Monthly Archives: April 2021

Create Dangerously

Trying to walk down unfamiliar streets and lanes rather than using the same path. This post might be just an excuse to show a few photographs. On the other hand, I’m reading Albert Camus Create Dangerously and thinking about anarchy.

I was in Brunswick when I met a person involved in Melbourne’s street art and graffiti scene. They mentioned how few signs of any radical politics they were seeing on the street. I differed as I had just seen a set of recent anarchist paste-ups, only a couple of blocks north.

Drafted a blog post about anarchist posters but delayed because, as a bit of research on the images showed, they were not created locally. However, I admire their dedication to distribution, along with the neat and often colour co-ordinated placement.

That draft was then rewritten when a friend started posting images of some of the same anarchist posters in Reservoir. So my potted history of anarchists activity in Brunswick that noted Barricade Books and the annual Anarchist Book Fair at the Brunswick Town Hall was irrelevant.

Are these analogue agitprop paste-ups a Luddite throw-back? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to work online than on the streets? Being on the street is different from an online armchair activist as it occupies, uses, and appropriates actual space and not virtually nothing. Being on the street is propaganda by deed, a fact testified by every protest march, by those occupying the street, by every political slogan written on a wall…

Create Dangerously is a speech that Camus gave in 1957, a few days after receiving the Noble Prize in Literature. In it, he examines the tension between popularism and formalism or art for art’s sake. In Melbourne, there is Lush, who will paint anything that will generate the most likes, and the graffiti writers, who are only painting for themselves and their mates. Camus provokes and challenges artists to find another way to engage with the world.


Fairfield Industrial Dog Object

Banks, bakeries, hairdressers and dry cleaners are the basic requirements of local shopping. Where once there were newsagents, milk bars and tobacconists, there are now yoga studios and cafés. There are almost identical pockets of shops around train stations across Melbourne. More or less, indistinguishable roads, intersections and train stations except for Fairfield that has FIDO.

The city council had tried to bring art to the area to make the intersection less anonymous. The City of Darebin was formed in 1994. In 1994 they installed four mosaics by a young Simon Normand. Normand went on to do more public art in Victoria and Northern Territory. The mosaics have local references to the rail crossing. Mosaics were once fashionable for public art in Melbourne, the whole town was covered in tiles; from pubs to butcher shops. (See my blog post Time and Tiles) But you can’t see the pavement from the train. Something larger was required.

The Fairfield Industrial Dog Object (FIDO) by Ian Sinclair, Jackie Staude, David Davies and Alistair Knox is a big dog. It is large enough that a man can walk under it without ducking. And only 29 cm shorter than the 579 cm golden statue of the ruler of Turkmenistan’s favourite dog, so not the biggest dog sculpture in the world.

Made of recycled hardwood, painted brown and standing beside the railway at the Fairfield Station. A geometric industrial mongrel, there is a bit of Mambo and Keith Haring’s dogs in it. It is somewhere between another ludic sculpture for public amusement, like Larry La Trobe, and, as the acronym suggests, Emily Floyd’s self-descriptive Signature Piece (Rabbit).

There was the usual controversy about the sculpture when it was first proposed in 1999. People who believe that local government should only be about road and rubbish collection objected to money being spent on anything else. Like Cassandra, their predictions of doom were ignored; unlike Cassandra, they were wrong.

The dog is not a Trojan Horse with a couple of Greek heroes hiding in its hollow torso. The metal access hatch in the belly is cut with stars and, the other metalwork on the dog is by Jackie Staude. It provides access to the machinery that operated the dogs interactive functions. The interactive parts stopped in 2006 but FIDO continues to serve as a minor landmark for the suburb.


Edgelords of Art

‘Edgelord’ is a mock honorific of penultimate edginess, typically given to a Nazi fanboy on Reddit, 4chan, or Tumblr. For more about Edgelords, see this definition. Another thing that screams Edgelord is owning a subterranean art gallery full of art with dark, controversial and morbid themes. Unlike buying a black trench coat, few people can afford to do this — one person who can is David Walsh.

