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Tag Archives: Fitzroy

Indigenous Culture on the streets

On Friday 5 July I met the NAIDOC Week march as I was walking to Fitzroy. The march was coming the opposite way walking from Fitzroy to Federation Square. I felt inspired by the march – I want a treaty and truth (like South Africa’s truth and reconciliation commission). Australia needs a treaty with its Indigenous population; Australia is the only Commonwealth country not to have a treaty with its indigenous people.

I considered my options joining the march or continuing my walk into Fitzroy. I decided to continue on looking at public art, street art and art exhibitions but with a focus on indigenous history. My methodology for these walks is asystematic, random, and often without preconceived objectives. This is because I want to take unfamiliar routes and find new things.

This is No Fantasy, the Dianne Tanzer and Nicola Stien’s gallery on Gertrude Street was showing Vincent Namatjira’s exhibition Coming To America. Vincent is a Western Arrernte man from Ntaria (Hermannsburg) and the grandson of Albert Namatjira.It was Vincent Namatjira’s fifth solo presentation at this prominent Melbourne commercial gallery. Black dots beside the works showed that every painting had sold.

Vincent Namatjira’s crude but effective style has an absurd sense of humour. The exhibition has a series of paintings depicting his trip to America, including his time in Hollywood, the White House and relaxing on beach chair at the Miami Beach Art Basel. On one wall was a grid of black and white portraits of alternating black and white people. Namatjira seems to be saying: why so serious when this is fun?

Gertrude Street was named after the daughter of Captain Brunswick Smythe who acquired the land in 1839 in colonial exploitation; in spite of it colonial origins Gertrude Street has many reminders of Melbourne’s Indigenous history. There are several plaques by the City of Yarra Aboriginal Cultural Signage Reference Group and the Aboriginal Advisory Group: The Koori Club, the Aboriginal Housing Board and the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service. (As well as public art I am now looking at plaques — how dull can I get?).

At the corner of Lt. Napier Street, there is the recent ‘Sovereignty’ mural by Robert Young, Heesco and Makatron. They are all Melbourne-based artists but only Young is a Gunnai/Gunditjmarra/Yorta Yorta/Wiradjuri man – Heesco is from Mongolia and Makatron is probably from outer space, or Adelaide.

A bit further along Gertrude Street, at the corner of Gertrude and George Streets stand three “Delkuk Spirits”, 2002, by Kelly Koumalatsos, a Wergaia/Wamba Wamba woman from the northwest of Victoria.  The yarn bombed dress on one of thin bronze figures has been there for years, it implies that it a woman and makes the group more inclusive.

Kelly Koumalatsos, Delkuk Spirits, 2002, bronze

On the same corner is Maysar, the Melbourne Youth Sport and Recreation Co-Operative with glass design in the windows and glass doors by Mandy Nicholson, a member of the Wurundjeri-willam clan of the Kulin Nation. Nicholson’s work is familiar to me as she designed Gayip, the stainless steal spiral headed figure with wings perched on a rock on the South bank and the petroglyphs at Birrarung Wilam.

I turned left onto to Smith Street, named after Melbourne’s Mayor Smith 1855-64 a publican turned politician. At first there was much less reminders of Indigenous history on Smith Street, just on plaque for the Victorian Aboriginal Co-operative Limited at 108 Smith Street, one guy in an Aboriginal flag t-shirt getting lunch and a small flag painted on a house in one of the streets off Smith.

That was until I reached the corner of Stanley and Smith Street where the Glenn Romanis has designed the combination of a micro-park, seating, public art and a map. Glenn Romanis is from the Wurundjeri/woi wurrung and Boonwerrung people of the Kulin Nation, and like Nicholson, Romanis’s public work was familiar from his carving at Birrarung Wilam. The sites are mapped in fossilised wood with granite streets cutting across the sedimentary rock that flows like rivers. Carved in the rock “Wominjeka Wurundjeri Bik” (Welcome to Wurundjeri Country). It was a good place to continue an exploration of Melbourne’s indigenous culture.

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The ghosts of galleries past

Walking around Fitzroy in middle of winter and feeling haunted by the ghosts of so many past art galleries, exhibitions and ARIs. I was looking for Fort Delta’s new location since it moved out of its basement space in the city late last year.

David Palliser, Deep Sneeze at Hunger Rosario

David Palliser, Deep Sneeze at Hunger Rosario

On my way along Brunswick Street I passed the street where Roar studios used to be. Roar was Melbourne’s first artist run initiative. Perhaps it was this that got me thinking about all the past white walled art galleries or maybe it was the cold shiver that ran down my spine on the coldest day of the year. I meandered my passed the location of Andrianakis Fitzroy Gallery. It started in 1992, when it was called The Fitzroy Gallery, but has been closed for almost a decade now.

