Author Archives: Mark Holsworth

About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne.

Psychogeography 2021

The sad trophy of a great white hunter sits on a porch of the Edwardian bungalow propped up on an old armchair — a sad artifact from another continent and another era. The Cape Buffalo, syncerus caffer caffer for all the zoologists, is the least endangered of the big five game hunting animals. It reminded me that both of us spent time in Africa before we ended up in the vast suburbia of Melbourne.   

I avoided writing an end of year blog post for a couple of years, but 2021 needs one because it was a very unusual year. I saw few exhibitions; it seemed like I was always seeing one the night before the city would go into another lockdown, with some of these exhibitions being about art created in the previous lockdown. So I’m not even going to try to name a favourite. Melbourne endured the longest lockdown in the world, which has left deep scars psychic on the city.

Possibly due to the bad craziness fermented during the lockdown, two new sculptures were vandalised and a Discus Thrower from the Melbourne Olympics was stolen from suburban garden.  Some sculptures are vandalised every year with more inefficiency and completeness than the unfinished damage inflicted on a statue of Gandhi and Fallen Fruit.

For me, it was an enforced period of hyperlocal psychogeography, not the psychogeography of Iain Sinclair, based on literature and history, nor the long-distance walking and speculative psychogeography of Will Self, nor the esoteric psychogeography of ley lines and occult architecture. There could be no grand projects circling the city, only a limited circumference of kilometres from your home. It was the basic dérive that Debord wrote about, drifting through suburban streets — wandering to escape the confines of your home. To lose yourself on the walk, the complete opposite of those English celebrity goes somewhere shows. Who was that masked man?

“All space is occupied by the enemy. We are living under a permanent curfew. Not just the cops — the geometry.” Raoul Vaneigem words are pertinent to Melbourne’s experience; the Belgium writer would have been familiar with the curfews based on zero medical evidence, the cops and the occupied space, the shuttered spaces, closed shops and quiet streets. Last year I wrote a post about walking around in lockdown, and this year I wrote one about COVID related street art or graffiti but I didn’t really want to think about it during the lockdown.

It was hard to form memories without events to distinguish them when even the deaths of friends went unobserved — walking, eating and sleeping, day after day like the seemingly endless streets of Melbourne suburbia. Past police investigation, a forensics team digging up and examining the tarmac under a burnt-out car. Past suburban emergencies, a ruptured gas main. Past garden and architectural nightmares; houses with twenty-eight gables, kitsch concrete garden sculpture grottoes, or last-capitalist hordes of wrecked cars.

Should I organise a Melbourne Psychogeographical Association? (Please get in touch with me if anyone is interested in such an association or regular walks). I don’t know if anyone will be willing to engage in psychogeography for a long time. Or have the anti-vaxers, and Qanon conspiracy theorists discovered a kind of mass psychogeography in their repeated meandering protests around the city? Has it become worn out as a revolutionary strategy? The glass taxidermy eyes of the buffalo only give the look of seeing and don’t register images.


Street 2021

We are getting to the bitter end of the sour 2021, so I thought I’d look back at the street art and graffiti I saw around Melbourne. It has been a year of lockdowns and vaccines, which Melbourne’s street artist’s Cell Out and Phoenix had to comment on.

Melbourne’s street artists commented on the other current issues; the end of the Trump era and the continuing failure of Australian governments to deal with the climate crisis.

A couple of smooth pieces by Sleek stretching letterforms caught my eye.

As did the old school hip hop style of Mickey xxi in Croft Alley.

But what really made my eyes pop were these pieces in Brunswick, taking graffiti letter form to a new level of calligraphic complexity.

Street artist Manda Lane takes things in a different direction, applying foliage to the city’s walls.

You mYou might be surprised at the amount of ceramics in street art because you would think that there was none. If you had forgotten Space Invader’s unauthorised mosaics. This year I have seen ceramic street art by Discarded and Far4washere. For more on Discarded, see my post. For more on Far4washere, search Instagram or on the streets.

Melbourne’s street art was once world famous for its stencils. And there are still a few stencil artists spraying its walls. Much of it is anonymous like these beautiful and well placed trees; I am enjoying the images of local gum trees combined with the worn wabi-sabi elements of the wall. Some stencil artists are known like this piece by Xuf, a Melbourne-based self-proclaimed “wall beautician” from Indonesia.

