Tag Archives: fountains

Sculptures in the Moat

In March 2014, a homeless man Gary Makin went snorkelling in the NGV’s moat collecting the coins. He was arrested – he should gone equipped with a buskers licence and told the police that he was a living sculpture. He would have been the most artistic thing that has been in the NGV’s moat for years.

That was until a few days ago when street sculptor, Will Coles placed some of his concrete giant soya sauce fish into it.

The moat of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) is now mostly empty, except for the prosaic coins and fountains. Once there were sculptures standing in its waters. Geoffrey Bartlett’s Messenger 1983 stood in the moat before being moved to the sculpture garden in the back of the NGV. Four years later Deborah Halpern’s Angel (1987-89) stood in the NGV’s before being moved to Birrarung Marr in 2006.

Deborah Halpern, Angel, 1987-89

Deborah Halpern, Angel, 1987-89

As a psychogeographer I am fascinated by the moats around Australian cultural institutions. There is something curiously medieval about moats. There are moats at Melbourne Zoo around some of the enclosures; there is also a moat around La Trobe University’s Bundoora campus. A moat, even an ornamental one, creates a clear separation between one area and another.

At the time of their design, La Trobe Uni opened 1967 and the NGV in 1968, their architects were clearly expressed with these moats the cultural divisions in Australia between the cultured and the barbarian hordes. The moat around the bastion of culture that is the NGV on St. Kilda Road symbolically removes it from the rest of the world, creating a fortress or a sacred island to protect the art inside.

Now there are no sculptures in the NGV’s moat; Will Coles sculptures have been removed. Now there only a few fountains including the curved steel fountain at the city end of the moat, Nautilus dedicated to the architect of the NGV, Roy Grounds.

Then there is the famous water wall entrance of the NGV that still delights small children. Originally the NGV had more courtyards and fountains, regularly spitting out jets of water amidst rocks. I find fountains in art galleries quaint, but there are a surprising number of water features in art galleries including MOMA.

Recently a friend asked me if I would move on to writing about fountains now that I had completed writing my book on public sculpture (Melbourne’s Sculptures – from the colonial to the ephemeral, due to be published by Melbourne Books later this year). I feel a kind of dread and can already smell the chlorine.


The Drought & Art

Melbourne has been in drought for years and although this has made many physical changes (like rainwater tanks in backyards). There are water restrictions in place (but rarely enforced), water rates have increased, and there is public awareness advertising about water saving on television. These have made the drought present in some of the public’s mind. Old ladies are using buckets to empty their bathwater on their flower gardens. However I have seen very little art about the drought or water conservation in that time (and regular readers of this blog will know that I see a lot of art in a variety of galleries).

In contrast to the many references to the Victorian bush fires in January 2009 references to the drought in contemporary art are few and far between, Melbourne painter Kate Bergin includes an oblique reference to the drought in her still life paintings. In a hopeful illusion she paints kitsch carved wood barometers that indicate ‘rain’.

There have been innumerable works of art this year with references to bushfires and not enough about the drought and bigger environmental issues. Bushfires of Australia are so dramatic that they tempt both artists and writers. The drought is slow, it is not dramatic; Melbourne’s dams go down, plants slowly die and the land dries up. For all their claims it appears that contemporary artists are as shallow as Melbourne’s current dam levels and that street artists are far deeper thinkers, perhaps because street art is more political.

Street artists appear to be the most aware of the more serious problem but even then the references are oblique. At Brunswick train station there is a 2 colour stencil with a political slogan: “rainforest = rain”. The word “rain” in both words is emphasised in blue the connection between rain and rainforests. And last year Aerosol Arabic and local artists made a large mural in the city: Thirst for Change. But even Aerosol Arabic only referred to water conservation rather than the drought.

The Plumbing Industry Climate Action Centre

The Plumbing Industry Climate Action Centre

The Plumbing Industry Climate Action Centre on Albert St. in Brunswick has used their own wall by the railway line for a bit of street art inspired propaganda.

John Mockridge Fountain, Melbourne

John Mockridge Fountain, Melbourne

Melbourne’s fountains and surrounding sculpture have suffered from the drought. In the city square the John Mockridge Fountain has been boarded up and the wooded boards painted (by Ash Keating, see comment) with an image of cracked mud (painting by Ash Keating, see comment). And without water in the pond at the Carlton Recreation Reserve on Royal Parade, the sculpture of the figure and ducks in the ornamental pond, really doesn’t work.

I am currently using 61 litres of water a day. Should I discuss my new toilet at this point, with the hand-basin that refills the cistern?


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