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Monthly Archives: May 2015

Colours of Coburg

I was in Coburg going from the library to the deli to do my shopping when I encountered Ria Green and Aliça Bryson-Haynes applying gold leaf to a telephone junction tube. Green and Bryson-Haynes were wearing matching tops in a gold fabric. As well as applying gold leaf to the normally grey utilitarian telephone junction they were also applying gold leaf to other functional and non-functional items along Sydney Road in Coburg. Green and Bryson-Haynes were also conducting a survey about the colours and styles that we wanted to see more of in Coburg.

Ria Green and Aliça Bryson-Haynes, Colours of Coburg

Encountering the object covered in gold leaf made me question if I could remember it before this transformation. I must have walked passed it thousands of times but this was the first time that I actually saw it. The gold leaf was a continuation of Ria Green and Aliça Bryson-Haynes earlier work, Everyday Monument in MoreArts 2014. That time a nineteenth century iron lamp post outside the Brunswick Town Hall is covered in gold leaf.

Ria Green and Aliça Bryson Haynes, Everyday Monument, 2014

Ria Green and Aliça Bryson Haynes, Everyday Monument, 2014

The gold leaf application reminded me of Bianca Faye and Tim Spicer’s Welcome to Cocker Alley. Welcome to Cocker Alley part of the City of Melbourne’s Laneways Commissions 2008 where gold leaf was applied to the external pipes of the Nicholas Building in Cocker Alley. In both urban interventions the gold leaf was applied to remind Melbourne that it was the gateway to the Victorian gold fields. Likewise the shops along Sydney Road grew with the gold rush.

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It was part of Colours of Coburg, “an initiative by”/“collaboration” (?) with the Coburg Traders Association. There was some idea to identify ‘what colour or colours are Coburg?’ but really to create some atmosphere for the trading strip. It appears, from their Facebook page, that the choir that was singing softly in the Victoria Street Mall was also part of Colours of Coburg.

Coburg traders have been trying to create some atmosphere for the shopping strip over fifty years. At least this interactive urban intervention is more tasteful than being the location for Victoria’s first go-go dance marathon, won by 15 year old Sue Grewar in November 1966.

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Scartato, the Ultimate Trashman

A human rubbish pile slowly walks through the outer suburban landscape of Melbourne, Australia. It is Scartato by artist Michael Meneghetti, a performance work that blends environmental issues with endurance, psychogeography and body art. ‘Scartato’ means ‘discarded’ in Italian.

Michael Meneghetti, Scartato (photo by Melissa Edwards)

Michael Meneghetti, Scartato (photo by Melissa Edwards)

Meneghetti is a hard working Australian performance artist. He creates works that require endurance and extreme physical activity. His performances sculptural qualities of altering his figure and the way he moves through an environment with stilts or by carrying heavy things like wooden stocks or a large BBQ, see my post on Performprint.

Scartato was a physical challenge to see how much rubbish he could find and he attach to his body before he couldn’t move. To start in a normal human form that grows larger and is slowly transformed and obscured by rubbish. Each piece of rubbish was attached to his body with packing tape as he “gradually transforming into a human monument of litter.” Michael Meneghetti explained, “Collecting rubbish with packing tape felt very innate somehow. Packing tape is a very playful medium, I especially enjoy the sound it makes.”

I ask Meneghetti how he become interested in ‘fly-tipping’ (illegal rubbish dumping)?

“I have always been fascinated and repulsed by our pollution, especially the kind people make when dumping on the fly. The project really started when I took a series of photos of my Uncle’s piles of rubbish a few years ago, then as I began travelling I started thinking about the kind of art I could make on the road.”

Over six hours Meneghetti collected close to two cubic metres of discarded materials. The rubbish weighed around 80 kilograms (176 pounds) in total very close to his own bodyweight. “I was a little shocked how much rubbish is around.”

I had to ask if he had encountered any mattresses, or larger items?

“Surprisingly I did not, I found a few strange things, but plastic drink bottles and junk food wrappers are probably the most common items discard onto the street. Every piece of junk has a story.”

And what was the strangest object that you found while doing Scartato?

“I found lingerie, a telephone, a dead dog, a wig, christmas decorations, nothing overly wacky, it was all rather conservative trash.”

