Category Archives: Public Sculpture

A Hostile Installation

A hostile installation is where a public sculpture is installed in a very unsympathetic way, like John Kelly’s Cow Up A Tree which has been located behind a ‘temporary’ coffee shop in Docklands for years. There are a few hostile installations of public sculpture in Melbourne and then there is hatred directed at Marc Clark’s Portal, 1973.

This is what the sculpture should look like. Marc Clark’s maquette for Portal.

The hostility directed at this sculpture is exhibited in both neglect, storing a sign next to it, and blocking views of the sculpture with a corrugated iron ticket booth. Clark’s Portal as its name indicates is meant to be a gateway, standing at one of the entrances to Myer Music Bowl. Instead there is a rectangular booth stuck directly front of it. What is wrong with the Myer Music Bowl? The Myer Music Bowl is run by the Melbourne Arts Centre, who should know how to take care of a sculpture.

This is how it has been installed

Sculptor and educator Marc Clark did nothing to invite this. This is Australian passive aggressive indifference; all antipathy with no responsibility. Both Clark and his sculpture are victims of the hostile attitude; they just happen to be in the way of philistine forces from some staff at the Myer Music Bowl.

A versatile sculptor Clarke created the formal abstracts, like Portal, and representational sculptures, like his Captain Cook statue at the Captain Cook Cottage in Fitzroy Gardens or his bust of botanist and explorer, Baron Ferdinand Von Mueller in the Botanic Gardens.

Sculptures need to be maintained and do not magically remain in perfect condition. Fortunately they are more easily repairable than other public art (see my post on the conservation of street art). There are sculptures that are regularly repainted like Ron Robertson-Swann’s Vault. Public sculptures are sometimes damaged in accidents, like when a truck hit Peter Corlett’s Mr Poetry and broke its leg. Portal needs to have rust and moss removed and it’s surface repaired and repainted.

A new location has to be found for the ticket booth or Portal, so that both can function as they should.


The Saigon Welcome Arch

It is a strange sight in the middle of the tasteless utilitarian architecture of Footscray’s low rise suburban shopping. Two matching curving arabesques of wings and bird’s neck reaches high into the sky. The forms of the fabled Vietnamese Lac birds The inside of these enormous forms is lined with golden printed metal with an image with a mass of flowers, butterflies and a woman in traditional Vietnamese dress.

On one edge, in clear lettering is “Saigon Welcome Arch”. Footscray is such a welcoming place, or at least it aspires to be, a short distance away there is and Indigenous welcome, the ‘smoking’ ceremony at Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom by Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins.

The Saigon Welcome Arch in Footscray is packed into the intersection of Leeds and Hopkins streets with a cafe one side and a pharmacy on the other. This is about creating a better urban space by making a place out of an otherwise nondescript T-intersection. It doesn’t fit into bland cheap utilitarian architecture of the place, it burst free from it.

But does any of that matter aside from aesthetics how does this public art work? On a large scale of architecture and human interaction the arch is a landmark in Footscray and the Saigon Night Market operates every second a Friday of the month under it and along Leeds Street (I should go, sculptures and public art is different at night). On the small personal scale of comfort for tired legs there are matching curving white seats at the base of each of the arch’s wing.

It was created in 2016 by architects McBride Charles Ryan and local artist Khue Nguyen as part of the redevelopment of the Little Saigon precinct. Khue Nguyen came to Australia as a political refugee in 1988 and in 2010 he was a finalist in Archibald Prize for a self portrait.

There aren’t a lot of gateways in Melbourne but Khue Nguyen has done another on the opposite side of the city for the Springvale retail area. This time it was in collaboration with Hassell Architect. In Buckingham Ave two towers topped with a flat red roof hang large golden banners printed with a Vietnamese design. Springvale, like Footscray, also has a large population who were, or whose parents were, from Vietnam.


Faces – the survival of street sculpture

A face emerges from or sinks into the aerosol paint covered walls. A person merging with the structure of the city, a skeleton of metal, a body of bricks and concrete and a skin of paint. Features register underneath the layers of paint, the hint of a smile. There are more faces on the wall… It is the same face? Is it a portrait?

Street art sculpture still interest me on because it is such a difficult medium. The sculpture has to survive the conditions on the street. Public sculpture criticism needs to be modified by a difficulty rating. Just as the aesthetics of sculpture is modified by a difficulty rating for moving large pieces of metal or stone around, public sculpture has the additional difficulty rating for being exposed to drunks and dickheads. And street art sculpture has the added difficulty multiplier for being done without permission.

