Prahran Square

In order to avoid the threat of democracy no city in Victoria was designed with a square. Now that democracy is no longer a threat squares are being retrofitted into city plans. I’ve visited two new squares in Melbourne: Prahran Square and the smaller Maddern Square in Footscray. Both are multifunction spaces made from converting carparks.

Prahran Square

Prahran Square is on the site of the old Cato Street car park in Prahran with the carpark now beneath the site. It is a very large space like a amphitheatre with steep sides. Facing in on itself it ignores the borrowed scenery of the old buildings around it. The central elements of the square are all created by the architects. Taken from the same set generic contemporary elements that architects around the world currently use, including the fountain with jets of water flush with the pavement. The green playground equipment is more central and sculptural than any of the actual sculpture.

Indigenous artist Fiona Foley’s work, murnalong, is literally on the periphery of the square. ‘Murnalong’ means ‘bee’ in the local Boon Wurrung language, a subtle reference to the location. Attractive as these cast aluminum bees are, they fail to identify the place; firstly because they can hardly be seen and secondly because there already is a building in Melbourne with several large gold bees on it – Richard Stringer’s Queen Bee on the Eureka Tower. So that identifying the place in conversation; “You know the place with the bees?” could be confusing.

Jamie North, Ringform 1 and 2, 2019

Not much of the arts budget was spent on Jamie North Ringform 1 and 2. There is minimalism and then there is North’s basic forms; a couple of zeroes scores well for being garden sculpture.

The only public art that is allowed to work in the square are The Pipes 2019, a site-specific visual and audio installation co-designed by light artist Bruce Ramus and sound designer Material Thinking, because they were designed in collaboration with Lyons Architects. The visual and audio can be seen and heard almost everywhere in the square.

When I visited, none of the shops were occupied and there was also two temporary black wooden cubes with street art painted on them; the standard city council move to use street art as an urban social-aesthetic solution.

The Foley’s bees is the only part of the square that refers remotely to the location. Otherwise, it could almost anywhere in the world and I expect to see it or its underground carpark in a movie that is not set in Prahran. There is much about Prahran Square that is forced, contrived and strained; it was controversial and the two year build doing nothing to assist local traders. The arts do not account for a single percent of the $64 million budget.

Maddern Square, Footscray

Contrast this to Maddern Square in Footscray in Melbourne’s west. It is smaller in many ways, less money was spent on the space and the public art is all aerosol. It has a drinking fountain, shady trees, seating and a shipping container being the only facilities that the square needs. The architectural elements in the square are the same set of contemporary elements that are used everywhere but at least you know where you are because it uses the backs of buildings: “Keep Footscray Crazy”.

Thanks to William and Matt for showing me these squares.


The Burns Memorial

“Notices paint the way to the “Banks of Coon” and to the Auld Brig, upon which a man in a bowler-hat stood with his camera ready. He offered to take my photograph with the Burns memorial as background. I said the honour was too great for a normal man, and begged to be excused.”

j b morton (beachcomber), “a lowland jaunt”
George Anderson Lawson, Robert Burns Memorial, Treasury Gardens

There are probably more memorials to Robert Burns in the Anglophone world than any other person except for maybe Queen Victoria. You can find a Burns memorial almost everywhere some Scots have lived; so if you live in Scotland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland or the USA there is likely to be one nearby. (For an incomplete list of the Burns Memorial nearest you see Wikipedia.)

Melbourne’s own Burn’s Memorial was erected on 23 January 1904. The memorial’s original location on the west side of St Kilda Road and it was moved to its current site in the Treasury gardens in 1970.

It is an edition of the Robert Burns Memorial in Ayr in Scotland by the Scottish-born, Liverpool-based, sculptor George Anderson Lawson in 1892. It is the same sculpture as in Montreal, Halifax (Canada), Vancouver, Winnipeg and Detroit, only the plinths which were manufactured by local stonemasons are different.

These statues were purchased with funds raised by the local Caledonian society. Every Caledonian society in the world appears to have been raising money for a Burns memorial at some stage in their existence. Melbourne’s cost £1000 (the equivalent of about $158,000 worth today x 60+ for all the Burns Memorials in the world).

On the frontside of Melbourne’s Burns memorial, “BURNS” is spelt out in bronze letter. (This summer as bushfires raged some Melbourne half-wit sprayed “Australia” above “Burns”.) On the other sides there are bronze panels depict scenes from his poems: Tam O’Shanter (1790), To a mountain daisy (1786), and The cotter’s Friday night (1785). This follows the traditional form of a memorial statue where moments in the life of the hero are depicted.

For me the memorials raises many questions. What is the point of a literary memorial and why do people believe that there was a need to represent heroes in sculptural form? Did the Caledonian societies get value for money buying all those Burns memorials? And, surely a writer’s best memorial is their words and not their physiognomy? But then who now remembers any of Burns words apart from a few lines of Auld Lang Syne?

I wasn’t able to photograph all sides of the plinth because there was a tradesman was eating his lunch. I have often seen people sitting at the base of the Melbourne Burns memorial, it is mostly used as a bench now. I asked the man if I could take his photograph with the Burns memorial as the background and but he politely refused.


Melbourne May 2020

Usually I would have gone look at some art galleries but instead I stayed at home for another week. With all of Melbourne’s art galleries closed or only open by appointment or holding online exhibitions I feel that many of my subject matter for blog posts has gone. And there are only so many stories that I can write about local public sculpture, graffiti, street art, and walks around Coburg that I haven’t already written. However, I am not about to complain as I am well aware that the flaneur is in a privileged position.

Nick Miller, the Arts Editor for The Age, asked on the Victorian government “when libraries museums and galleries might open?” Their response: ‘We will have more to say about the further cautious easing of restrictions in due course.’

Various publicist’s emails tell a different story; some art galleries will be resuming their exhibition programmes in early to mid July. Boroondara’s Town Hall Gallery will re-open 11 July, Off the Kerb will re-open on the 4th and Mars Gallery is open now. Getting to them by public transport will be another issue.

I don’t often write posts under my category of blogging; generally at the end of the year or other milestones. I thought that I might have to write a few more of them during this lockdown along with some more book reviews or ‘listicals’, like: 10 artists you don’t need to know about. I didn’t imagine that I would be able to keep writing blog posts 10 weeks into Melbourne’s lockdown. How long I can keep writing these blog posts doing this is another question but when I can’t I’ll take a short break.

I have tried to research an article about Marcel Duchamp and Spanish Flu but it did pan out. You might think that having lived through it that he might have made some mention of it in his letters. All I found a letter from Buenos Aires, 10th January 1919 to Louise Arensberg: “Je suis vraiment navré de la mort de Schamberg et je me demande d’où vient cette vague de mort. Appollinaire, j’ai appris de France, est mort de la grippe il y a quelques mois déja.”C’est désolant.” (I am really upset about the death of Schamberg and wonder where this wave of death is coming from. Apollinaire, I heard from France, died of the flu several months ago now. It’s so distressing.) And three days later describing himself as “your immune baby” in English in a letter to Ettie Stettheimer. (Affectionately, Marcel – the selected correspondence of Marcel Duchamp, edited by Francis M. Naumann and Hector Obalk, Ludion Press, 2000 p.74 & 77, see my book review.)

In non-COVID lockdown related news, notable Melbourne street artist Lushsux has been hospitalised after being bashed. I am sending him some of my thoughts and all of my prayers.


Janet Beckhouse (1955-2020)

Saddened to learn that Janet Beckhouse died suddenly and unexpectedly this week. Beckhouse sculpted rich neo-Baroque worlds packed with lush foliage, snakes, skulls and goddesses. Intricate and dynamic worlds in transition, moving between the natural and the supernatural, the mythologic and the psychologic.

Christopher Köller, Trust (Janet Beckhouse), 2008

Memories of visiting her studio and seeing her intricate ceramic work come flooding back. Her ceramics are in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Australia, Hamilton Art Gallery, Shepparton Art Museum, Bendigo Art Gallery and Victorian College of The Arts but I saw them most often at Craft Victoria.

I didn’t know her well, I just met her a couple of times because William Eicholtz shared a studio with her. Remember visiting the studio and watching in terror as her little black tom cat showed off by jumping through the handle of one of her delicate pieces.

“Nothing of her that doth fade. But doth suffer a sea-change. Into something rich and strange. Sea-nymphs hourly ring her knell.”

(Riffing on Shakespeare’s Tempest Act i. Sc. 2)
Janet Beckhouse, Ganesha, 2014

Confined 11

In her Oppression of Waterways Angela, a Gunditjmara/Gunaikurnai woman, takes on the contemporary political/environmental issue of cotton farmers taking the Murray River’s water for irrigation. The Australian government’s treatment of waterways is an important subject. The paintings elegant design draws the viewer into discovering that the painting has a message, that its curves are waterways. The painting is both simple and complex, ancient and contemporary. It sold on the first day of Confined 11, an exhibition organised by The Torch. The artist, Angela, is still in prison, but will receive 100% of the sales price on her release.

Angela, Oppression of Waterways

Confined is an annual exhibition normally the exhibition is held at the gallery in St. Kilda town hall. The Torch an organisation that provides art and culture support to Indigenous offenders and ex-offenders in Victoria.

Due to the COVID-19 virus there was an online exhibition and online exhibition launch this year. It was my first virtual exhibition and virtual launch in this unusual year. I have been going to the Confined exhibitions regularly for last few years so I have a basis for comparison (see my previous reviews of Confined 10 and Confined 9 and Confined 8).

It was great to hear from more of The Torch team and some of the artists in the virtual opening. The best part was the live crosses as The Torch CEO Kent Morris, as he phoned the winners awards; it was the best award presentation that I’ve seen because it was so real, personal and heart warming. See the video launch on Facebook.

There are a number of ways to explore the large exhibition you could scrolling through themes or look at the painting in a virtual gallery. The large virtual warehouse exhibitions spaces were an ideal vision of how Confined exhibitions should all look, as if there were no space limitations at the St Kilda Town Hall. Without the limitations of space the curators could divide the exhibition into three galleries based on themes: 1. animals and kinship, 2. belongings and waterways, 3. birds, bushfires and country.

The advantage of a virtual exhibition and opening, aside from the avoiding a virus, was that I didn’t have to travel all the way from the north of the city to St.Kilda to see the exhibition. There is a physical exhibition as an adjunct to the virtual exhibition with 177 artworks at The Torch gallery in St Kilda but that is by appointment only.

The big disadvantage was that the live opening didn’t work for me. There needs to be information about the requirements and time that it will take to sign up to these platforms before the event starts. The other disadvantages was that there was no sense of community alone at my desk, there was no chance to run into familiar faces and to meet new people.

Stacey, Sunset Cockatoo

Street Art Sculpture 10

Unauthorised sculpture or urban-art installations in public places are the opposite of the monumental official place-making sculptures. These are sculptures that you have to looking for to find. They are small rather than giant, they are discreet rather than obvious. They don’t reflect the official government position like this small version of Greenpeace’s melting tennis ball to remind people that must we are living in a #ClimateCrisis. (A large 1.5 metre version of this was temporarily installed in Federation Square during the Australian Open in 2019.)

The fake brick wall, crystal cave in a brick or the clock on grill is all about placement. The surprise of discovery that something that could only be described as art is part of an old brick wall in the city or has been installed on the grill of a bricked up window.

Up on a wall in Presgrave Place is a cast version of Jayeff’s eye with a smile. It is simply a bit of fun that is close to being a high-end version of a tag. The tiny work of Tinky and Gigi are more likely to be seen in exhibition or at a festival but a couple have been seen on the streets. Presgrave Place is the place to go if you do want to see some street art sculpture.

Will Coles, Discarded and others are still glueing their cast works around the city, Junkie Projects is still nailing them up but it were these cast faces by an anonymous artist in Hosier Lane that were the best street sculpture that I’ve seen in a long time. While other cast objects can survive a layer or ten of aerosol paint the cast faces incorporated that eventuality into their image (see my blog post).

In the city I saw another one of Drasko’s mock classical low relief works that add modern tech.

For more about street art sculptures see my earlier posts:

Street Art Sculpture 9 2018  

Street Art Sculpture 8 2017

Street Art Sculpture 7 2016

Street Art Sculpture 6 2015 

street art sculpture in the Whitechapel Area

Street Art Sculpture 5

10 Great Street Installation 2014

Street Art Sculpture III 2012

More Street Art Sculpture 2010

Street Art Sculpture 2009


Jewell Station Forecourt

I first saw Fleur Summers’s sculpture, Making sense, from inside the train. Aside from the Fairfield Industrial Dog Object (FIDO), there are few public sculptures at Melbourne railway stations but there is now one at Jewell Station.

Fleur Summers, Making sense

Summers’s sculpture marks the new entrance to the station like bunches of dead flowers. A cluster of biomorphic forms, like metal fungus protrude from the grass in Jewell Station’s new forecourt. Each of the forms crowned with a black lumpy form.

Fleur Summers is a local artist and a lecturer in sculpture at the School of Art, RMIT. Her sculpture was selected from four finalists in a competition for a new sculpture. Given the biomorphic forms it is not surprising to find that Summers started her professional life as a microbiologist.

I’m not sure about the scale of the two clusters. They are intended to be at a hight where the metal heads of the stems can be torched and gradually polished by the public. Raising the question does the public connect to sculptures by touch?

In another attempt to establish a connection with the public art students from Brunswick Secondary School helped fabricate the work. I am skeptical of manufacturing connections in this way because even the casting of the local faces failed to establish a connection for another Brunswick art project (see my blog post).

Jewell Station was once an old brick station at the end of road with light industries. The entrance was an ugly mess of tarmac paths with pipe handrails leading to the sidewalk and the carpark with the bike path running through it. Now there are curved concrete forms terracing the entrance with a variety of paving and other surfaces. The new forecourt is not unsympathetic to the late Victorian Gothic station’s architecture without having anything in common aside from location.

The new forecourt has another gesture this time trying to establish a connection with local history. There are a few printed bricks about Brunswick quoting local politician James Jewell (1869-1949) for whom South Brunswick Station was renamed in 1954. Although there are a number of memorials around Brunswick to the free speech movement during the Great Depression when Victoria police wouldn’t allow public speech critical of the government. It is one of the features of Australia’s unique democratic system is that there are no civil or human rights that are protected from arbitrary government encroachment.

How Jewell’s new forecourt’s sculptures and paths work with social distancing or when people return to using public transport in greater numbers remains unknown. Will Summers’s metal flowers shine or will people, like I did, avoid touching them.


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