On awkward location of the wide median strip in the middle of Russell St., between Bourke St. and Lt. Collins St., there are two mysterious sculptures. This wide median strip was originally the location of Melbourne’s first underground toilet (and first public toilet for women) opened 1902 and decommissioned in 1994. The median strip also incorporates the ventilation point for the decommissioned Telstra tunnels that run beneath Melbourne’s CBD.
The sculptures are Chris Reynolds, “A History apparatus – Vessel Craft & Beacon”, 1993 (installed 1994-5) a 24m. long series of aluminum and fiberglass forms, part of which is attached to some steel rails. And Maurie Hughes, “Ceremony and Vehicle for Conveying Spirit”, 1996, made from silicon, bronze, galvanized and mild steel. The two sculptures are separated by centre of the road car parking and some plane trees; so although Maurie Hughes’s sculpture was intended to refer to Reynolds’ sculpture the two do not appear connected. Both of the sculptures are composed of several parts as well as long titles. And they both have a strange functional appearance implied by their liner design along the median strip.
One reason for these odd sculptures can be explained in the process of commissioning the sculptures. Chris Reynolds “A History apparatus” was part of the National Metal Industry Sculpture Project, a sculpture-in-residency program. It was a collaborative effort between the artist and the Australian Metal Workers Union, Aerospace Technology of Australia and the City of Melbourne. Maurie Hughes’ sculpture was linked to the redevelopment of Telstra’s former Russell Street exchange and funded by Telstra and the City of Melbourne’s Urban & Public Art Program. It was commissioned with a brief to “incorporate the functional and visually meaningful elements of the vent”; the vent is part of a decommissioned Telstra tunnel.
Maurie Hughes’s “Ceremony and Vehicle for Conveying Spirit” has three elements: totem pillars, the chimney and a gate each with their own plinth. The wheels on the chimney and the smaller wheels on the base of the gate suggest movement but this sculpture is going nowhere. The chimney flue form is presumably above the old Telstra tunnel’s vent.
Chris Reynolds’s “A History apparatus – Vessel Craft & Beacon” feels disappointing as a sculpture; given the whole apparatus with the rails and vessels, you expect it to do more. The sculpture leaves me with a sense of disappointment and failure.
I have not been able to find anything more about these two artists. Like other artists who received commissions for public sculptures from the City of Melbourne their careers have not been notable.
The sculptures in the middle of Russell St. do not attract much close examination; their eccentric meanings appear impenetrable. Looking awkward and out of place they fail to give a sense of place, or excite the imagination. The problems with these sculpture stem from their location and commission before the two artists even started work.