I’ll be signing off shortly, in the mean time here are a couple of sign offs that I’ve seen this year. Cheers, Black Mark

P.S. Search the streets if you want to see more of Melbourne’s street art.


Fitzroy Galleries prestige and sales

For the first time since the end of Melbourne’s lockdown, I walked around galleries in Fitzroy. Some were familiar, institutions amongst Melbourne’s commercial art galleries, galleries that have been in operation for decades. Others were new to me. These galleries range from significant to seasonal. Some are improvised, and others polished.

James Lemon’s “Cannibals” installation view

“This Is No Fantasy” has another Juan Ford exhibition; I have reviewed many of his exhibitions in the past and I worry about repeating myself. “This Is No Fantasy” was Dianne Tanzer Gallery (before they merged with another gallery and took on one of the strangest names) while remaining one of Melbourne’s most influential galleries. Their artists, like Ford, win art prizes and whose works are in state collections.

A few doors further along on Gertrude Street, Oigall Projects, a new minimalist gallery has opened on Gertrude Street with an exhibition of ceramics, James Lemon’s “Cannibals”. Lemon is a New Zealand born ceramicist based-in Brunswick. His work  combines brutalist ceramics piles of bricks with brightly coloured and metallic glazes. 

Continuing along Gertrude Street is the Australian Print Workshop (APW). This not-for-profit arts organisation has been there for decades. Although not as influential as This Is No Fantasy, APW produces high-quality prints by established and emerging artists.

Sutton Gallery has been on Brunswick Street for decades representing established artists in the collections of state and regional galleries. At Sutton Gallery, Amanda Marburg reproduces After the Hunt, Uccello’s last painting, and eight scenes from within the picture. Marburg recreated the hunting scene from the early Renaissance painting in plasticine and then painted from those models. She is not the only artist to have painted scenes using small clay models, which painters used in the 17th and 18th centuries. Although they didn’t make it obvious as Marburg does. What does Marburg’s technique add to our view of deer hunting scenes in the Renaissance, or is it just another filter effect?

In Sutton Gallery’s small gallery, Arlo Mountford’s video installation Obscured By Clouds expects too much. “A range of interpretations is encouraged from the viewer.” It just looked like a well-produced collection of clips with some surround sound somewhat awkwardly installed but wasn’t encouraging any interpretations.

At the other extreme, there is Brunswick Street Gallery and some shopfront galleries with no influence and prestige. Brunswick Street Gallery had its usual eight exhibitions in different media in its various spaces: linocuts, oil painting, sculptures, ceramics, mixed-media and photography. And Rose Chong’s Costumiers has turned its display windows into “Chongworld Christmas Gallery” with artworks for sale. None of them made me want to write about, but these artists are not showing to be written about but purchased. I was surprised to see some artists studios, Pól the Painter and graffiti writer Mickey xxi, as for decades, rental prices in Fitzroy have been too high for such ventures.


Attempted Banana Split

Another fortnight and another attempt to decapitate another sculpture in Melbourne. Last time it was Gandhi, this time, a 2 metre tall, half-peeled banana with a skull carved into its flesh. Like the Gandhi statues Adam Stone’s Fallen Fruit, 2021 had only recently been installed. The last time I blamed right-wing Australians this time, I don’t know what to think. What is it about Melbourne that is causing people to attack sculptures?

Adam Stone, Fallen Fruit

Various Melbourne commercial TV and radio tried to create some controversy over the sculpture’s price. Consequently, a likely suspect is your typical conservative “concerned citizen” seeking revenge for what they consider is misspent public funds. There are a lot of crazies who used to stay in their suburbs in the city street post-lockdown, and this fruit has fallen amid rotting vegetables.

Most of the media have loved the image, and it has made news as far away as Nigeria. The vandalism has been given a temporary patch filling in the cuts. The saw marks go all the way around in what was clearly an energetic but inefficient attempt to chop the skull off at the jawline.

I remember seeing Stone’s Fallen Fruit at a smaller scale and cast in bronze in an exhibition at  Fort Delta in 2016. I remember because it is a memorable  image, and Stone had a few other faces appearing out of the flesh of peeled bananas. (See my post.)

