Tag Archives: guerrilla gardeners

Monument to Now: MoreArt 2020

Monument to Now: MoreArt 2020 is Moreland City Council’s eleventh annual exhibition of public art. This year it had several flaws, chiefly that it is not an exhibition of public art but an exhibition of contemporary art in public space. For public art should be for all the public, not only a contemporary art audience with time, mobile phones, headphones and a tertiary education.

detail from Patrick Pound’s The following

Contemporary art appropriates and colonises sites taking them over and exploit them for art. “Monument to Now” suggests a contemporary version of a triumphal arch celebrating this artistic colonisation.

Every year the curator and the participating artists in MoreArt put on a set of blinkers so that they seldom see the street art, graffiti and guerrilla gardens that are going on along the bike path. And there is great, long guerrilla garden along the bike path featuring seating areas, free libraries, children’s play area and lots of junk used for pot plants. Coburg Urban Forest is very active in this area.

Officially MoreArt 2020 goes along the Upfield Bike Path from Coburg Station to Gowrie Station but actually only from O’Hea Street to Forest Road. This northern location is not one of the problems with the exhibition. It is a good ride through some interesting areas with plenty to see including an old mortuary train carriage in the Fawkner Cemetery, yellow ribbons dedicated to free Julian Assange and pieces by Discarded.

This is in contrast to MoreArt 2020, where there was often nothing to see. The title of Liquid Architecture’s work Songs you can’t hear summed up much of the exhibition. Invisible public art doesn’t work like invisible art in an art gallery. To expect that the audience is going to have brought headphones and be willing to spend over an hour walking and listening is a bit much. I came on my bicycle, and the dark clouds threatened rain. So no to the work of Catherine Clover’s Lament, Sarah Walker’s Legs Like Pistons, or Emma Gibson’s A walk from station to station.

I simply couldn’t find Adam John Cullen or Mira Oosterweghel’s work and consequently I only saw two of the works in MoreArts. Patrick Pound’s The following, a series of posters stuck to the bike path; found photographs of women seen from behind and almost predictably, there was a woman with her shopping walking up the hill ahead of me. And, Michael Prior’s trio of simple kinetic sculpture Flos Movens enhancing the space next to the Renown Street Community Orchard. They were engaging even though only one was working fully due to limitations of the photovoltaic cells and the gunmetal grey sky.

Michael Prior Flos Movens

MoreArt 2020 was a contactless, COVID-safe way to see an exhibition just not an exhibition that I would recommend to many people.


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.

Guerilla Gardens in Melbourne

Guerilla gardens, turning disused space city into a garden, it sounds exciting. Gardens can make all kinds of political statements from the gardens at Versailles that demonstrated Louis 14th control of the nature to guerilla gardens questioning property rights and greening the city. And everyone wants to recreate that lost wonder of the ancient world, the hanging gardens of Babylon.

La Pok’s guerilla gardening is in Flanigan Lane

Guerrilla gardening and “seed bombing” was started by Liz Christy 1973 with a community garden in Manhattan. The Liz Christy Garden is still there. I didn’t see the Channel 10 program Guerrilla Gardeners but I did see guerilla gardening covered in Around the World in 80 Gardens. (Monty Don Around the World in 80 Gardens, 2008, p.281) Like me, other people are aware of guerrilla gardening in Melbourne but I haven’t seen much evidence of it. It has been in the hard years of drought for any kind of gardening in Melbourne so I’m not surprised.

There is a lot of disused land in the vast metropolitan sprawl of Melbourne and there is probably a lot of guerilla gardening that I’m not noticing. The lone rubber plant by the Coburg railway station has now grown into a small tree. Some guerrilla gardening is surreptitious, growing vegetables in disused land or marijuana in the thick undergrowth along the Merri Creek. But I’m haven’t seen any of these secret gardens – I am more interested in the guerilla gardens that are visible and part of the street art culture, the botanical urban interventions. The miniature gardens created in the most unlikely places in Melbourne. I am interested in the reclamation and aesthetic improvement of disused and neglected urban space.

I’ve been told about a guerilla garden tree in St. Kilda with the pots nailed to the top. In Centre Place I saw that someone was trying to grow some grass/bamboo in plastic bottles on top of a box. Elsewhere in the city I’ve seen failed attempts to create hanging gardens in suspended piles of newspaper. With all the recent rain I would have thought that guerrilla gardens would be growing but in both cases the plants died.

More of La Pok’s garden

Melbourne’s most successful piece of guerilla gardening is in Flanigan Lane. There is an installation of plants in a ghettoblaster and a series of pots gaffa taped to a pipe by La Pok. La Pok has studied landscape architecture and this planning has allowed this micro garden to succeed where others have failed. Over a year later it is the only one; most of the other little guerrilla gardens that I have seen in the city are dead or dying. (See my post Street Art Notes July 2010 for my original report on the two garden installations) Gardens require maintenance (tell me about it, I have a blister on my hand from pulling up weeds). Guerilla gardens sounds like a great idea but there are all kinds of problems with guerilla gardening: neglect, inappropriate plants and inappropriate placement.

