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Monthly Archives: March 2014

Tram Conductor Performance

At the anti-EastWest Tunnel rally in Brunswick on Sunday there was a man in a Melbourne tram conductors uniform giving living-history performances with a political edge. The dream of better public transport in Melbourne was the positive agenda for the rally.

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Melbourne tram drivers no longer ride the trams selling tickets and helping passengers. They have been replaced by machines that are of little assistance to passengers, especially if they are tourists, the elderly, parents with small children, people unfamiliar with the route… grumble, grumble…

The tram conductor’s political street theatre engaged people in conversation about local history and politics. He even was of interest to small children. The tram conductor was from a performance group called The Connies, that is made up of former tram conductors. They advocate, amongst other environmental causes, the reintroduction of tram conductors.

Dressed up in the old uniform of a tram conductor complete with the leather ticket bag with its brass fittings, ticket punch and tickets (remember when a purple city section ticket was only 30c?). The ticket bag was complete with collectable cards of famous tram conductors: Joyce Barry, the first women tram driver in 1975 and Armand “Frenchie” Lefebvre, the performing tram conductor. Hole punched for authentication.

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The tangible element of the street theatre; the cards about the famous tram conductors and the old tickets made it a very genuine and engaging performance. Really attractive playing-card sized cards.

I walk home from the rally, thinking/dreaming about better public transport. On the subject of transport I find an automatic email that about my blog being quoted in Free Walks of Melbourne using our Trams.  Apparently my post provides a “The following link is a balanced overview of the village” (Pentridge Rehabilitated).

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Working on Melbourne’s Sculpture

I’m currently polishing the manuscript for my book Melbourne’s Sculpture – from the colonial to the ephemeral. It is due to be published by Melbourne Books later this year. Making sure that all my photos are labelled correctly, organising the bibliography and list of index terms is dull work. There has been some dull reading too; just be glad that I read some of those dull books so that you don’t have to.

Malfunction, Leopards, 2011, Fitzroy

Malfunction, Leopards, 2011, Fitzroy

It has not all been dull; I have been enjoying meeting sculptors and exploring the city to see new sculptures. Just working at my computer when I received a phone call from Bruce Armstrong in reply to an email that I’d sent about a month before through John Buckley Gallery who repents him. The email from Maurie Hughes came at just the right time as I was struggling to make sense of sculpture in the 1990s.

Bruce Armstrong, Two Persons Hugging, Footscray

Bruce Armstrong, Two Persons Hugging, Footscray

Some of the highlights have been enjoying great steaks and wine over a lunch with Lou Laumen at the Station Hotel in Footscray. Visiting Peter Corlett in his studio at the back of his beautiful garden and visiting Meridian Foundries with him. He gave me a little tour of the foundry and introducing me to Peter Morley and the workers.

I have not been stuck in front of the computer the whole time. I have been visiting new parts of the city in my search for significant public sculptures to photograph. I hadn’t been out to Footscray or Preston in years. I had never been out to see EastLink offices in Ringwood; the offices are a beautifully designed. EastLink was very helpful, allowing me to use their photographs of the sculptures for free and providing me with a folder of articles on them including one by Ken Scarlett that I was looking for.

Sometimes I have felt like a detective tracking down information from a scattering of clues. I had to make contact with some artists for copyright permission, sometimes anonymous street artists based on little more than a photograph or the initials GT. (I am still trying to get in touch with Mal Function.) Trying to locate George Allen’s Untitled, 1957 a couple of tons of rock that just disappeared. Discovering the lies that Charles Summers told to Governor Darling about the casting of the Burke and Wills Monument.

It has been fun having my ideas challenged and changed. Sculptors who are conservative artistically but a progressive politically. Large corporations are more progressive artistically than local governments. City governments are capable of planning and enacting long term. Enough to make my mind spin a couple of times.

I’ve had a lot of help from artists, academics and various test readers who volunteered to read my manuscript. I still have to polish the manuscript some more and check the acknowledgements section to make sure that I’ve got all the names right. I will be glad when I can hand the manuscript and photographs over to the publisher next Monday. Not that I will be finished with the book but it will mark another point in the process. (See my December post: Book Deal.) I still have to find an image for the front cover.

