Tag Archives: City of Yarra

Evolving Scene 2015

Hosier Lane continues to subtly change, even though the major development has been stopped by the new government, and the smell of aerosol paint still lingers in the air. Hosier Lane was once part of Melbourne’s garment district and Melbourne’s Communist Party Headquarters was at 3 Hosier Lane from 1936 to 1939. Old school graffiti writers and old lefties, like Jeff Sparrow bemoan the changes but I enjoy the vitality of the lane.

Hosier Lane

Now the sound of a busker is now common in the lane, not surprising given the amount of foot traffic in the area.

You can get a take-away coffee in the lane from Good to Go, a social enterprise cafe providing barista experience to long term unemployed, definitely a good improvement.

Guerrilla gardening has started in the lane; the sticker suggests that it is a project by Signal.

Guerrilla Garden, Hosier Lane

Looking at the art in lane is now like seeing an exhibition opening. It is hard to see the art for all the people, mostly taking photographs.

Hosier Lane must now be the most photographed place in Melbourne, there are so many people with all kinds of cameras taking photographs every day. You can hardly move without stepping in front of someone’s shot. Wedding photographs, selfies, tourist snap shots, videos, creating a hyperreal digital version of the lane for Facebook, Instagram and other social media. Street art is now influence on commercial photography.

Camera stencil

It is not surprising, the lane is spectacular and centrally located and other municipalities in Melbourne are starting to realise the potential for street art as a tourist attraction. This week the City of Yarra is calling for street art tours of the area. The City of Yarra has had this potential for years, I went on a short tour given by Makatron a couple of years ago and back in 2007 the Melbourne Stencil Festival was running booked out tours of Collingwood and Fitzroy.

Makatron Fitzroy

Melbourne’s street art is now part of Australia’s foreign policy. Most recently with notable street artists Adnate, Civil, HaHa, Vexta, Makatron and others painting murals in Singapore for the Australian government to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations with Singapore.

All of this is what could be called an organic development; it has not been directed or controlled, it has even and continues to be resisted on some levels. Back in 2008 I would hear street art insiders saying that the scene had peaked years before; what ever they meant by ‘peaked’ maybe just when they and their mates did their best stuff. Melbourne’s street art and graffiti scene continues to change and evolve (I don’t want to write for the better or worse) to take advantage of new walls, spaces, ideas and opportunities.


More Microparks

Microparks, or how local city councils in greater Melbourne are learning to practice the art of urban acupuncture trying to hit the magical lay lines of psychogeography. Melbourne is well known for its parks; Victoria’s car license plates once sported the slogan “the garden state.” Large parks surround the city but beyond that parkland in the inner city can be sparse. Local councils are finding vacant land between two buildings, at a corner or on an under-used section of road to rejuvenate an area with a park.

DSC09878

The City of Yarra wants to create new open spaces in Collingwood as the area was originally overbuilt. Wandering the Collingwood gallery district I find a new park on Oxford Street with lots of decking, a drinking fountain and contained patches of grass. It looks as if it is primarily intended for sitting and eating lunch. There is another new small park only a few blocks away on Peel Street with its curved red seating and piles of concrete blocks, as if that part of it was designed using Minecraft.

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Compared to the earlier micro park on the corner of Gertrude and Smith Streets, where two benches and a hippy looking garden bed is dominated by the billboard advertising, these new parks are masterpieces in urban architecture and design. Novelty seats by artists are out, now seating has to have design features. (See my post Crazy City Comforts) and, basically be a comfortable place to put your bum. The architecture of discipline is out for these parks; the anti-sleeping, anti-skateboarding bumps are not visible but rather subtly understood in the design. Design is the key feature of these parks, not an anonymous utilitarian effort nor a naive hope that the community will do the rest.

In Brunswick off Sydney Road there is Wilson Avenue existing pop-up park from last year is now to be made permanent. Wilson Avenue in Brunswick, off Sydney Road. An urban bouldering wall allowing people to do more than just sit in the park.

