Alex Goad’s Tethya is a new public sculpture on the corner of Fitzroy and Jackson streets in St. Kilda’s restaurant strip. Tethya is a biomorphic post-minimalist sculpture. Being biomorphic and post-minimalist actually work very well together because multi-cellular organisms, like sea sponges of the genus Tethya, are made of smaller units that are basically the same. This reference to sea sponges with the smell of the cool sea air blowing in from the bay connects the sculpture to its location.
Alex Goad is a sculptor and industrial designer who knows both about post-minimalist sculptures and marine organisms. He has won an award for designing a modular artificial reef system, as well as, sculpture prizes.
Incorporating lighting into public sculpture has returned now that the new LED lights have allowed this to be done safely with minimum maintenance, unlike earlier modern art attempts/experiments. In daylight, without its purple LED lights, the 2.7 metre high sculpture is not that exciting but the sculpture of fibre-reinforced concrete is not intended to be monumental but public art to create a hub, to mark the intersection between two roads and potentially a meeting point.
How the public will use this sculpture may be different from its intended function. It is a bit too lumpy to sit comfortable on but it will certainly tempt some people to attempt to climb it and this was the only interaction that I observed at the sculpture. The round forms don’t allow enough surface in any direction to tempt many taggers. The many deep gaps in the surface may well attract people to stuff rubbish into them, known as ‘wedging’.
One of the worst things that the media can do with a new public art is report on how much the art cost. It is misleading to the public as a figure in dollar terms fails to explain the breakdown of costs involved: materials, transportation, equipment rental, etc. In thanking the whole team of people involved in Alex Goad had to note that he was the lowest paid worker on a per hour basis. This is not unusual for a sculptor, a hundred and fifty years ago Charles Summers had the same experience making the Burke and Wills Monument. (For more about why reporting the costs is misleading see my post about another public sculpture: Big Cat Controversy.)
Instead of reporting on the cost try telling the story of the sculptures development. This time last year, Tethya was just an idea that Goad was trying to design a submission for the sculpture commission. In February he was awarded the commission. Construction started in July and the sculpture was finished a week ago, although the LED lighting still needs some more work. On Saturday afternoon I was at Linden New Art in St. Kilda to celebrate the installation of Alex Goad’s sculpture. There was a design exhibition at Linden of mostly elegant light shades, reminding me of Tethya’s lighting design.