A discus thrower sculpture has been stolen from the front yard of a suburban house in Bunbury Street, Footscray. There is now a sign in the yard asking for the return of the stolen sculpture.
Having written about both suburban garden sculptures and stolen sculptures, I am very interested. I was even more curious when Dougall Irving’s email alerted me to this crime suggested that it was “one of the statues from outside Myers during the 1956 Olympic”. He included a photograph from the collection of Museums Victoria that looks like he is right.
Although clothed, the sculpture is based on classical Greek sculptures of discus throwers rather than actual discus throwers in action. And this neo-classical style would be right for a commercial sculpture made in Melbourne in the fifties.
During the Olympics, the Myers Store on Bourke Street was decorated with the Olympic Rings on this facade and on its awning the flags of all the participating countries along with seven statues of athletes, including a discus thrower. Myers Emporium (as it was called then) had every reason to publicise the Olympics as it was the official ticket seller.
The sculpture looks like fibreglass or some kind of plastic, which would explain its long life and durability. Given this material and this blog post reducing the chances of it being sold as Olympics memorabilia, there is some hope that the thief might regret the theft and return the sculpture. I hope so.
About a dozen contemporary, non-figurative site-specific assemblages, created from locally found material. Rusted metal springs blossom like a bouquet on top of another pile. A truck tire is supported by a log. A mobile of rusted metal hangs from the branch of a tree.
The unauthorised public sculpture park just off the Capital City Trail in Royal Park. The sculptures are large enough to see them from the train between Royal Park and Flemington Bridge on the Upfield Line. I’m not sure how many years, probably before the last two years of COVID lockdowns. A wide dirt path goes past the sculptures, people walking their dogs and enjoying the spring sunshine.
Except for the path, the site is overgrown, strewn with building rubble, concrete, and granite ‘bluestone.’ Why is it here? Is it the location of the demolished building from who knows when? I look back 30 years in old Melways and can’t find anything marked. It is strange that this waste-ground is so close to the centre of Melbourne, DCM’s Melbourne Gateway “the cheese-stick” can be seen poking above the trees.
Two blue male superb fairy-wrens flit around. Something moves in the long grass. I wonder if I am in danger of stepping on a snake. I stamp my feet to send warning vibrations. Google maps notes that it is a “white skink habitat”; maybe all the rubble is their home.
It looks like it is all the work of one anonymous artist, someone with a background in contemporary art. Much effort has gone into these sculptures, both psychic and physical, as there is evidence of planning and heavy lifting. Notice that each of the three blocks piled into a column has been turned 45 degrees to the previous one. Carefully positioned blocks keep a rusted lid hanging on a concrete pillar.
Is this a revival of the 1960s Italian art movement Arte Povera? There is the use of unprocessed “unartistic” materials and rejecting the usual sculpture techniques, aestheticising and commercialisation. The anonymous creator of this sculpture garden is doing all of that. However, unlike Arte Povera, there is no social criticism evident in the work.
Perhaps if these sculptures were in a garden or even an official sculpture park, I would critique them differently. Question their heroic architectural intentions or zombie formalism. I have some sympathy towards unauthorised public sculpture.
I walked to Dan Murphys, my local provider of alcohol this morning, past this poster. I have plenty of lemons; everyone in Coburg has a bumper crop of lemons. If you don’t have a lemon tree, someone in the street will have a basket of lemons out the front of their house to give away. So I bought the cheapest bottle of vodka that I could find because I’m only interested the alcohol. (I am using this recipe for my limoncello.)
This post is a result of a Twitter poll that I posted on September 14 where incautiously I asked: “Given that I will be in lockdown and I can’t go to any art exhibitions for the next who knows weeks, what should be the subject of my next blog post?
20th Century Music
Drinks from Dan Murphys
Philosophy book reviews
Walking in my suburb”
I suspect it was sabotaged as the votes were evenly spread; it only received 4 votes, 1 comment and 6 total engagements. Anyway, I will accept the challenge and write about all of them: my first paragraph covers two of those subjects.
Currently I am reading Roberto Calasso The Unnamable Present. The first chapter is titled “Terrorists and Tourists”; these two contrasting figures, one demanding certainty and the other expecting a different experience. He does find one point in common.
“When describing a place, people immediately say whether it is unblemished or disfigured by tourism. They talk about tourism like a skin disease. And yet the ideal tourist would like to visit places unmarred by tourism, in the same way that ideal terrorist would like to operate in places unprotected by security measures. They both encounter certain difficulties. And to put the blame on their fellows who have gone before them.” (p.61)
The second chapter, “The Vienna Gas Company” starts in 1933 with various writers, tourists in Europe, including Samuel Beckett, Virginia and Leonard Woolfe, Celine, George Simanon … as state terrorism rises. If you have faith in anything, spiritual, intellectual, secular, or physical, this book is not for you; it is only for those prepared to be uncertain in the unnamable present.
Penguin Books classifies The Unnamable Present as Philosophy, and I’m not going to debate the point for whatever philosophy is; it is certainly a form of literature. Calasso is not an academic philosopher, and he is not presenting a thesis or argument in his books. He is a writer and who worked for Adelphi Edizioni, a publishing house in Milan.