The gambler from Tasmania who collects edgy art is a clear example of an Edgelord. Even though he doesn’t, as far as I know, have an online presence on Reddit or 4chan. Art and antiquities with themes of death are the domain of the Edgelord. I have long had my reservations about MONA (Museum of Old and New Art); see my blog post for my initial impressions.

What drew attention to this was the controversy over the now cancelled Union Flag by Spanish artist Santiago Sierra. It was to be part of the Dark Mofo festival at MONA. Asking Indigenous people to donate their blood so that a flag can be soaked in it to serve as a festival attraction might have raised some warning flags but didn’t because Dark Mofo was focused on being edgy. More than enough Indigenous blood has already been spilt. So, no one should be surprised that some Indigenous people are calling for MONA’s Edgelord and his crew to have cultural sensitivity training. See ABC news report on the subject.

Blood and flag are conservative symbols; by creating controversies, Edgelords foster conservatism because it emphasises their edgy qualities. After all, what makes things edgy is the strictures that define their perimeter.

At this point, I would like to acknowledge how close I am to being an Edgelord. The name Black Mark does suggest that, as does my habit of dressing in black and painting neo-Baroque still life. And having explored this territory, I can point out differences in its geography.

Consider the stratigraphy defining Dada and Surrealism. Both are nihilistic, utopian and progressive. Yet, there is a marked increase of sexism and homophobia in the Surrealist layer almost absent in Dada. Surrealism is advertising’s wet dream; it is so commercial and exploitable. The corresponding increase of Edgelords in Surrealism exposes one cause of this increase.

Not all controversies or nihilists are edgy; Dada’s nihilism comes with a smile, a laugh, and liberation. It celebrated and enjoyed the random, meaningless nature of the world. For if all things mean nothing to you, then you are free to enjoy the world.

This world does not need more Edgelords; it requires fewer Batmen, lone wolves, and brooding übermensch hanging around in the dark hoarsely whispering edgy things. It does not need another treasure horde of antiquities and high priced art. What the art world needs instead is to show others the possibilities in this world.


COVID-19, street art and graffiti

Melbourne street art and graffiti riffs on topical themes, and, currently, the COVID-19 pandemic is the most topical. And there has been a mix of politics and personal responses in street art and graffiti.

This is not a collection trawled from the internet, to attract page views without knowledge or information on the background, but a limited selection that I have gathered on my walks in Melbourne, Brunswick and Coburg. Some of these images have appeared in previous blog posts, but there is also some new work. Cell Out paste-up in Hosier Lane refers to the AstraZeneca vaccine’s problems.

In a surprising practical move, the City of Melbourne stuck social distancing markers in Hosier Lane. It is one of Melbourne’s tourist hotspot, but without international tourists, there are now far fewer people in the lane.

I saw a couple of visual references to the virus combined with other images. The grenade is obviously explosive. The tennis ball is a reference to the 2021 Australian Open spreading the virus, remembering that the state government favoured sporting events over culture consistently during Melbourne’s several lockdowns.

Stickers were the most political media on the street during the pandemic. They focused on state politics. Although State Premier Daniel Andrews gained many fanatical supporters during the pandemic, he was also hated by others. (I have the opposite view to Daniel Andrews on many things. He supports the police and cutting down trees, whereas I support cutting down the police and not trees.)

Given Victoria Police’s history of racism and connection to extreme right-wing politics, combined with the Black Lives Matter movement, I was surprised that I didn’t see more graffiti and street art about the use of police to enforce the lockdown.

Other pieces were more personal and representing the change of image from wearing masks. Given that graf writers tend to mask up anyway it wasn’t much of a change.


Unmissable

It is Unmissable, a giant bronze face of a man. The centre of the face is bright as if spot lite. He is looking out from the side of Readings Books on Lygon Street in Carlton. Who is it? Why is it there?

Pimpisa Tinpalit, Unmissable (Attila Bogat)

On the wall beneath the face, a plaque provides an explanation.

“Attila Bogat has been missing since 2014 and has been made Unmissable by artist Pimpisa Tinpalit. Missing Persons Advocacy Network (MPAN) launched The Unmissables to reignite the search. By going beyond the vital statistics – capturing the essence and telling the unfinished stories of our missing loved ones.”

