Tag Archives: Footscray

Prahran Square

In order to avoid the threat of democracy no city in Victoria was designed with a square. Now that democracy is no longer a threat squares are being retrofitted into city plans. I’ve visited two new squares in Melbourne: Prahran Square and the smaller Maddern Square in Footscray. Both are multifunction spaces made from converting carparks.

Prahran Square

Prahran Square is on the site of the old Cato Street car park in Prahran with the carpark now beneath the site. It is a very large space like a amphitheatre with steep sides. Facing in on itself it ignores the borrowed scenery of the old buildings around it. The central elements of the square are all created by the architects. Taken from the same set generic contemporary elements that architects around the world currently use, including the fountain with jets of water flush with the pavement. The green playground equipment is more central and sculptural than any of the actual sculpture.

Indigenous artist Fiona Foley’s work, murnalong, is literally on the periphery of the square. ‘Murnalong’ means ‘bee’ in the local Boon Wurrung language, a subtle reference to the location. Attractive as these cast aluminum bees are, they fail to identify the place; firstly because they can hardly be seen and secondly because there already is a building in Melbourne with several large gold bees on it – Richard Stringer’s Queen Bee on the Eureka Tower. So that identifying the place in conversation; “You know the place with the bees?” could be confusing.

Jamie North, Ringform 1 and 2, 2019

Not much of the arts budget was spent on Jamie North Ringform 1 and 2. There is minimalism and then there is North’s basic forms; a couple of zeroes scores well for being garden sculpture.

The only public art that is allowed to work in the square are The Pipes 2019, a site-specific visual and audio installation co-designed by light artist Bruce Ramus and sound designer Material Thinking, because they were designed in collaboration with Lyons Architects. The visual and audio can be seen and heard almost everywhere in the square.

When I visited, none of the shops were occupied and there was also two temporary black wooden cubes with street art painted on them; the standard city council move to use street art as an urban social-aesthetic solution.

The Foley’s bees is the only part of the square that refers remotely to the location. Otherwise, it could almost anywhere in the world and I expect to see it or its underground carpark in a movie that is not set in Prahran. There is much about Prahran Square that is forced, contrived and strained; it was controversial and the two year build doing nothing to assist local traders. The arts do not account for a single percent of the $64 million budget.

Maddern Square, Footscray

Contrast this to Maddern Square in Footscray in Melbourne’s west. It is smaller in many ways, less money was spent on the space and the public art is all aerosol. It has a drinking fountain, shady trees, seating and a shipping container being the only facilities that the square needs. The architectural elements in the square are the same set of contemporary elements that are used everywhere but at least you know where you are because it uses the backs of buildings: “Keep Footscray Crazy”.

Thanks to William and Matt for showing me these squares.


The Saigon Welcome Arch

It is a strange sight in the middle of the tasteless utilitarian architecture of Footscray’s low rise suburban shopping. Two matching curving arabesques of wings and bird’s neck reaches high into the sky. The forms of the fabled Vietnamese Lac birds The inside of these enormous forms is lined with golden printed metal with an image with a mass of flowers, butterflies and a woman in traditional Vietnamese dress.

On one edge, in clear lettering is “Saigon Welcome Arch”. Footscray is such a welcoming place, or at least it aspires to be, a short distance away there is and Indigenous welcome, the ‘smoking’ ceremony at Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom by Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins.

The Saigon Welcome Arch in Footscray is packed into the intersection of Leeds and Hopkins streets with a cafe one side and a pharmacy on the other. This is about creating a better urban space by making a place out of an otherwise nondescript T-intersection. It doesn’t fit into bland cheap utilitarian architecture of the place, it burst free from it.

But does any of that matter aside from aesthetics how does this public art work? On a large scale of architecture and human interaction the arch is a landmark in Footscray and the Saigon Night Market operates every second a Friday of the month under it and along Leeds Street (I should go, sculptures and public art is different at night). On the small personal scale of comfort for tired legs there are matching curving white seats at the base of each of the arch’s wing.

It was created in 2016 by architects McBride Charles Ryan and local artist Khue Nguyen as part of the redevelopment of the Little Saigon precinct. Khue Nguyen came to Australia as a political refugee in 1988 and in 2010 he was a finalist in Archibald Prize for a self portrait.

There aren’t a lot of gateways in Melbourne but Khue Nguyen has done another on the opposite side of the city for the Springvale retail area. This time it was in collaboration with Hassell Architect. In Buckingham Ave two towers topped with a flat red roof hang large golden banners printed with a Vietnamese design. Springvale, like Footscray, also has a large population who were, or whose parents were, from Vietnam.


Maunder about street art and graffiti

I used to write blog posts about my wandering around the city. I still wander around but generally I try to keep my posts more focused than my meandering feet and mind. Now, even if I see a couple of exhibitions I will choose one to write about, or focus on one aspect of street art, or a single public sculpture. However, for this post I will make an exception and maunder about street art and graffiti.

Exploring my local area, Coburg, graffiti and street art continues to expand north along the Upfield train line corridor. I am amazed that there are so many bluestone back laneways in Coburg that I haven’t walked along in the decades that I have lived in the suburb. It is an area that is about to change because of the new elevated railway line.

There are pieces by the talented graffiti writers, Virus and Saem, in the area. But also Luna who works between street art paste-ups and old school graffiti. Calypso, the friendly tagger who often has a smily face at the end of the tag. Tags by God© makes an appearance. Along with stickers by local artist and extreme printer, Joel Gailer that show the cross-over between street and gallery art.

So I continue my travels around greater Melbourne; photographing street art in Footscray, Brunswick and in ‘Lovelands’, a series of alleyways off Queen St, near the corner of Franklin St. which often has some of the best street art in Melbourne. And, around the corner from Lovelands, in Blender Lane, where Blender Studios used to be — no other art studio in Melbourne has had such an impact on its geography.

Keeping my eye on Hosier Lane, where the most significant work are no longer spray painted, they are political. Support for Hong Kong with a ‘Lennon wall’ of post-it notes.

Looking at actual graffiti, the scribbled messages on the street rather than the calligraphic art of the kamikaze paint sprayers.

At guerrilla gardeners along the Upfield bike path who will use anything and everything to plant things in.

I have been writing about and photographing these kind of things for over a decade. So often now it feels like I have seen it all before but even in the antarctic winds of Melbourne’s winter there are some things that catch my eye; photograph and post on this blog.


Imperfection @ Trocadero

“A small show of imperfect paintings” at Trocadero Art Space is a unique and must see exhibition.

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Juan Ford, Untitled, 2007, oil and acrylic on linen

Twenty-one failed paintings is not a great advertisement for an exhibition but twenty-one failures by notable Melbourne artists is worth seeing. Curator Chris Bond has done what must have first appeared both impossible and crazy. The fantastic negotiation and diplomatic skill involved in asking artists, including perfectionists like Juan Ford or Sam Leach for failures. There is dust breeding on the glossy resin varnish of Sam Leach’s painting as it waits “under the bed to wait for the next consignment of work to the skip.”

Twenty-one rare examples of failures, and a variety of failures from abandoned efforts and bad ideas to technical failures. Good artists try not to exhibit bad art so failures rarely survive, they are either destroyed or repainting; so these are twenty-one rare paintings.

For once the artist’s statements accompanying the exhibition contained no art speak, only honest confessions about why their paintings failed and survived. There are tragic abandoned efforts, I know that Yvette Coppersmith can paint much better than that. And the even more tragic completed effort of Michael Brennan accurately reproducing two pages of text in his painting, Entry Form and CV for the 2005 Metro 5 Art Prize, for which he list 5 failures. There are technical failures: Louise Blyton managed to cut through the middle of her canvas and Lynette Smith’s badly cracked first attempt at egg tempera. And failures of composition, like Darren Wardle’s Swampland.