(photo by Melissa Edwards)

(photo by Melissa Edwards)

Scartato was divided into three, two hours expeditions exploring his local neighbourhood. I asked Meneghetti what he did to prepare?

“Warm-up stretches were perhaps the most important steps to prepare for this performance.” Meneghetti’s path was determined by the rubbish he knew about and what he found. He didn’t have to walk very far as he lives close to the freeway. “Each expedition began from my house and gradually I would gravitate towards the more industrial areas and finally hit the nature reserves. On one occasion, I walked around the back of the Altona Cemetery, collecting a lot of post-memorial debris blown over.”

Meneghetti lives in Melbourne’s outer industrial suburb of Brooklyn (not to be confused with the NY suburb of the same name). It is the most polluted suburb in the state and it can smell awful; described in detail in this Environmental Protection Agency report about the Brooklyn Odour meeting on 15 November 2007. Michael told me that: “I feel from living out here that sometimes I live in that Mad Max realm, where society is on the top edge, just before the fall.”

Michael Meneghetti likes the immediacy and portability of performance art. “ I see performance as my own private opera presented publicly that enable me to explore a range of ideas face to face with the audience.”

In conjunction with his performance art Michael Meneghetti also curates videos for various organisations including: Melbourne’s Federation Square, Excerpt Magazine, and Propaganda Window,  a peer-funded public art project that ran from 2008-2012 as a dedicated video projection space on the external windows of Melbourne gallery, Dark Horse Experiment. So Scartato concluded with a video of the work projected across three shop front windows in the Eames Avenue shopping strip in Brooklyn with local music outfit, The Renovators providing a live soundtrack.

(photo by Melissa Edwards)

(photo by Melissa Edwards)


The Fox and the Many Cities

On my way to Fitzroy one night, I saw confused a fox looking out over the back fence of Parliament at all the traffic on MacArthur Street. I understood why the fox looked confused it was just after a daylight saving started and the fox had not adjusted its clock.

guerilla territory - baby guerilla

Wandering the city, the feeling of knowing the city, the sense of familiarity leads to ideas of possession. It is not my city, I am aware that I share it. There are many cities within the city, the urban foxes and all the other animals in the urban environment live in a different city. Different inhabitants have different paths through the city and different uses for the spaces in it.

As Alison Young in her book Street Art, Public City points out that there are multiple cities: the tangible, the “kaleidoscope of images, which jointly and singly communicate the identity of the space as ‘urban’” (p.41), the city as site of cultural production and the legal architecture. “Legal architecture produces a certain conceptualisation of urban space: the ‘legislated city” as space in which a particular kind of experience is encapsulated and produced through the regulation of space, temporalities and behaviours. Within the legislated city, citizens experiences are framed by discourses of cartography, planning, criminal law, municipal regulations and civility. The legislated city has mappability, it has aspirational qualities expressed through social policies, statutes, local laws and strategic plans.” (p.41)

There are of course gaps in the map of legislated city; temporary autonomous zones as described by Hakim Bay The Temporary Autonomous Zone, from large areas like Christiania in Copenhagen to smaller anarchic areas. The CCTV, the police and the state cannot control all the areas. And there are always gaps in timing of the patrol, time for the urban foxes and other unofficial inhabitants.

A modern city requires an after hours city whatever the business hours. The after hours city reminds us that there are different forms of life. The Waiter’s Restaurant in Meyers Place, started as a place for Italian waiters and other hospitality workers to have somewhere to eat after hours.

At the end of nineteenth centuryMelbourne had trams running up St. Kilda Road twenty-four hours a day. There are plans for a return to twenty-four hour public transport after a century of limited hours.

For the inhabitants the city, including the fox, their city is made of routes, hubs, landmarks and other esoteric and eccentric features. Esoteric features are known only to the insiders, vinyl record fans will have a mental map of the stores that still stock them and what routes to take to get there.

Platform Degraves St Underpass

Routes are paths that are common to a number of people but it only takes as few as 15 people to make a recognisable path.  I find myself falling into familiar routes around the city and forgetting that the artist run space, Platform is no more and there is just empty vitrines in the Degraves Street underpass to Flinders Street Station.  When I started blogging I would often write about the exhibitions at Platform and I have neglected to note the end of this unusual artist run space.

