The way that the city is used had changed fundamentally along with the way that people moved around in it. In the 1890s the Melbourne City Council did not provide any public seating in order to discourage loitering. A century later, in the 1990s the city council was adding even more flamboyant seating not just for tired pedestrians but also as decoration to the street.
There are sculptures that are intended to be used as seats like Edward Ginger’s “Echo” or the plinth of “The Children’s Tree” by Tom Bass. And there is seating as sculpture like he polished steel blobs like solidified solder on Collins Street, Matthew Harding’s Mercury Rising, 2008.
In 1992 the City of Yarra installed 3 mosaic benches by Giuseppe Roneri along Brunswick Street. There are two on the corner of Victoria Street and one on the corner of Westgarth Street. They also installed another bench near Leicester St. made of wood and iron cut in a floral pattern with the words “Shine On Me” in the centre of the back; the bench was made by M. Bronwyn Snow. These sculptural benches contributed to the street life.
In 1994, the City of Melbourne, followed the example of the City of Yarra, and added what was described in the design brief as “unique and distinctive forms of street seating” in the streets. They added Simon Perry’s “The Public Purse” to the Bourke Street Mall and another bench by M. Bronwyn Snow, “Resting Place” located near the corner of Swanston Walk and Little Lonsdale Street. Snow’s “Resting Place” is more elaborate than her earlier bench in Fitzroy. It is a double-sided bench of steel and jarrah with decorative iron supports featuring giant steel sunflowers and vines. Another piece of whimsy added to Swantson Street.
It could be worse, there is tiled red lips seat on Southbank – a kitsch copy of Dali’s May West sofa (which is actually the work of Barcelona architect and designer, Oscar Tusquets) – and another photo opportunities for tourists.
These seats confuse distinctions between public sculpture and architectural urban design. They raise the question of what is the use of sculpture? As a drinking fountain, a seat or a rubbish bin. The unofficial use of crevices in public sculpture as places to stuff rubbish. The hall through the middle of the Jason Waterhouse “Dwelling” in front of the Coburg Public Library is an official rubbish bin.
Walking around the city you might somewhere to sit. You might need a drink of water but drinking fountains are a whole other story. You might also need a toilet but as far as I know there isn’t an artist designed public toilet in Melbourne yet. There are plenty of unofficial artist, or architect designed rubbish bins, maybe future design briefs for public sculpture should include rubbish bins or ashtrays? The philistine inclusion of a practical use for a sculpture goes against the aesthete idea of art for arts sake. The political moderation of these two extreme positions creates these unique Melbourne seats.
(For more about this see my earlier blog post Moving & Sitting in the City.)