The sculptor, Pimpisa Tinpalit, is the director of BlackCat Gallery in Collingwood. The Missing Persons Advocacy Network (MPAN) launched a campaign three years ago to use public art to draw attention to missing people. This is not the only piece that they have commissioned; Heesco has painted a mural for them. But it is the only one that I’ve photographed and looked closely at.

Have you seen this man? Some statues commemorate recognisable famous people, others attempt to make a person more recognisable, but this is a statue about looking for someone who is missing. Instead of celebrating, glorifying, and deifying, this is a public sculpture about searching. It is a bit of a change from the usual missing person advert. It is a more present, practical, and ominously more, permanent.

And I know that in the course of researching this blog post, I’m going to see the statistics for missing persons. But like Unmissable, do those numbers capture the essence and tell the unfinished stories of missing people like Attila Bogat? Can we really comprehend the idea of so many families and friends?

Attila Bogat is still missing.


Jinks @ the Hellenic Museum

The shock and awe of encountering the goddess Iris, apparently in the flesh. Not that the woman with golden wings is delivering a message, her usual role. Installed in a darkened room in front of a large pool reflecting like a mirror. Why is Iris pouring a jug? Nectar for the gods to drink or water from the River Styx to swear by? Or simply watering the clouds for rain?

Sam Jinks, Iris

Imagine if you were an ancient Greek and encountered Sam Jinks life-sized statue of Iris in a temple. Jinks is a Melbourne-based, super-realist sculptor. The ancient use of polychromatic paints on statues, ivory eyes, gold leaf, and other elements that have been largely destroyed by time. There are even reports of animatronic sculptures in temples in ancient Greece. We have been taught to forget all the colour looking at the white marble remains. And the unpainted white marble has become a racist symbol of ‘civilisation’.

However, there were no temples to Iris, a minor divine figure, a servant of the Olympian gods, sent to deliver a handful of messages, to collect water, and pour drinks. Some say that she the mother of Eros, others that Iris carried the young Nemean lion in her girdle from the sea to the mountains. Her appearance on the Parthenon is her most glorious moment; a running woman, her light linen chiton rippling with the movement.

Why show a messenger in a contemplative and static pose? Was it just an excuse to make a winged woman? These questions beat like the wings of Iris, rattling like wings of pigeons, around the quiet galleries of the Hellenic Museum. Why? Was it just an excuse?

The Hellenic Museum in Melbourne is an odd mix between art, antiquities, history and cultural exhibitions. It describes itself as “inspiring a passion for Greek history, art and culture”. It is also located in Melbourne’s old mint, which, apart from its Neo-classical facade, has nothing to do with Hellenic culture. The old mint is an attractive nineteenth-century building with an impressive walk-in vault, as you might expect to find in a mint.

Jinks is not the only artist with an exhibition at the Hellenic Museum. In front of the building, there is Renegades, a street-art/graffiti-inspired installation out the front of the building by a Spanish urban artist, PichiAvo. Inside, along with Iris, there is a photography installation by Bill Henson, Oneiroi, in an attractive dark nineteenth-century room. However, the photographs of Greek landscapes and backs of women’s heads were bland and uninspiring. As well as a room of contemporary icon paintings. There was also a room of contemporary icon paintings.

Most of the Hellenic Museum is not art but exhibitions of archaic Greek and ancient Greek antiquities: pottery, jewellery, statues, marble carving, helmets and weapons. There are even some Roman marble carving and enough red-figure vases to satisfy most people’s interest. The rest of the exhibitions are about modern Greek history and culture, much of it donated by the local community members. These are focused on establishing the modern Greek nation with folk costumes, jewellery, pistols and other antiques.

One curious feature of the Hellenic Museum was that there no signs in Greek. After visiting many antiquities museums in Greece that had signs in English, it felt odd. They would be of no use to me, but as Melbourne has one of the largest Greek-speaking population of any city in the world, they would be helpful to some people. For all the talk of multi-cultural Australia, there is almost no public paid signs anywhere in languages other than English.


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