Desperate to see some new art, I have searched the laneways of Brunswick and Coburg for graffiti. These northern inner-city Melbourne suburbs are old enough to have a network of granite paved laneways that make for excellent and discreet locations for painting.
I have this paint-spotting addiction that can’t be satisfied by seeing photos on the internet. I want to do two contradictory things: to get up close to the wall to see the technique and to look around at the whole location.
Often very suburban locations: the sides of garages, parks and garden walls. For, although there still are factories and warehouse in Brunswick and Coburg, they are being demolished to be replaced by high-density housing. I hoped to be able to see more graffiti revealed by demolition. However, I couldn’t many places where I could photograph anything.
There are some fantastic pieces of wildstyle graffiti overflowing with style and energy. A few old-school pieces along with bombs and tags. Love the bomb from Nong, a tag with a nod to old Australian slang for ‘stupid’.
I was intrigued by this wall in suburban Coburg that had a mix of techniques and styles. There was everything from old-school bubble letters to experiments that mix street art techniques, like stencil with aerosol graffiti. It made me think of the new possibilities.
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.
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.
A creature with wings cast from a dead bird, a drink-can and a cotton reel and ointment tube as peg-legs. These are the ghosts that haunt the urban landscape, hungry ghosts made from what we throw away. When I first saw Discarded’s low relief sculptures on the street I thought of the frottage work by my favourite Surrealist artist, Max Ernst, for like Ernst surreal creatures, Discarded’s creations are at once absurd, etherial and poetic. Urban textures and debris transformed into treasures.
Street art sculpture is uncommon, even in Melbourne there are less than half a dozen people practicing the art at any one time. Like Junky Projects, the Melbourne-based street-artist who assembles street art sculptures from rubbish found in the street, Discarded assembles her figures from discarded items that she picks up in the street. To this Discarded adds another step, casting and making ceramic copies that she glazes and returns to the street. The ceramic replicas are combined into figures and glued on poles, concrete edges and other pieces of urban infrastructure that are unusable to the muralists and graffiti writers.
Discarded is a professional ceramics artist working in Melbourne; not surprising given the obvious skill her works exhibits in multiple areas of ceramics from casting to painting. Her own street art is inspired by the work of many other streets artists. “They put in their time and money and give it up for other people to see.”
Discarded’s figures don’t have an obvious meaning, they is open to interoperation. Discarded told me: “I’ve had many instances of my work being very misconstrued. The most alarming was a project I did a couple of years ago on telegraph poles which people thought was signals for people to steal their dogs for illegal dogfighting. So I try to make it a playful/serious, comment on our relationship with the earth.”
Discarded explains: “I sort of have a love/hate relationship with the art world, so it often really inspires me to go to see exhibitions and galleries (best ever experience was going to see the Biennale at Arsenale and being in Athens where street art is wall to wall). But I hate the way art is currently situated in our culture, where generally only what makes it to the gallery is valued. I think we have to remember that the current situation of our art culture is not a set thing, it’s constantly evolving and street art plays a big part in changing the way we view art and also how we can imagine it to be.” And I can only applaud this attitude.
Persistence is an important quality of a street artist: how long does their work last in the urban environment and how many years do they persist in putting things up in the street. Discarded’s work persist even under layers of aerosol paint. As an artist she has persisted more than most, five years so far, and although not prolific she keeps on assembling her creations.
Another important quality for any graffiti writer or street artist is exposure, how far across the city their work can be found. In this respect Discarded is limited and I have only seen her work in the city and along the Upfield train line. It is not as easy for a female street artist to work as it is for a male. So, just be glad that Discarded is still installing her art on Melbourne’s walls and keep your eyes open for her latest creations.
(Thanks Discarded for the interview at a distance.)
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.
Large crowd for an exhibition of small art; there was a queue out the door at Beinart Gallery waiting to get into the miniature art exhibition. I have never seen that at a commercial gallery before. Not that it was uncomfortable or dull standing in that line; under the trees in Sparta Place in Brunswick on a mild autumn evening is very pleasant.
It is not unusual for Beinart Gallery to have big crowds or to exhibit small-scale art but on this night some of the art was tiny. Carved graphite tips of pencils, by Salavat Fidai that had to be viewed through a magnifying glass or painted Tic Tacs (actually polymer clay). Both of these objects gave a sense of scale and, in the case of Steve Casino’s Tic Tacs, some sweetness to tasteless subjects.
The miniature art exhibition had many works and artists using a great variety of media. Co-curated by model-maker and director of Espionage Gallery in Adelaide, Joshua Smith, who brought in fellow model-makers, and Jon Beinart, the director of Beinart Gallery who found the pop surrealist painters working on a small scale.
Model making of abandoned buildings has grown in the last five years. It is another way for street artists to express their love for derelict houses and shops. The decay, graffiti, posters are all lovingly recreated; the empty Sushi Noodle Guy shop is so detailed that it even has a poster for the current NGV exhibition on it. However, the realism on these dolls houses for boys leaves little room for a personal style and Joshua Smith’s models look little different to the other models builders in the show, or those of, local artist, David Hourigan (whose work is not in this exhibition).
The second exhibition opening that night at Beinart was “Obstruct” paintings by David Bonnici. Faces distorted or obscured along with largely empty landscapes with views obstructed by a tree or pylon. Along with a subtle concept, Bonnici paintings have a softer focus than the obsessive detail of the pop surrealism and fantasy art that Beinart Gallery is known for. These are paintings about the unseen and overlooked, as distinct from the visible and the invisible, for there are many more things that obstruct our vision than what a realist imagines we see.
Twenty years ago the Counihan Gallery was established by Moreland City Council in 1999. In the following decades it has become a cultural hub for Brunswick. The regular exhibition openings bringing people together in a physical space. Now it has expanded and is once again open after renovations.
There has been a small change to the large foyer with the addition of two vitrines both hung with prints by Noel Counihan from the gallery’s collection. It always seemed a shame that there wasn’t any of his art on exhibition in a gallery named after him.
Inside the gallery there is a dramatic change; it is now over a third larger. The new space merges seamlessly with the rest of the gallery. The same flooring, the same curved marine-ply ceiling panels hang in the new space. And, most of important of all, at the end of the new gallery space, there is a large window facing onto Sydney Road bringing natural light into the gallery. Curious people passing by look in, some of them now aware that there is something going on in the building.
There was a launch of this new space and the first exhibitions for a new year on Saturday 8 February with a “Welcome to Country” by a Wurundjeri Elder, a couple of speeches and a performance by Djirri Djirri, Wurundjeri Women’s Dance Group. I was there enjoying a glass of wine, a pumpkin kibbe (shout out to Zaatar’s, a great local cafe, this is a personal endorsement with no quid pro quo received or expected), meeting new people and catching up with acquaintances.
The three current exhibitions:
At first I didn’t really get Histrionic by Marion Abraham, Saffron Newey and Tyler Payne. There were plenty of attractive and engaging works to look at from Payne’s installation with iPads to Newey’s large painting of a great, green, sea monster. Then Abraham’s art historical references in her two large paintings lured me in to deeper thoughts about contemporary life.
Screen Time is an interactive installation by Chris Bowes with lots of messy black cables contrasting with the clean colour digital images. It looks like the output of high modernism: the cubist break down of the image onto seperate screens, the dots of colour of the pointillists, and the readymade an-aesthetic of the physical installation.
And in the new space there is f_OCUS; a selection of works by women from the galleries permanent collection. Twenty artists whose names or works should be familiar to anyone interested in Melbourne’s art; Hoda Afshar, Wendy Black, Megan Cope, Destiny Deacon, Emily Floyd, Fiona Foley, Marlene Gilson, Helga Groves, Gracia Haby & Louise Jennison, Joy Hester, Deanna Hitti, Regina Karadada, Carmel Louise, Mandy Nicholson, Rose Nolan, Jill Orr, Carol Porter, Nusra Latif Qureshi and Judy Watson. I remembered first seeing Nusra Latif Qureshi’s post-modern take on traditional miniature painting at the Counihan Gallery’s Women’s Salon.
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.