Advertisements

Tag Archives: memorials

The sculptor and the swan

Like many sculptors in twentieth century Melbourne Raymond Boultwood “Ray” Ewers (20 August 1917 – 5 June 1998) made a lot of memorials in his life. And along with a memorials to President John F. Kennedy in 1965 and the fascist Sir Thomas Blamey in 1960 Ewers made a small memorial to a black swan.

The black swan named Cookie frequented the Alexandra Gardens until it was killed in an accident in 1973. The memorial drinking fountain that Ewers made is located at the end of Boathouse Drive beside the footpath by the Yarra River. The bluestone rectangular fountain still works; I drank from it on the weekend. (I hate bottled water! There is no need to carry water around in Melbourne as there are many drinking fountains.) There is a small bronze plaque on the fountain with a bas-relief image of a swan. The inscription reads: ‘In memory of Cookie the black swan, who lived in these gardens from 1967–1973’. 

Drinking fountains were a popular form for memorials in Melbourne combining a sculptural form with a practical purpose (for more about Melbourne’s drinking fountains). There was some debate about the memorial as the City of Melbourne records (Outdoor Artworks, October 2009, PDF) indicate that there was a suggestion to make a domed marble and granite drinking fountain (c.1936) in Queen Victoria Gardens Cookie’s memorial. Searching Trove did not provided any further information, there were no newspaper reports about the accident that ended Cookie’s life or the decision making process that led up to the drinking fountain.

Although the memorials indicate that someone wanted to pay a sculptor to make a permanent image, they tells you almost nothing about the sculptor. I see the same facts repeated about Ray Ewers; born in the northern Riverina, an RMIT graduate, and assistant to William Leslie Bowles. I’m not writing this because I think he was an important sculptor or created beautiful things; I don’t even like his sculptures. I know nothing about Ewers as an individual and he is as much of an alien mystery to me as Cookie the black swan.

Ewers worked at a time when there were many lacunas in Melbourne’s public art, the empty years with few commissions. Absent sculptural commissions are difficult to see because they aren’t there but they are there. There are many of these absent commissions. The decade long gap in the wake of the Vault (aka The Yellow Peril) controversy. The empty plinth, now used for Plinth Projects, in Edinburgh Gardens. The lone bronze statues of colonials on Swanston Walk or in St Kilda that were intended to have companions.

Cookie, the black swan memorial drinking fountain

In the 1930s Melbourne’s public sculptures were neglected and ignored. In The Argus (Thursday 1 Dec 1938 p.3)  “Staring at Statues, The Figures of the Great” Gordon Williams looked at Melbourne’s public sculpture; not that there was much to look at. “I believe that a poor statue about the place is better than no statue at all.” Leslie Bowles was quoted; a sculptor who would say something like in the hope of another commission. For decades many local city councils in Melbourne took Bowles advice and installed many poor sculptures.

Advertisements

Tweed’s Cook Memorial

There are many inappropriate public sculptures in Melbourne, memorials to people who have no connection to Melbourne, memorials to evil men, dumb and ugly things. If I was to put together a list of inappropriate public sculptures in Melbourne I would judge them: irrelevance, offence and aesthetics. So an irrelevant, offensive and aesthetic non-entity like the Captain Cook Memorial by Sir John Tweed would be top of my list.

Sir John Tweed, Captain Cook, 1914

It also appears to be top of the list of inappropriate public sculptures for some of Melbourne’s Indigenous people. People with paint who wanted to celebrate the anniversary of Cook’s death added red paint on his hands and face, a streak of yellow down his trouser leg and ‘Good Riddance’ in black on the plinth. It was not the first time, in 2017 someone poured pink paint over the head of the statue, and it won’t be the last.

Tweed’s Cook Memorial is an anaesthetic non-entity of Edwardian sculpture; created at a time, in the early twentieth century when British art was a non-entity in art history. The one in Melbourne is just another edition of a statue that has an appropriate location in Cook’s home town of Whitby in England.

Commenting on the “current multitude of memorial designs” around the world and the “public physical interpretation of memory” Peter Tonkin and Janet Laurence writes: “the creators of memorials build an image of immortality, often inflating the event’s importance.” (“Space and memory: A meditation on memorials and monuments” Architecture Australia Vol 92 No 5 Sep/Oct 2003 pp 48-49)

There are three or four memorials to Boer War in Melbourne, then there is that massive temple complex called the Shrine of Remembrance, along with all the memorials to subsequent wars in which Australia served its imperial masters; evidence that Australians are loyal foot soldiers to the largest imperial power. There is even a memorial to General Gordon, although troops from Australia was unable to fight in that nineteenth campaign.

A century after many of the wars that sparked the initial round of memorial building in Melbourne Australians are still desperately building memorials (along with war museums and ‘interpretive centres’) like a junky with expensive habit. (For an idea of how expensive this habit is see my blog post An Expensive Identity.)

The quantity of memorial reminds me of the stone age barrows in Kent that were constructed without any associated burials. As the purpose of both constructions appears to be a claim to land ownership under the guise of a memorial. ‘Lest we forget’ that the phrase was first used on a memorial to colonialists killed by Aboriginal people defending their land in the frontier wars is noted by K. S. Inglis in his book Sacred places, war memorials in the Australian landscape (Melbourne University Press, 1998).

I find Melbourne’s public art fascinating because it is an official expression of a civic identity and values that attempts to permanently occupy public space. Both the glut of war memorials and the scarcity of statues of women or Indigenous people shows the official priorities of Melbourne, reveals its collective consciousness. In the case of Tweed’s Cook Memorial it is an imported, British colonial zombie consciousness.


Remembering Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner

A memorial to Aboriginal freedom fighters, Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner now stands facing some gates from the old Melbourne Gaol. The corner of Bowen and Franklin Street was the site of their execution and a commemoration held each year on January 20, the date of their execution in 1842.

dsc01970

Brook Andrews and Trent Walters, Standing by Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner, 2016

Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner engaged in an eight week resistance to English occupation, burning farm houses that ended in November 1841. Tried and hung for the murder of two whalers that they shot at Western Port.

I’m not sure about the memorial while there does need to be public recognition of the Aboriginal resistance I’m not sure that something that looks like a combination between a swing set and a gallows is the best way to do it.

Designed by established Australian artist, Brook Andrews and his production and installation manager, Trent Walters. Although Andrews’s art often explores post-colonial issues this memorial doesn’t much resemble his gallery work, there are none of the patterns, for example.

A set of six newspaper boxes provide a design to contain the didactic elements that explaining the reason for the memorial. It feels odd because while newspaper boxes are a common feature in North America are not commonly seen in Melbourne. The six colours of the boxes are another esoteric part; I am sure that there is an explanation but it is not easily interpretable.Brook Andrews and Trent Walters, Standing by Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner, 2016dsc01967

Andrews & Walters, Standing by Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner, 2016

I am not sure in general about the purpose of memorials, earlier this year I wrote a post questioning the need for another memorial.

Maybe there needs to be some public desecrations of some of the genocidal invaders to balance this out. Unofficial acts do occur like pouring red paint on a bust of Governor Lachlan Macquarie in McQuade Park, Sydney the early hours of Monday 13 February 2017. “Governor Macquarie was the fifth Governor of New South Wales and has a historical significance to the region,” Chief Inspector Sims said. “This memorial is a tribute to his leading role and influence between 1810 and 1821. It is even stranger to have the NSW police making an effort to defend his reputation.

In 1991 the Aboriginal activists Gary Foley and Robbie Thorpe tried John Batman in effigy, using the statue of Batman Melbourne. The names of his crime was hung around his neck: theft, trespass, rape, and genocide. Currently there is discussion about getting rid of the name of the evil Batman from parks, trains stations and other places but maybe his statue should be kept around to be regularly tried in effigy.


We don’t need another memorial

I understand the feeling of shock and trauma about the people who died in Bourke Street but please, think carefully before erecting a permanent memorial. Don’t do the first thing that you think of doing because you are grieving but reflect on the outcome before you decide anything. Repeating secondary trauma may be good for media ratings but it doesn’t actually help anyone.

Melbourne already has a permanent memorial to victims of crime next to Parliament House. Creating duplicate memorials doesn’t improve the quality of the memorial, it weakens it by making it mean less. If there is another memorial to victims of a particular crime, and that is exactly what the people who died in Bourke Street were, that means that the memorial to victims of crime next to Parliament is only a memorial to some of the victims of crime, or that some victims of crime have multiple memorials and others only have one.

