Tag Archives: Lisa Roet

New public art procurement process

Consider the commissioning process for public art. Artists spend days working on proposals, grinding through hundreds of points, jumping through paper hoops, trying to put their art into words. As well, they have to design an almost complete work that only has to be fabricated. Days, if not weeks …

Installation view of Mikala Dwyer Apparition, 2021 night-time digital projection onto holo-gauze screen. Photo by Darren Tanny Tan

And then they don’t get the commission because of hundreds of reasons. It could have gone to another artist or an architecture firm with a staff member specialising in creating beautiful CAD rendering of designs. Leaving them wondering if all that work was worth it.

It is a process that was designed in another century when the choice was between different statues of the same hero. It was about who could produce the best quote to erect some carved stone or cast bronze. Now public art can be a permanent sculpture to a temporary audio installation; it is comparing apples to underwear. The brief for a commission is about addressing a long list of themes and other obscure planning and budgeting requirements becoming a bureaucratic hunger games.

So it was good to hear someone other than an artist explain why the procurement model of the commission process is no longer fit for purpose. Instead, the City of Melbourne is trying out an alternative, a governance-led model. This brings the relevant people together at the start of the process, for many people are involved in public art, including city engineers, maintenance…    

The artist for the program is selected not from a long and detailed proposal but a far shorter, job-application-like, based on their previous work. And rather than responding to the commission document, the artist is involved in a collaborative discussion from the start

This new approach has been tested with a temporary work, Apparition, by Mikala Dwyer. Her holographic possum can be seen at University Square in Carlton intermittently for the next six months. And this new approach is planned to next be used to acquire new permanent works. 

Amy Barclay, the Public Art Project Lead for the City of Melbourne, didn’t have much time to explain all the details of the city’s new approach at a forum on public art hosted by Mars Gallery but the image comparing the size of the applications was dramatic.

The forum, Public Art Now, creating new public art from commissioning to fabrication. From the people like Lisa Dunlop, Manager for Urban Design and Urban Planning at the Level Crossing Removal Project, who are commissioning art, to the consultants like Andy Dinan of Mars Gallery who advise and facilitate, the artists, represented that night by Lisa Roet, who create the art (see my post on her sculpture), and the fabricator Jason Waterhouse, makes it.

That Fundrêre Foundry, a traditional bronze casting enterprise, now has an art fabricator indicates an ongoing change in the materials used for public art. However, aside from the environmental mitigation consideration by the artist and the fabricator, there have been few other changes in creating public art. So the City of Melbourne’s new approach tried in their ‘Test Sites’ commissions represents an improvement not in the art but in the process of making it.


Lisa Roet’s David Greybeard

The Jane Goodall Institute Australia asked local artist Lisa Roet to create David Greybeard for their sixtieth anniversary. David Greybeard is one of the chimpanzees studied by Jane Goodall at Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania.

I can’t think of a more appropriate artist; Roet has been making figurative sculptures about non-human, great apes for decades. Her art reminds us that we are great apes, along with chimpanzees, orangutang and gorillas.

I have only seen photos of the sculpture of David Greybeard in front of the Arts Centre Melbourne. When I was last in the city, high winds were predicted for later in the day, and the sculpture was deflated and tied down.

He is sitting with one hand, reaching down towards the pedestrians below. The architecture of the  recent edition to the Arts Centre lends itself to becoming a plinth. 

The sculpture raises several questions. Is an inflatable silver plastic a respectful media given its association with balloons, advertising, and bouncy castles? What would it look like with an inflatable form of a middle-aged human? How environmentally sound is the media; are we destroying a forest to remind ourselves about its inhabitants? I do know one thing about this inflatable; it has to be deflated and tied down in high winds.

How would David Greybeard feel about his inflated image? Maybe he would only care about its size and popularity.

deflated and tied down

I prefer other works by Roet in more traditional media — am I really such a media snob? Rather I like the detail that bronze and marble afford. At RMIT there are two great wrinkled hands cast in bronze, but not human hands. They are the hands of chimpanzees, our closest relative in the great apes. The two big hands are slightly raised from their bench level base (studded with skate-stoppers); one is vertical, the other horizontal.

The single finger, in marble at the Bendigo Art Gallery, is both familiar and alien. Like her sculpture at RMIT, these are not gestures, only hands or a finger. What is startling is that my relatives’ hands are not more familiar, like the back of my own hand. Roet’s sculptures remind the viewer how focused art is on the human figure as if we were the only species on earth.


Exhibitions in Albert St.

The galleries in Albert St. are a great place to see contemporary art from aboriginal paintings in Alison Kelly Gallery; the emerging artists at Jenny Port Gallery or Anita Traverso Gallery; or the artist run gallery, Shifted; to the established artists like Gareth Sansom at John Buckley Gallery and Lisa Roet at Karen Woodbury.

Before writing anything about Lisa Roet I have to mention ‘babooneries’ (the term will appear again later in this entry). The ‘babooneries’ in the pages of 14th century illuminated manuscripts, like the Gorleston Psalter, are a medieval genre that has continued to the present. (Andrew Graham-Dixon A History of British Art 1999 p.28) The babooneries depict a medieval world where apes, not man, dominates; they are parodies, where apes dressed as bishops preach to congregations. This theme has been updated with science fiction novels like Pierre Boulle Le Plandta des Singes (The Planet of the Apes, 1963) and Will Self Great Apes (1997) but the image remains the same. I didn’t know, until this exhibition, if Lisa Roet sculptures were babooneries or a contemporary take on the 19th century animalia bronze sculptures. Now I know, the flashing LED lights are a clear indication.

Only a few doors away –

Paint is this sticky stuff in a variety of colors that you apply to a surface and allow to dry. Paint is admired for its aesthetic qualities, principally its color. Paint can be opaque or translucent. Its surface can be rough or smooth. Painters can talk endlessly about paint. You can also make images with paint. Gareth Sansom enjoys painting, no doubt about it from the exhibition at John Buckley Gallery. Look at the ways that he applies different paint in different consistencies and makes images.

I think that a key to Sansom’s paintings is the face of the painter, Francis Bacon in one of the small collages (Drawing #9) that accompany Sansom’s series of painting. “Bacon was both an iconoclast and a baboonerist” Andrew Graham-Dixon wrote. (p.224) Sansom’s paintings are post-Bacon babooneries; Skateboarding punk video shit along with the paintings with religious titles like God and Nun ape or mimic high art painting.

Across the road –

Naomie Sunner’s Instructional Guide to Femininity is at Jenny Port Gallery. Sunner combined the fun sexuality of burlesque with the formal compositions. A large wall has been covered with a huge grid of photographs of Sunner in different poses. There lots photographs of legs and calf high leather boots, close ups of her lipstick painted lips. Sunner uses of red, white and black dresses, the most symbolic of all colors. A video of Naomie Sunner in overalls digging a hole to plant a tree in an industrial location completes the picture of contemporary femininity.

Anita Traverso Gallery has a group exhibition on the theme of Cut + Collate = Construct. It is a theme that could describe so much contemporary art. Susan Baret’s patterned mixed-media paintings uses collage strips of paper to create images that are optically intense and beautiful. Constantine Nicholas uses a mix of paint with collage elements to creating landscapes like abstract maps. Also in the exhibition Tracey Potts has six stuffed fabric creations that are funky and beautifully beaded. And Robert Delves “Fall of Modern Day Man – post Horonimous Bosch” is a long title for basic but effective wooden figures.

Shifted’s exhibition is minimal and boring, there were only four works of art by four different artists in the whole gallery. And it’s a bad sign when the gallery’s director, Keith Wong, is also an exhibitor, even in an artist run initiative. As they used to say on vaudeville: “Pack your ermines Mary, the director is on stage!”


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