Category Archives: Public Sculpture

The Nest in Darebin Parklands

“Look, a sculpture!” A cyclist says to her companions as they roll by following the curve of the cycle trail through Darebin Parklands.

David Michael Bell and Gary Tippett, The Nest, 2012

The Nest by David Michael Bell and Gary Tippett is obvious. A brown sphere positioned halfway up a hill, half surrounded by a pond. Large enough to be a minor landmark in the park. The round form fits with the undulating landscape.

Although it can be seen from the cycle trail, access to the sculpture is via a circuitous route. You can’t walk directly to it because there is a pond is packed with rushes and reeds, providing a home for waterfowl in front of it. You have to walk through natural a parkland of indigenous flora and fauna to reach sculpture.

The simple round form of The Nest, made from recycled wood, becomes more complex on closer inspection. The pieces of wood making the form creating patterns. Their brown painted hand chiselled surface. You can look at an easy to navigate 3D sketch of The Nest and even see inside it.

David Bell, Raising the Rattler Pole

Its sculptors have an unusual career path. Bell moved from being a theatre stage manager to a prop maker to public sculpture. “Five years ago, I did my first public artwork with Gary Tippett, a film industry colleague, in Wodonga’s main street. Since then, public art has been my full-time passion and interest.” What’s On Blog’s interview with Bell. Bell’s up-ended tram on the corner of Spencer and Flinders Street Raising the Rattler Pole – The Last of the Connies. (Bell and Tippett are not alone in moving from theatre to public sculpture; there is also William Eicholtz.)

Bell and Tippett know how to make a dramatic statement dressing the urban stage. The main problem with their sculptures is that they are set dressing, meaningless decorations that get looks but say nothing. The best that can be said for them is that they fit in their location. They are passable but not great; the cyclists don’t stop for a second look as they pass by.


New public art procurement process

Consider the commissioning process for public art. Artists spend days working on proposals, grinding through hundreds of points, jumping through paper hoops, trying to put their art into words. As well, they have to design an almost complete work that only has to be fabricated. Days, if not weeks …

Installation view of Mikala Dwyer Apparition, 2021 night-time digital projection onto holo-gauze screen. Photo by Darren Tanny Tan

And then they don’t get the commission because of hundreds of reasons. It could have gone to another artist or an architecture firm with a staff member specialising in creating beautiful CAD rendering of designs. Leaving them wondering if all that work was worth it.

It is a process that was designed in another century when the choice was between different statues of the same hero. It was about who could produce the best quote to erect some carved stone or cast bronze. Now public art can be a permanent sculpture to a temporary audio installation; it is comparing apples to underwear. The brief for a commission is about addressing a long list of themes and other obscure planning and budgeting requirements becoming a bureaucratic hunger games.

So it was good to hear someone other than an artist explain why the procurement model of the commission process is no longer fit for purpose. Instead, the City of Melbourne is trying out an alternative, a governance-led model. This brings the relevant people together at the start of the process, for many people are involved in public art, including city engineers, maintenance…    

The artist for the program is selected not from a long and detailed proposal but a far shorter, job-application-like, based on their previous work. And rather than responding to the commission document, the artist is involved in a collaborative discussion from the start

This new approach has been tested with a temporary work, Apparition, by Mikala Dwyer. Her holographic possum can be seen at University Square in Carlton intermittently for the next six months. And this new approach is planned to next be used to acquire new permanent works. 

Amy Barclay, the Public Art Project Lead for the City of Melbourne, didn’t have much time to explain all the details of the city’s new approach at a forum on public art hosted by Mars Gallery but the image comparing the size of the applications was dramatic.

The forum, Public Art Now, creating new public art from commissioning to fabrication. From the people like Lisa Dunlop, Manager for Urban Design and Urban Planning at the Level Crossing Removal Project, who are commissioning art, to the consultants like Andy Dinan of Mars Gallery who advise and facilitate, the artists, represented that night by Lisa Roet, who create the art (see my post on her sculpture), and the fabricator Jason Waterhouse, makes it.

That Fundrêre Foundry, a traditional bronze casting enterprise, now has an art fabricator indicates an ongoing change in the materials used for public art. However, aside from the environmental mitigation consideration by the artist and the fabricator, there have been few other changes in creating public art. So the City of Melbourne’s new approach tried in their ‘Test Sites’ commissions represents an improvement not in the art but in the process of making it.


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

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