Tag Archives: design

Habitat Filter in Southbank

Unlike what many sculptures become by accident, Habitat Filter is intended to become a bird roost. The green, blue and orange shards fit into Melbourne’s contemporary architecture on the skyline. Eight shards stand in the middle of a freeway off ramp. In some areas there would be no need for the extravagance of such a construction but the highly visible location near ACCA and the Malthouse Theatre requires more than just a generic design solution.


Habitat Filter comes with many environmentally friendly design solutions: a vertical garden creating an urban forest island and providing natural filtration of water and air by native species vegetation. It makes use of recycled materials and provides renewable energy, through photovoltaic cells, to offset the energy for its lighting. I hope that the vegetation has grown more over the year since I took these photographs shortly after it opened in 2016. It is part of CityLink’s sculpture collection; see my earlier post for more on freeway art.

It is an attempt to restore a small circle of degraded inner city land designed by Drysdale, Myers and Dow. I use the word ‘designed’ because that is what is used on the sculpture’s information panel and to emphasise the background of the designers. Matt Drysdale is an ‘urban designer’ and both Matt Myers and Tim Dow studied architecture. The large letters spelling out its name is just prosaic; it eliminates the mystery of art, reducing it to a branded design solution. For more on the subject of sculpture vs architecture.

I can understand why the chainlink fence is essential and yet it is not part of the design plan but rather added as an undesigned after thought. However, neither the sign nor the chainlink fence is not going to put the birds off roosting. Perhaps my pedestrian perspective on it is wrong; perhaps I should be travelling in a car to see it at speed rather than stationary. Or maybe, as Habitat Filter is a human free zone, I should ask the birds. I tried but various species of parrots argued amongst themselves, the crows commented dryly and the magpies just attacked me.


Habitat Filter in December 2020

Art & Advertising

Walking along Hosier Lane with the street artist, CDH who was half-heartedly tearing off the advertising posters. CDH was talking about making Hosier Lane an advertising free space (a worth while ambition). CDH wants to distinguish between art and advertising but I’m not sure that such a distinction can be made because the nexus between art and advertising means that there is no necessary feature to create a clear distinction. CDH and I have been discussing an article from The Atlantic Cities about Los Angels attempt to restrict mural adverting (“The Convoluted Path to Ending Los Angeles’s Mural Ban” by Nate Berg, March 22, 2012).

Advertising for the play "Optimism", 2009

Advertising for the play “Optimism”, 2009

I have written about the relationship between street art and advertising in an earlier post. Aside from the propaganda element of advertising that has always been important in art and thinking only about avant-garde visual art and mass-market advertising it is clear that there is an increasing relationship in the 20th Century.

The use of advertising material in the visual arts started with collages by the Dadaists and Kurt Schwitters. Was the word “Dada” taken from an advertisement for Dada brand shampoo rather than from the mythic random dictionary search? Almost anticipating Pop Art, Charles Sheeler’s “I Saw The Figure 5 in Gold” from 1928 used the bright colours and images of American cigarette packaging. American cigarette advertising was the start of modern advertising. In 1949 Raymond Hains and Jacques de la Mahé Villeglé used layers of torn advertising posters in a process they called “décollage”. In the 1960s many Pop artists used advertising material, Roy Lichtenstein used images from magazine advertising as the subject for his art although Andy Warhol concentrated on packaging design rather than advertising. In the 1980s many artists influenced by Pop Art used advertising material, most notably Jeff Koons and Barbara Kruger. Koons reproduced magazine advertising and made magazine advertising for himself that were printed in art magazines. Koons marketed himself as a brand. Kruger uses the same visual techniques as advertising in her art.

Advertising has had a close relationship with the visual arts; not surprising since both the artists working in the advertising art department and artists not working in adverting have the same art education. In 1888 Pears Soap first used John Everett Millais painting “Bubbles” 1886 as advertising; Pears was another early innovator in mass market adverting. Also created in the 1880s Toulouse Lautrec’s posters advertising cabaret acts have now entered the art cannon (currently on exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia). Since then advertising has used notable artists to create images for advertising, like Absolut Vodka (see their art collection) or to endorse products, Dali and Lavin chocolate in 1968 (see the video).

Given the increasingly close relationship between avant-garde arts and advertising it is likely that advanced art in the future will have more references to advertising. For more on this subject read Joan Gibbons Art and Advertising (I.B. Tauris, 2005).

T-Shirts – Design & Fashion

There is so much to say about the t-shirt that a small exhibition is not enough, it is just whets the appetite for more. The small exhibition that I’m talking about is TEES: Exposing Melbourne’s T-shirt culture at the NGV Studio.

The NGV keeps on doing this: small exhibitions in the awkward Studio space on big topics like the Everfresh exhibition and the skateboard exhibition. Meanwhile there is a rather ordinary design exhibition for the Cicely & Colin Rigg Contemporary Design Award occupying the larger Gallery 12 on Level 2 where the fashion exhibitions are normally displayed.

There is so much to write about on the subject of t-shirts that this post will be as superficial as fashion. There is logo busting t-shirts, t-shirt memes (“….and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”) and the whole history of the t-shirt. And the TEES exhibition does cover some of this with some of Eddie Zammit’s collection of over 4,000 t-shirts and photographs by Nicole Reed of local t-shirt designers. Many of these designers I know from their street art: Brendan Elliot of Burn and the guys from Everfresh studio (Rone, The Tooth and Meggs).

I was talking with C. about street art and fashion because I’d heard that he had done some designs for Boywolf. He mentioned the usual names and pointed out that a lot of the stickers around are clothing labels and the NGV’s TEES exhibition included a vitrine of labels and stickers.

Street art was made for fashion. Not since punk has an art movement been so closely integrated with the rag trade. Graffiti and hip-hop culture has added its own style to street fashion and there are so many street artists creating their own fashion labels and their own t-shirts, trucker caps and other fashion accessories, chiefly badges. But the striking thing about this is that it is often fashion made by men for men, decorative, practical and functional at the same time.

I could have mentioned so many other street artists (big shout out to James Bryant of Panic printing t-shirts for all the volunteers the Melbourne Stencil Festival a few years ago). Melbourne street artist Ha-Ha had different approach working both ends of the market he has done silk-screen prints for Mooks Clothing 2004 but was always offering to do a print on t-shirts and other garments for friends who bring him a blank item.

You can understand the synergy – if graffiti is all about getting your name up then why not have your own brand – have it on t-shirts, trucker caps, have it everywhere. Aside from the t-shirt there is also the rise of collector and custom sneakers – I’m not big on this scene I just wear Volleys – but Sekure D discusses it in a regular column in the Bureau magazine (cheers again Matt – I’m getting good value from the free copies that you sent me).

There is so much more – Arty Graffarti recently wrote about “Read It and Weep is an awesome Melbourne based clothing label with heavy ties to the street, graffiti and tattoo culture.” (And their own zine, the subject of Arty’s post.)

T-shirt design is worthy of a major exhibition and the NGV has failed give it the space it deserves.

The Spectacle of Street Art

Walking on Swanston Walk there was sidewalk stall selling aerosol stencil art on old LPs; along with the people doing pencil portraits or folding palm leaves into little animals. And then further on Burke St. up there was someone else doing some live spraying in front of a large crowd. I’ve seen people doing aerosol art as a form of busking before; I can remember seeing people doing this back in 2000 on the streets of Europe. The combination of suburban rock icons, the tourist craft stall and street art was depressing but not surprising.

The spectacle of street artists have been packaged and the public watching the spectacle. The books on street art have been coffee table picture books. These have made money for the publishers but have little other than pretty pictures to recommend them. Street art in Melbourne is a tourist attraction complete with guided walking tours, a subject for multiple books and documentaries, gallery and boutique shop designer merchandise and more… just wait until “Secret Wars” is broadcast on commercial TV complete with commentators and ad breaks, no need to wait, they are already doing that online.

