Tag Archives: ACCA

Something about public space

I went to see two exhibitions. “Who’s Afraid of Public Space?” at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) and “Re-locate” at Assembly Point.

Mariana del Castillo Re-locate (photo courtesy of the artist)

Assembly Point is almost across the street from ACCA, a series of large display classes in a pedestrian way between two buildings and Sturt and Moore Streets in Southbank. Damien Vicks, Moment 2013 the red geometric flower highlights the building. There are several theatre-related offices and studios on the ground floor of Guild Apartments on Sturt Street in Southbank. A class of drama students were enjoying the fresh air, sitting half inside and half outside NIDA’s Melbourne studios. A place in between public and private space.

Mariana del Castillo is a Canberra-based artist with experience re-locating from her Ecuadorian birthplace. Re-locate creates the feeling of migration, travelling headless, carrying part of their home with them insulated in wool. The glass cases with her Arte Povera influenced tableaux progress to an unknown destination. The contradiction between the private life of an immigrant where your life is alien and public because you are the observed newcomer. Covered in a layer of wool for protection from the emotional toll of moving to another country, details stitched into this second skin.

Detail from “Gathering Space: Ngargee Djeembana” at ACCA

I am very into outdoor exhibitions in public space at the moment, for many reasons, including avoiding COVID but also my long term interest in public space. This brings me to “Who’s Afraid of Public Space?” at ACCA. Riffing on Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe? The exhibition has as much to do with the theatre as Albee’s play with Virginia Wolfe.

Public space is an important topic. If the exhibition is to succeed in its objective of raising issues for discussion then different questions needed to be asked. Who owns public space? What are the public allowed to do in public space? Who benefits from public space?

Starting with “The Education Space: Creating Art in Public”, which looked back to the modernism of Clement Meadmore and Ron Robertson-Swann and forward to a speculative future with an exhibition of maquettes by younger visitors. Next came “Reading Space: The Common Room”, with a collection of books and magazines on public space. (Nicola Cortese, Lauren Crockett and Stephanie Pahnis did not include my book on public sculpture, so it wasn’t brilliant.) “Project Space: The Hoarding” brought together elements from an exhibition that spilled out into many public places. Finally, or to begin with, depending on which way you entered, there was “Gathering Space: Ngargee Djeembana” in the largest space. It looked impressive with the minimalist repetition of cubes of material, but raised questions unaddressed questions about how the material was gathered, who gave permission and how this fitted with the rest of the exhibition.

Then a walk to the river and lunch. A pleasant day until it came time to go home. Who’s afraid of public transport? I am with good reason. The ticket machine took my $50 bill from me without putting anything on my card; I spent another 20 minutes making the complaint because of the “high volume of calls” they were receiving. They might put the money on my card in 10 working days time. The public transport system has not let me down; it is consistently poor. Public transport is a public space.


Destroyed K

This free event of destruction art is brought to you by the letter K and the big companies that are the sponsors of the Melbourne Festival.

Spanish artist Santiago Sierra is notable for being controversial and Melbourne loves an art controversy. Sierra’s Destroyed Word part 10 at the Melbourne Festival was a bonfire in the forecourt of ACCA. A large letter made from tea tree brush on a wooden frame had been constructed on a bed of sand.

It was a shame that Sierra hadn’t chosen letters that are mirror reversible as I was seeing the back of the K. (I don’t know what 10 letter word he was spelling out yet – this was a teaser stunt for Sierra’s exhibition at NGV International later this month.)

The crowd drinking in the lobby of ACCA for the opening of “Ourselves” were ushered outside for the big event. Lots of people just came along just for the bonfire and they weren’t disappointed. This was an art event not just art cognoscenti but for the whole family. People in the crowd might have made joke about marshmallows before the flames took hold but once the conflagration had begun they watched in awe. It was impressive, beautiful and it was all over in just over 15 minutes; destructive art doesn’t last long.

Sierra’s work is right out of Gustav Metzger’s 1959 manifesto on “Auto-Destructive Art” – “Auto destructive art is primarily a form of public art for industrial societies. Self-destructive painting, sculpture and construction is a total unity of ideas, site, form, colour, method and timing of the disintegrative process. Auto-destructive art can be created with natural forces, traditional art techniques and technological techniques.”

Sierra’s destruction of the word reminded me of Wm. Burroughs The Ticket That Exploded. Burroughs shows how language creates illusions and desires and then rubs out the word, cutting it up into smaller fragments until he has destroyed the illusion. Like the Buddhist monks who create elaborate mandalas of coloured sand only to sweep them away when completed.


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