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Tag Archives: Flinders Street Station

Skunk Control @ The Dirty Dozen

Has it only been half a year since Platform closed and the dozen glass vitrines in the tile lined underpass at Flinders Street Station were left empty? The artist-run initiative Platform ran the space for twenty years and I regularly wrote about their exhibitions. Now Melbourne City Council’s Creative Spaces program have taken over management of the dozen vitrines in Campbell Arcade. They have rebranded them The Dirty Dozen because, as Creative Spaces’ Eleni Arbus puts it, ”It’s a pretty grungy site”.

Platform Degraves St Underpass

The Dirty Dozen brings a new direction for the vitrines, filling them with the work of what Eleni Arbus calls “creative practitioners” rather than artists. Hopefully this will make the exhibitions more engaging for the commuters who use the underpass. The work of many contemporary artists failed to produce site specific art and failed to speak to the thousands of people who continued walking past.

Prevaricated Frequencies by Skunk Control

The first exhibition at The Dirty Dozen, Prevaricated Frequencies by Skunk Control, a team of engineers and scientists from Victoria University demonstrates what Arbus means by “creative practitioners”. The vitrines were full of a forest of animatronic blooming flowers and caves of crystals, both with prismatic light effects from rotating polarised screens. Another vitrine contains a motorised kaleidoscope and another, rotating tanks of liquid. The attention to detail to create these complete other worldly visions is impressive.

Parts of this exhibition is similar to what was seen in Rose Chong’s display window last year when Skunk Control won the People’s Choice award at the annual Gertrude Street Projection Festival for Pestilent Protrusions. That People’s Choice award is an indication of engaging beauty that Skunk Control produce. The elegant engineering and science are used to present engaging and intriguing work rather than lecturing the audience.

Skunk Control was formed in 2012 by Nick Athanasiou a lecture at Victoria University in the College of Engineering and Science. There are a surprising number of engineers in Melbourne creating exciting art, including the street artist CDH. I wish that more artists today, instead of doing their Masters or Doctorates in Fine Arts, studied something else, something apparently unrelated to their art, because this would improve both the content and the art. I am looking forward to seeing what other “creative practitioners” will next be exhibiting at The Dirty Dozen.

Prevaricated Frequencies by Skunk Control

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Readymade in 3 Minutes

I guess that Alan Adler retired this year. Alan Adler was the man who ran the photo booth business in Melbourne for forty years. His analogue black and white photo booths are no longer at Flinders Street Station.

Photobooth

In September 1925 in New York City on Broadway Anatol Josepho opened the first photo booth machine. (Näkki Goranin American Photo Booth (W.W. Norton & Company, 2008, New York). The photo booth was a common modern experience that inspired many people in the pre-digital world to play with portraying their identity.

My own relationship with photo booth goes back more than forty years. I was just two when I had my first photo taken in one. My parents took me to a department store in Canada and inside the automatic glass doors, next to the gum ball machines was a photo booth. It made a profound impression on my young mind. I thought: “Modern.  Everything done by machine.”

Since 1984 I have been working on a project using photo booth machines, documenting my life with a strip or two of black and white photos every year. It started fooling around in London; the machines were everywhere because a weekly tube pass required a photograph.

Mark Holsworth, 1984, London

Mark Holsworth, 1984, London

I was aware of the history of art and photo booths: the Surrealists, Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol.

Francis Bacon’s photo booth photos are reproduced in David Sylvester Interviews with Francis Bacon 1962-1979 (Oxford, 1980) (p.42).

In 1990 Warhol exhibited several hundred photo booth photos at the Robert Miller Gallery in New York. In a review of the exhibition Hilton Als wrote, “What these photographs do suggest is what gesticulating – smiling and relaxing – into the void looks like.” (Artforum March 1990)

Louis Nowra “Grins to silent screams: the influence of photo booths” Art and Australia V44 #1 2006

HatBagUmbrellaMark, 1991

I delighted the strip format, like a comic book panels, in the limitations and the errors made by the mechanical processing. What you can and can’t control. Curtain or no curtain? How do you dress and position your body with in the confines of the small booth.

The photo booth photo is always taken on the way to or from somewhere, it is a pause on a journey. You step out of the public space into a private booth, draw the curtain, insert your coins and pose for the photo before stepping out into public again to await the finished results three minutes later. I went to the photo booths at Flinders and Spencer Street Railway Stations to take photos on the way to friends, to Geelong, Bendigo.

