The shock and awe of encountering the goddess Iris, apparently in the flesh. Not that the woman with golden wings is delivering a message, her usual role. Installed in a darkened room in front of a large pool reflecting like a mirror. Why is Iris pouring a jug? Nectar for the gods to drink or water from the River Styx to swear by? Or simply watering the clouds for rain?
Imagine if you were an ancient Greek and encountered Sam Jinks life-sized statue of Iris in a temple. Jinks is a Melbourne-based, super-realist sculptor. The ancient use of polychromatic paints on statues, ivory eyes, gold leaf, and other elements that have been largely destroyed by time. There are even reports of animatronic sculptures in temples in ancient Greece. We have been taught to forget all the colour looking at the white marble remains. And the unpainted white marble has become a racist symbol of ‘civilisation’.
However, there were no temples to Iris, a minor divine figure, a servant of the Olympian gods, sent to deliver a handful of messages, to collect water, and pour drinks. Some say that she the mother of Eros, others that Iris carried the young Nemean lion in her girdle from the sea to the mountains. Her appearance on the Parthenon is her most glorious moment; a running woman, her light linen chiton rippling with the movement.
Why show a messenger in a contemplative and static pose? Was it just an excuse to make a winged woman? These questions beat like the wings of Iris, rattling like wings of pigeons, around the quiet galleries of the Hellenic Museum. Why? Was it just an excuse?
The Hellenic Museum in Melbourne is an odd mix between art, antiquities, history and cultural exhibitions. It describes itself as “inspiring a passion for Greek history, art and culture”. It is also located in Melbourne’s old mint, which, apart from its Neo-classical facade, has nothing to do with Hellenic culture. The old mint is an attractive nineteenth-century building with an impressive walk-in vault, as you might expect to find in a mint.
Jinks is not the only artist with an exhibition at the Hellenic Museum. In front of the building, there is Renegades, a street-art/graffiti-inspired installation out the front of the building by a Spanish urban artist, PichiAvo. Inside, along with Iris, there is a photography installation by Bill Henson, Oneiroi, in an attractive dark nineteenth-century room. However, the photographs of Greek landscapes and backs of women’s heads were bland and uninspiring. As well as a room of contemporary icon paintings. There was also a room of contemporary icon paintings.
Most of the Hellenic Museum is not art but exhibitions of archaic Greek and ancient Greek antiquities: pottery, jewellery, statues, marble carving, helmets and weapons. There are even some Roman marble carving and enough red-figure vases to satisfy most people’s interest. The rest of the exhibitions are about modern Greek history and culture, much of it donated by the local community members. These are focused on establishing the modern Greek nation with folk costumes, jewellery, pistols and other antiques.
One curious feature of the Hellenic Museum was that there no signs in Greek. After visiting many antiquities museums in Greece that had signs in English, it felt odd. They would be of no use to me, but as Melbourne has one of the largest Greek-speaking population of any city in the world, they would be helpful to some people. For all the talk of multi-cultural Australia, there is almost no public paid signs anywhere in languages other than English.