 1996.

The familiarity of the city landscape comes with a kind of blinkers that limit the number of things that are seen. As we become so familiar with the landscape we forget the past. Change in the city is continuos and there is a kind of social amnesia that most of us suffer from. Most people, including myself, cannot remember/imagine the city without certain public sculptures and so assume that a particular sculpture has been there for far longer than it actually has.

Deborah Halpern, Ophelia, 1992, concrete and ceramic, crowded out by outdoor dinning.

In case you hadn’t noticed Deborah Halpern’s 1992 “Ophelia” has been removed from the Southgate Complex on Melbourne’s Southbank. Bear Brass bar and restaurant has taken over the location with more out door smoker’s sections, it had already crowded the sculpture out when I photographed it over a year ago.

“We have been working extensively with the artist, Deborah Halpern and look forward to welcoming her (Ophelia) back very soon.” Jo Gartner, Southgate’s Events and Marketing Manager told Black Mark. “When Ophelia returns she will be located on the promenade directly opposite our main entrance, creating a natural meeting place for Melburnians on the river, and providing a stronger visual connection with the artist’s other major work Angel in Birrarung Marr.”

This is the second of Halpern’s Melbourne sculptures to have been moved from its original iconic location to a riverside location. Halpern’s “Angel” has been moved from the NGV’s moat to its current location (see my post: More of Melbourne’s Public Sculpture). Halpern’s concrete and ceramic tile sculptures were colourful and popular Melbourne icons of the 1980s and 90s. Have they now fallen from favour as tastes change? Or does their new locations give them new life?

 


Nice Fans

“Who the hell’s this Margaret? Nice fans… more art…my shoes hurt. I shouldn’t have worn these shoes. Not today anyway.” I loved Oslo Davis artwork on the A4 card invite to “Margaret Seaworthy Gothic”. It is a great realist view of the gallery experience and the best exhibition invite that I’ve seen for ages.

“Margaret Seaworthy Gothic” is a group exhibition by five artists at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery at the Victorian College of the Arts.

Dane Mitchell’s signs made me pause before entering the gallery: “Do Not Enter” but rendered backwards. There wasn’t much else to see in the gallery, it looked almost empty apart from these signs… was the exhibition still being installed? Looking at the other side of the sign it was clear that this was art and not a prohibition. I explored further into the gallery.

A reporter once asked Salvador Dali; if the Prado was on fire and he could take one thing out of it, what would you take? “The air,” replied Dali. Nigel Lendon’s two fan works, “Maquettes for Invisible Sculptures” and “Untitled Invisible Work of Art”, play with the air in the gallery. Invisible unseen forces as a medium for sculpture sounds oxymoronic because how can you see them? You certainly notice Lendon’s sculptures when the motion sensors turn them on full force.

Andrew Liversidge’s molten form of one-dollar coins is a bit obvious. But it fitted in with the tone of the exhibition and the nickel, copper and aluminum alloy blob looked attractively golden on the gallery floor. Also a bit obvious are Colin Duncan’s black silhouettes of Duchamp’s “In Advance of A Broken Arm”, Brancusi’s “Endless Column” and Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty” – but that’s the point of them. It is a demonstration of how recognizable these icons of modern art that they can be evoked in a silhouette.

The exhibition is an anti-thesis to “New 11”, the current exhibition across the road at ACCA, with its focus on materiality. “Matter is not banished in the world, but it does take on spooky properties – its scale and identity having been permanently displaced by the network of communications within which it exists.” Matthew Shannon wrote on exhibition invite. Matthew Shannon is an artist worth keeping your eye on (see my review of one of his installations).

“Margaret Seaworthy Gothic” is a clever exhibition, perhaps too clever, conceptual and insubstantial for some people, but I enjoyed it. It doesn’t it take itself too seriously from Oslo Davis’s invitation to Matthew Shannon own comic about the artist talking to the white paint on a gallery wall.

Nice fans. I can’t see all the art in this gallery but it is still there. My shoes don’t hurt.


Busker Artists

There are a variety of types of busker artists: the street corner portraitists, the caricature artists, the chalk sidewalk artists, the guys making outer space scenes with aerosol spray cans (using the lids to stencil in planets). There are lots of these guys doing the same routine in all the cities around the world.

The sidewalks of Southbank in Melbourne are covered with the chalk of sidewalk artists. “Screevers can sometimes be called artists, sometimes not.” Wrote George Orwell; I re-read part of his book Down and Out in Paris and London to see what has changed in street art since the 1930s. Orwell classifies all street entertainers as “beggars” even the street acrobats. “As the law now stands, if you approach a stranger and ask him for twopence, he can call a policeman and get you seven days for begging. But if you make the air hideous by droning ‘Nearer, my God, to Thee’, or scrawl some chalk daubs on the pavement, or stand about with a tray of matches – in short make a nuisance of yourself – you are held to be following a legitimate trade and not begging.”