1997

Now my project has come to its natural, or rather, technological end.

Lindy Percival reported on Adler and his photo booth machines two years ago in The Age.  Local artist Marty Damhuis has a blog, flyingtale about his photo booth work; I wish that I’d seen his and Nadine Allen exhibition of photo booth photos at Platform in August 2009. See photobooth.net for more about photo booths including some of the artists who have used them.

P.S. Actually the remaining black and white photo booth has simply moved a few metres further along Flinders Street station near the entrance to Platform 1.

Interior of Photo Booth at Flinders Street.

Interior of Photo Booth at Flinders Street.


Ghost Signs of Melbourne

New Theatre

On the corner of Flanigan Lane there is the hand painted sign stating: “New Theatre”. Jeff Sparrow and Jill Sparrow give a short history of the New Theatre in their book Radical Melbourne. The sign dates from around 1937 when the New Theatre occupied “an old tin-doffed loft above a dishes garage next to the Duke of Kent Hotel on La Trobe Street.” (Sparrow and Sparrow Radical Melbourne p.28). The New Theatre was established by the Communist Party in 1937 and  continued into the 1990s. The theatre at Flanigan Lane saw the first performance of Bertolt Brecht in Melbourne. In 1939 the theatre was declared unsafe and closed down but the sign remains on the stone wall.

There are plenty of other ghost signs in that small network of lanes but the new theatre was the only one that I researched. The interest in finding and photographing ghost signs grows. My own take on it is less about the hand painted signs and more about the history and culture that the sign represents.

Telephones

The “Do Not Spit” signs at Flinders Street Station tell of a past Melbourne with an expectorating population that had to be told not to. The metal “telephones” sign in the Degraves Street underpass points to a locked door behind which banks of telephone booths once stood before mobile phones made them obsolescent. The boomerang shaped sign from former Brunswick continental supermarket on Lygon Street and Australian identity; for more see Our Fading Past – Our History in Old Signs.  I have not been able to find out anything about the sign for Balkan Club in Melbourne, but there has always been a Balkan Club somewhere around the city.

Loucas & Christororou boomerang

I am suspicious of the ghost signs from around Chinatown like “Commit No Nuisance” Heffernan Lane in Chinatown. These signs looks too good, perhaps they were restored in an earlier revival of interest in ghost signs. I saw them listed as number 4 selfie spots in Melbourne.The aesthetic popularity of ghost signs is leading to some being purposely revealed, restored or rectified.

commit no Nusaince + paste-up

After the collectors, the fans and the academics, comes the photography exhibitions of ghost signs. Stephanie Stead’s “Signs of Our Times” at the City Library in July was the first of these that I’ve seen but I’m sure that there have been others. Stead’s silver gelatine prints are black and white except for the signs that have been hand coloured in oils. This old fashioned technique matches with the old signs producing beautiful nostalgic images.


Orphan Sculptures

In researching public sculpture in Melbourne I am a little surprised to find orphan pieces; ‘orphan’ are pieces left out of the catalogue or a catalogued items with very little information. It is surprising that something as large as a sculpture is forgotten or lost in the records. But I’m only a little surprised it is not as if there is a catalogue of all the buildings, sculptures, fountains and things that are in Melbourne or any in any other city.

unknown orphan sculpture, possibly Lyndon Dadswell, 118 Russell Street

Most of the statues owned by the City of Melbourne come with a brass plaque set into the pavement that states the sculptor, title and date. But this is not the case with privately owned sculpture on public display. Many of these sculptural works were commissioned for private commercial buildings in Melbourne, like or the base relief on 118 Russell Street. The art deco figure of Mercury could indicate that it might have something to do with communications and would help date the piece.

Likewise it is not known who made the many figures on the facades of Melbourne’s buildings, like the Atlas figure on the former Atlas Assurance Building on Collins Street, the Druid on the Druids Building on Swanston Street or the metal motif of a rather skeletal modern merman on the outside wall of the Port Phillip Arcade on Flinders Street.

The rust covered corten steel sculpture out the front of The Domain (1 Albert Street) has been identified as Robert Jacks but there are more works of unknown or unidentified sculptors. Who made the three masted sailing-ship atop the weather vane that was installed c. 1919 at the Mission to Seamen. And who made the “French Fountain” a bronze fountain with granite plinth, from the International Exhibition of 1880 at the east entrance of the Exhibition Buildings?

The stories of these pieces have been lost to history. These orphans need help – if anyone has any additional information on these sculptors could they please comment or contact me (melbourneartcritic at gmail dot com).


Not the Usual Places

I’ve been keeping my eyes open on the look out for Melbourne’s street art. And I’ve been seeing street art everywhere. I’ve been looking in the usual places in the city and seeing it some unusual places.

Hawksburn burner by ??

I’ve been out to Leonard Joel auction house in “the impressive heritage listed former Hawksburn Primary School in the heart of South Yarra” to look at the Andy Mac Collection – “street and fine art from Citylights Project 1992-2012”. I will write more about that in a future blog post after attending the auction this Sunday. (Hi Lorraine from Melbourne Street Art.)

I saw some incidental tags and a Junky Projects in the photographs of Jesse Marlow on exhibition at Anna Pappas Gallery. Not that these tags are the focus of Marlow’s photographs but it would be hard to photograph the streets of Melbourne and not include some tags or a Junky Projects tin can face. “Don’t Just Tell Them, Show Them (Part 3)” by Jesse Marlow is a photographic exhibition that looks at the strange beauty found in urban details. Marlow’s photographs are beautifully composed images but she can’t control every detail of what she finds in the street.

Flinders Street with painted carriage

The first painted train carriage in Melbourne that I’ve seen in ages pulled into Flinders Street Station on Wednesday. I hurriedly pulled out my camera. It is not that unusual according to my contact in Metro. They must have been desperate for train carriages to fill the timetable. A contributing reason to why the carriage was run with graffiti might have been that the pieces didn’t cover up too much of the train’s windows.

Continuing with my theme of unusual places to see street art in Melbourne. Street artists have now been hired to decorate part of Melbourne Central (Vetti reports on Melbourne Central) or the Myer Basement (ArtGraffarti reports Myer). And today Keith Haring made the Google home page in celebration of his birthday. If only he hadn’t died in 1990 and had lived to see the street art of Melbourne today. (See my post about Keith Haring in Melbourne.)


Time & Tiles

Mirka Mora’s broad brushstrokes and whimsical figures translate well into the medium of mosaic. Wall mosaics were once the popular media for public art in Melbourne and there are some that have aged well, for example, the Flinders Street Station Mural by Mirka Mora, 1986. The mural is on the inside wall at the Yarra river end of the station next to Clock’s Restaurant. The entire wall is not a mosaic, only the central panel is, the decorative upper frieze is painted and the lower border is painted with low-relief outlines. Tiled wall mosaics are expensive undertakings, in materials and time. A single artist cannot be completed a large mosaic without assistants. In creating the Flinders Street Station Mural Mirka Mora was assisted by Nicola McGann, who now works a Victorian company, Tactile Mosaics, and Brandon Scott McFadden, who currently lectures at Box Hill Institute. Mirka Mora also created a mosaic mural at St. Kilda Pier.

Mirka Mora, Flinders Street Station Mural, 1986

detail Flinders St. Station mural

The bronze didactic plaque for the Flinders Street Station Mural refers to the two other major public mosaics in Melbourne: at Newspaper House and the East Hill Fire Station (see my post: The Legend of Harold Freedman). The Flinders Street Station Mural is a typical laughing response by Mirka Mora to the high seriousness of these earlier mosaics.

“Communication” by M. Napier Waller, 1933, is a large wall mosaic on the first floor of the front of Newspaper House in Collins Street. The slogan “I’ll put a girdle round the world” (Shakespeare, Midsummer Nights Dream) that runs across the top of the mosaic is a reference to  the newspapers, The Herald & Weekly Times and not corsetry. Typical for the time the mosaic’s conservative late 19th Century style incorporates a few modern references including a car and train. A copy of newspaper The Herald is directly behind the central trumpet-blowing figure. Although mosaic was made in 1933 it bears the date 3 January 1840 in Roman numerals (“III January MDCCCXXXX) for the founding of The Herald. There are other murals and wall mosaics by Waller at the University of Melbourne and in Melbourne’s CBD including the mosaic “Prometheus”, 1967, Monash House foyer, William St, Melbourne.

