Monthly Archives: September 2013

Meditation on Songlines

“Songlines” is an installation by visual artist Kallie Turner and composer Joel Ritchie at Tinning Street Presents. It is both simple and elegant. In the middle of the gallery sits a very large cone of iron oxide red powder with a woven bag suspended above it.

It is like Anish Kapoor meets aboriginal culture; the title, “songlines” refers to the Australian aboriginal tradition of mapping routes in songs. Perhaps the powder is red ochre, an earth pigment that is widely used by Australian aborigines in a variety of traditional practices including painting and decoration.

The cone of red powder is well lite in the blacked out gallery, the shadows of the cone and bag are projected onto the gallery wall. The colour and texture of the powder stands out in sharp contrast to the darkness.

Ritchie’s powerful soundtrack of rolling deep brass lines and taping sticks makes this installation a total sensory experience; all that was lacking was a smell. The soundtrack also invited the visitors to stay longer and meditate on the cone of ochre.

Kallie Turner is a local artist; I’ve seen her work before in MoreArts 2011 (see my blog post) and, like this time, it was an impressive work.

Impressive but nothing really new for contemporary art and the documentation describing it as “a meditation on the process of renewal, transition, and illusion of life, along with a poem on the room sheet instead of the usual documentation for an exhibition is a little overblown and over directed. The artists need to be more confident that their work can communicate more than words and the mystical is often ineffable.


Art Architecture @ fortyfivedownstairs

Stephen Nova “The Architectural Uncanny” and Dayne Trower “External Walls” at fortyfivedownstairs are two exhibitions that combine art and architecture. Art about architecture and architectural models as art are not unusual but that is because the subject is so important to us.

In the side gallery is Dayne Trower, a graduate of RMIT of Architectural Design, “External Walls”. “External Walls” is 24 almost identical plywood objects in wooden frames. I didn’t think at first that I would enjoy this minimalist work but Trower’s small models of external walls and stairs have methodical variations and alternatives to a defined site that work in a pleasing narrative sequence. “Put together as a whole, the sequence also presents an argument for an approach to architecture and a way of building.”

In the main gallery “The Architectural Uncanny” features five large works on paper in various media and seven large oil paintings on canvas by Stephen Nova.

The suburban house is a psychic icon, or as Nova describes them, in the title of one of his paintings, “The Memory Cathedral”. And Nova explores the inherent surrealism in these sombulist dormitory suburbs.

Nova depicts his architecture on a featureless tabletop or stage set, the atomistic nowhere of the suburbs. Combined with toys and other things Nova’s images are reassuring paintings of models of houses, often under construction and not inhabited. They are imaginary architectural models or architecture as child’s play.

The traditional imaginary home is surrounded by the white picket fence but what is underneath the artificial landscape of suburbia? Along with the comforting familiarity there is a threatening uncertain element to Nova’s images. In “House and Garden (See/Saw)” a diving board off the back porch leads to a trapeze bar, both suspended above a hedge maze. This hint of menace is part of the current tradition of the portrayals of uncanny suburbs.

(For more and photos of these two exhibitions see Habitus Living.)


Melbourne’s Favourite Drink

It gets hot in Melbourne, hot enough that the tar on the road bubbles and your eyes dry out. Walking around the city you need a drink and the all time favourite drink in Melbourne is water. With the ubiquitous bottled water you might think that there are no drinking fountains in Melbourne but there are drinking fountains all over the city, from the antique to the ultra modern.

The Duke & Duchess of York Memorial Drinking Fountain, 1901, corner of Elizabeth and Victoria St.

The Duke & Duchess of York Memorial Drinking Fountain, 1901, corner of Elizabeth and Victoria St.

I’ve been looking at Melbourne’s drinking fountains; researching the history of Melbourne’s drinking fountains, testing which ones are still working and surviving without a water bottle. There is more to it than taps and bubblers, there are decorative drinking fountains and strange organizations like the Independent Order of Rechabites and the Anti-Sweating Labour League of Victoria.

Since ancient times a city’s prestige has been measure by the quality of its public fountains. The fountains tell a history of the city.

In the 1850s the Melbourne City Council was loath to erect drinking fountains, as publicans dominated the council. The earliest drinking fountain in Melbourne is the Victoria Fountain, opened 9th August 1859. It was erected in the centre of Collins and Swanston St. surrounded by bluestone kerbing and iron railings and was used by both people and horses. In the 1860s the lamp pillars in the city had water taps and ladles. Horses had their own drinking troughs and there are still a few operating water troughs around the CBD.