Culture Rubble, 1993 by Christine O’Loughlin

Culture Rubble, 1993 by Christine O’Loughlin


March Exhibition Reviews

For me the exhibition of the week was Concrete Poetry Now! at Melbourne City Library in Flinders Lane. This little group exhibition of visual poetry curated by Ashley J Higgs really spoke to me about what is art/poetry/music/photography. The poetry of life in letters/signs of all kinds. It is a fun and thought provoking growing exhibition that left me wanting more and made me aware of more.

I also saw the exhibitions at Blindside. Todd Johnson’s Evidence shows evidence of impacts on ordinary objects like the bonnet of a Holden. More taxidermy in art; this time a beautiful fox hanging from the ceiling (see my post Taxidermy & Contemporary Art). Did it impact with the Holden?

Also at Blindside, Kieran Stewart A Highly Unadvisable Undertaking is about his attempt to build a parachute. Stewart describes his art as incorporating “a wide range of construction and building techniques that are constantly developing as part of my multi-disciplinary arts practice.”

On the second floor of the Nicholas Building the two exhibitions at Edmund Pearce Gallery made me think about the staging of photographs; when and why a viewer might suspend their disbelief in the photographic evidence. Daniel Sponiar’s series of portraits of Melbourne chefs, Yes Chef! has many dramatic images that are obviously staged but that only adds to showing the character of the subject. However, in Rebecca Dagnall’s In Tenebris series of dark Australian gothic bush scenes the more that I noticed the staging the photograph the less convincing I found the photograph.

On the way to my train I had a brief look at Platform but found Andrea Eckersley’s painting too subtle for the space; a underpass is not conducive to contemplation. Maybe this might work at a gallery. Metro Gallery had an exhibition of paintings by Kathleen Kngale the soft and delicate colours in intense fields of dots almost completely cover the dark underpainting. Beautiful and relaxing like a soporific drug but they wouldn’t be effective in an underpass either.


Melbourne Future @ Brunswick Art Space

What ever happened to Troy Innocent? In the mid 1990s Troy Innocent’s computer art was the talk of the town, or at least amongst the people I was spending time with, Melbourne’s Clan Analogue and one of my housemates. His art was on the cover of World Art #12 magazine in 1997 and the article inside started by noting him as “one of the most acclaimed and internationally recognised artists working in his medium.”

I didn’t expect to find the answer at Brunswick Art Space but more on Troy Innocent later. I went to Brunswick Arts on Friday night to see the opening of two exhibitions; Melbourne Future and Metsä Pako that are both part of the Brunswick Music Festival. The converted factory space on Little Breeze street is now almost surrounded by new construction, except for the back of Alasya Restaurant.

Metsä Pako is an “immersive environment file with ambient, experimental sound”. It didn’t help that the neither pair of headphones were working and the ambient music from the two speakers could barely be heard. It wasn’t that immersive, just two video projectors and some clay leaves hanging from the ceiling.

It is hard to be that immersive when in the next room there is a virtual reality experience; Roger Essig’s North South East West that is far more spectacular especially as it was my first VR experience. Not that all of the art in Melbourne Future is all that great, some of it, like Essig’s virtual reality or Pierre Proske’s Voiceprint, voice activated custom software is still in a beta version. If the future was fully realised then it would present but the exhibits are fun and worth considering.

What is not a beta version but has been completely realised and looks and plays spectacularly is Benjamin Kolaitis and Troy Innocent’s interactive installation Play Parameters. The large sandbox on which the game is projected is surrounded by a wooden fence with wire stretched around it that the two players, in opposite corners tap on with metal bars. It is an amazing and fun creation… lights flash, the game is on… So this is what Troy Innocent is doing now, as well as, being the Senior Lecturer in Games and Interactivity in the Faculty of Life and Social Sciences at Swinburne University and represented by Hugo Michell Gallery in South Australia.

Melbourne Future is a reference to Melbourne Now at the NGV but it is not just a prediction about the future of art but also “borrowing from the successful format of the ‘Melbourne Now’ program we will be running a mix of exhibited works along with engaging the public with free talks and workshops.” (See their Facebook page for details on the talks and workshops, a must for all artists working with technology in Melbourne).

What the future of art will look and sound like? Will the future of art look like a computer game? Will we still even recognise it as art?