It is a striking image intended to slow down car drivers entering the partial pedestrianisation of Rose Street. Funding for the sculpture came from the TAC (Transport Accident Commission). It is definitely cheaper than the cost of emergency services at a single fatal collision. The funding also paid for a road’s resurfacing, a road mural by Gumbaynggirr and Bundjalung artist Otis Hope Carey, along with new public seating, planters growing native species, more bicycle hoops and a bike pumping station.

Scaled up in fibreglass, steel and automotive paint on a concrete base, Fallen Fruit is on the corner of Brunswick and Rose streets in Fitzroy. The intersection is busy with pedestrians enjoying coffee and the other attractions of Brunswick Street. It fits in with the area; there is graffiti by Phibs and the rest of the Everfresh crew on the wall behind it and a paste-up of Grant Alexander McCracken (1961–2020) poet and a human installation used to stand at that corner spruiking the Rose Street Artist Market.

Tim Van, Eyes Wide Shut

Bananas have a remarkable presence in contemporary art. Maybe because they aren’t apples, lemons, pineapples and grapes, fruits with traditional meanings, or simply because of the phallic humour from their shape. The following gallery, Brunswick Street Gallery, I visited had a painting by Tim Van with a boxing gloved hand holding a banana. It was bananas in art for the rest of the day, from Andy Warhol’s album design for the Velvet Underground to Maurizio Cattelan’s Comedian.


And they call them vandals

Walking around Melbourne, looking at street art and graffiti and thinking about the value of art, distinguishing between cultural, monetary and aesthetic values. Thinking about the street art being destroyed in the building boom. While ancient petroglyphs on Burrup Peninsula (Murujuga) are being destroyed in an act of industrial iconoclasm. The rock art gallery in the world means nothing to Woodside Petroleum or the WA Labor government (read the ABC news story). Nor does destroying the climate. 

Manda Lane and Kasper in Hosier Lane

I know that so much of the art world is a massive art wash, tax dodge, looted, exploitation move by the rich and powerful, as it’s been for centuries. I am still interested in art, and art-like activities, because they are, more or less, the best contiguous record of human and pre-human existence. Unauthorised street art and graffiti can be seen as an alternative to this plutocratic view. Like traditional art, it is a practice that doesn’t require wealthy patrons to pay, validate and promote the art.

Melbourne’s street art and graffiti boom occurred when the city was dying and decaying in the centre. Street art flourished because there were plenty of walls, lanes where old buildings were still standing, not because they were worth anything but because nobody had an economic reason to tear them down. The marvellous city, which had boomed in the gold rush, continued to offer ever-expanding suburbs, resulting in fewer demolitions at its core.

Melbourne is changing, new buildings changing the local geography, sometimes I no longer recognise the location anymore. The skyline on the west side that I see coming into Southern Cross Station is full of new glass towers.

“At what point do we say no?” writes Cara Waters in The Age. Now that it is being built over, people (Adrian Doyle) talk about its historical value Of course, everybody wants to rewrite history. It is a nice bit of rhetoric, but it will probably be flooded in twenty years, given the rising sea levels and Australia’s response to climate change. We all knew that it was going to be, more or less, ephemeral. Ars langa, vita brevis (art is long, life is short) – Hippocrates

Like art collecting, art destroying is largely the preserve of governments, mining companies and other plutocrats. And they call street artists and graffiti writers vandals?


Flinders Lane Nov 2021

A local cross-disciplinary artist, Amy Hurley, has an installation, A Sorry Semblance, in the Cathedral Cabinet. Cathedral Cabinet is a glass display case at the entrance of Cathedral Arcade on the ground floor of the Nicholas Building (another reason to Save the Nicholas Building). It is across the road from where the Bourke and Wills Monument was previously located in Melbourne’s City Square; now, the site of a massive box covering the excavation for Melbourne’s new underground rail loop.

detail of Amy Hurley, A Sorry Semblance

In her installation, Hurley has deconstructed the sculptural head of Bourke as imagined by the nineteenth-century sculptor Charles Summers, who made the memorial. Looking at the parts separately, I failed to recognise the face, hence the title, A Sorry Semblance.

The parts of Hurley’s installation were all relevant, from the quotes from a translation of Camus’ novel The Plague to the location across the road from the monument. However, the connections between Camus, Summers’ bronze statue of Bourke and the white ceramic tiles were not strong enough and the installation looked unfinished.

