Tag Archives: Platform Artists Group

Skunk Control @ The Dirty Dozen

Has it only been half a year since Platform closed and the dozen glass vitrines in the tile lined underpass at Flinders Street Station were left empty? The artist-run initiative Platform ran the space for twenty years and I regularly wrote about their exhibitions. Now Melbourne City Council’s Creative Spaces program have taken over management of the dozen vitrines in Campbell Arcade. They have rebranded them The Dirty Dozen because, as Creative Spaces’ Eleni Arbus puts it, ”It’s a pretty grungy site”.

Platform Degraves St Underpass

The Dirty Dozen brings a new direction for the vitrines, filling them with the work of what Eleni Arbus calls “creative practitioners” rather than artists. Hopefully this will make the exhibitions more engaging for the commuters who use the underpass. The work of many contemporary artists failed to produce site specific art and failed to speak to the thousands of people who continued walking past.

Prevaricated Frequencies by Skunk Control

The first exhibition at The Dirty Dozen, Prevaricated Frequencies by Skunk Control, a team of engineers and scientists from Victoria University demonstrates what Arbus means by “creative practitioners”. The vitrines were full of a forest of animatronic blooming flowers and caves of crystals, both with prismatic light effects from rotating polarised screens. Another vitrine contains a motorised kaleidoscope and another, rotating tanks of liquid. The attention to detail to create these complete other worldly visions is impressive.

Parts of this exhibition is similar to what was seen in Rose Chong’s display window last year when Skunk Control won the People’s Choice award at the annual Gertrude Street Projection Festival for Pestilent Protrusions. That People’s Choice award is an indication of engaging beauty that Skunk Control produce. The elegant engineering and science are used to present engaging and intriguing work rather than lecturing the audience.

Skunk Control was formed in 2012 by Nick Athanasiou a lecture at Victoria University in the College of Engineering and Science. There are a surprising number of engineers in Melbourne creating exciting art, including the street artist CDH. I wish that more artists today, instead of doing their Masters or Doctorates in Fine Arts, studied something else, something apparently unrelated to their art, because this would improve both the content and the art. I am looking forward to seeing what other “creative practitioners” will next be exhibiting at The Dirty Dozen.

Prevaricated Frequencies by Skunk Control


The Fox and the Many Cities

On my way to Fitzroy one night, I saw confused a fox looking out over the back fence of Parliament at all the traffic on MacArthur Street. I understood why the fox looked confused it was just after a daylight saving started and the fox had not adjusted its clock.

guerilla territory - baby guerilla

Wandering the city, the feeling of knowing the city, the sense of familiarity leads to ideas of possession. It is not my city, I am aware that I share it. There are many cities within the city, the urban foxes and all the other animals in the urban environment live in a different city. Different inhabitants have different paths through the city and different uses for the spaces in it.

As Alison Young in her book Street Art, Public City points out that there are multiple cities: the tangible, the “kaleidoscope of images, which jointly and singly communicate the identity of the space as ‘urban’” (p.41), the city as site of cultural production and the legal architecture. “Legal architecture produces a certain conceptualisation of urban space: the ‘legislated city” as space in which a particular kind of experience is encapsulated and produced through the regulation of space, temporalities and behaviours. Within the legislated city, citizens experiences are framed by discourses of cartography, planning, criminal law, municipal regulations and civility. The legislated city has mappability, it has aspirational qualities expressed through social policies, statutes, local laws and strategic plans.” (p.41)

There are of course gaps in the map of legislated city; temporary autonomous zones as described by Hakim Bay The Temporary Autonomous Zone, from large areas like Christiania in Copenhagen to smaller anarchic areas. The CCTV, the police and the state cannot control all the areas. And there are always gaps in timing of the patrol, time for the urban foxes and other unofficial inhabitants.

A modern city requires an after hours city whatever the business hours. The after hours city reminds us that there are different forms of life. The Waiter’s Restaurant in Meyers Place, started as a place for Italian waiters and other hospitality workers to have somewhere to eat after hours.