On Gertrude Street there are many more ghosts of galleries and studios (although this digression make the geography of this story is inaccurate). Seventh Gallery, so named because it was the seventh gallery in Gertrude Street, closed in March this year. Now there is a clothing boutique in the space that hasn’t even changed the name on the window. For a moment I had my doubts; was my favourite artist run space closed? Or was it an installation that looked like a shop? (I don’t know and their webpage hasn’t been updated.)

In the early 1980s there was Melbourne Contemporary Arts Gallery (MCA) a pioneer commercial art gallery on Gertrude Street. MCA started out above a Turkish takeaway on the corner of George Street before moving in 1990 to a two-storey Victorian building at 163 Gertrude Street. I remember going to an exhibition opening upstairs at MCA in the late 1980s; it was a typical gallery space with white walls and bare floorboards exhibiting mid-career Australian artists.

I can’t remember the names of all the galleries that were once on Gertrude Street. There was 200 Gertrude or, when it later changed it name, Gertrude Contemporary. Art galleries’s names have gone the way of bands, so now instead of names designed with the bland clarity of an institution it is a random combination of words.

I found Fort Delta’s new location. The entrance is in a graffiti covered laneway off Hanover Street. The gallery is a couple of rooms with white walls and white painted floor boards at the back of the buildings on Brunswick Street. I was slightly confused by the change of name to Hunger Rozario but this was clarified when I checked my emails (the name change just occurred on the 27th).

At Hunger Rozario there was an exhibition of paintings by David Palliser called “Deep Sneeze”. Palliser’s paintings looked like a sneeze; intense, violent, frenetic, messy things that blew away my ghosts of galleries past.


The earth art of Astral Nadir

Aside from the odd stencil or tag, that could be on a wall, Melbourne’s street art has rarely colonised the sidewalks. On the sidewalks you are more likely to encounter industrial graffiti, markings put there by council or utilities workers. That makes Astral Nadir’s paintings an exception.

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Resembling ancient symbols, crop circles or Nazca lines, these patterns on the ground refer to the stars and sky. Attractive small abstract patterns of circles and curves connected with straight lines. They are a kind of tagging using images instead of an alphabet. They are also signs mapping a linear trail taken by the artist around Fitzroy and have a relationship with fire hydrants, poles and edges of the sidewalk.

Recently, I discovered that I was walking the same path as Astral Nadir when I was out looking at art galleries and street art. As I walked along Gertrude Street and up Smith Street I started to look for and photograph for the next piece but I didn’t see them all. On returning home and reviewing my photographs I noticed another one, on the pavement next to a wall with a piece by Shida that I was focused on.

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After posting some of my photos on Facebook, I was told that it was the work of Astral Nadir. (Thanks Liz Sonntag.) The rock’n’roll aspect of Astral Nadir’s name combine the high with the low in a synthesis where contradictions are resolved. I’m not sure how long ago these were done but the Instagram photos @astral_nadir are all from this year.

Although it is not great art, it is an exception to the ordinary and I do look forward to finding more.


Looking for an exhibition

First Site Gallery at RMIT “I Feel Like I Know You” by Chris Bowes, not the musician but the little known Brisbane-based artist. Except I think that the image is a portrait of Chris Bowes, the heavy-metal musician. Each of the subjects of the portraits was a ‘Chris Bowes.’ Bowes has added something more to the usual mosaic of tiles creating an image as each of the tiles is the logo of a page that the subject liked on Facebook to create a portrait of them. It was a visually and intellectually pleasing exhibition.

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Another exhibitions at First Site was also looking at our digital image but unlike Bowes, Stephanie Milsom “All of It” was visually boring and focused entirely on herself. It is always more interesting to focus on other people rather than yourself.

I have a physiological reaction to bad art; it feels sickening (in the past bad poetry has caused me to actually vomit), oppressive and there is something like mental claustrophobia. Then there is the dull boredom of another average exhibition. I try to pay attention; maybe I haven’t paid enough attention, maybe the artist will improve in time, maybe it’s just my taste or even my current mood. It is always a risk, especially with the small galleries, the rental and artist run spaces.

I wanted to get back to my routine of visiting a couple of small galleries and writing a review of some or all of the exhibitions; regular readers will be aware of a gap of several months this winter without any reviews. Yesterday this became a desperate search for some art worth writing about.

Sometimes I am looking for a gallery that I haven’t visited before but recently I have been missing all of the galleries that have closed or moved to new locations. There are only two galleries left on Gertrude Street: Seventh and This Is No Fantasy. A decade ago there were seven, which is why there is Seventh Gallery.

