Tag Archives: Melbourne

The Nest in Darebin Parklands

“Look, a sculpture!” A cyclist says to her companions as they roll by following the curve of the cycle trail through Darebin Parklands.

David Michael Bell and Gary Tippett, The Nest, 2012

The Nest by David Michael Bell and Gary Tippett is obvious. A brown sphere positioned halfway up a hill, half surrounded by a pond. Large enough to be a minor landmark in the park. The round form fits with the undulating landscape.

Although it can be seen from the cycle trail, access to the sculpture is via a circuitous route. You can’t walk directly to it because there is a pond is packed with rushes and reeds, providing a home for waterfowl in front of it. You have to walk through natural a parkland of indigenous flora and fauna to reach sculpture.

The simple round form of The Nest, made from recycled wood, becomes more complex on closer inspection. The pieces of wood making the form creating patterns. Their brown painted hand chiselled surface. You can look at an easy to navigate 3D sketch of The Nest and even see inside it.

David Bell, Raising the Rattler Pole

Its sculptors have an unusual career path. Bell moved from being a theatre stage manager to a prop maker to public sculpture. “Five years ago, I did my first public artwork with Gary Tippett, a film industry colleague, in Wodonga’s main street. Since then, public art has been my full-time passion and interest.” What’s On Blog’s interview with Bell. Bell’s up-ended tram on the corner of Spencer and Flinders Street Raising the Rattler Pole – The Last of the Connies. (Bell and Tippett are not alone in moving from theatre to public sculpture; there is also William Eicholtz.)

Bell and Tippett know how to make a dramatic statement dressing the urban stage. The main problem with their sculptures is that they are set dressing, meaningless decorations that get looks but say nothing. The best that can be said for them is that they fit in their location. They are passable but not great; the cyclists don’t stop for a second look as they pass by.


Street art notes July 2021

On the eve of Melbourne’s fifth lockdown, I decided that I had better look at some of the best of Melbourne’s street art and graffiti while I still had the chance. So I mask-up, jump on a tram and walk around the city on Thursday afternoon. Now, as I write this I am confined to my house and can only travel 5km around it for exercise, shopping … you know the drill.

A wall in Lovelands

Although I regularly reflect on what has been put up in Hosier Lane, AC/DC Lane, Croft Alley and Presgrave Place, there are many lanes that I haven’t seen in years. It was not just a lockdown that was limiting my chances, whole laneways full of art on the cusp of being demolished, art disappearing into construction projects.

I was photographing work down a familiar lane off Franklin Street, near the Queen Victoria Market and the Mercat. I have fond memories of both meals and gigs at the Mercat, which closed in January 2017. Now a massive multi-storey construction looms over it all.

A builder wearing fluro noticed my interest: “There is even better stuff further down,” he informs me. I knew that there was. The building site hadn’t swallowed up the network of lanes known as Lovelands, but it looked like it soon would.

Blender Alley is now one of the entrances to the massive construction site. Although Blender Studios have moved to a new location there is still some historic stencil art from HaHa and Psalm and quality new work on its walls. 

People always wondered how long street art and graffiti was all going to last. I remember Ghost Patrol saying that it was over in 2008. They should have been concerned not that it was a fad or how long the pigments in the paint will last but how fast the walls in the city are rebuilt. Melbourne’s street art fame has as much to do with the design of the city and these service lanes as the artistic talent.

I will pause for some lunch before examining some of the deeply held assumptions about art and the influence of the philosopher and historian David Hume. Hume came up with the idea of fads and fashions when he started to record English social history after the English Civil War. Now I’m more inclined to believe in structural influences, even the built environment, rather than the whim of a population.

However, walking around the city on Thursday afternoon I just feel negligent that I haven’t seen these years. I walk these laneways in search of the latest instantiation of the zeitgeist. There are hundreds of these service lanes, and the latest, freshest work could be hiding up any one of them. Jazzy capping Ash Keating in Chinatown, Sunfigo keeping social media real, more black and white stencil pieces by Night Krawler, paste-ups by Suki, Phoenix, and collaborative pieces by Manda Lane and Viki Murray (read my earlier post on Murray’s skateboard riders).


Maree Clarke’s Ancestral Memories

My main reason to go to the NGV was to see Maree Clarke solo retrospective, “Ancestral Memories”, but I saw another exhibition before – “We Change the World”. After all the world needs to change. However, this is a tracksuit of an exhibition theme, comfortable, shapeless, and accommodating almost anything. The work is from the NGV collection, a random selection including Julian Opie, David Hockney, Guerrilla Girls, and Maree Clarke… (Why Clarke when there is her solo exhibition in the next gallery?)