Guerilla gardening with paste-up, Collingwood, 2012

Sustainable Gardening Australia has a good article about Guerrilla Gardening.


La Pok - guerilla garden Somerset Lane, 2012

La Pok – guerilla garden Somerset Lane, 2012

Strange Streets Indeed

Guerrilla gardening, urban interventions, performance graffiti: many of these wild and freaky ideas that are only now being realized on the street have been around since the Yippies and Mail Art in the 1960s, probably even earlier. Maybe these ideas have been floating around in an idealistic haze of the adolescent Dadaists a hundred years ago. And finally the praxis is possible for these strange utopic ideas; they are practical. These ideas never really worked before because of the limits of communications; underground magazines were underground. Only Fluxus had the celebrity names and the cheap communications, courtesy of the US military mail; until the internet came along, again, courtesy of the US military. Not to get all internet utopian about it but the impact can’t be ignored, see my post about “Street Art and the Internet”.

Nick Iltons "Suggestion Box" 2010 with peace sign

And if it didn’t start in the 1960s it happened soon after. Liz Christ and the Green Guerrilla group in NYC started guerrilla gardening and “seed bombing” in 1973. This was just a year after the first graffiti exhibition in NYC by the United Graffiti Artist group. (Maybe street art should be called “guerrilla decorating”.) The Wikipedia entry on “urban interventions” cites The Diggers theatre of San Francisco and the Dutch Provo movement as precursors. The Digger’s Free Store on Page Street, San Francisco, had a sidewall covered in frames called “Free Frame of Reference” The Dutch Provo movement were notorious for their happenings and white propaganda.

Amongst the many stranger street art activities currently in Melbourne there is Bados Earthling who calls his work “performance graffiti”. His character, a man from the future allows him to comment with confusion about the kind of activities that humans are currently engaged in. As Bados explains: “I’m like a child seeing something for the first time, with a million questions.” (See Invurt’s inteview with Bados.) Bados Earthling’s speech balloon blackboard creates a visual communication that the audience can participate and interact with.

Bados Earthling @ BSG Sweet Streets 2010

There are lots of these ideas floating around the collective consciousness like the spores of mushrooms just waiting for exactly the right conditions to germinate and fruit. “The question of ancestry in culture is spurious. Every new manifestation in culture rewrites the past, changes old maudits into new heroes…” Greil Marcus wrote in Lipstick Traces (p.21) and like Marcus I’m looking at the traces, the tiny amount that remains indicating the former presence of a thing. This is just an outline. It is an attempt to find or hunt down something.

And there are still stranger ideas that I have yet to trace amongst the drivel that various people from the 60s wrote (re-reading parts of Richard Neville’s Playpower has not been enlightening). What traces can we find in the past that explains present street art? And what new and strange will we next see on the street?

Street Art in Melbourne 2010

At the end of the decade street art has become mainstream with “Space Invaders”, a major exhibition at the Australian National Gallery Canberra; the exhibition was even featured on ABC Kids TV. This doesn’t mean that street art is over, except for people who were only into it for a snobbish feeling of underground exclusivity; street art will continue, more walls will become available (outside and inside art galleries) and more people will participate. The street will still operate as a temporary autonomous zone for artists who want to show an image to the public.

Kangaroo/Koala augmented soft toy in lane.

Melbourne street art is now moving in some strange directions: street sculpture, yarn bombing and guerrilla gardening are now all in evidence on the streets. This may, in part, be due to a few more women engaging in the once male dominated street art scene. It may also be that people are more aware of street art as an option for exhibiting their own creative ideas.

Hanging garden in lane.

In 2010 the Melbourne Stencil Festival transformed itself into a real street and urban art festival – Sweet Streets. For 6 years the festival was little more than an exhibition with a few other events – this year there were several exhibitions and more events than I can remember. Following this success I decided that it would be my last year on the committee; after being involved with the festival for three years it is time for me to do something different.

Part of the Amnesty Int. wall painted during Sweet Streets

It was a bad year for Banksy stencil rats in Melbourne – Melbourne City Council buffed the one in Hosier Lane and another one was stolen from the South Melbourne home of artist and underwear designer Mitch Dowd. A few of Banksy’s rats do survive in Melbourne, there are a few along Brunswick St. Fitzroy. Brunswick St was a Banksy rat run spray mission. The paint around these stencils is old and faded – the shops have been careful not to paint over these rats. The steady attrition of Banksy’s work in Melbourne is not surprising as he sprayed the stencils in 2003.

A surviving now threatened Banksy rat in Fitzroy

Street Art Notes July

There are plenty of fresh new pieces of street art around Melbourne. Hosier Lane is always a great place to look for fresh new work. I didn’t get to see Tuvs Day’s 72m living room piece because it had already been painted over. That was quick. I met Tuv when he was doing volunteer work for the Melbourne Stencil Festival last year. He sent me this photo of the huge piece.

Tuvs Day piece in Hosier Lane

I did see a large collaborative piece by Paton, Jason, Deb, Amek, HaHa, Bradd, CK, Monkey, GMO, Madre and Russia. With this many artists there is such a mix of styles and techniques in this collaboration. And there is a series of Obey posters by Shepard Fairey in City Lights (the series light boxes in Hosier Lane) mixing Soviet style posters with contemporary political themes.

Hosier Lane collaboration

The recently removed Banksy’s rat has been remembered in a number of ways on the walls of Hosier Lane. There are some fresh pink and blue stencil copies in the same place that the old original parachuting black rat had been sprayed. There were also a couple of more creative responses to the buffing of Banksy.

Tribute to Banksy's rat in Hosier Lane

Paste-up tribute

Away from Hosier Lane I saw a great spray painted van in Collingwood near the former Per Square Metre gallery and studio. I should put a collection of photographs of trucks, cars and vans with street art style decorations – not that I’ve seen that many. And bit of guerrilla gardening going on around Flanagan Lane – this is one of the best examples that I have yet seen.

Guerilla garden

I had my eyes tested before going to the Banksy film – Exit Through the Gift Shop – everyone should have their eyes tested every two years. Exit Through the Gift Shop is a film about why there isn’t a documentary film about Banksy – so this review of the film isn’t about the film.  I remember one of my housemates coming into the house just after Hardcore Logo had started – seeing Joey Ramone talk about the Canadian punk rock band it took my housemate a long time to realize that this was just a movie. Orson Wells’s film, F for Fake lives up to Well’s promise to tell the truth about fakes for the next 60 minutes and then runs for over an hour. My eyes still feel a bit strange and I do need glasses for reading.


Horizon scanning trends in contemporary art and artist-gardeners are becoming a more common feature. Until recently gardening in European art, even great gardens, was considered a branch of architecture and design. What has made gardening contemporary art?

The most dramatic change in the visual arts, in the last century, has been in the media and medium: from a limited range of ‘artistic materials’ to unlimited choice including ephemeral, readymade and conceptual. This expansion of artistic materials has changed art history and brought contemporary art closer to gardening. Combined with increased environmental awareness and the urgent need for a more sustainable way of living artist-gardeners are both aesthetically and politically relevant.

There are artists already working in this direction most notably the French artist and botanist Patrick Blanc. Blanc is the creator of “les murs vegetal” (vertical gardens) whose works include the vertical garden at Melbourne Central in Melbourne, Australia, 2008. And NSW artist Ken Yanetoni’s “Sweet Barrier Reef” is a Zen garden made entirely of sugar, raked sugar and icing sugar coral formations. “Sweet Barrier Reef” may not have any plants but it does involve environmental themes and eating cake covered in icing. Ken Yanetoni has been chosen to represent Australia in the satellite exhibition to be held in conjunction with the 2009 Venice Biennale.

There are also many local artist-gardeners: Dylan Martorell, Penny Algar (Orr St. Garden), Matt Shaw’s underground gardens at Platform and Patrick Jones blog Garden of Self Defence.

Artist-gardners have resonances and traces in art history that include Jeff Koon’s Puppy; the English Surrealist, Edward James’s sculpture garden Las Pozas (“the Pools”) near the village of Xilitla, Mexico; Antoni Gaudi’s art neuevaue architectural Park Güell in Barcelona; Monet’s garden at Giverny; and, further back, the famous English garden designer Capability Brown. Street art has also had an influence on the artist-gardeners with New York’s guerrilla gardeners and also in Toronto, Canada and the UK. and Eyeteeth reports on guerrilla flowerboxes by Toronto, street artist Posterchild.

The artist-gardener combines installation art, process art, sculpture, and site-specific work. They could also include, performance art and culinary arts. The future of artist-gardeners is full of great possibilities to create beauty (both natural and artificial) and a better environment. The artist-gardener combines environmental awareness with artistic exploration of new syncretic combinations of traditional and contemporary ways of living.

Combining the interest and necessity for a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle, a love of gardens and food makes the artist-gardener economically sustainable. Artist-gardeners have access to multiple, meagre income streams from commissions to create public and private gardens, to art and plant product sales. There could be garden restaurants serving food grown and cooked on site. There are art materials that could be produced in a garden and manufactured in the kitchen. But I’m just throwing ideas up in the air now – I should be getting back to work on some unfinished projects in my garden.

%d bloggers like this: