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Tag Archives: Duncan Stemler

Elemental Forces in Public Art

Considering the use of the so-called ‘elemental forces’ of water, fire, earth and air in public art; with examples from Melbourne’s public and street art.

Air 

Although it is the space between, air is the most under used element in public art. Aside from making flags and banners flutter it is used in a couple of sculptures. The 15-metre-high wind-powered sculpture by Duncan Stemler, Blowhole in the Docklands. Elsewhere in the world there are musical sculptures that are played automatically, like Aeolian harps and the common wind chime. On a more subtle level there is scent of gardens, of incense and the burnt eucalyptus leaves of smoking ceremonies carried in the air.

Duncan Stemler, Blowhole

Water

Water was the first one to be used for public art with public drinking fountains and other water features from artificial lakes and waterfalls. There are many fountains and drinking fountains in Melbourne there are also mist sprays on the rocks in Footscray, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom by Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins. Street artist have also used water, one summer blocks of coloured ice were left to melt in Hosier Lane, the coloured liquid running between the bluestone cobbles. The street artist, CDH used hypochromatic ink for stencil works where the piece that only became visible when wet. Finally there is the unofficial colouring of fountains and moats often in conjunction with protests.

Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom

Fire

From the eternal flame at the Shrine of Remembrance, candle light vigils, to Indigenous smoke ceremonies fire is used in a variety of public art. Camp fire with Aboriginal story teller at Federation Square. It is not all sacred; there are profane gas flares at the casino and temporary public art events like, fireworks displays. Fortunately there is little use of fire in street art, aside from a rare CDH pyrotechnic painting.

Immolating portrait of Yukio Mishima by CDH (photo courtesy CDH)

Earth

Earth art is the principle form of public art. From its landscaped gardens, the city is an artificial constructed landscape, complete with kitsch floral clocks. The metal and stone used in sculpture is also from the earth but that might be labouring the point. Street art also use earth and plants in guerrilla gardening.

Melbourne’s Floral Clock
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Yarra Sculptures

My brother-in-law, Tom wanted to take a hundred photographs of the buildings in Melbourne’s docklands and riverfront, so earlier this year I went along with him for the early morning walk. We got out at Southern Cross Station, the former Spencer Street Station and crossed the tracks out of the old city. This is not walking Docklands’ public “Art Journey” as Bronwen Colman, the urban art director of the Melbourne Docklands precinct planned but a psychogeographical meandering along the Yarra River.

Webb Bridge, Docklands

Webb Bridge, Docklands

The Yarra River is the reason for Melbourne’s location, it was the transportation hub for the new settlement and it became an industrial site. When the modes of transportation changed in the late 20th Century the river became a neglected site. Another use had to be found for this polluted waterway and like many cities around the world Melbourne turned it into a parkland, river walk, casino, aquarium, restaurants and arts centre. The Yarra River started to be redeveloped in the 1970s with the construction of the Victoria Arts Centre and this urban redesign required more public sculpture.

Patricia Picinni, Seats

Patricia Piccinini, Car Nuggets, 2006

While Tom was photographing the architecture I was looking at and occasionally photographing the sculptures. Just off Batman Hill Drive at the Kangan Institute of TAFE’s Automotive Centre of Excellence I spotted three seats by Patricia Piccinini, the Car Nuggets, 2006. The chrysalis forms of cars or motorcycles about to metamorphose is both typical of Piccinini’s oeuvre and appropriate for the location.

Duncan Stemler, Blowhole, 2005

Duncan Stemler, Blowhole, 2005

We could hardly miss seeing Sydney-based artist, Duncan Stemler’s Blowhole, 2005; a 15 metre tall kinetic wind-responsive stainless-steel and aluminium sculpture located in Docklands Park. In 2008 two of the anodised aluminium cups were blown off but there wasn’t much wind and it wasn’t doing much when we were there.

The area feels deserted until we crossed the river at the Webb Bridge and then things were there was the noise of a flock of parrots enjoying the palm trees. Tom didn’t mind the lack of people, he was happily photographing the architecture of all the new buildings.

As we progress up the south bank of the Yarra there are a few more people were around. I remember reading stories about the early days of Melbourne where people disembarking from ships at the port kept walking up river for what to them seemed like ages until they saw the city. It is very similar today or maybe the city was finally waking up on the weekend.

Further reminding me of the early days of Melbourne the area has these touches of hyper-reality in the old pump house with boilers made by the old Robinson Bros. foundry. I recognised the name of the foundry as they had made Percival Ball’s Francis Ormond Memorial at RMIT.

Megafun, John Dory, 2006

Megafun, John Dory, 2006

On the north bank of the Yarra River poking its head out from amongst the apartments is a giant metal John Dory fish. It was originally on a floating platoon during the 2006 Commonwealth games and was constructed by a company called Megafun. Megafun also provided technical and project management support to Scar – A Stolen Vision in 2001, the aboriginal poles further along the north bank.

The crowds started to build up around the exhibition building and the casino. We had to find some shade so that Tom could see his camera’s screen properly; he was up to his 81st photo.

Simon Rigg, Gaurdians 1997

Simon Rigg, Gaurdians 1997

Outside the eastern end of Crown Entertainment Complex are The Guardians by Simon Rigg. These two large sculptures carved from Italian statuary marble and clad with ceramic tiles. Rigg has a number of other marble public sculptures around Melbourne, including Babylon, 1995 is at 101 Collins Street, as well as, in Beijing and New York.

We come to Inge King Sheerwater, 1994 in front of the Esso building. (See my post on Inge King.) Tom puts his camera away, he has taken his hundredth photo and we cross the Yarra heading up Swanston Walk to Chinatown for a well earned yum cha.

Inge King, Sheerwater, 1994

Inge King, Sheerwater, 1994


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