At Seventh in Gallery Two, Joe Gentry and Jen Mathews exhibition; “skyscraper, school, shrine, slaughterhouse” looks at the power and inherent violence in architecture. It is a good idea and it can almost be seen in Jen Mathews’s substantial mixed media assemblages and Joe Gentry’s paper warehouses and houses with graffiti on their walls.


The Smallest Pieces

“All the pieces matter” Lester Freamon The Wire

This is just a small post with a small collection of photos about the smallest works of street art. The antidote to the inflated egos and dubious aesthetics of murals are the smallest of graffiti pieces. To find them just look in the opposite direction to the murals, look down the wall below eye level. There are miniature street art sculptures, tiny drawings, small stickers; overlooked and often entirely unseen. At that scale they become a treasure hunt, rewards for being aware and looking around in the city. They are so small that often there is no room for a tag or signature but I think I know some of the artists, please comment to correct or add to this information.


Anti-Muralism

For the past three years murals, very large multi-story painted walls are the popular form in Melbourne’s street art. Murals are also very popular in advertising and with socialists. Van Rudd says that wants to revive the tradition of political mural painting in Melbourne that happened with Geoff Hogg in the 1970s.

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Murals are seen as community art solution, read Tony Matthews and Deanna Grant-Smith “How murals helped turn a declining community around” in The Conversation, as well as an advertising technique. Dvate’s painted banner for The Lion King in 2015 or HaHa’s 2016-17 3MMM banner at Macaulay railway station, a favourite old haunt of HaHa when he was running around the city getting his name up. Smug’s mural on Otter Street promoting a luxury apartment development, makes gentrification cute. The popularity of murals makes for endless commercial applications.

I think that I lost a lot of my interest in Melbourne’s street art when murals became the dominate form of street art. I don’t like most murals, street art or otherwise, as I have already written about the Harold Freedman mosaic mural on the Fire Station. So I don’t feel as motivated to write about street art, although I have written about Rone and Adnate’s murals.

Rone in Collins Street

Rone in Collins Street, 2014

I’m not sure what it is about murals that I don’t like, after all they are just very large paintings. I do like a few murals in Melbourne. The Keith Haring mural in Collingwood but that is because I like his other work and the mural is simply a large example. I don’t think of the large walls by sprayed with fire extinguishers full of paint by Ash Keating and others as murals because they are just paint whereas a mural is about something.

Often murals are so about something that it feels like you are being lectured or advertised at. I’m not sure that I want the intended message or non-message of a mural and even if I do then what about people who don’t? The intended mass audience of a mural makes is like advertising. Whereas I like art that is aimed at a small audience rather than the lowest common denominator. The bigger the audience does not mean the better the art; size is kind of pornographic.

At other times there is so little content in a mural, like Rone’s faces, that being content free and abstract would have something more than these substitutes for content. For this reason I found Doyle’s Empty Nursery Blue to be more artistic than any and all of Rone’s murals.

I was also wondering if it is because murals lack a human scale. Murals are different to graffiti pieces in terms of scale. The reach of a graffiti writer defines the height of a piece, the arc of the curves so that a piece of graffiti reflects a human scale. Whereas the size of a mural is determined by the size of the wall and the equipment used.

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Cam and Scale, Brunswick 2017


Street Messages

I’ve been looking, photographing and thinking about messages on the street. Not the stencil or paste-up poster messages directed at a mass audience but the individual messages directed at a specific audience or even an individual.

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I’m not sure of the accuracy of this claim outside Anstey Station, but it has been at least 20 years of providing a great legal wall.

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I am interested in the ethics of graffiti writing and the messages that debate this. Often this is the ethics of what counts in the claim of “I was sitting there first.” Claiming a right to a chair in bar or to occupy a spot by the pool or to paint a wall when such things are a limited resource by virtue of a prior claim of occupancy. Amongst graffiti writers there is a transmission of a code of ethics through an oral tradition, as well as, messages written on walls.

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Generally graffiti writers are only interested in communicating with other graffiti writers but occasionally they want to make a point to a wider audience. Messages written on walls, as an adjunct to a piece is the only direct form of communication. This note from Bailer was probably intended for a idiot who often caps pieces in the area.

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“No Style” is an irony free cap over a cleanly executed bubble letter style piece by Speds.

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Old skool graffiti writers do not respect anyone without good aerosol skills just like the old school conservatives would not read anyone who could write neat copperplate with prefect spelling and grammar.

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I don’t want to be a grammar nazi but some people have to, just like some people have to tag. This comment was in reference to a tag with unconventional spelling. (Are you still reading Facter?)


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