Unfortunately for me although Calasso writes about everything, he hardly ever mention music. This absence only becomes apparent because I struggle with this segue to my final topic, 20th-century music.
So now I’m left without a segue and the limoncello sitting in a dark cupboard for the next two weeks. I could try to emulate Calasso and find a quote about music for the final paragraph. I read a couple more pages of his book and find one on p.143 from Gobbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda: “At midday the state funeral of Field Marshal von Reichenau took place. Prepared by Supreme Command, extremely poor, psychologically clumsy, with an absolutely amateurish music. After the national anthems pupils of the army music school perform the first movement of the Fifth Symphony so far as they can. I agree with General Schmundt that in future Wehrmacht state funerals be substantially entrusted to our Ministry, since only we off er the guarantee that they can be carried out in a form worthy of the State.” (A note from 24 January, 1942 in Tagebücher Aus den Jahren 1942-1943, edited by L.P. Lochner, Atlantis, Zürich, 1948, pp.52-53) Music, like all the arts, was subsumed by the nation state’s need for propaganda.
It is always a mystery about the identity of graffiti writers and street artists. I walked around a street corner in Coburg; there was Anime Flower at work with pastel crayons. Anime Flower has been writing things like “be kind” around the neighbourhood in colourfully decorated block letters. All I should say is that the writer was not from the usual demographic of taggers, graff writers and other artistic miscreants found on the streets. I didn’t want them to feel intimidated by my presence, so I didn’t stop. I just said, “Hello,” all friendly-like behind my mask and sunglasses and kept walking.
The great rock critics Lester Bangs and Nick Kent were proponents of the proposition that rock’n’roll was for losers. That it was a great failure gesture. At its best, rock’n’roll was a bunch of losers who managed to create great art and, at its worst, was commercial sabotage of all that is human and decent. Likewise, street art and graffiti are for losers. Like playing in a band, doing some street art will probably be amongst the best things that they do for themselves.
During the lockdowns, I have become more familiar with the work of many local graff writers, including the local UBM/WWW crew. I love the WWW crew, the self-proclaimed World’s Worst Writers – who will take that jester’s crown away from them? Calypso is so friendly, with a smiley face along with the tag.
Bootleg Comics and Cale Jay Labbe collaborating on some intensely crazy black and white paste-ups. Bootleg Comics is a Melbourne visual artist known for using pop culture iconography. Savage reflections of images and tropes: horoscopes making as much sense as an anti-vaxer but with way more insight.
Is Mail Art still a thing? With the decline in snail mail, I would have thought that Mail Art was redundant. However, last year in ArtNet News, Taylor Dafoe wrote that Mail Art enjoyed a renaissance with all the COVID-19 lockdowns. I don’t know; I haven’t received any recently but New York bookstore Printed Matter is still receiving them and has an exhibition of mail art in their window.
I last remember receiving some mail art in the 1980s, mainly from an undergraduate fine arts student and friend Paul Leech. So I messaged him and asked him how he heard of mail art. Unfortunately, he couldn’t remember and guessed that it was reading about Dada or Fluxus? Even then, it felt like the long tail of an art movement that started over twenty years earlier when Ray Johnson founded the New York Correspondence School of Mail Art.
The decorated envelope and postcards are almost as old as postal systems. And the post was an essential feature of art movements from Dada to Fluxus. What made mail art different was is that Mail Art is not about simply receiving art by post like the Art Box Club. Mail Art is art that is consciously about the postal system. If art is a form of communication, then Mail Art is communication about a communication system.
Mail Art isn’t mentioned in any of the standard art history texts about art in the twentieth century. Even though, according to Stewart Homes (The Assault on Culture – Utopian currents from Lettrisme to Class War, 1988), it is the second-largest art movement of the twentieth century in terms of participation.
Mail Art exists along with the zines as an anti-elitist, democratic art form at the intersection of folk art and fine art. It is not art for art collectors to spend a lot of money on. It is not art for display in institutional art galleries where the aesthetics of awe are employed.
Leech was doing both zines and mail art; later, he made Phredpost artistamps a form within mail art developed by Anna Banana. Mail Art, zines and artistamps are very accessible in terms of techniques and materials inviting greater participation. The democratic nature of the art form, along with the inexpensive and accessible materials, means that anyone can participate.
Unlike commercial gallery art, where gallery directors, collectors, and others act as gatekeepers limiting participation, Mail Art has almost no gatekeepers. The only one that mattered was the post office, an institution that was unmistakably outside of the art world. A couple of artists have told me how good Australia Post is with mail art. Bark, pumpkins and other materials making it through the postal system provided that it had appropriate postage. Leech was pushing the postal system, testing its limits. His attempt to send a stamp addressed on the back of the stamp failed.
Is this still the long tail of mail art or a revival? Will people return to receiving tangible physical objects in their letterboxes instead of speculating on NFT online?
Mail Art Reading List:
David Zack “An authentik and Historikal Discourse on the Phenomenon of Mail Art” Art in America Jan-Feb 1973 p.46-53