There almost is no need to discuss the art that was on exhibition at Rtist or Art Boy we know what a Rone, a Dirt Fish or an Urban Cake Lady’s piece looks like (if you don’t look them up online and you will find plenty of examples). Brand recognition is an important aspect of street art, becoming a form of tagging with images. The viral nature of street art can quickly become a commercial infection empty of anything but a repeated image.

The Urban Art Agenda #1 exhibition of international street and stencil art was “an official Pop-Up of the Melbourne Design Festival 07”. Street art is a significant contemporary style. And street artists are often both designers and artists; a mix that can result in a good income and endless signature work, like Ken Done. This kind of art gives me a vision of the artist alienated by his/her own production line of creation, like a virus producing more and more versions of their signature work. And the repetition changes the meaning of work from an odd charm to a repetitious drone.

Designers and decorators have used stencils, paste-ups/wallpaper for centuries; using them on the street was surprising and amusing but rarely has increased their artistic quality. Is street art just guerilla decorators painting feature walls for the urban living room? The basic design core of street art is filled with ego, audacity and enterprise. Apart from the occasional joke or political statement there is little to most of the pieces except for design sensibilities and the endless repetition of the signature style/images large. There are always the odd street artists who can rise above this; there is the hope that better site-specific art will emerge.

I was going to write something histrionic like “the end of street art” or “these are signs of the end of street art”. Instead I’ll try to discuss this without too many disparaging remarks or starting a flame war but I’ll wait to see your comments. (For more on problems with street art see my post on Street Art and Plagiarism and Advertising and Graffiti.)

Design City Melbourne

After being driven down Melbourne’s freeways, looking at the varied textures of the sound barriers and the variety of pedestrian bridges, they are an impressive design statement. I don’t drive so I don’t see this aspect of Melbourne’s design in my daily life – unlike the freeways Melbourne’s public transport is not a designed environment. Thinking about Melbourne’s architecture and design lead me to borrow Leon Van Schaik Design City Melbourne (Wiley-Academy, 2006, England) from Coburg Library.

The author, Leon Van Schaik AO (Order of Australia) is the Innovation Professor of Architecture at RMIT. He was involved with Melbourne’s architectural revival, especially at the RMIT campus. He knows his subject is a strong advocate for design and architectural innovation. However, this insider status both helps and hinders the book.

At first I was not sure what Van Schaik means by “design city”. Not a designed city, like Canberra, but rather a city that encourages design – a centre for design. Van Schaik describes the complex and dynamic system of architecture and design in Melbourne. He investigates the modes of cultural production (art, jewellery, fashion, furniture design, graphic design) in relationship their to architecture. There are lots of interesting ideas and facts in the book. He even attempts to resolve the disconnection between Melbourne’s design culture and sports culture with stories of footballers turned designers (Sean Godsell and Greg Burgess) and in other passing references.

Unfortunately the text is almost unreadable, it rambles and the ideas are buried and obscured by poor editing. It appears that Van Schaik is too close to his subject to effectively organize the material in this book. I don’t know how much any of the 3 editors for the book is responsible for allowing this messy content to be published. The “Content Editor”, Louise Porter has certainly not done her job. “Much of the buildings are buried below grade.” (p.53) (Should that be “ground”?) If the content of this book were a blog then it would be on my blogroll but I expect something better, more considered and edited from a print publication.

Another contributing problem to the quality authorship, along with a problem with the editors, is a lack of decent unbiased criticism. (The demands of academic tenure tracking may have also required a hasty publication.) The insider nature of the book means that when it was reviewed in Melbourne’s The Age newspaper (April 4, 2006) it was by Norman Day, adjunct professor of architecture at RMIT – a colleague of the author who gave the book a glowing review. The whole book reeks of this kind of nepotism and it reduces Van Schaik’s vision of a complex system contributing to a design culture to a club.

Photography by John Gollings is a major feature of this publication and without it the book would be significantly less intelligible.

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