The sculptures survive under multiple layers of paint. In graffiti intense environment, like Melbourne’s Hosier Lane, a street art sculpture will need to still work underneath aerosol paint.

There are a cluster of Will Coles crushed cans at the entrance of Rutledge Lane (now a stub off Hosier Lane blocked at both ends by building work). Further along there on a ledge are the vandalised remains of a Will Coles sculptures that someone broke trying to steal it. Nearby are cast sea shells, the faces and pieces with raised lettering. I suspect, because of a couple of tags in raised letters, that the raised letters could be the work of Anthony Lister except the letter style is different.

I have no idea who did the faces. There are many other similar works, like Mary Rogers cast faces for a footbridge in Moreland. They are also similar the work of the French artist Gregos but it is not his face and therefore not his work.

Having a particular focus on street art sculpture and don’t feel compelled to photograph every piece of street art that I see. My photography teacher always emphasised being focused.


A sculpture, a garden and a library

There is a quote from Cicero engraved into the paving stones on Dawson Street in Brunswick:

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”

Now there is a garden and a library there.

The garden plugs Saxon Street shut near the corner of Sydney Rd and Dawson Street. A new micro-park with a sculpture, trees, shrubs, a couple of benches, lot of paving and rocks has turned a dull lane beside Brunswick Library into a place for people.

The sculpture is a bronze column like a twisted rope stands. On its base there are the words “bring us together’, in part referring to the strands of its rope-like form. It is Anton Hasell’s most recent sculpture, Where We Have Come To, 2019.

As a sculptor Hasell has learnt to keep things simple with public art. His early sculptures were so full of meaning you couldn’t unpack them without a tool box and manual (see WTF Corner). Now he is focused on combines sight and sound with circles. Hasell makes circles beautiful, meaningful and strong.

The circular twisted column of Where We Have Come To is about the twisted place that brings us together. And it makes a sound.

I didn’t get to the launch of Anton Hasell’s sculpture Where We Have Come To. According to the launch invite the sculpture “represents the many diverse cultures that give strength to the community of Moreland.” The plan for the launch of the sculpture on Thursday 5 December was described as a “celebration of Moreland’s multiculturalism”. After the Mayor of Moreland’s opening remarks and there was a community musical event playing Hasell’s tubular bell sculpture and Federation Bells. I don’t know if it went to plan, because I wasn’t there. I wonder what it sounded like.

Hasel has always been interested in the sound that sculpture makes when you tap it; bronze sculpture are hollow. Then he started to make bells: the Tilly Aston Bells, the Federation Bells, lots and lots of bells (link to my post Hasell with Bells).

When I went to see his new bronze column I neglected to bring along a pencil or something suitable to tap it. What sound does the sculpture produces? Perhaps it sounds as if it is similar to Hasell’s Twisted Bell located on the Yarra River main trail next to the Yarra River between Yarra and Darling Street in South Yarra but I haven’t seen or heard it yet. I must get around to listening to some more sculpture.


More than a kick

I couldn’t miss the Terrance Plowright sculpture, More than a kick, in Federation Square. Larger than life, high-kicking the bronze statue is sculptural version of Michael Willson’s photograph of Carlton AFLW player Tayla Harris.

Terrance Plowright, More than a kick

The sculptor, Plowright is from NSW and has made a large number of figurative public sculptures for places in that state but this is his first for Melbourne.

Federation Square will not be the permanent location for the statute — it will be there for a few weeks before being permanently installed (plonked, that’s a technical term for putting a sculpture somewhere that it wasn’t specifically made for) probably out the front of some football ground. Someone who knows more about football (most of Melbourne) will have more of an idea of which football ground.

There are several reasons why it is unlikely to be the MCG. Plowright is not one of the sculptors who are regularly commissioned to sculpt the larger than life statues of sporting heroes at the MCG, Louis Laumen and Julie Squires. His style is realistic, rougher than the highly polished figures around the MCG. Nor is the sculpture’s sponsor (NAB) the usual sponsor (Telstra) for the sports statues at the MCG.

A lot of people love statues of sports heroes but I don’t; it is too archaic a reason for a sculpture. Their active poses ultimately goes no-where, remaining static, on a pedestal, in memoriam.

As a temporary location for statues Federation Square sometimes works and sometime fails. It works because it is central location and a lot of people visit and it often doesn’t work because there is so much else going on there. In another part of the square, some edition of the Fearless Girl stands in front of the entrance to a bar.