At the end of nineteenth centuryMelbourne had trams running up St. Kilda Road twenty-four hours a day. There are plans for a return to twenty-four hour public transport after a century of limited hours.

For the inhabitants the city, including the fox, their city is made of routes, hubs, landmarks and other esoteric and eccentric features. Esoteric features are known only to the insiders, vinyl record fans will have a mental map of the stores that still stock them and what routes to take to get there.

Platform Degraves St Underpass

Routes are paths that are common to a number of people but it only takes as few as 15 people to make a recognisable path.  I find myself falling into familiar routes around the city and forgetting that the artist run space, Platform is no more and there is just empty vitrines in the Degraves Street underpass to Flinders Street Station.  When I started blogging I would often write about the exhibitions at Platform and I have neglected to note the end of this unusual artist run space.

The fox listened politely to my advice about the dangers of cross the road at this time and changing it clock for daylight saving. It then retreated behind the fence and disappeared from my view.

March Exhibition Reviews

For me the exhibition of the week was Concrete Poetry Now! at Melbourne City Library in Flinders Lane. This little group exhibition of visual poetry curated by Ashley J Higgs really spoke to me about what is art/poetry/music/photography. The poetry of life in letters/signs of all kinds. It is a fun and thought provoking growing exhibition that left me wanting more and made me aware of more.

I also saw the exhibitions at Blindside. Todd Johnson’s Evidence shows evidence of impacts on ordinary objects like the bonnet of a Holden. More taxidermy in art; this time a beautiful fox hanging from the ceiling (see my post Taxidermy & Contemporary Art). Did it impact with the Holden?

Also at Blindside, Kieran Stewart A Highly Unadvisable Undertaking is about his attempt to build a parachute. Stewart describes his art as incorporating “a wide range of construction and building techniques that are constantly developing as part of my multi-disciplinary arts practice.”

On the second floor of the Nicholas Building the two exhibitions at Edmund Pearce Gallery made me think about the staging of photographs; when and why a viewer might suspend their disbelief in the photographic evidence. Daniel Sponiar’s series of portraits of Melbourne chefs, Yes Chef! has many dramatic images that are obviously staged but that only adds to showing the character of the subject. However, in Rebecca Dagnall’s In Tenebris series of dark Australian gothic bush scenes the more that I noticed the staging the photograph the less convincing I found the photograph.

On the way to my train I had a brief look at Platform but found Andrea Eckersley’s painting too subtle for the space; a underpass is not conducive to contemplation. Maybe this might work at a gallery. Metro Gallery had an exhibition of paintings by Kathleen Kngale the soft and delicate colours in intense fields of dots almost completely cover the dark underpainting. Beautiful and relaxing like a soporific drug but they wouldn’t be effective in an underpass either.

The Flâneur’s Surface Archaeology

Public sculptures, old buildings and ghost-signs are the surface archaeology of the city. Surface archaeology is established archaeological practice for providing data on settlements. The urban archaeologist conducts a pedestrian survey of the surface features, digital camera on my belt to collecting samples. By looking and researching the history you can see distinct layers in the psychology of Melbourne through its history.

The Duke & Duchess of York Memorial Drinking Fountain, 1901, corner of Elizabeth and Victoria St.

The Duke & Duchess of York Memorial Drinking Fountain, 1901, corner of Elizabeth and Victoria St.

The city is both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time; there are so many unfamiliar areas and so many changes to familiar routes. There are constant changes, sometime ago I asked Terry the postman, whose route is in the CBD, if there was more building work going on, but he didn’t think so.  So accustomed am I to my various routes that I note the smallest changes.

I take note the ephemera of the city, the layers of posters and graffiti, like a detective gathering evidence on the endless mystery of the human existence that exists, so tightly packed together, in all directions. For this reason I find myself interested in buildings for different reasons other than their architecture; I warm to their history and function. Look at the modifications, alterations and their changing functions. For this reason I like to look at the back of buildings rather than their façade.