The fox listened politely to my advice about the dangers of cross the road at this time and changing it clock for daylight saving. It then retreated behind the fence and disappeared from my view.


Zombie Artists

It is an ugly scene, something out of a horror movie, going on in gallery after gallery. Zombie artists slowly staggering blindly around banging their heads against the walls. As the blood and brains run down the walls the impeccably dressed gallerista numbers and each catalogues mark while a freelance curator provides a commentary about truth in materials in these futile gestures.

Vittoria Di Stefano, A certain kind of failure, 2015 (photo courtesy of Tinning Street)

Vittoria Di Stefano, A certain kind of failure, 2015 (photo courtesy of Tinning Street)

Of course, after a life time of study and a future teaching high school students in order to pay off your huge student debt, you too might want to bash your brains out on the next brick wall. The subtext of their ‘artist statements’ is clear: “brain, brains, brains…”

The aquariums used as transparent glass plinths were the best part of Vittoria Di Stefano’s “Alien Artefacts” at Tinning Street. Soap, plaster, brass, plasticine, PVC tubes, concrete, wax are amongst the materials that Di Stefano works and reworks.

The titles of Di Stefano work are inter-changeable and read like a cut-up art student essay. “The object becomes a prompt. A hazardous experience. That shape is impossible without those connotations. It needs that desire. The process of thinking.”

Where Di Stefano art this going after the gallery? To another gallery; I guess that I don’t need to see Di Stefano’s up coming exhibition at Blindside. But in the long run where is her art going and why should I care? Should I mindlessly celebrate the great continuum of art and creativity as a mystical experience? Should I studiously tick boxes in a pedagogical critical appraisal?

This is not personal and I don’t hate Di Stefano’s art, it didn’t even particularly bore me. This is not about her studied anaesthetics. I felt nothing when I saw her Alien Artefacts, she had managed to perfectly alienate me. Di Stefano’s art is not unique. It is typical of an existential crisis in post-industrial economies, a pointless activity in a professional cycle of consumption and debt.


Evolving Scene 2015

Hosier Lane continues to subtly change, even though the major development has been stopped by the new government, and the smell of aerosol paint still lingers in the air. Hosier Lane was once part of Melbourne’s garment district and Melbourne’s Communist Party Headquarters was at 3 Hosier Lane from 1936 to 1939. Old school graffiti writers and old lefties, like Jeff Sparrow bemoan the changes but I enjoy the vitality of the lane.

Hosier Lane

Now the sound of a busker is now common in the lane, not surprising given the amount of foot traffic in the area.

You can get a take-away coffee in the lane from Good to Go, a social enterprise cafe providing barista experience to long term unemployed, definitely a good improvement.

Guerrilla gardening has started in the lane; the sticker suggests that it is a project by Signal.

Guerrilla Garden, Hosier Lane

Looking at the art in lane is now like seeing an exhibition opening. It is hard to see the art for all the people, mostly taking photographs.

Hosier Lane must now be the most photographed place in Melbourne, there are so many people with all kinds of cameras taking photographs every day. You can hardly move without stepping in front of someone’s shot. Wedding photographs, selfies, tourist snap shots, videos, creating a hyperreal digital version of the lane for Facebook, Instagram and other social media. Street art is now influence on commercial photography.

Camera stencil

It is not surprising, the lane is spectacular and centrally located and other municipalities in Melbourne are starting to realise the potential for street art as a tourist attraction. This week the City of Yarra is calling for street art tours of the area. The City of Yarra has had this potential for years, I went on a short tour given by Makatron a couple of years ago and back in 2007 the Melbourne Stencil Festival was running booked out tours of Collingwood and Fitzroy.

Makatron Fitzroy

Melbourne’s street art is now part of Australia’s foreign policy. Most recently with notable street artists Adnate, Civil, HaHa, Vexta, Makatron and others painting murals in Singapore for the Australian government to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations with Singapore.

All of this is what could be called an organic development; it has not been directed or controlled, it has even and continues to be resisted on some levels. Back in 2008 I would hear street art insiders saying that the scene had peaked years before; what ever they meant by ‘peaked’ maybe just when they and their mates did their best stuff. Melbourne’s street art and graffiti scene continues to change and evolve (I don’t want to write for the better or worse) to take advantage of new walls, spaces, ideas and opportunities.