Temporary or permanent these spaces are mostly about rejecting the dominate car culture to provide more space for pedestrians. It takes more than a few seats and a little bit of vegetation to make a successful urban micro park or pedestrian space. If you build it will they use it?

On the subject of sitting, with the television full of documentaries about Tony Robinson, Will Self or Alan Cummings going for a walk, I have decided that sitting is going to be the next big thing. Sitting is what is required for style and comfort. My cat does a lot of sitting; for her there are seats of power, seats of comfort and seats to explore. In the 21st century everything is extreme and there is the extreme sitting of Maria Abranivich sitting in MOMA for day after day. Public seating is a civic necessity for the aged, the sick, the tired. Having public seating reduces isolation. The Guardian reports on the City of Dijon in France introduced public armchairs, as it is easier for the elderly to get up from a seat with armrests.


Stencil Festival to Sweet Streets

This is the insides story of the Melbourne Stencil Festival, at least the part that I know and I was involved 2008, 2009 and 2010 aka Sweet Streets. The history of the Stencil Festival is longer than my involvement; it goes back to 2004 when the first stencil art festival in the world is held in Melbourne.

Melbourne Stencil Festival 09 exhibition

Melbourne Stencil Festival 09 exhibition

Even now this story needs to be told to dispel any idea that it was being run by paid administers in an office with lots of sponsorship dollars. Melbourne might be a festival city with all kinds of spectacles completing of attention but this makes potential sponsors festival fatigued. Festivals are not recipes for economic success and we struggled to attracted sufficient corporate or government sponsorship.

Every year the stencil festival would gets an angry email about how the festival does not ‘represent’ the ‘real’ street art community. The real is a symbolic category; the festival never claimed to represent street art. The festival was never about being the poster child of street art, nor about owning the concept, the brand name of ‘real’ street art. It was about creating a bridge between the mainstream and the street art community, providing a forum and a festival for the art. Each year there has been workshops, employing artists to teach their stencil skills to children and adults. Art is an exclusive affair but the paradox of street art is that it is open to everyone on the street and is not the exclusive privilege for insiders.

I initially became involved in Melbourne Stencil Festival in 2008 as the volunteer coordinator and award judge (along with four others including Chor Boogie). I became involved because I thought that it might be a good opportunity to show some practical support and make some contacts in the street art scene. I took a Gonzo journalist approaches to reporting the MSF – a participant observer, in Malososki’s opinion is the best kind of anthropologist, and what is the difference between an art critic and anthropologist anyway?

2008 was an ambitiously international festival with Chor Boogie, A1, John Kolaczar, Pete Wollinger and other artists from around the world. I was not involved in the politics of the 2008 festival but I could see that JD Mitmann had a major conflict of interest with the festival as he also ran the gallery Famous When Dead where he showed and sold many of the artists. I doubt that JD Mitmann actually profited from this relationship but this was also a matter of perception; you could look at the relationship as symbiotic. The 2008 AGM was a very interesting affair; there was a mea culpa from the previous committee and, except for Adi, the newly elected committee was completely new.

I was then parachuted into an emergency committee in 2009 after Satta van Daal’s resignations. I didn’t see anything of Adi; the committee was no longer functioning. I became the festival’s secretary; being the secretary is not the most glamorous of jobs – lots of emails, typing minutes of meetings, finding meeting venues and other mundane or bureaucratic matters.

I quickly found that I’m not the only one that has been parachuted in to run the festival; there was also Phil Hall, Tessa Yea and Anna Briers. Phil Hall is an energetic, enthusiastic and experienced public arts worker who had work in Collingwood before. Tessa Yea and Anna Briers were then adventurous curatorial students from Melbourne University doing an internship at the festival.

I have yet to mention Coops, Paul Cooper of Arttruck was keeping the whole transition between 2008 and 2009 going. His advertising and design business had office space and computers that we could use along with chocolate cake and biscuits because photographing food produces some great left-overs. This was over when the relationships with Coops and the rest of the festival organisers cooled over poster design.