Maree Clarke, Maree Clarke 2012, inkjet print (image courtesy of NGV)

“Ancestral Memories” is the subtitle of the Maree Clarke exhibition; it was also the title of her exhibition at the University of Melbourne Old Quad in 2019. For ancestral memories are the material that Clarke works with. (Please read my blog post reviewing that exhibition, Clarke’s role as a culture worker, and why she is an important local artist.)

This Yorta Yorta / Wamba Wamba / Mutti Mutti / Boonwurrung woman has been reclaiming and revived many south-east Australian Aboriginal art and cultural practices, including possum skin cloaks to kangaroo tooth necklaces. At the NGV her work is display alongside historical material from Museum Victoria, clearly illustrating how she is reviving her culture. Before Clarke, there were less than a dozen possum skin cloaks in existence, all from the nineteenth century. After Clarke, the number of possum skin cloaks is increasing because she, along with other collaborators, brought the practice back to life.

It is a sombre exhibition with black painted walls. Much of the exhibition is about mourning, another form of ancestral memory. One of the slightly lighter notes is the series of photographic holograms of still life, including native flowers and kitsch Aboriginal Australiana. As Clarke looks from the ancestral memories to a future, including new technology and materials along the way.

This exhibition follows on from the NGV’s retrospective for Bindi Cole; more retrospectives for Indigenous woman artists are a welcome trend.


Save the Nicholas Building

The Nicholas Building, the art-deco building on Swanston St. and Flinders Lane, is up for sale. This is a crisis for Melbourne’s culture because its tenants include galleries, bespoke bookstores, boutiques, and many studios. For the sake of Melbourne’s culture, I hope that the Nicholas Building can continue to provide affordable and dynamic spaces for art galleries and studios.

“The Nicholas Building Association is campaigning to ensure that whoever buys the building buys it with us,” Nicholas Building Association spokesperson and artist Dario Vacirca explains. “That they too recognise the value of Melbourne’s most unique and diverse creative business community, the city’s only artist- and creative-led cultural offering of this scale. We have support for a business case from the City of Melbourne, and are in discussions with Government and the philanthropic sector. This is an extraordinary – and urgent – opportunity for Melbourne to invest in its future.”

So far, this post is mainly cribbed from the media release of the Nicholas Building Association. Now I want to support their claim that it is “one of Melbourne’s most valuable cultural precincts” by citing my own posts about this building. A search returns pages of blog posts; most are reviews of exhibitions at the multitude of galleries that have operated in the building. Most notably, Blindside, an artist-run-gallery that is basically a junior Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA). From this I have selected three posts and a gallery of photographs:


Created in the last lockdown

On Tuesday night, there were two exhibitions opening at fortyfivedownstairs, a not-for-profit gallery on Flinders Lane in Melbourne: William Eicholtz ‘Greedy Pixiu’ and James Grant ‘Retreat’. Both were created during last year’s lockdown but the sense doom has not left Melbourne.

William Eicholtz, Pufnpixiu

There were a few cases of COVID-19 in greater Melbourne that night, and masks became mandatory indoors at 6pm. I’ve had one shot of the vaccine, and I was determined to get to another exhibition opening before another lockdown. Not even Melbourne’s cold, wet weather was going to keep me away.

At the exhibition opening, William Eicholtz told me about last year and being alone in the studio, which he usually shares with four other people, without a model, without students, without commissions, wondering what to do. There were many artists, musicians, dancers, etc., in Melbourne wondering the same thing.

“I first saw pixiu, a pan Asian mythological chimera, on an artist’s residency in Beijing… Alone in my studio, the sketches I had done of Pixiu years before beckoned to me, and this group of sculptures was born.”

Made from glazed earthenware ceramics, some with embedded vintage Swarovski rhinestones, the pixiu are meant to represent good fortune through greed and over-indulgence. Money-boxes that you will never open. Others are greedily consuming social media or chocolate or eating lotuses. Other pairs of pixiu are dressed up in various costumes, invasive species, cicadas, and even 70s tv dragon H.R. Pufnstuf.

James Grant, Liv’s Apartment (photo courtesy of Grant)

In the large gallery at fortyfivedownstairs was James Grant’s ‘Retreat’. Landscapes and still life of the familiar world around Collingwood, Fitzroy and East Melbourne. Scenes of living rooms, artist’s studios, garages build on the modern democratic attitude of depicting the ordinary rather than the great and the grand. A world full of stuff, books with recognisable titles and products with labels. Paintings that show an appreciation and enjoyment of local life. Familiar environment because we were all looking at similar scenes for so much last year. Retreating from the pandemic, we watched our world become smaller and smaller.