Sculpture @ Melbourne University

There is an expectation of sculptures adoring the university’s buildings and gardens and Melbourne University’s collection provides a unique view of the history of sculpture in Melbourne. (Macquarie University established a Sculpture Park in 1992.) The removal of the iron fence around the grounds in 19th Century meant that grounds of Melbourne University were open to the public. However, although the sculptures are on public display they are in the separate space of the university and have a different history to that of the Melbourne’s public sculptures. This is not a guide to Melbourne University’s sculpture for that see Lorinda Cramer and Lisa Sulivan’s Sculpture on Campus.

Culture Rubble, 1993 by Christine O’Loughlin

Culture Rubble, 1993 by Christine O’Loughlin

Sculptures at Melbourne University have accrued over time – there has been no over all plan.  Brian Lewis (Foundation Professor of Architecture, 1947– 1971) was described by Ray Marginson as “an outstandingly successful ‘magpie’.” (“Impecunious magpies, or how to adorn a university with little ready cash – Ray Marginson, interviewed by Robyn Sloggett” University of Melbourne Collections, Issue 7, December 2010 Dr Ray Marginson was Vice-Principal of the University of Melbourne from 1965 to 1988.) This magpie aspect to the collection ties in with the earlier trend of ‘façadism’, as well as, Melbourne University’s outstanding collection of modern sculptures.

‘Façadism’ at Melbourne University is a struggle to accrue identity in the post-colonial new world, a kind of antiquarianism on a gigantic scale. It is a local version of the American multi-millionaires who moved whole European palaces across the Atlantic to feel more in touch with history.

The redevelopment of the city brought sculptures to Melbourne University. In 1890 the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the USA acquired northwest corner of Collins and Elizabeth Street. When Whelan the Wrecker demolished the building in 1959 and the group of bronze statuary that topped the entrance portico was donated to the University of Melbourne.

The sculpture depicts a sandal-shod Amazon giving succour to a widow with two children. It was modelled and cast in Vienna in 1893 and is similar to the sculpture that once stood at Equitable’s New York office. It was originally located at its new Architecture school at Mt. Martha but was relocated to the main campus in 1981.

In 1966 Whelan the Wrecker’s work provided more sculptures for Melbourne University when the Union Bank was demolished. Two figures meant to represent Great Britain and Australia, also known as Ada and Elsie. (Robyn Annear, A City Lost & Found, Whelan the Wrecker’s Melbourne, 2006)

The gateway to the underground car park with figures by Percival Ball (1845-1900) was also saved from demolition.

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The early appearance of abstract modern sculptures on the Melbourne University campus demonstrates the progressive university community compared to the rest of Melbourne. Inga King and Norma Redpath played a more important part in introducing modernist sculpture to Melbourne than Ron Robertson-Swann regardless of the brouhaha over Vault.

Inge King, Sun Ribbon 1980-82

Inge King, Sun Ribbon 1980-82

In 1980 Inge King‘s Sun Ribbon replaced a pond on the Union Lawn; it was what the university students wanted (Marginson p. 28). The sculpture is the gift of Mrs Eileen Kaye Fox in 1982 in memory of her parents Ernest and Fannie Kaye. In 1985 a group of students covered the sculpture in aluminium foil. Also by King on the campus is “Upward Surge” 1974–75 Steel Commissioned 1974 for the Institute of Early Childhood Development, Kew and installed in its current location in 2001.

Norma Redpath, Flying capital, 1970-74

Norma Redpath, Flying capital – Sydney Dattilo Rubbo Memorial, 1970-74

The Sydney Dattilo Rubbo Memorial by Norma Redpath 1970 (signed 1969-70) is a bronze capital on top of a black steel column. Prof. Sydney Dattilo Rubbo (1911-69) was the professor of Microbiology from 1945-69. Leading post-war sculptor Norma Redpath 69-73 studied sculpture at RMIT, 1953 was part of the ‘Group Four’ with Inge King, Julius Kane and Clifford Last. Other public sculptures by Redpath in Melbourne, the Facade Relief (1970–1972) at Victoria College of Pharmacy and the Victoria Coats of Arms (1968) on the front of the Arts Centre of Victoria.

Although Melbourne University has an good collection of sculptures featuring works by many notable sculptors and with examples from many different eras of sculpture, it is a peculiar collection that often picks up what others were casting aside.


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