We found more volunteers, lots of them, all competent and eager to get the festival happening. Somehow it all came together. The new volunteers were all excellent, many of them were students doing work in curatorial studies and marketing, others were just random people like me interested in street art. MSF 09 was thrown together in three months mostly by email with only support from the City of Yarra and in-kind support from sponsors.

Boo & Tom Civil, Sweet Streets 2010

Boo & Tom Civil, Sweet Streets 2010

After managing to put together the festival in 2009 the team was ambitious to run another festival. There was an obvious need to re-brand and redefine the festival to include more than just stencil art. The initial focus on stencil art came at a time in Melbourne when stencil art was very popular and there were a lot of stencil art on the street. Since then street art in Melbourne has expanded, new techniques and ideas have come along (yarn bombing and street sculpture).

So the Melbourne Stencil Festival became “Sweet Streets – urban and street art festival.” The use of the term “urban and street art” was used to sidestep the debate about street art in the gallery.

The festival 2010 was bigger and better than all previous years – a real arts festival with a program of events, multiple exhibitions in several locations, but not the budget that went with that. On top of being secretary I was running the film night. The ancient Geeks had a word for it – ‘hubris’.

In the end the committee was exhausted and without a succession plan. This is the problem of running an annual festival, at the point where everyone on the committee was exhausted you should have been preparing for next year’s festival and finding sponsors. It was hard to keep volunteers motivated for a whole year preparing for the festival. I could go on about all the problems and forget the success of a street art festival running in Melbourne for seven years.

Does it still exist? Rumours that it will be revived occur from time to time over the years. Unfortunately attempts to revive the festival proved futile.

Read my reports from the front line as an embedded blogger:

MSF 2008

Opening Night 

Conversations with John Koleszar and Russel Hosze

Melbourne & Graffiti (reflections on talks given at MSF 2008)

MSF 2009

Opening Night

Underground 

Sweet Streets 2010

Sweet Streets 

Award Exhibition

Urban Intervention @ YSG

Street Art Politics Forum

Week 1    

Week 2 

Black Mark at Sweet Streets auction.

Black Mark at Sweet Streets auction.


Off The Wall

On Tuesday the 23rd of October I went to Off The Wall – Graffiti Management Forum at Fitzroy Town Hall. The City of Yarra employed Capire Consulting Group to review their graffiti management. Most of the people at the forum were from various city councils around Melbourne but there also were a few other interested people, including street artists, CDH and Makatron.

The review was focused on prevention and removal of graffiti. There was no idea about what the implementation of a graffiti management policy would actually look like on the street. The review did not have a cost benefit analysis; the cost of the current graffiti management policy compared to the financial benefits to City of Yarra in terms of visitor numbers or businesses that are based on graffiti scene.

The review appeared to be based on a naïve belief held by many people in local government that a distinction can be made between good and bad graffiti, between street art and tagging. This distinction is a faith-based policy that ignored so many facts: tagging has been around for millennia, there is no way to stop tagging, even if you have a police state equivalent to Nazi occupied Europe (see my post on WWII Graffiti) as the chances of being caught are so remote that a tagger would have to be persistent, pervasive or simply unlucky to be caught tagging. Tagging is a kind of visual urban noise, complaining about it in the inner city is like complaining about the noise of the traffic or light pollution. It is not a serious issue, there are no health and safety issues regarding tagging, unlike other urban problems like feral pigeons and fly tipping. (See my post on Coooburg)

Apart from studied ignorance (faith) there is no basis for the distinction between street art and tagging – I have asked Capire Consulting for the bibliography of their review but I have not had any response yet. Co-incidentally the following day I was sent a copy of The Bureau Magazine (thanks to its editor, Matt Derody) I will now quote from the start of the very first article that I read (even a non-systematic approach to the literature quickly quashes the distinction).