On reading Grant’s artist statement, ‘Retreat’ turned out to be another lockdown inspired exhibition. I emailed him to let him know about his blog post, and he told me about painting them in his home studio in Collingwood during the second lockdown.

I left the exhibition opening minutes before mask-wearing became mandatory and headed home. Victoria is now in a fourth lockdown. Back to drinking Shiraz, doom-scrolling Twitter and getting flashbacks of last year.

These, and all other exhibitions, performances, etc., will close for at least the next seven days. Some might be able to go online, others may be rescheduled, but the majority will have to be cancelled. Remember that these two exhibitions represent about half a year’s work for the two artists. The resilience of Melbourne’s culture looks like it will be determined through destructive testing.

James Grant, Fitzroy Houses (photo courtesy of Grant)
William Eicholtz Cornocopia Pixiu

Australian Art Terrorists

A few Australian groups have acted or threatened to take action outside of the law to achieve artistic and cultural objectives. Most are right-wing conservatives — so much for the so-called ‘cancel culture’ of the left.

A.C.T. target Picasso’s Weeping Woman

In 2003 the Revolutionary Council for the Removal of Bad Art in Public Places threatened to destroy a number of pieces of public art. That the “spokesman, Dave Jarvoo, told The Australian newspaper” about the threat speaks to the conservative taste of this so-called Revolutionary Council. The fact is that they were all talk and no action, and the spuriously named, Dave Jarvoo appears to be the only member of this organisation. 

Their targets were modern sculptures Fairfield Industrial Dog Object and in Sydney; Ken Unsworth’s Stones Against the Sky ‘poo sticks’ in Kings Cross and Brett Whiteley’s Almost Once giant matches behind the Art Gallery of NSW. David Fickling for The Guardian came up with several more deserving targets in Sydney (see his article), and I could do the same for Melbourne (perhaps in another post). (Thanks to Vetti Live in Northcote for drawing my attention to the Revolutionary Council for the Removal of Bad Art in Public Places.)

The Australian Cultural Terrorists (aka A.C.T.) stole Picasso’s Weeping Woman from the NGV, held it to ransom and then returned it undamaged. They seem to have twice as many members as Dave Jarvoo’s Revolutionary Council; at least one man and, maybe, one woman. They were more successful than the Revolutionary Council but, perhaps, no more radical given their demands for more art prizes for local artists. They had no follow up aside from stories that the following year they also wrote some  libellous letters about people in Australia’s art world. The A.C.T. wrote lots of jeering, satirical letters, several of them attacking state Arts Minister, Race Mathews.

To this list, we could add the Catholic Church for their attack on Andre Serrano’s Piss Christ in the NGV. Graffiti writers, like Pork, that cap and tag as a form of conquest and censorship. And BUGA-UP, graffiti to stop tobacco advertising, vigilantes with a specific type of art, selling a particular message in mind, not exactly the artistic kind but still ‘art’ in the advertising copy sense.

Revolutionary Council target Fairfield Industrial Dog Object


Create Dangerously

Trying to walk down unfamiliar streets and lanes rather than using the same path. This post might be just an excuse to show a few photographs. On the other hand, I’m reading Albert Camus Create Dangerously and thinking about anarchy.

I was in Brunswick when I met a person involved in Melbourne’s street art and graffiti scene. They mentioned how few signs of any radical politics they were seeing on the street. I differed as I had just seen a set of recent anarchist paste-ups, only a couple of blocks north.

Drafted a blog post about anarchist posters but delayed because, as a bit of research on the images showed, they were not created locally. However, I admire their dedication to distribution, along with the neat and often colour co-ordinated placement.

That draft was then rewritten when a friend started posting images of some of the same anarchist posters in Reservoir. So my potted history of anarchists activity in Brunswick that noted Barricade Books and the annual Anarchist Book Fair at the Brunswick Town Hall was irrelevant.

Are these analogue agitprop paste-ups a Luddite throw-back? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to work online than on the streets? Being on the street is different from an online armchair activist as it occupies, uses, and appropriates actual space and not virtually nothing. Being on the street is propaganda by deed, a fact testified by every protest march, by those occupying the street, by every political slogan written on a wall…

Create Dangerously is a speech that Camus gave in 1957, a few days after receiving the Noble Prize in Literature. In it, he examines the tension between popularism and formalism or art for art’s sake. In Melbourne, there is Lush, who will paint anything that will generate the most likes, and the graffiti writers, who are only painting for themselves and their mates. Camus provokes and challenges artists to find another way to engage with the world.


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