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Darren Wardle, Swampland, 2017, oil and acrylic on linen

“The composition is too rigid and corresponds to the limits of the stretcher so there are no dynamics in play. The work seems flat in a boring way, which isn’t helped by the background paint application having no depth. I tried to rectify this by inserting a stick, or crutch, with a shadow in the left foreground to provide a sense of dimensionality but it looks clumsy and obvious.” Wardle explains in his statement.

Every artist, art critic and art teacher in Melbourne should go to see this exhibition because it is a learning experience. The paintings demonstrate a benchmark of quality only they all fall on the wrong side of it, sometimes just shy of it. It is rare to see examples of failure exhibited yet failure is so common in painting that it is inevitable so this exhibition serves to correct that bias.

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Michael Brennan, Entry Form and CV, 2005, oil on canvas


10 Public Sculptures in Melbourne that you have probably never seen

The ten best public sculptures in Melbourne that you have probably never seen.

Springthrope Memorial

1. Springthorpe Memorial. If you have never been to the cemetery in Kew then you will not have seen this over the top, late-Victorian masterpiece of sentimentality created by an all star team. (See my post.)

Will Coles, Consume, 2015

2. Will Coles, various objects. Will Coles is notorious for his small cast objects. You need to look carefully walking around Melbourne. They can be found in surprising locations around the inner city suburbs. Except you won’t find this one in Hosier Lane anymore because it was stolen.

Reg Parker Untitled 8/73

3.  Reg Parker, Untitled 8/73, Preston Public Library. Forget all the hype around Ron Robertson-Swann’s Vault, this is actually the first abstract public sculpture still on public display and still in its original location.

Charles Robb, Landmark, 2005

4. Charles Robb, Landmark, 2005, LaTrobe University. This statue of Governor LaTrobe, Victoria’s first governor turns traditional monuments on its head.

Rolled Path II

5. Simon Perry, Rolled Path, 1997, Brunswick. This is my personal favourite. It is on a bicycle path along the Merri Creek.

Paul Montford, John Wesley, 1935 (4)

6. Paul Montford, John Wesley, 1935, Melbourne Wesleyian Church. I had to look again at this sculpture after the sculptor Louis Laumen told me it was his favourite Montford sculpture, it is very dynamic and lively.

Vikki Couzens and Maree Clarke, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom (aka Welcome Bowl) 2013 (detail 1)

7. Vicki Couzens and Maree Clarke, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom (also known as Welcome Bowl), 2013, Footscray. Rocks spraying fine mists of water remind the public of Aboriginal smoking ceremonies but also provide enjoyment to small children and dogs.

Bruce Armstrong, Untitled (Two Persons Hugging), 1988 (1)

8. Bruce Armstrong, Untitled (Two Persons Hugging), 1988, Footscray. Armstrong the sculptor for the Eagle in the Docklands and on a very quiet suburban street in Footscray there is one of his large sculptures carved out of a tree truck. There are some great public sculptures in Footscray.

Russell Anderson, Apparatus for Transtemporal Occurrence of Impending Space, 2014

9. Russell Anderson, Apparatus for Transtemporal Occurrence of Impending Space, 2014 You probably haven’t seen this sculpture because it so new and you don’t walk along the unfashionable north bank of the Yarra River. (See my post on Steampunk sculptures.)

Steaphan Paton, Urban Doolagahl

10. Steaphan Paton’s Urban Doolagahls, 2011, Melbourne You can’t see the Urban Doolagahls anymore because they were only temporary but they still turn up from time to time.


Footscray Scores Again

With and With Each Other is now located on corner of Nicholson Street and Ballarat Road in Footscray. It is by the American sculptor, Tom Bills, professor of art and art history at University of California at Davis and a disciple of the father of hardcore sculptural minimalism, Donald Judd.

Tom Bills, With and With Each Other, 1998

Tom Bills, With and With Each Other, 1998

I have previously written about two other sculptures in Footscray: Bruce Armstrong’s Two Person’s Hugging and Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom by Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins. Footscray has scored again with this sculpture that City of Melbourne no longer wanted.

“For the past five years, With and With Each Other has sat in storage after it provoked controversy in 2002. Since then, the two giant blocks have remained hidden away at storage sheds in Clayton.” Clay Lucas, April 4, 2007 The Age.