“There is no doubt that Australian society suffers a peculiar form of bipolar disorder when it comes to graffiti and street art. Rabidly opposed on the one hand and warmly encouraged on the other. It’s easy and comfortable to deploy timeworn distinctions that allow us to interpret the paradox and get on with our revulsion/appreciation agendas. The most popular is an aesthetic assessment of the art/vandalism in question. An ‘artistic piece of street art is fine (legal or illegal), a tag is ugly and blight on society. However, graffers think that tags, throw ups, burners, pieces and murals as parts of a whole – you can’t have one without the other.” (Andrew Imrie, “Graff vs Street Art…Neither or Both?” The Bureau Magazine Sept. 2012)

After the presentation CDH asked how the government can make a positive contribution to street art and reiterated points that he made in his Trojan Petition about neglected walls indicating tacit consent to being painted.

Makatron (in the red hoodie) conducts a tour of Fitzroy graffiti

Finally, after the forum Makatron lead a small tour of Fitzroy’s graffiti scene. Before he started the tour Makatron acknowledge the traditional aboriginal owners of the land –a subtle point about the hypocrisy of Australian governments demanding respect of property rights on stolen land.

In other local council news Melbourne’s Mayor Robert Doyle has made the installation of CCTV cameras in Hosier/Rutledge Lane part of his election platform against the advice of residents, the community and all the evidence. (See my posts CCTV or not CCTV Act 1 and 2.)


Crazy City Comforts

The way that the city is used had changed fundamentally along with the way that people moved around in it. In the 1890s the Melbourne City Council did not provide any public seating in order to discourage loitering. A century later, in the 1990s the city council was adding even more flamboyant seating not just for tired pedestrians but also as decoration to the street.

There are sculptures that are intended to be used as seats like Edward Ginger’s “Echo” or the plinth of “The Children’s Tree” by Tom Bass. And there is seating as sculpture like he polished steel blobs like solidified solder on Collins Street, Matthew Harding’s Mercury Rising, 2008.

In 1992 the City of Yarra installed 3 mosaic benches by Giuseppe Roneri along Brunswick Street. There are two on the corner of Victoria Street and one on the corner of Westgarth Street. They also installed another bench near Leicester St. made of wood and iron cut in a floral pattern with the words “Shine On Me” in the centre of the back; the bench was made by M. Bronwyn Snow. These sculptural benches contributed to the street life.

In 1994, the City of Melbourne, followed the example of the City of Yarra, and added what was described in the design brief as “unique and distinctive forms of street seating” in the streets. They added Simon Perry’s “The Public Purse” to the Bourke Street Mall and another bench by M. Bronwyn Snow, “Resting Place” located near the corner of Swanston Walk and Little Lonsdale Street. Snow’s “Resting Place” is more elaborate than her earlier bench in Fitzroy. It is a double-sided bench of steel and jarrah with decorative iron supports featuring giant steel sunflowers and vines. Another piece of whimsy added to Swantson Street.

It could be worse, there is tiled red lips seat on Southbank – a kitsch copy of Dali’s May West sofa (which is actually the work of Barcelona architect and designer, Oscar Tusquets) – and another photo opportunities for tourists.

These seats confuse distinctions between public sculpture and architectural urban design. They raise the question of what is the use of sculpture? As a drinking fountain, a seat or a rubbish bin. The unofficial use of crevices in public sculpture as places to stuff rubbish. The hall through the middle of the Jason Waterhouse “Dwelling” in front of the Coburg Public Library is an official rubbish bin.

Walking around the city you might somewhere to sit. You might need a drink of water but drinking fountains are a whole other story. You might also need a toilet but as far as I know there isn’t an artist designed public toilet in Melbourne yet. There are plenty of unofficial artist, or architect designed rubbish bins, maybe future design briefs for public sculpture should include rubbish bins or ashtrays? The philistine inclusion of a practical use for a sculpture goes against the aesthete idea of art for arts sake. The political moderation of these two extreme positions creates these unique Melbourne seats.

(For more about this see my earlier blog post Moving & Sitting in the City.)


Melbourne Stencil Festival Opening Night

First off I have a major conflict of interest in this story because I am the secretary of the Melbourne Stencil Festival. And as the secretary I have a warped and biased perspective mixed with exhaustion. I don’t want to be spruiking for the festival or telling the inside story.