Memorials manipulate the historical discourse towards an emotional response and away from a rational discussion, making them essentially a reactionary. There is not going to be a memorial to the victims of inadequate mental health funding in the state because that is not how the government wants to remember the event.

The British Princes are going to put up a memorial statute to their mother, Princess Diana, who already has a memorial fountain and a memorial children’s playground in London. In less than a century the statue will be as meaningless as the Albert Memorial. “That’s the princess who died in the car crash” people will say and their children will ask: “What went wrong with the car’s computer?”

Melbourne has three memorials to the Boer War and one to General Gordon and although I credit my readers with knowing history, I doubt that many care about these events today.

If you want to know how badly a permanent memorial can fail, visit a cemetery and look at the crumbling, neglected memorials that have been erected there.

Finally, “permanent” memorials create problems in the future, for unlike other public art, there is resistance to them being moved because they are meant to be permanent. So they become a burden for future generations of city planners.

Please, Melbourne City Council think before you agree to another memorial.


Some Union Art Connections

Under the portico of Trades Hall is bronze base-relief of John Dias by William Leslie Bowles. I am more familiar with the sculptor for his several public sculptures around Melbourne, including the equestrian statue of General Monash  than the subject. The glass or ceramic eyes are a strange addition to the otherwise unremarkable portrait plaque.

dsc01549

William Leslie Bowles, John Dias Memorial at Trades Hall

The effusive praise of the inscription on the plaque is unilluminating and almost vacuous: “John Dias – Born May 11 1861 – Died August 13 1924 – A man whose every endeavour was in the cause of the worker and to uplift humanity – a token of respect from those who knew him.” Yes, I can tell he is a man from his moustache and the fact that he has a memorial on the front of Trades Hall would strongly indicate the rest. The shield and motto Credo Sed Caveo (believe, but take heed) reveal that he was a member of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners.

Further along the block is Steps Gallery is a large, square, well-lit, white walled room on the ground floor of 62 Lygon Street in Carlton South. Established in 1992 one side of the gallery opens onto Artee Cafe, with its glass roof. Unusually for a Melbourne gallery it is owned by the Meat Industry Employees’ Superannuation Fund. It is not a bad investment, the gallery is a rental exhibition space, two artists had rented it for an exhibition when I was there.

You wouldn’t immediately associate the meat worker’s union with artist ceramics but in the foyer of 62 Lygon Street is the Melbourne Meat Workers Union Ceramics Collection. Three large cabinets house a spectacular collection of around 30 high quality artist ceramics. They were collected by Wally Curran, the union secretary between 1983-1997.

There are many connections between Melbourne’s unions and art as this brief exploration has shown but many are also a bit ernest, worthy and boring, like these examples.


Bendigo’s Old Sculptures

Late Victorian and Edwardian marble and bronze sculptures, statues and busts are quaint relics of the central Victoria gold rush in the centre of City of Greater Bendigo. The highlights of this collection are works by some of the leading sculptors in Australia: James White and Charles Douglas Richardson. There are also works by some less well known sculptors, R.G. Summers and John Walker that tell us as much about the history of that time as the works of more famous sculptors.

Charles Douglas Richardson, The Discovery of Gold, 1901-06

Charles Douglas Richardson, The Discovery of Gold, 1901-06

On the Corner of Bridge St and Pall Mall is Charles Douglas Richardson’s The Discovery of Gold, 1901-06, with three bronze base relief panels around the base showing the history of mining in Bendigo.

James White, Memorial to George Lansell

James White, George Lansell Memorial, 1908

The twice life sized marble memorial to Queen Victoria, a bronze memorial to George Lansell, The Quartz King and the bust Memorial to Ernst Mueller are all by James White. White’s The Quartz King was installed in 1908 and The Bendigo Advertiser has a detailed story about this memorial to George Lansell. James White received several commissions for memorials to Queen Victoria, including the memorial in Melbourne’s Victoria Gardens. Bendigo’s memorial to Queen Victoria unveiled in Rosalind Park on Tuesday 14th April, 1903.