I was looking around Melbourne galleries around Flinders Lane on Wednesday when I saw A Sorry Semblance. There wasn’t much on; exhibitions installations were being done at Craft Victoria and Platform while Mailbox Art Space stood empty. It was my first time looking around galleries since Melbourne’s long lockdown. Needing to check-in and prove my double vaccinated status at every gallery was slowing me down.

Upstairs at Flinders Lane Gallery, I had to look closely at Kendal Murray’s pieces because they looked similar to those by Tinky, fortunately without the awful puns. Of course, in the last decade, I’ve seen artists from Daniel Dorall, Tinky, the Little Librarian, to Kendal Murray have used HO scale model railway figures (see my post about artists who are the same).

At fortyfivedownstairs, there was an exhibition and launch of a limited edition book, Tales from the Greek – Myth, Beauty and Brutality by writer John Hughes with art by Melbourne-based Marco Luccio. Inspired by classical Greek mythology, this is a titan of an exhibition of paintings, prints and sculptures created over five years. There is a gallery full of images of Trojan Horses, minotaurs, Sisyphus and sirens. And the strongest were Luccio’s rough warriors and other figures made of welded found metal (better than my poor photo). See my review of one of Luccio’s previous exhibitions.

Summarising my excursion amongst the galleries of Flinders Lane reminded me of several things: the long tail of classical Greek mythology, the similarity of contemporary artists, and the work going on in Melbourne’s smaller alternate exhibition spaces, like Cathedral Cabinets.

Marco Luccio, Tales from the Greek, installation view

Vigil – the Heart of Cabrini

There is now a monumental sculpture, Vigil – The Heart of Cabrini by Simon Perry, out the front of Cabrini Hospital in Malvern. A sculpture of this size is not all the work of the sculptor. It starts with the decision to have one, then a commissioning process to find the sculptor. Then the location and design must be finalised before the sculpture is fabricated, installed and officially unveiled. A project that can take years.

This sculpture started in late 2016 with a committee to organise commemorations for the centenary of the death of St Frances Cabrini. After the committee agreed on having a sculpture as part of the commemorations and sculpture sub-committee was formed to write an artist brief and then find a sculptor. I have some minor responsibility here because, in a brief email reply to a member of the sculpture sub-committee, I mentioned Simon Perry amongst a few other local sculptors. Full disclosure, for this little effort, I was treated to a coffee and given the inside story.

If Simon Perry’s name isn’t familiar in Melbourne, his Public Purse in the Bourke Street mall certainly is. As well as creating sculptures, Perry teaches at RMIT.

Wisely, the sculpture sub-committee talked to more people and more sculptors than just the three I mentioned. They met with eight sculptors at their studios and received six expressions of interest. By February 2017, the sculpture sub-committee had made a shortlist of three artists to commission to do a concept design. After receiving these concept designs in April, Perry was considered to be the “preferred artist”. However, he wasn’t formally commissioned until late in 2018 as approval had come from the Centenary committee, the hospital’s Major Projects Committee and the local Stonnington Council.

I didn’t think that Perry would be chosen because I thought they probably wanted a statue. It turns out that some of the committee did want a statue, but Perry’s proposal won them over. It examined the symbolism in the commission brief, found visual connections and gave them a physical form. The heartbeat pattern of a cardiogram provides it with an overall shape. A shape that could also refer to the habits of nuns who established the hospital. These dark curved shapes (stainless steel clad with bronze) are pierced with holes that light up at night, like stars. The peaks of the cardiogram have gold (polished bronze sheets) hearts on top that slowly rotate in a stiff breeze.

Perry’s concept design then had to be finalised. Then the sculpture was fabricated by Derek John of DJProjects with lighting by Luke Adams, one of Perry’s many former students. So that, after five years since the sculpture was conceived, it was finally installed and officially unveiled in November 2021.

The turning hearts on the tops of the sculpture’s 7.4m spires can be seen from Wattletree Road making it an aid to navigation. Located to one side of the main entrance and surrounded by a small garden with plenty of seating, Vigil is on hospital land but directly abutting and accessible from public land.

I’ve spent too much time for a healthy person visiting hospitals in recent years, so I’m aware of the need for an aesthetically appealing place to sit just outside a hospital. Or to look at from one of the windows to ease your troubled thoughts. So I hope that Perry’s Vigil does that for Cabrini Hospital.


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