Melbourne Stencil Festival exhibition

Melbourne Stencil Festival exhibition

I could try and report the facts: the winners, the speeches, how many people attended but I didn’t take notes. I know from the door prize raffle that there were over 200 people through the door before the speeches started. I don’t want to make my own speech here. I introduced all the speakers last night: the curator Tessa Yee, the Mayor of the City of Yarra Amanda Stone, Stencil Festival President Phil Hall and the representative from the judging panel Craig Kenny. Craig Kenny announced the award winners:

Emerging Artist Highly Commended

Ben Howe “Centipede”

John Koleszar “Big John”

2009 Emerging Artist Award

Boo “Our Lade of the Transparency”

Best in Show Highly Commended

Pslam “Once a… Always a…”

HaHa “Ned Kelly” & “Nicky Winmar”

2009 Best in Show

Civil “Playground”

I can’t remember all the details. I did take my camera, so here are a few photographs.

DrewFunk painting opening night

DrewFunk painting opening night

DrewFunk's wall the completed

DrewFunk's wall the completed

Stencil festival crowd listening to speeches

Stencil festival crowd listening to speeches
HaHa, Phil Hall, Amanda Stone, Ben Howe, Boo and Craig Kenny

HaHa, Phil Hall, Amanda Stone, Ben Howe, Boo and Craig Kenny

Boo, Avid Consuming

Boo, Avid Consuming

I hope that I will be able to write more about the stencil festival when I recover.


School Kids, Masked Wrestlers, & Vigilantes

Every second school kid from Year 6 to 12 in Melbourne seems to be studying street art this year. I listened in to a group of school-boys interviewing San Francisco street artist, Chor Boogie at the stencil festival for a school project. Chor Boogie was not taking any shit, a twig permanently clamped in his jaw, carefully explaining the subtle distinctions lacking in the school project’s simple views. Chor Boogie wanted to emphasis that he understood the potential in tags, even if he didn’t like them.

I also got to speak briefly to A1one, who is very happy with his sales at the stencil festival, as it has paid for his trip to Australia. And that was worth it for A1one, he said difference between Tehran and Melbourne was “like another planet.”

Not that the Melbourne Stencil Festival is the only street art exhibition on in Melbourne. Around the corner in Johnston St. there is the “Luchador Collab-o-mask show” at Per Square Metre. And Spray the Word at The Library Artspace, which I hope to see later; I got caught up with photographing the excellent street art in the side allies off Johnston St.

A Luchador is a masked Mexican wrestler who fights in the ‘lucha libre’ style, like cartoon characters in Mucha Lucha. The “Luchador Collab-o-mask show” is the idea of American stencil artist Peat Wollaeger. Various artists have collaborated with Wollaeger painting the blank wooden masks. It is a fun idea, Luchador’s have been popular for decades and they are graphically appealing.

In the Per Square Metre show there is the usual crew of Melbourne street-artists, including Debs, Side Project, Reka, Meek, Phibs and Megs; and, some international artists, including Chor Boogie in the exhibition. Along with painted masks there are cloth-covered panels, collages and engraved panels. Both Miso and Ghost Patrol engraved their panels and both look good with the pale wood showing through the dark ground. Sears made an interactive pirate theme mask, pull the chain and watch the wrestler’s eyes move.

The City of Yarra is deeply involved with stencil art, sponsoring the Melbourne Stencil Festival and Spray the Word at The Library Artspace. It has also published a pamphlet “What do the New Graffiti Prevention Laws Mean to You?” explaining the draconian new anti-graffiti legislation and referring readers to the Napier Studio for legal aerosol art programs and Youthlaw for legal issues.

Not that it is all good news about street art. Four anti-graffiti vigilantes assaulted and held a 15 year old from Coburg captive for up to three hours after catching him spray a hire truck on June 6, 2008. Charmaine Camilleri reported the crime and the police investigation in Moreland Community News (5/8/08 Fairfax Community News Network). Police have not charged anyone and are still appealing for witnesses. This is one of the results of the anti-graffiti polemic; if graffiti is a serious problem, as the Victorian government claims, then vigilantism is partially justified. Creating a climate of hostility will have violent consequences as this incident demonstrates.


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