There are still the occasional street entertainers who are basically begging, like the guy on Swanston Street with his naïve drawings of buildings, but the majority of buskers and sidewalk artists are proficient and professional. Musicians with paid gigs later in the evening, magnificent chalk drawings (generally copies of old masters) on rolls of heavy paper taped to the sidewalk or little craft stalls full of bicycles made of twisted wire.

Living sculptures as a special type of mime busker artist. Their stiff painted clothes and painted skin. These buskers have been around in since the early 1990s. Maybe Gilbert and George, the living sculptures, and their “Underneath the Arches” performance in 1970, inspired the busker living sculptures (or was it the other way around?). Melbourne and Barcelona have the best living sculptures that I have seen. These artists really put effort into their costume and routine. In other places they are little more than begging with a mask and simple costume.

Living sculptures move in response to a coin being put into their tin. At other times they remain as still as a statue, in this way it has some relation to modelling for an artist. One of the best living sculptures that I have seen is Albert Stone. Albert Stone, as his name suggests, is a Magrittean stone man with platform incorporating roses.  The burgundy baroque lady in Melbourne is another living sculpture of exceptional detail. Perth artist Christian de Vietri has created a sculpture based on living sculptures. Her robot sculpture – “Tim” (2006, aluminium) is in GoMA’s collection. Robots are common image for living sculptures especially as they can combine simple light and sound effects in their costume.

Christian de Vietri - Tim (2006)

Street entertainment is now expected by public, and is licensed, or even funded by local councils. Buskers, sidewalk artists and living sculptures are part of life on Melbourne’s streets; there is more art on the streets than just graffiti. The change in street art may, in part, be due to the romantic focus that George Orwell and other writers placed on them, but there has also been a change in the culture of the street.


Graduate Exhibition @ VCA

The VCA School of Art Graduate Exhibition 2009 is huge. Space after space filled with art: video installations, sculpture, paintings, drawings, printmaking, installations and things that defied classification, but were called “spatial practice” on the invite. If you are going to see this exhibition, and it is worth seeing, then give yourself over an hour to see it all. It is at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery (named after the Margaret Lawrence Bequest who supported the exhibition); which is all of the studio and workshop spaces at the VCA turned into a gallery.

The entrance is at 40 Dodds St., Southbank, it looked like there was a cue to get in when I arrived shortly after 6pm. It must have been the biggest thing happening in Melbourne’s art scene on that a mild Monday night. There were two long bars in the courtyard with a DJ and hundreds of people. Free wine or buy Mountain Goat beer (a strange kind of sponsorship). Young men with haircuts from 80s new wave bands, fashionably dressed young women, the artists, their parents, their friends, etc. There were thousands of people at the opening doing the gallery shuffle and demonstrating their “spatial practice” by not bumping into people after a few glasses of free wine.

Carmen Reid had sent me an invite to the exhibition (I wrote about her June exhibition at Brunswick Arts ) and I was pleased that I could find her exhibits. Her latest works continue to be enjoyable, the accordion doors “(Fidget) Neither Here Nor There” is like Looney Toons architecture made real. Unfortunately I did not get to talk to Carmen – I think that she was cleaning up broken bits of glass from her work “Limbo” that had been damaged by crowds of people.

Seeing the opening was like stumbling into an art fair, overpowering and diluted at the same time. It was hard to take in all the art because:

a)     there were so many people at the opening

b)    there were so many works of art (the invitation said over 1,000 works and I believe it).

c)     there were so much variety of quality art

The list of “School of Art Awards” ran to two sheets of paper – not that there was any information about the various awards beside the award-winning work.

All the current contemporary art moves are on show, the heat from lights, video projectors, art stirring up dust, plants trying to survive an art installation and visual puns from desperate art students. Although there is likely to be one or two very successful artists amongst this year’s graduating class. This doesn’t mean that they are doing great work now or that all the work in this exhibition is great. Much of the art is going down the plughole. Clare Scalan was painting studio plugholes prognosticating a future for so much paint and artist’s careers. I overheard someone in the crowd saying: “90% of video artists are rubbish.” It is probably true of all the arts graduates.

Still there is plenty of art to enjoy at this exhibition; I liked Graham Brindely’s sculptures. They are elegant, they are like physics experiments and drawing in 3 dimensions. In Brindely’s “Gravities” a plumb bob hangs over a circular pile of black sand.


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