A Hostile Installation

A hostile installation is where a public sculpture is installed in a very unsympathetic way, like John Kelly’s Cow Up A Tree which has been located behind a ‘temporary’ coffee shop in Docklands for years. There are a few hostile installations of public sculpture in Melbourne and then there is hatred directed at Marc Clark’s Portal, 1973.

This is what the sculpture should look like. Marc Clark’s maquette for Portal.

The hostility directed at this sculpture is exhibited in both neglect, storing a sign next to it, and blocking views of the sculpture with a corrugated iron ticket booth. Clark’s Portal as its name indicates is meant to be a gateway, standing at one of the entrances to Myer Music Bowl. Instead there is a rectangular booth stuck directly front of it. What is wrong with the Myer Music Bowl? The Myer Music Bowl is run by the Melbourne Arts Centre, who should know how to take care of a sculpture.

This is how it has been installed

Sculptor and educator Marc Clark did nothing to invite this. This is Australian passive aggressive indifference; all antipathy with no responsibility. Both Clark and his sculpture are victims of the hostile attitude; they just happen to be in the way of philistine forces from some staff at the Myer Music Bowl.

A versatile sculptor Clarke created the formal abstracts, like Portal, and representational sculptures, like his Captain Cook statue at the Captain Cook Cottage in Fitzroy Gardens or his bust of botanist and explorer, Baron Ferdinand Von Mueller in the Botanic Gardens.

Sculptures need to be maintained and do not magically remain in perfect condition. Fortunately they are more easily repairable than other public art (see my post on the conservation of street art). There are sculptures that are regularly repainted like Ron Robertson-Swann’s Vault. Public sculptures are sometimes damaged in accidents, like when a truck hit Peter Corlett’s Mr Poetry and broke its leg. Portal needs to have rust and moss removed and it’s surface repaired and repainted.

A new location has to be found for the ticket booth or Portal, so that both can function as they should.


About Mark Holsworth

Writer and artist Mark Holsworth is the author of two books, The Picasso Ransom and Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

5 responses to “A Hostile Installation

  • Rodney Scherer

    This shows just how Sculpture and Art are perceived by some people. Scant regard. If you are in Gippsland have a look behind “the Wedge” performing arts centre in Sale. There you will find a large Akio Makigawa stone sculpture. It looks forgotten. Sculpture and its placement in open public areas are often left up to Municipal Engineers who at best look at it from a logistical perspective on how to install it so it works for the Garden staff!

    • Mark Holsworth

      Hopefully the Makigawa can be moved to a better location one day. He does such beautiful work. I think that you are right it is the hostility of lazy city engineers that is causes these hostile installations.

  • Dean Kyte

    At the risk of exposing my philistinism, could I suggest a possible reason for the hostility?

    The term ‘hostile installation’ is a new one to me, and I thank you for bringing it to my attention, Mark. It seems to imply an æsthetic reaction, and when it comes to public sculpture, the apparently inexplicable behaviour of a group such as the Melbourne Arts Centre both acquiring a work and then displaying it with some shame is not as schizophrenic as it might appear.

    Of course, there can be many reasons for a group client to acquire a work for public display, and the outlay of cash doesn’t necessarily have to do with the work’s æsthetic quality. I suppose the point I am trying to make with that remark is that, within the group consciousness of Melbourne Arts Centre, not everyone is on the same æsthetic page about the quality of the work, even if everyone is implicated in its purchase.

    I must admit (and please don’t hold this against me, even if I am inadvertently admitting my unreconstructed, unrehabilitatable philistinism) that the work in question doesn’t do much for me. The intention of the artist seems to be to create something in the tradition of the triumphal arch, but the sceptical, uncommitted, and certainly ‘untriumphal’ postmodernity inherent in a bunch of monumental children’s building blocks balanced on top of each other reminds me more of a cricket wicket than a portal I would like to sail proudly through into amphitheatre of the Myer Music Bowl. Perhaps it would look better in front of the MCG.

    I only adduce such a criticism as an example of a visceral æsthetic reaction that at least one part, or party, or faction of the acquiring body might have with respect to a work they now have on their hands, are obliged to display, but are not really committed to.

    And with respect to the notion of ‘hostility’ in installing the work, putting it on public display but not doing so in a way that shows it off to its best advantage, and in fact displaying it in a way that actually ‘sabotages’ its capacity to be publicly seen, I would hazard that a certain critical mass of the group client is of the view that the work is doubtful in its æsthetic value even if it is equally possible that a certain critical mass of the same group client were positive of its æsthetic value in acquiring it—although, as I say, there can be political factors other than æsthetics which induce a group client to acquire a work for public display.

    Thanks again for introducing me to this notion of ‘hostile installation’, Mark. It’s interesting to speculate why such a perverse behaviour occurs.

    • Mark Holsworth

      Yes, the notion of ‘hostile installation’ wrongly presents the minds of the same group as one. Clearly there are other politics and aesthetic judgements going within the group that has led to the installation but that is as opaque to the viewer as other minds.
      And yes, Portal reminds me of cricket too.

    • Dean Kyte

      I’m relieved I’m not the only one who sees stumps!

      The red colour being reminiscent of a certain bridge, perhaps they could move it to the ’G and rename “Portal”, “The Golden Gate”.

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