If you are like me then you are already bored with all the articles, posts, tweets about COVID-19. So please forgive me for this blog post; I am writing it for a future record rather than for you my present unfortunate readers. On the upside, this short blog post contains my most complete report on what is going on in Melbourne’s art galleries but with fewer images.
A few commercial galleries like, Charles Nodrum Gallery, continued with their exhibition program during March, without the usual opening drinks, and remained open by appointment, asking patrons to call ahead to arrange a suitable time to view the exhibition.
Some street artists and graffiti writers, normally nocturnal creatures, are still venturing outside to practice their art but they won’t have many actual viewers even in the best locations. The famous Hosier Lane is empty, as it often was a decade ago when the art in it was better. I infer this from what I have seen in recent posts and photos for I have seen little more than a few blocks from my home.
Many artists are working from home or alone in their studio as they have always done. What they produce and what is the cultural impact of this pandemic maybe a topic for future blog posts when the art galleries are open again.
Instead of going out paint-spotting today; photographing graffiti and street art around the city I am staying home. I have been cleaning up my photo collection of graffiti and street art. The photos need to be named, tagged, filed. In the process I saw my photos of Hosier Lane and, the then adjoining, Rutledge Lane from a decade ago in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Hosier Lane was not created so that people could sell product or attract tourists. It was a place for graffiti writers and street artists, where they could spray in the centre of city. Not that those original intentions mean anything in what it has become. So here is a photo-essay about Hosier Lane from over a decade ago when there were a lot less tourists and a bit more respect for the art.
Mr Dimples is “pretty upset” and “gutted” that his up-coming first exhibition “No More Suckers” at The Stockroom has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “A years worth of work, ready to hang in two weeks and then boom, postponed.” He told me online. I was intending to review the exhibition so instead decided to write about the postponed show.
Mr Dimples is a street-artist from Bendigo who does these cute robots and aliens. A fan of horror films he started to draw these cute monsters after seeing the Tim Burton exhibition at ACMI. There is something defective and absurd about his monsters: they are sewn up, an X for an eye, or are a robot with a joint in his metal hand.
On the street he works with paste-ups and stencils but in the exhibition there will be 53 paintings on canvas. Painting is place for him to express his feelings about the world. “My canvases are where I put my life and soul and display it to an audience. I feel my paste ups and stencils are more like portraits and don’t tell a story.” And he pours out stories about backstabbing mates, controlling partners and “getting rid of toxic people in your life”.
Mr Dimples came up with his name in five minutes and kicked off his career when the Bendigo Advertiser wrote an article about him.
Four years ago, when I first saw his sweet little monsters stuck to a Bendigo wall, Mr Dimples was about the only street artist in the Central Victorian gold rush city. There is a bit more now and the local council have tentatively begun to commission the odd piece but it is still not a flourishing scene.
To compensate for that he has joined forces with Melbourne’s “the ninjas” to bring his art to the laneways of Melbourne. “Working with the ninjas has allowed me to work with a group and share, grow and enjoy other artists company. It’s like a quirky little family, where we do art, laugh and then eat dumplings.”
We will have to wait an indefinite time before we can see Mr Dimples’s exhibition but in the meantime here are a few more of his images.
On Friday I went into Melbourne to see some exhibitions and street art. With increasing isolation looming, firstly due to the closure of my train line for Sky Rail construction, and the prospect of further isolation due to the pandemic, it might be my last chance to see some exhibitions for a few months.
A walk along Flinders Lane leads to less galleries than it did a decade ago.
Arc One had an exhibition of furniture made of leather part of Melbourne Design Week 2020, it was more like a shop than a gallery. It was “Partu” (the Walmajarri word for skin) by Johnny Nargoodah and Trent Jansen. Most of the pieces looked awkward and you could see the steel armature underneath the leathery contortions.
Fortyfive Downstairs had “Between Horizons” haunting sculptures in the shape of boats by Jan Learmonth and, “Microcosmographia” a group exhibition about animals.
Turning off Flinders Lane I walked down Hosier Lane and although it was less crowded without the Chinese tourists, I was surprised at how many people were still there. I was looking for the aftermath of the great fire-extinguisher spray performance event. You could still see it, high up on the walls, if you knew what to look for and where to look for it. Most of it has been repainted. Local writers are keen to inform the public about the effect that the shop, Culture Kings, is having on the lane’s culture. Culture Kings are the main offender but there are other advertisers with stencils who were exploiting the traffic in the lane. Everything is not a platform to advertise your product; there are more important things.
My main objective was to see the “Japanese Modernism” exhibition at the NGV International and but while I was at there I looked at the art book fair, an up-market and quality zine fair for people who love book design.
“Japanese Modernism” is not a large exhibition, just a large room, with men’s fashion on one side and women’s fashion on the other side. It is mostly design, rather than art, with some great examples of ephemera in the form tourist maps, magazines, make-up and music scores for the popular modern instruments harmonica and ukulele.
There was no shock of the new for Japan as the land already shaken by the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923. And Japan adopted modernism with a confidence born from the fact that modernism was always a syncretic mix that included Japanese and European elements.
Changes to place in Brunswick and Coburg due to Sky Rail replacing the Upfield train line. Along with the changes to the infrastructure there has been destruction of public gardens and Sky Rail will effect the street art, graffiti, free libraries, guerrilla gardens, and other anarchic guerrilla place-makers along the line. MoreArts, the annual Moreland City Council outdoor art exhibition, which uses spaces along this transportation corridor has been suspended.
The destruction of parks in Coburg including the chopping down 100+ of mature trees enjoyed by native birds and possums during a climate emergency. The destruction of these parks is the destruction of places. You can’t instantly make a place, it requires people with memories of the place and that takes time, like a tree, to grow; it will take decades to make an impact.
Jacinta Allan, the minister responsible for this destruction is doing it to save some car drivers a few seconds off their commute. It is doing nothing for rail commuters and bicycle riders. Sky Rail construction is destroying many places with nothing better than optical community consultation (something that has the optics of a community consultation).
Locals defended Gandolfo Gardens. They worked through all the processes, attended meetings, wrote letters, signed petitions to no avail and were eventually dragged away by the police. The garden at Moreland Station was created by locals a hundred years ago. A place full of trees and memories. It had a memorial to an ancient scar tree that had previously been removed from the site.
The sad fact is that just across the road from Gandolfo Gardens was one of the most neglected blocks that could have been used instead. Nothing more than a parking lot and abandoned silos.
Now that the walls are no longer in eyesight of the commuters in the train their value to graffiti writers will decline. Access to most of the walls, along with the bike path, has been sealed in February.
I have written many blog posts about the street art and graffiti along this path. Here are a couple about things that have already or will soon be effected by the construction. Although neither was intended to be permanent the art and place-making along the line is a loss for all who enjoyed it.
The little red free library contacted Yarn Corner about moving their installation to the libraries new location at Robinson Reserve in advance of the construction. Great to see world’s best practice in public art being carried out by guerrilla place-makers.
The desire to preserve the Keith Haring mural in Collingwood was a combination of community concerns and heritage values. Horizon scanning it is clear that the conservation of street art will be an increasing issue. Although some street art is ephemeral other murals are considered permanent and people would grieve their loss.
“Conservation of Wall Paintings, Murals and Street Art – an international perspective” was presented by Australian ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) at the University of Melbourne on 18 February 2020. It consisted of two talks by Will Shank and Antonio Rava; the two conservators who worked on the Keith Haring mural in Collingwood.
Antonio Rava presented “Comparative Studies of Outdoor Contemporary Mural Conservation”. And Will Shank, “The Conservation of Contemporary Murals: How is it different?” Both spoke about the ethics and techniques of conservation of murals and street art and their work on the Keith Haring mural.
Conservation is about saving the life of a work of art. The scientific application of techniques to preserve, arrest and reverse deterioration.
Murals need protection from the sun, rain and, even the airborne pollutants of the city. There can be problems with plaster delaminating from the surface of the building or suffusing through the layer of paint. Rain washes out the soluble material and acrylic spray paints contain water soluble material. Black lines get hotter in the summer and cracking the surface of the paint. So do not have murals, in southern hemisphere, on north facing walls because the damage to the paint by the sun.
The ethics of art conservation are based on not doing anything that the artist does not approve or would not have approved. There are also, in some cases of street art, the moral rights of architects not to have their work altered, in which case Antonio Rava advocates “let it fade”.
Between 2010-2012 there was a debate about how best to treat Haring’s Collingwood wall. Public sculpture is considered to have a renewable surface, holes in them are patched and repainted regularly, but to what extent is the surface of public murals renewable? Could it simply be repainted?
Rava outlined problems with repainting Haring murals loosing the quality of Haring’s hand movement. For it is the line that is the most important part of Haring’s work. And on the mural Haring’s red lines were particularly faded; a transparent glaze over them meant that you can still see the original brush strokes.
The conservators also faced the problem of how to clean a large rough surface. In the end artist’s gum pencil erasers were used to remove a material on the wall that had built up over the paint.
What is being done to preserve the community murals of Melbourne from the 1970s and 80s? Will Shank, who had worked on walls from the community murals movement of San Francisco, reminded the audience that are no community murals in Chicago from the 1960s.
I am unaware of any other murals in Melbourne that are being conserved like the Haring nor of any plans. Most of Melbourne’s murals, street art and graffiti are only being preserved in digital photographs. What Melbourne’s street art murals would you mourn if they disappeared? And what plans should be made to conserve them?
Can’t Do Tomorrow is a 10 day long urban and street art festival in Melbourne.
Well, it is somewhere between an art fair and a festival, but called a festival because the words ‘art fairs’ is becoming unpopular. And Can’t Do Tomorrow would not want be unpopular. Like an art fair there are entry tickets, booths with art for sale and even a print store with on-demand printing. Like a festival there are exhibitions, a talks program, murals, sculptures, and installations, a line-up of live music acts and DJs. I’ve seen worse art fairs and a single venue festival seems limited even if it is a very large multi-level warehouse; The Facility, in Kensington.
Wall after wall in the former wool warehouse has been painted with mural after mural along with large 3D constructions. There has been good detailing with collections of stickers and little pieces by Junkie Projects, Gigi and Tinky in odd locations.
There is a mix of local and international artists.
There was another version of this piece about the writer Liu Xiaobo in Hosier Lane in 2018. The paste-up became a shrine for people to leave flowers and photos. It is the work of Chinese-Australian political artist and cartoonist Badiuca. This slick neon version was intended to match the neon lights of Hong Kong.
Can’t Do Tomorrow states that it is the ‘inaugural festival’ and plans to return. There is no doubt that Melbourne needs a street art festival, a regular annual event for both the artists and the public. Since the Stencil Festival/Sweet Streets folded there have been some attempts to fill that gap, like the international event, the Meeting of Styles. Whether an indoor festival/art fair can do that remains to be seen. How it effects Melbourne’s street art scene also remains to be seen.
Will Can’t Do Tomorrow simply be an indoor urban art experience, a commercial and marketing opportunity or will there be something greater?