Horse trough in Melbourne's CBD

Horse trough in Melbourne’s CBD

The earliest of Melbourne’s proper drinking fountain still in use is the 1876 Wilkinson Memorial Drinking Fountain at Nelson Place in Williamstown. It is a rare surviving example of an imported cast-iron ornate drinking fountain manufactured by Walter Macfarlane & Co of Glasgow.

Henderson Memorial Drinking Fountain, North Melbourne

Henderson Memorial Drinking Fountain, North Melbourne

The only other one other cast-iron drinking fountain known to still exist in Victoria is the Henderson Memorial Drinking Fountain in North Melbourne. It was presented by the former mayor Thomas Henderson and was originally sited at the intersection of Errol and Queensberry Streets. In 1889 it was moved to make way for the cable-tram tracks and it moved again in 1917 to the footpath. In 1972, a vehicle collided with the fountain, badly damaging its canopy. In 1973 it was moved to its current and safer location outside the North Melbourne Town Hall and in 2001 a duplicate of the canopy was added – including the small figure of a kangaroo.

Changes in Melbourne’s traffic have had a big impact on drinking fountains making them less ornate. The granite Thomas Ferguson Memorial Drinking Fountain from 1912 was originally six meters high and far more elaborate than it is now. It was erected “In recognition of faithful service rendered by Thomas Ferguson, Secretary Melbourne Total Abstinence Society 1868-1904”. It was located in the centre of Russell Street opposite the Temperance Hall but was badly damaged when a truck hit in 1947. It is now in a much reduced form and safe from traffic in the middle of University Square, Carlton.

Australians think of themselves as big drinkers and the impact of the temperance organizations on local politics have almost been forgotten. The memory of the Total Abstinence Society, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union of Victoria and the Independent Order of Rechabites survive in their drinking fountains. The Melbourne Temperance Society building is now a cocktail club.

The various temperance organizations erected many of the more elaborate drinking fountains in Melbourne. In 1901 The Women’s Christian Temperance Union of Victoria presented the Duke & Duchess of York with a Memorial Drinking Fountain, located in Victoria Square (corner of Elizabeth and Victoria St.) It is a stone drinking fountain enclosed by four turned marble pillars and granite canopy with painted gothic arches; on the top of the canopy there is a marble figure holding an anchor.

Detail Duke & Duchess of York  Memorial Drinking Fountain

Detail Duke & Duchess of York Memorial Drinking Fountain

Andrew Brown-May in his history of Melbourne Street Life notes “although the ‘decent working people’ formed a theoretical clientele in the minds of the temperance reformers, many of the taps were the favorite haunts of groups of boys.” (It makes you glad that children today have better things to do.)

Between 1901 and 1939 memorial drinking fountains were popular in Melbourne, There are various memorial drinking fountains erected for city councilors although many are no longer functional. On of the last of the memorial fountains is the 1937 Samuel Mauger Memorial Drinking Fountain on Victoria Parade (near the Eastern Hill Fire Station) in East Melbourne. Samuel Mauger was a former Post Master General, a founding member of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and the founder of the Anti-Sweating Labour League. The Anti-Sweating Labour League was not against perspiration, it campaigned for minimum wages and other working conditions in sweat shops.

Elaborate drinking fountains ended with the era of the temperance movements and the increase in traffic. Post-1930 the taste in memorials turned to memorial fountains or pools and drinking fountains became less ornate; just a masonry pedestals supporting a basin and a Danks bubbler tap. The occasional memorial drinking fountain are still being installed, like the one commemorating a popular black swan named ‘Cookie’, who lived in the Alexandra Gardens and was killed in 1973.

In 2007 Water campaigner, Patrick Jones raised the issue of a lack of drinking fountains in Melbourne again. This time the motivation was a green campaign against bottled water. Bottled water is basically pollution; transportation, packaging, disposal or recycling of water bottles all produces various types of pollution.

Drinking fountain in Collingwood

Drinking fountain in Collingwood

Good sense prevailed and new drinking water fountains were installed around Melbourne. In the Bourke St. Mall and elsewhere you can conveniently refill you bottle at a filtered water dispenser beside the drinking fountains. And the quality of the water is excellent although at Federation Square some fathead has left their McDonalds drink-cup on top of one of the drinking fountains.


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