This week I’ve continued to wander the city. In my perambulations I saw the Platform exhibitions; I could not resist the opportunity when passing through Flinders Street Station to walk down Degraves Street. Sophie Neate and Sean McKenzie Glass Room was engaging installation about the mystery of the machine made. I particularly enjoyed Chris Rainer’s Topographic Schematic no.24 because of the musical composition. Rainer’s installation suggested the idea of military interception of all communications, symbolized by tape going through the plastic model watchtower and German soldiers.

Blue Elephants on the curb of Rutledge Lane

Blue Elephants on the curb of Rutledge Lane

Equally I could not resist the opportunity when in the city to walk down Hosier Lane. I could get all excited about the Banksy that got painted over last week but I’ve seen it all before, these things happen every couple of years and nobody expected them to last forever. (see the report in The Age).  I’m just taking more photographs of the city before it disappears. My photographs of the city become like a stamp collection and I enjoy looking at the collections of other of Melbourne’s flâneurs. Do utility boxes have to look utilitarian? (See ones painted by notable Melbourne Street artists at Land of Sunshine.)

Two Stars

Platform, Blindside & Mailbox 141

I saw some exhibitions in the city that I would give on average two stars. The problem of writing a three star review that I mentioned in my last post has come back minus one star. Two stars would indicates that it is less than average, that I am not recommending it to anyone and that I didn’t like it. But unlike films, music, and restaurants visual arts reviewers generally don’t use stars or any other comparative rating measurement. It is hard on the art and the artists to be summed up in a couple of symbols; a few nuanced words might be kinder to the artists but I’m not writing this for the artists but for their potential audience.

I know that I recently praised “raw, brutal and rough” art in my review of Brunswick Arts February exhibition but I didn’t like what I saw in the vitrines at Platform. Perhaps because it was just more of the same or that there was so much of it. “House me within a geometric quality” a group exhibition curated by Patrice Sharkey was a crude but systematic exploration of ways to fill the vitrines, either by covering the glass or putting objects inside. There are lots of plates of glass with interesting textures along with other lumpy things in the cabinets. (I can’t remember the exhibition of the same title from 2011 also at Platform and also curated by Patrice Sharkey but Dead Hare has a review of it.)

In Blindside’s Gallery One Jon Hewitt’s “Feel The Confidence” was just boring, the same photo of the top of Hewitt’s balding head over and over again along with repetitious name-dropping of contemporary artists. If it has any quality it probably went over most heads.

Sarah Bunting’s “Incessant Ruthlessness” in Blindside’s Gallery Two are a series of bad painting, not awful but not working either. Buntings painting are ugly crude and lumpy but they do have an unsettling sci-fi dystopian atmosphere. There is hope I’ve seen artists who painted as badly but after years of practice are now painting well and are successful.

Sue-Ching Lascelles @ Mailbox 141

Sue-Ching Lascelles @ Mailbox 141

A passing woman summed up Brisbane-based artist Sue-Ching Lascelles exhibition at Mailbox 141 with one word: “cute” but I can’t sum up an exhibition in a single word, I have to explain myself. Mailbox 141 is a difficult space to fill; the fifteen small glass fronted former mailboxes in the tiled foyer of 141 Flinders Lane are not easy for artists. Sue-Ching Lascelles filled each of the mailboxes with a cute animal, bird and fish painted heads on bodies of un-worked rock crystals. The exhibition was titled: “Cabinet of Cities. Invisible Curiosities” and I could see that there were two problems with the title.

The Future Library Service

With the focus on curators, artists are turning themselves into curators, collectors, or a librarian as in Sonja Hornung’s “The Future Library Service” in Vitrine at Platform in June, 2012. The Future Library Service had previously installed amongst the shelves of Melbourne City Library and reviewed by Health, Philosophy, Politics and Other Rants.

The Future Library Service in Vitrine

I met up with the librarian Sonja Hornung on the library’s last day in Vitrine. It was getting its most visitors – 3 including myself cramped in small space of a former second-hand bookshop (and before that urban history runs out –probably a rag trade display given the size).

The Future Library Service has a clearly defined collection of books about the future, or rather given the age, a future that never was. Sonja Hornung had catalogued all of the books and knew them so that she could recommend them to visitors to the library. The library still has an online presence, an essential element to any library, with a complete catalogue of the 100 books about the future.

I asked Sonja Hornung if she would continue with another library theme in her next installation but she said she be doing more “relational aesthetics” or “social practice”.

The French curator Nicholas Bourriaud called it “relational aesthetics”, the art of the institution and their social interactions – basically it is playing shop, museum or library as art. These interactive installations or happenings go back to Claes Oldenburg’s “Store” 1961 or even Marcel Duchamp’s “Monte Carlo Bonds” 1924 with a plan that required 9-5 gambling to earn a clerk’s wage.

Interactive is not an easy thing to achieve – people have to want to interact, there needs to be a reward for interacting and books are a good reward. Trying not to “railroad” the participant by force the direction of the interaction and a collection provides many directions. Many people go to art galleries in part to avoid interactions, to have time to reflect and so interactions are not high on their to do list while they are there, consequently the best of interactive art are not in gallery spaces (the space at Platform falls somewhere in between). The time to facilitate this kind of art is a further complication – the library was open Weds-Fri, 9-6:00, and selected Saturdays – I’d been past earlier and had a look through the glass at this small library but it hadn’t been open.

The  “Free tooth brush with every book borrowed” policy of the library is quirky. Sonja tells me there is a reference to Kaprow in the toothbrushes. I thought that it was about the oral purity of the future or a reference to the Surrealist provocation: “If you read Andre Gide aloud for ten minutes your breath will stink.”

Moving Machines in Melbourne

Part of the pump had broken down and red liquid had dripped on to the newspaper lined Vitrine but that didn’t matter. It was bound to have happened with such a complex and pointless machine. And so much else was still turning, extending, flapping, squeezing a ball of wool and a rotating a still life with grapes; all driven by a single electric motor with several belts connecting it to other devices. “Sub Assembly” by Danny Frommer at Platform is a great, wacky creation (see my YouTube video of “Sub Assembly”) and it made me reflect on the other kinetic sculptures in Melbourne.

In 2010 Cameron Robbins “Very Slow Drawing Machine” was installed in the forecourt of the NGV at Federation Square – the Fracture Gallery. Drawing machines are not intended to replace the human in art but to produce more drawings without the artist is attendance. Many artists have made machines that draw, notably Jean Tinguely. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Tinguely Robbins has powered his machine with sustainable solar and wind power. The results of this machine are not impressive; the fan patterns are not anything to write about. (See RMIT’s media release about Cameron Robbins “Very Slow Drawing Machine”.) Still it is always interesting to see kinetic sculpture responding to natural forces, engaging in pointless activities and, even, the occasional break down. For it is these features that makes kinetic sculpture essentially appealing.

Konstantin Dimopolulos, “Red Centre”, 2006

There are more permanent public kinetic sculptures in Melbourne. At Federation Square there is Konstantin Dimopolulos “Red Centre” 2006, Dimopoulos lived in New Zealand and would be familiar with the work of New Zealand artist, Len Lye, the master of kinetic sculptures. “Red Centre” takes some of Lye’s ideas and expands them into a post minimalist sculpture that rattles and sways. Parts of “The Travellers” by Nadim Karan, the sculpture on the Sandridge Bridge over the Yarra, are wind powered; several sets of small metal windmills turn on some of the figures. And, I’m told, that somewhere in the Docklands, there is “Blowhole”, a 15-metre-high, wind-powered sculpture by Sydney artist, Duncan Stemier.

Compared to all of these other kinetic sculptures that I’ve seen in Melbourne, “Sub Assembly” by Danny Frommer is an outstanding example because so many things moved and, most importantly, it is so fun.

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