One of the few points in favour of both of these statues is that they redresses Melbourne’s statue gender in-balance. (See my blog post Statues of women and women sculptors.)


Dan Wollmering’s Dwelling

Dan Wollmering is a Melbourne-based contemporary sculptor. He has works in sculptures parks in the China and the USA, a large metal sculpture Xanthe (also known as “The Future Vitality of Caulfield”) at the corner of Glen Eira and Hawthorn Roads, and closer to my home, a sculpture on the grounds of the Fawkner Leisure Centre. I took the train out to Gowrie just to see it.

Dan Wollmering Dwelling

Gowrie is a northern station on the Upfield line. It is past the Fawkner Cemetery where the train line goes through the park cemetery. I have only been to this part of Melbourne’s northern suburbs a couple of times before, so the area was all new to me.

Walking to the Fawkner Leisure Centre I asked directions from a sleep deprived young dad pushing his baby daughter around. She had been a “grisly little baby last night”. He was walking that way and happy to help in my search for the sculpture. We walked through the park at the front of the leisure centre where a lot of the outdoor exercise and the playground equipment looked like abstract sculptures, although nothing like Wollmering’s work.

I tried to describe Wollmering’s work to the dad; who said he thought that there was something curved and metal around the side.

Dwelling was commissioned by Moreland City Council with some funds from Monash University) sited in front of the child care entrance at the Leisure Centre in Fawkner Victoria. It is a circle of metal partially surrounded by a curved metal seat with a high back. Public art providing a place to sit is always welcomed by tired feet.

At one end of this bench is a local stone excavated from a council construction site with the word “Willam” (dwelling in the local Wurundjeri language group) carved on it. At the other is form like a half avocado with the seed still in; I had seen this form in Wollmering’s last exhibition (see my blog post.)

Around the back of the bench are more panels with text. It is amongst the most wordy sculptures in Melbourne. The text was written by Moria Bourke, the author of Loosing It (1998, Text Publishing), with lots of  local collaboration; the local Indigenous elder was consulted and much of the text was taken verbatim from the questionnaire about how people felt about dwelling in Fawkner, their incorrect grammar included.

The young dad put the breaks on the baby carriage. We could have sat down but it was a freezing winter day. We didn’t read all the text but we did clear the circle of metal of leaves, sweeping them away with our feet, so that we could look at the full work.

Mission accomplished; the dad and his baby continued on their way and I headed back to Gowrie station to catch the train home.


Plaques

Once upon a time, on this very spot there was a … but it is gone now and all that is left is a bronze plaque. Plaques are trying to rivet a superficial history into place, to stop a treasury of trivia from drifting away as busts of men loiter in bas-relief on the building.

As place making, or even, public information curation plaques are at the lower end. I became interested in them because of my interest in public sculpture. And I have found a few interesting items.

on of plaques at Royal Melbourne Hospital

Tell anyone who thinks that plaques are a permanent memorial that they are dreaming. Changes inevitably happen. Remarkably there is a collection of commemorative plaques at Royal Melbourne Hospital, no longer in their original locations due to the almost constant rebuilding of the hospital, these plaques have been brought together in the interest of history.

When I see a plaque with more than just words I try to work out who made it as the creators of these plaques includes some notable local sculptors. There is John Dias by William Leslie Bowles at Trades Hall or Ray Ewers’s Cookie memorial on the banks of the Yarra. On the Melbourne Symphony’s building on Southbank is Julie Edgar’s bronze bas-relief portrait of Hiroyuki Iwaki Chief Conductor and Conductor Laureate. Michael Meszaros has created several plaques with portrait at Melbourne University and the work of the sculptor Stanley Hammond can be seen on three bas-relief busts at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.  

Even though some of the work is signed but even then I have not been able to find out anything about them. Who is the M Mason who did the bas-relief street-scapes on the Scotch College plaques?

The multiple Scotch College plaques in Melbourne and East Melbourne raises the issue of paying for these metal didactic panels. No wonder why the elite private school Scotch College has so many.

On the other side of Australia’s unequal society the Indigenous history of Gertrude Street in Fitzroy is also well documented with a series of plaques.

Although many historical and commemorative plaques are dull; memorials and historical markers are not the only thing that can be done with a plaque. The Wheeler Centre has placed a “discussion marker” in Melbourne. And there are unofficial memorials like Will Coles’s Chopper Read plaques to this notorious stand-over man and artist.

So although most plaques are dull I think I will keep looking at them. I will let you know if I find any more worth commenting on.


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