Monthly Archives: December 2020

Over 2020

At the start of March, I was at a packed exhibition opening at Beinart Art Gallery in Brunswick. At the time COVID-19 was in the news but not in Australia. There were so many people at the exhibition it was like rush hour on a Sydney Road tram. I thought that the crowd was such a potential vector for all kinds of diseases and that this art party would be over.

Unknown local artist, 2020

Along with the weeks of bushfires, and months of lockdown, among the many things that I didn’t expect from the year:

… I didn’t expect that in the whole year I’ve seen about a dozen exhibitions, plus one art fair – Can’t Do Tomorrow. In other years I might see a dozen exhibitions in a single fortnight.

… I didn’t expect to be writing obituaries for Melbourne artists, Janet Beckhouse and Adrian Mauriks. I realised that they needed to be written as the newspapers wouldn’t be covering it.

… I didn’t expect that people would be so interested in public art this year. Part of this was due to people walking more as exercise during lockdowns and consequently seeing more public sculpture. It was also due to a post-colonial interest in public statues became a mainstream political issue this year, and I am so glad that it did. Statues that celebrate colonialists and other racists were removed in Belgium, Canada, NZ, South Africa, UK, US, Martinique, Cameroon, as well as, in other places. No statues or memorials have been removed in Australia. It is one of the many disgraceful and disgusting features of Australia and symptomatic of this conservative country’s many deep-rooted problems. (See my post on the Statue Wars 2020.)

And amongst everything that I didn’t expect, the least surprising events of the year was that the arts and tertiary education in Australia were being abandoned in the COVID-19 crisis. Gambling and Pascal’s wager (religions) are more important, for they were given more support and exemptions during lockdown; a position contrary to all medical evidence. And the state premier, Daniel Andrews cutting down more trees, including one of the Djab Wurrung Trees, in an egregious act of cultural vandalism. Giving less reason for optimism than a Leonard Cohen song. 

Now that I almost at the end of the year I have no plans to write any more blog posts until the new year. So, finally here are a few photos to sum up the year.


Lisa Roet’s David Greybeard

The Jane Goodall Institute Australia asked local artist Lisa Roet to create David Greybeard for their sixtieth anniversary. David Greybeard is one of the chimpanzees studied by Jane Goodall at Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania.

I can’t think of a more appropriate artist; Roet has been making figurative sculptures about non-human, great apes for decades. Her art reminds us that we are great apes, along with chimpanzees, orangutang and gorillas.

I have only seen photos of the sculpture of David Greybeard in front of the Arts Centre Melbourne. When I was last in the city, high winds were predicted for later in the day, and the sculpture was deflated and tied down.

He is sitting with one hand, reaching down towards the pedestrians below. The architecture of the  recent edition to the Arts Centre lends itself to becoming a plinth. 

The sculpture raises several questions. Is an inflatable silver plastic a respectful media given its association with balloons, advertising, and bouncy castles? What would it look like with an inflatable form of a middle-aged human? How environmentally sound is the media; are we destroying a forest to remind ourselves about its inhabitants? I do know one thing about this inflatable; it has to be deflated and tied down in high winds.

How would David Greybeard feel about his inflated image? Maybe he would only care about its size and popularity.

deflated and tied down

I prefer other works by Roet in more traditional media — am I really such a media snob? Rather I like the detail that bronze and marble afford. At RMIT there are two great wrinkled hands cast in bronze, but not human hands. They are the hands of chimpanzees, our closest relative in the great apes. The two big hands are slightly raised from their bench level base (studded with skate-stoppers); one is vertical, the other horizontal.

The single finger, in marble at the Bendigo Art Gallery, is both familiar and alien. Like her sculpture at RMIT, these are not gestures, only hands or a finger. What is startling is that my relatives’ hands are not more familiar, like the back of my own hand. Roet’s sculptures remind the viewer how focused art is on the human figure as if we were the only species on earth.


Last Saturday & Hosier Lane

Last Saturday I went into the city to see the latest work by Melbourne-based sculptor Lisa Roet. The nine-metre-tall inflated sculpture of David Greybeard had been deflated and wrapped up in anticipation of the high winds later that day. I had long to wanted to write about Roet’s work and had hoped that this temporary sculpture would provide a photograph and other inspiration for a blog post. Instead, I was left with a reminder that public art has to be prepared for harsh weather conditions.

Kaff-ein’s new mural in Hosier Lane

With my plans deflated I navigated the construction site blocking Fed Square to the new pedestrian crossing to Hosier Lane. Words cannot express the joy my body feels at having this new crossing and not having to cross two streets to get from the square to the lane.

Doyle was also waiting at the crossing and eager to tell me that there was a painting event happening in Hosier Lane. Melbourne City Council had brought Doyle in to organise the re-painting. What appears to be a free-for-all paint is actually a combination of curated work and the chaos of the city.

On Saturday about forty twenty local street artists were going to be re-painting the lane. Artists who hadn’t seen each other since the lockdown were arriving with music, ladders and crates of paint. The reader should not assume that these artists were all young males; Melbourne street artists are a diverse group that includes middle-aged women.

The famous laneway did need yet another layer of paint. It was not up to it usual standard when I had seen it just after lockdown, although there are a few things that I’d like to survive longer. Remembering that before the first lockdown, it had been thoroughly sprayed.

The great Hosier spray of  February 8, 2020, was one of the top five art events to have happened in Hosier Lane (along with Empty Nursery Blue, All Your Walls, Andy Mac’s original light-boxes and something else that someone will have to remind me of). It was performance art, a paint happening, action painting at its best, a collaboration by a crew of anonymous, masked artists. Any art that gets Melbourne talking and writing for a week, there has to be a remarkable quality; for the quality of art is directly proportional to the quality of the conversations that it generates.

Now it was being painted yet again, but I didn’t hang around to watch the paint dry.


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