Hot Metal in Reservoir

On Saturday I went to the opening of Mal Woods Foundry in Reservoir. Sculptors, foundry workers, friends and interested people gathering to watch bronze being poured along with nibbles and drinks.

The weather was great, a pleasant sunny day, I bicycled to the foundry from Coburg. “This must be the place.” I thought as I cycled along Kurnai Ave. The factory and even its carpark was an oasis of tasteful design in the industrial area.

Mal Woods Foundry

The professionals were talking about their work including another Boer War Memorial with one and half sized equestrian statues. I can see why the sculptor, Louis Laumen and the foundry workers are keen on the project, more work for them. I can also see why the people behind the project might be having difficulty raising funds for it. Why does Australia need more Boer War Memorials?

There were amateur backyard foundry enthusiasts talking about their hair dryer or vacuum cleaner fanned furnaces. I didn’t know that there were amateur backyard foundries casting small objects in plaster moulds.

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At the back of Mal Woods Foundry the moulds that had been drying out in a kiln and were then placed in a large metal trough and secured in place with sand.

Mal Wood added an ingot of tin and two large ingots of copper to the furnace, the tin first and then the copper. These two soft metals when combined produce an alloy that is harder than either of them.

Removing crucible from furnace

The roar of furnace dies away and in front of the assembled crowd the crucible was removed. The temperature of the bronze tested and then the bronze was poured into the moulds. I didn’t see the results of these castings, you couldn’t tell from the moulds, not with all the venting pipes. When I left the bronze was turning from florescent pink to dark purple in the moulds, still hot enough to warm a person standing nearby.

Bronze pouring into cast

Sculpture moulds cooling

For more on foundries read my 2012 post Casting Sculpture in Melbourne.


Free Identity

“Hello, My Name Is…” the excess conference stickers were long ago colonised by the taggers, to the point where it is now a commercial standard and Martha Cooper has a whole book focused on it, Name Tagging (Mark Batty, 2010).

Mini Graff

I want to look more closely at taggers and identity. Identity is not a trivial nor a simple issue. Is it enough to live, consume, work and die? The right to an identity comes with the right to express your identity? How do you have an identity if you don’t have the right to express your identity through any media? Not secretly in a diary like Winston Smith but on a public wall. What is the point in having an identity if you can’t live and express it?

The common desire for fame is a desire for an identity, to be a somebody rather than a nobody for to be famous is to be known. The right to an identity not only belongs to those who can financially afford to, or are politically allowed, or happen to become famous to express their identity but to all. These rights cannot be expressed in dollar terms.

Does the right to an identity also imply a right to anonymity? For if an identity cannot be set aside then it is not a right but a burden and an imposition. An identity is different from being an identifier of a data set about an individual. The right to an identity implies the freedom to rewrite the autobiographical fiction of the self; to have multiple identities, personalities, different costumes; to adopt an open identities, like that of the Neo-Dadaist, Luther Blisset.

Hello My Name Is

Superheroes all have secret identities; by day a mild mannered clerk but at night…

Outing the secret identity of graffiti and street artists is an inevitable plot line, like someone about to discover the identity of Spiderman. The media is waiting for Banksy’s real identity to be discovered because it is a story that they know.

Outing graffiti and street artists aside there are other complex moral issues around identity and street art. There is the moral right of an artist to be identified with their work presents a conundrum with uncommissioned work and the secret identities of graffiti and street artists. It is a problem for me too when writing about them or photographing them, endless shots of the backs of artists at work, and thinking about when to use what name to use when. There are a contrary rights in the case of a juvenile graffiti artist where there legal right for the juvenile not to continue to be identified with their crimes in their adult life and the moral right of an artist to be identified with their work. At this point the legal and moral rights diverge along with the legal and artistic identity of the work.

Ultimately does it really matter the exact identity of all these street artists? Aside from the moral right of the artist to have their work correctly attributed and issues of attribution for art historians. Sometimes attribution feels like bird watching with my father or a game for the insiders. There are plenty of proto-Renaissance artists who are simply known as “The Master of” X. We know nothing of their life and only a couple of their works survive.

My Name Is Subre1


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