M. Napier Waller, “Communication”, 1933

detail of "Communication"

There are other buildings with less artistic and grand mosaics in Melbourne. Near the corner of Flinders and Elizabeth St. Flinders Arcade has is tiled façade. The tiles have the image of a golden sun that a metal skeletal figure of a crowned merman armed with a trident in front of it. There is a hard edge abstract mosaic on the side of the building on the corner of Elizabeth and Flinders St. in Melbourne, a faded folly of high modernism.

Ceramic tile wall mosaics in Melbourne might appear to be a trivial topic in art history. Most have dated badly, none of them are masterpieces but they draw attention to an ignored part of Melbourne. Melbourne used to have a lot more tiles. The outside and inside walls of Melbourne’s pubs were tiled, making it easy to wash the vomit off. There were tiled mosaics sign for shops, still visible in some of the older shops, like the “Buckley and Nunn” sign above David Jones, as well as, higher up above the second floor windows.

Although mosaics are durable they do require some maintenance  – the Flinders Street Station Mural was restored in 1998. But due to their durability wall mosaics will continue in contemporary Melbourne public art such as Pamela Irving recent mosaics at Patterson Station.


Happy 20th Birthday Platform

In 1990 Andrew Seward and Richard Holt established The Platform Artists Group Inc. 20 years on and it has become Melbourne’s longest running artists-run initiative and public art project in the CBD. It is open to the public every weekday and Saturday mornings all year. It is a non-profit public art organization supported by the City of Melbourne, Arts Victoria and the Australia Council.

Megan Clunes writes about the Platform’s 20 years in Broadsheet Melbourne. The photograph accompanying the article shows the original Platform in the curved underpass at the then Spencer Street Station (now Southern Cross Station). The vitrines in the Spencer Street underpass were curved streamlined modern cabinets that became redundant after failing to predict the future of advertising. I remember seeing some early exhibitions in the Platform cabinets and being under-whelmed by the experience.

The cabinets at Flinders Street Station originally were known as Platform 2 and were opened 5 years after the original Spencer Street space. It was known as Platform 2 when I exhibited there in 1995 with members of Dada tribe #373.

“Celebrating 20 years of Platform” is an anniversary exhibition at Platform. There are lots of familiar names in this exhibition; not just from Platform but from the whole artists run spaces of Melbourne. (Try entering their surnames in this blog’s search box – don’t bother with their first names, it is a simple search system and will return every entry with that word.) I reviewed Brad Haylock’s neon “them/us” when it was originally exhibited at Platform; this is also a review of an exhibition by Simon Pericich, who is also in the anniversary exhibition.

This time when I looked at Platform’s cabinets I was most impressed with the Christopher Scuito’s exhibition in the “Sample” cabinet (next to the coffee shop booth and the exit to Flinders Street). “Sample” presents the work of art school students. Scuito’s has collaged beefcake cigarette lighters onto reproductions of classic sword and sorcery fantasy images emphasizing the S&M and homoerotic quality of these illustrations. Patrice Sharkey has beautifully curated Scuito’s exhibition; the details are tremendous from the black backboard supported by stacks of comic books to the whip on top of the black-framed images.

There is a publication, What Art, Which Public: Platform Artists Group 1990-2010 edited by Angela Brophy. I haven’t been able to get hold of a copy of it (I did ask at Sticky Institute but they didn’t know anything). Platform has rarely made history; its internal chronology has not been tumultuous either. In 2008 the roof of the Campbell’s Arcade collapsed when road works on Flinders Street broke through but this only damaged the shops and not the exhibition spaces. Later that year Cecilia Fogelberg and Trevor Flinn’s exhibition at Platform, ‘The Puma, The Stranger and The Mountain’ was censored for nudity. But it was overshadowed, a week later, by the subsequent attack on Bill Henson.

Looking back over my blog entries I have reviewed so many of the exhibitions at Platform, not because of the quality of the exhibitions but because it is so accessible. I can easily see the exhibition a couple of times before writing about it.

Enjoyed or ignored by the public who pass through the pedestrian underpass each day on their way to or from Flinders Street Station. Platform’s exhibitions space presents a variety of works by mostly student and other new artists. 20 years is a remarkable achievement for any artists-run initiative, it is an institution for a whole generation of Melbourne artists. Platform will probably continue providing exhibition space to new artists until the subway is renovated which is unlikely to happen in the next 20 years.


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