With and With Each Other is a grey concrete minimalist sculpture of two mirror-image halves has been described as “looking like a pair of lungs” or “twin foetuses with erections.” It had been installed on a roundabout in Melbourne as part of the Construction in Process Sculpture Festival 1998 with a three-month permit but had remained on the roundabout for 4 more years. It was replaced on the roundabout at Peel and Dudley Streets by Island Wave, 2003 by Lisa Young.

Footscray isn’t a suburb that many Melbournians would associate with great public sculpture but they have never been to Footscray and hold attitudes about western suburbs that date back decades. Footscray is changing as Melbourne slowly turns west and the suburb now has an impressive collection of public sculpture. The Footscray railway station and other parts of the centre of the suburb are being redeveloped but you can still Franco Cozzo’s Furniture whose late night advertising in the 1990s has been burnt into my mind.


Public Sculpture @ Footscray

Working on my book on Melbourne’s public sculpture has given me an excellent excuse to explore Melbourne. In Footscray I wanted to see and photograph two public sculptures. Adding to my desire of explore the city was watching The Secret History Of Our Streets an excellent BBC Two production that introduced me to the work of Charles Booth (1840-1916), a pioneer sociologist mapping the streets of London. (There is an online archive of Charles Booth’s work.)

In the busy commercial centre of Footscray at the intersection of Nicholson and Hopkins Streets in the pedestrian mall. There was a gentle mist rising around the rocks of Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom. The fine spray of water at the base of the rocks is intended to represent the smoke in aboriginal ceremonies. The series of rocks helps define the intersection, adds to the pedestrian area and the rocks connects the place to earth.

Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom

Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom, detail

Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom, detail

Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom, detail

The sculpture is very recent but people are taking to it; it was hard to get a photograph without someone’s child or dog getting in the way.

Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom is a sculpture by Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins. Vicky Couzins is from the Western Districts of Victoria and is a descendant of the Gunditjmara and Kirrae Whurrong clans and she was one of the trio of artists that created with Birrarung Wilam at Birrarung Marr. Maree Clarke is from the Mutti Mutti, Wemba Wemba and Yorta Yorta; she was one of the many indigenous artists involved with Scar – A Stolen Vision in Enterprise Park along the Yarra. (For more about Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom.)

Looking for Bruce Armstrong sculpture, Two People Hugging I found myself in a well designed neighbourhood of mostly public housing. The traffic of busy Moore St was gone; the pavement changed to pavers rather than concrete and even the sound of my footsteps changed. There were several small squares (sunburnt from the recent heatwave – I hope the trees grow in) in the area and public seating.

Bruce Armstrong, Two Persons Hugging

Bruce Armstrong, Two Persons Hugging

Two Persons Hugging located in a square midway down Vipont Street, a quiet street; you wouldn’t know that it was there unless you were a local. This square at the start of a series of stepped parks and playgrounds that lead down to the parklands along the Maribyrnong River.

Two Persons Hugging is an early work by Armstrong; I haven’t been able to find an exact date. The monumental carved wood is solid and the two persons are inseparable and awesome. The wide plinth at the base of the sculpture adds to the seating options in the square.

Bruce Armstrong was born in Melbourne in 1957 and after he graduated from RMIT in 1981 his sculptures are influenced by many mythologies creating archetypal beasts. Along with being represented in major art galleries and international collections Armstrong has public sculptures in several other Melbourne’s suburbs including Moonee Valley, Ascot Vale and Chadstone Shopping Centre.

The position of both of these sculptures, in their different parts of the suburb makes them landmarks for that small area, defining the way that people see, move and talk about the place. These two sculptures might only get a small mention in my book amongst the other work their sculptors have done but I’m glad that I took the time to see them and how they work with their locations.

The centre of Melbourne’s art scene will continue to move slowly counter clockwise around the centre of the city towards the western suburbs. It had already moved through St. Kilda and Prahran by the 1970s and was moving up to Fitzroy by the 1980s. Look out Footscray.


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