James White, Queen Victoria Memorial, 1903

James White, Queen Victoria Memorial, 1903

Ola Cohn wrote: “I recall the erection of a monument in Bendigo to the great monarch Queen Victoria some time after her death in 1901, but I was unmoved by it. Her statue stood on a green plot in the middle of the town  looking most austere and unapproachable, and as cold as the stone in which she was carved. I studied it in my young days, but never got a spark of interest in its sculptural quality, nor did I appreciate it as a work of art.” A Way With The Fairies – The Lost Story of Sculptor Ola Cohn edited by Barbara Lemon (R W Stugnell, 2014, Melbourne p.28)

Ola Cohn also recalled in her autobiography meeting John Walker as a sculpture student at the Bendigo School of Mines and that he had later received the commission for the Boer War Memorial although she neglects to mention its location. (Stugnell, p.24)

John Walker, Sculptor

John Walker worked as a sculptor in both Bendigo and West Brunswick before turning to chicken farming in the Bendigo suburb of White Hills. John Walker born in Bendigo and first studied sculpture at the Bendigo School of Art. Walker then went to England to study at the Royal College of Art London, and in Paris at the Collarossi and Julian Academies. [Memorial to Sir John Quick. (1934, June 12). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 6. Retrieved December 7, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10945852 ]

John Walker’s bronze bust Memorial to Sir John Quick, 1934 in Rosalind Park was cast by E. J. Gregory of Whitby Street, West Brunswick. Walker’s bronze statue of Captain Cook on the grounds of St. Paul’s Church.

“A statue of Captain Cook was unveiled by the mayor (Councillor J Semmens) in St Paul’s Church grounds on Wednesday. Under the will of the late Mr John Emery, the statue was bequeathed to St Paul’s vestry. It was executed by Mr. John Walker, the Bendigo sculptor, at a cost of £530.” [(1906, November 29) The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), p. 8. Retrieved December 21, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article9671945 ]

DSC09969

A couple of neo-classical statues stand in a small garden with a conservatory on the corner of Bull Street and Pall Mall, the McIvor Highway (the A300), that runs through the middle of Bendigo. There is a hunting scene, a poorly assembled bronze copy from the Uffizi Gallery, the various parts can be seen cracking white paint and a marble figure by the little known Australian sculptor, R. George Summers (no relation to the more famous Melbourne sculptor, Charles Summers).

R. George Summers, Canova’s Venus, 1901

R. George Summers, Canova’s Venus, 1901

This neo-classical white marble female nude, referred to as ‘Canova’s Venus’, as it is a copy of Antonio Canova’s sculpture. It is actually the figure of Pandora, notice the box at her feet, the one that Zeus put all the evils in the world in. It is the work of R. G. Summers and was installed November 1901. R. George Summers of Carlton was also the sculptor responsible for the figure of the soldier Brunswick’s Boer War Memorial. He is also known to have inspected pink marble in Benambra, north of Omeo in East Gippsland, for its commercial potential.

These sculptures, this civic bling from another era have now become historic relics.


Rest In Peace

R.I.P. pieces are a tradition in graffiti generally they are tributes to comrades. R.I.P. tribute pieces are not a big part of Melbourne’s graffiti scene as there is a much lower death rate in Melbourne’s youth than in some American inner city youth. They are the street equivalent to death notices in the newspaper or the temporary unofficial memorials of candles and flowers (see my post Melbourne’s Shrines – especially the unofficial).

A 20m long tribute piece was painted along the eastern wall of Melbourne’s iconic graffiti zone of Hosier Lane to murdered ABC employee, Jill Meagher. An unknown artist painted the tribute on Sunday the afternoon of 30th September before 7pm. It must have been a huge effort to buff the walls and spray the whole wall. (See the report in The Sun Herald.)

Jill Meagher was not connected with Melbourne’s graffiti scene; the “Rest In Peace Jill” piece is part of the huge public response, first to her disappearance and then to news of her death. The footpath where she was last scene is blocked pile of flowers and there was a 30,000-person march on Sydney Road.

I’ve been searching my photo files for other Melbourne R.I.P. graffiti tributes and I finally found another one. I have seen a few more than I have photographed, they are not common in Melbourne, let’s hope that it remains that way.


%d bloggers like this: