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.
The publicly marking time is a basic function of a city because a city need a sense of time to function. Bells can also sound alarms, announce events or play music. Bells can be famous or in themselves works of art. Art bells in Melbourne are often the work of Anton Hasell.
The Federation Bells at Birrung Mar are a combination of sculptural and musical objects. There is this whole area of musical sculpture but then every musical instrument is a kind of sculptural design. Designed by Neil McLachlan and Anton Hasell in collaboration with Swaney Draper Architects. The bells were commissioned in 1998 and installed in 2002. In 2005 the poles underwent a structural upgrade and in 2012 Federation Bells were removed and refurbished; public art requires regular maintenance.
The computer controlled 39 upturned bells can be programmed. Hasell wants the public to interact with his sculptures; he wants more people to compose music for the “Federation Bells.” However, it is not that simple because you have to compose in the just intonation that the bells are tuned to rather than the tempered scale.
Hasell moved from convention sculpture making to bell making as sculpture; after all they both involve casting. (For more on casting bells The Great Wren posted on his blog about the Whitechapel Bell Foundry one of the oldest businesses in London.) I look at one his earlier public sculpture of his in Richmond in my post –WTF corner.
Anton Hasell, Tilly Aston Bell, 1999 (detail)
Anton Hasell, Tilly Aston Bell, 1999 detail
An early bell work of Hasell is the Tilly Aston Bell, 1999 is a bronze sculpture that incorporates three connecting bells. It stands in the middle of a path in Kings Domain near the sunken garden to the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden. It commemorates the centenary of the Vision Australia Foundation, formerly known as the Association for the Blind, and the life and achievements of its founder, Tilly Aston.
Tilly Aston was the first blind person in Australia to attend university, but her education was cut short by an absence of textbooks in Braille. So in 1894 she established a Braille library. She was responsible for gaining for the blind free post for Braille and talking books, free travel on public transport and the right to vote.
The top bell has three scenes from the life of Tilly Aston in raised relief along with a quote from Tilly Aston. “Poor eyes limit your sight. Poor vision limits your deeds.” The quote is repeated on a Braille strip on the middle bell. The lowest bell has the highest pitch, it has no inscription but a series of hand prints.
Originally movement sensors trigger a series of tolls, when people approached marks proximity and movement. Unfortunately it no longer works and the marvellous speaker mouths on the base are silent.
In 2008 Hasell and Terence McDermott had a temporary installation, The Speed of Sound Nau Interactive Bells, in Union Lane part of the Laneways Commissions. I didn’t experience this work but again interactivity and bells was an important element.
Hasell’s other Federation Bells, a massive set of tuned hand bells, are spectacularly displayed at one end the Melbourne Museum’s first floor.
Anton Hasell, Federation Hand Bells, Melbourne Museum
Architects, rather than sculptors have created many of Melbourne’s memorials and public sculptures. This is not a recent development, it has been going on for a century; a firm of architects, Irwin and Stevenson created Melbourne’s art deco Boar War Memorial, on the corner of St Kilda and Domain Roads, in 1924. Architects and designers often compete with sculptors for the same commissions for public sculpture.
Bertram McKennel, Victoria Parliament House, 1888
In the 19th Century it was different, architecture created commissions for sculpture rather than competed with it. Classical inspired architecture requires bas-relief and other sculptural ornaments. From the figures at the tops of buildings to the Corinthian columns with their stylised Acanthus leaves on their ornate capitals they all had to be designed and carved.
And in the 19th Century many sculptors in Melbourne worked producing architectural ornamentation. Paul Montford was part of the New Sculpture movement that tried to emphasis the connection between sculpture and architecture. In 1888 Bertram Mackennal created two allegorical reliefs depicting industry, commerce, arts and agriculture for the façade of Victorian Parliament and the spandrels of the Mercantile Chambers, Collins Street. Mackennal’s father, an architecture modeller and sculptor had also worked on figures and decorations for Parliament under the supervision of Victoria’s first public sculptor, Charles Summers.
In the modern era along the disappearance of sculptural ornamentation in architecture there was a change in how sculptors saw themselves. No longer supporting architecture modern sculptors saw themselves mini-architects with the same ambitions to create formal 3D shapes. It was an odd move world public sculptures were seen as a means of ameliorating the aesthetic effect a functionalist a modern building. Public art was expected to humanize the alienating undecorated architecture with an artistic gesture.
Robert Juniper, “Shadow Form III”, 1988
Now Melbourne has an increasing use of architectural forms in the decoration of freeways, roundabouts and buildings. The stark minimalism of the modern era has gone and now sculptors are expected to work in collaboration with the architect from the start of the project.
Denton Corker and Marshall (DCM) is a Melbourne firm specializing in architecture and urban design. DCM’s work can be seen all over Melbourne from the Melbourne Museum to the Web Bridge in Docklands. Ron Robertson-Swann’s statue haunts DCM like Banquo’s ghost at the banquet, because they had designed the city square and championed the sculpture. DCM’s “City Gateway” in Flemington is a reference to Vault. Like Vault the big yellow beam is better known by other nicknames – “the cheese stick”.
However the competition between sculptors and architects has lead to resentment by Melbourne sculptors. William Eicholtz argues that architects have pushed the art, especially sculpture, out of Melbourne’s urban/suburban environment. Another Melbourne sculptor, Anton Hasell was able to explain why architects have an advantage over sculptors in applying for public commissions; architects firm has the computing power and in-house graphic design to make their applications standout compared to a sculptor’s application.
Is public sculpture a subset of architecture, itself a subset of design? Or is there something that the art in the sculpture brings that should not be confused with architecture and design?
The Uses of Art in Public Space was a free public research symposium on Tuesday 12th of March hosted by RMIT University’s Design Research Institute and convened by Quentin Stevens. Held in the “Design Hub” (RMIT Building 100); that building on the corner Victoria and Swanston Street covered with round plates of glass.
The conference looked at public art in a broad sense to include commissioned and unofficial artworks, memorials, street art, advertising, and street furniture – all topics that I’ve looked at in this blog. Jane Rendell of University College London in her opening address on “The Use of an Object” spoke via video about the use value of public art as distinct from exchange value of private art. Rendell also noted that to use an object is to relate to it.
This was followed by two talks about the unconventional use of public art and street furniture by parkour and skateboarders. Mirko Guaralda presented a paper by himself and Christopher Rawlinson, QUT on “The Art of Parkour of Art”. And Mat de Koning and Tim Yuen from Perth gave an excellent talk on “Skate Sculpture” (check out their website). Both parkour and skateboards change the normal navigation features of the city; edges become paths and the presence of spectators can change a path to a node.
Anton Hasell, the artist who created Melbourne’s Federation Bells, spoke about “Art in Public Space as Multi-Sensory Sites of Experience”. Hasell is a technological optimist who wants shared creative interactive public spaces.
Karen A. Franck from New Jersey Institute of Technology in her paper “The Life and Death of Public Art Works” gave a basic structure to what can happen to public art: occupation, addition, subtraction, multiplication, (re)moving and destroying. Another paper that gave structure to the issue was Quentin Stevens “The Ergonomics of Public Art”. Stevens looked at the opportunities afforded by public sculpture: a table, a shelter, holding on to, leaning on, a challenge or something to fall off. As opposed to the way that city councils think about how to make areas less useful with anti-seating, anti-climbing, anti-skateboard knobs and skate-stoppers.
Then there were several papers that looked at specific examples of using public art. Shanti Sumartojo from Australian National University spoke about “Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth: creating and contesting national identity”. Julia Lossau of the University of Bremen talked on “Tree Planting: The use of public art in an urban regeneration project in Glasgow”.
Kate MacNeill from the University of Melbourne gave a paper on “The quotidian life of art in public places” looking at the ordinary, unmediated engagement with public art: touch, play, emersion and contemplation with examples from familiar Melbourne public sculptures. And, to complete the variety of public art covered by this symposium, Lachlan MacDowall of the Victorian College of the Arts spoke about “The Uses of Street Art”.
Finally there was a panel discussion that ranged across a variety of topics that had not been covered in the symposium from the relationship between artists and architects to the moral rights of the artist to determine interactions. The symposium presented lots of ways of looking at the use of public art that will influence my thinking on the topic for years to come.
On the corner Punt Road and Bridge Road in Richmond there is a small park area officially called “Urban Art Area”. Nobody was using it when I was there. I’m not sure who would use it in the area – it might be all right to sit on the bench and eat lunch if you worked in the area but I doubt it. “Everywhere, there and here” comments on this park “(the angry looking sculptures aside) yet I have only seen one person ever actually sitting in the site.” Beside the busy Punt Road the little park is multi-level area and contains three sculptures.
It is the site of the former Richmond Cable Tramway Engine House that was demolished in 1991; Melbourne had several independently operating cable tramway companies prior to the current electric tramway system in the early 20th Century. The site is heritage listed for what that is worth.
Of the 3 sculptures: one sculptor appears to have disappeared, another works in a completely different direction and one has gone on to produce more significant works of public sculpture in a very different style. These are the results of this shotgun approach to public art collecting.
Anton Hasell, “Yarra Thylacine”, 1995, bronze
There was no information on site of name of one the sculptures – a dog, a bridge and a boat with the words “Yarra” and “Acheron” on its bow and prow. It is Anton Hasell’s “Running Red Tiger”, 1995, bronze; what appears to be a dog is meant to be an extinct thylacine or Tasmanian tiger, a carnivorous marsupial and the tiger also references the Richmond football team. Anton Hasell (Dr Anton Hasell of the Australian Bell Pty Ltd) has gone on to produce many commemorative bells notably the Australian Bell for the Australian Centenary in 2001 and HMS Beagle Ship Bell Chime commissioned by Darwin City Council. Stlg48 wrote a blog post about Anton Hasell’s exhibition at the Bendigo Art Gallery in 2010.
Mary Perrott Stimson, “Mother and Daughter” 1993-94, bronze
Mary Perrott Stimson’s large figurative bronze sculpture, “Mother and Daughter” 1993-94, stands out against one wall. Although intended as a friendly statement the sculpture does not help the corner. Mary Perrott Stimson has created another public statue, “Reading the News”, 2001, located in Wagga Wagga but I have not been able to find out anything else about this artist.
Adrian Mauriks “Opus 15”, 1995, steel
The most successful sculpture on the corner is Adrian Mauriks’ “Opus 15”, 1995, of cut steel. This surreal sculpture contains a view onto the back lane and is the only sculpture to refer to the local environment. Adrian Mauriks now mainly works on in white painted epoxy resin and stainless steel and there are examples of his work at Chadstone Shopping Centre, Docklands New Quay Precinct, Bundoora Park, and Deakin University’s Burwood Campus. There is also an earlier work of his in marble in the lawn section of Sprinvale Cemetery. Amongst his early works is a “Homage to Jean Arp” 1972, plaster, showing the Dada/Surreal influence in his work.
This little corner in Richmond demonstrates that landscaping and erecting sculptures is not sufficient to revitalize an urban space.