Category Archives: Public Sculpture

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.


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.


Four works of public art

Considering four works of public art with differences in funding, permanence, and relationship to place, as well as techniques and materials. All of them are associated with the complex of hospitals in the inner Melbourne suburb of Parkville.

There is some recent yarn bombing by Yarn Corner on the trees in front of Royal Melbourne Hospital on Royal Parade and outside the Royal Women’s Hospital on Flemington Road. A thank-you to the hospital staff during the pandemic. This collective, co-operative community work, includes one of the best pieces of yarn bombing that I have ever seen. This was not mindless, meditative knitting but a work planned from the start with a vision of how it would look on a tree in Parkville. It is a temporary installation that interacts with the built and natural environment and, in that respect, is specific to the location.

Micheal Meszaros, Irreparable Loss of Potential, 2015

Micheal Meszaros, Irreparable Loss of Potential, 2015 is a permanent sculpture commissioned by the Dyson Bequest to commemorate the anniversary of Gordon Clunes MacKay’s death Mathison, a doctor and talented medical researcher, from wounds in WW1. It is another in his series of sculptures at the front of the Royal Women’s Hospital and Medical Building at the University of Melbourne. The series emphasises the collaborative, team effort that is at the core of medical science. The sculpture is not site-specific. It is now in its second location near the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute entrance.

Bruce Armstrong The Next Day 1990

Next to Meszaros’ sculpture at the entrance of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute is Bruce Armstrong The Next Day 1990. It is was purchased as a complete statue from Armstrong with funds donated by Dame Elizabeth Murdoch. A seated figure, solid and substantial, head bowed, reflecting inward; its archetypal form would speak to many people. Carved in a subtractive process from logs of red gum. The massive pieces of wood used are found material that Armstrong has salvaged. Other Armstrong sculptures around Melbourne include the well known Eagle on Wurundjeri Way. Armstrong is one of Melbourne’s public art giants. For more on his sculpture, see my blog post.

Holly O’Brien, Hope

Just across Royal Parade on the University of Melbourne’s grounds is one of the Me and UooUoo sculpture trail. It is connected to my hospital sculpture theme because it is “the Royal Children’s Hospital Anniversary Art Trail”. Me and UooUoo are temporarily plonked down and don’t interact with the built or natural environment. Painted by local artists on the same round Uoo Uoo form, these sculptures form a trail, but you couldn’t walk it as it goes all the way to Geelong. This attractively painted one is Hope by Holly O’Brien, a final year student at Templestowe College. Among the many artists involved in this project, several street artists were involved, including Manda Lane, Mike Makatron, Be Free, and Ghostpatrol. And the corporate sponsorship, the art wash, is prominently displayed along the base.


Street Art Sculpture 11

This has been a big year for unauthorised public sculptural artwork; both for little and larger works, veterans and novices.

The Little Librarian up-cycles old books into new art using books for the support for the tiny installations. Unlike Tinky, The Little Librarian doesn’t use puns. The old books used would have been thrown out but have been made into something before being placed on walls. They don’t last long outside, due to the weather and, I assume, being ripped off by a passer-by. Tinky has continued to install miniature scenes on the street. Still, she is not the only street artist in Melbourne using HO scale figures.

There is a golden young woman’s head on a slender concrete plinth on the island inhabited by ibis in Coburg’s Lake Reserve. Last year a similar golden head of a man appeared atop a similar concrete plinth in Northcote’s All Nations Park (The Age reports).

The new sculpture’s placement on the island must have been strategically tricky as there is no bridge. This location avoids the Northcote bust’s problems whose plinth was knocked over shortly after it was installed. The Darebin Council restored it, deciding that it would remain in place for a year and then be auctioned with the proceeds donated to homelessness services. 

Elsewhere in a city mainly under quarantine lockdown for much of year children created spoonvilles. These settlements of decorated wooden spoons are open contribution sculptural works that invite others to participate. 

Some graffiti writers, like Cheros, expand their techniques, creating three-dimensional tags.

And ceramic works continues to feature as one of the more surprising mediums for street art be it from Discarded or other, unknown artists.

For more about unauthorised public sculptures see my earlier posts:


Pygmalion’s Nightmare

What would happen if, like in the story of Pygmalion, Melbourne’s public sculptures were to come to life? It is a story from Yell Olé, a Melbourne underground comic from the mid-90s, by Bernard Caleo and Brendan Tolley.

J.E. Boehm, St George and the dragon, 1876

The statues are resentful for their spirits having been “locked in city buildings for reasons generations old.” The figure from the art deco Manchester Unity Building is the first to rampage through the city. Later he is chased down by the two warriors on horseback from outside of the State Library, the unlikely combination of St George and Joan of Arc.

I won’t tell you about the story’s outcome but point out that Will Self conjures a similar scene for London’s in his novel, The Book of Dave (2006). This is not an accusation of plagiarism but an example of convergent evolution out of similar urban environments. Probably there are more stories set in different cities have been told by other people. For this is a psychogeographical exercise of imagination animating statues by their totemic spirits through comic-book metaphysics.

My current version of this scenario in Melbourne is no picnic in the park. There are more sculptures. The atmosphere is more partisan and far more brutal spurred on by the animosity of the culture wars. Callum Morton’s Hotel would be booked out by dolls, miniatures, and teddy bears in town to watch the fight. Yellow angular shards would grow at various angles around the city, like alien mineral deposits from the planet DCM.

On one side a strange assortment of creatures; amongst them the Cowardly Lion of Fitzroy (Eicholtz’s Courage) and the big black rabbit (Floyd’s Signature Work) from the Docklands. Their best defence is the dogs of this war, FIDO and Larry LaTrobe; FIDO is huge. Although Larry is far smaller, as his studded collar would suggest, he is far more vicious.

On the other side is a cavalry unit of equestrian statues, metal men with suitcases staggering down Burke Street Mall like zombies. World War One servicemen, the many golems in the service of the imaginal throne of the eternal empire rampage through Melbourne as if it were Cairo. Bronze explorers unable to navigate the cities streets get lost in the suburbs randomly claiming properties on behalf of the King. Intoxicated statues of former State Premiers punching it out in Treasury Gardens after drinking with Robbie Burns and General Gordon’s statues.

And just when you thought the fight was over Bunjil, along with the Genie from Queen Victoria Gardens, fly in to save the day.

Bruce Armstrong, Eagle, 2002, Docklands

The Birdcage: suburban garden sculptures

Rarely does the sculptural elements of inner-city, suburban front gardens rise above the found object, the cast concrete, or an art student’s effort. I have been looking for examples for many years. After over a decade of looking, I have found a fantastic domestic garden sculpture. (I know nothing about the people who live at this house and I am trying not to intrude on their privacy while commenting on their front garden.)

Like their near relatives, the corporate sculptures in front of office blocks, domestic front garden sculptures are a kind of public sculpture. For while they are privately owned, they are on public display. And like all outdoor sculpture, they must survive the weather which limits the choice of media.

Most garden sculptures are either the corny or kitsch. The kitsch: represented by garden gnomes and other lawn ornaments, commercial sculptures cast in concrete or welded metal creations. And the corny represented by swans made from car tires,  ‘spoonvilles’ and recycled things turned into flower pots. There are also pseudo-sculptural elements of industrial readymade objects, railway sleepers are popular at the moment in Melbourne. Occasionally you will see the relics of what looks like a fine arts student’s sculpture, or that of a brave amateur, retired to the garden; however, these are rarely substantial enough to fill the space.

The importance of sculpture for suburbanites is dubious, for as it is not structural but aesthetic, it is not worthy of investment. Unlike the corporate version, privately owned sculpture on public display has no practical use for a sculpture in a suburban garden, place-making, way-finding, or even seating. Being only decorative is demanding a lot from a sculpture. 

Then there is the big metaphysical birdcage in a front garden of an ordinary house in the inner-city suburb. Like a Magritte painting come to life in a suburban garden, the giant birdcage is different from other domestic garden sculpture. It transforms anyone who sits inside the cage (which has a lockable door), into part of the art. The surreal, infinite regression of birdcages comments on the whole birdcage of suburban existence and existential angst.

It is a remarkable garden sculpture because it provides a private experience that wouldn’t work in a public garden. And, unlike other garden sculptures, the birdcage is almost too large for the small garden space.


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.


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