Tag Archives: Prahran

Prahran Square

In order to avoid the threat of democracy no city in Victoria was designed with a square. Now that democracy is no longer a threat squares are being retrofitted into city plans. I’ve visited two new squares in Melbourne: Prahran Square and the smaller Maddern Square in Footscray. Both are multifunction spaces made from converting carparks.

Prahran Square

Prahran Square is on the site of the old Cato Street car park in Prahran with the carpark now beneath the site. It is a very large space like a amphitheatre with steep sides. Facing in on itself it ignores the borrowed scenery of the old buildings around it. The central elements of the square are all created by the architects. Taken from the same set generic contemporary elements that architects around the world currently use, including the fountain with jets of water flush with the pavement. The green playground equipment is more central and sculptural than any of the actual sculpture.

Indigenous artist Fiona Foley’s work, murnalong, is literally on the periphery of the square. ‘Murnalong’ means ‘bee’ in the local Boon Wurrung language, a subtle reference to the location. Attractive as these cast aluminum bees are, they fail to identify the place; firstly because they can hardly be seen and secondly because there already is a building in Melbourne with several large gold bees on it – Richard Stringer’s Queen Bee on the Eureka Tower. So that identifying the place in conversation; “You know the place with the bees?” could be confusing.

Jamie North, Ringform 1 and 2, 2019

Not much of the arts budget was spent on Jamie North Ringform 1 and 2. There is minimalism and then there is North’s basic forms; a couple of zeroes scores well for being garden sculpture.

The only public art that is allowed to work in the square are The Pipes 2019, a site-specific visual and audio installation co-designed by light artist Bruce Ramus and sound designer Material Thinking, because they were designed in collaboration with Lyons Architects. The visual and audio can be seen and heard almost everywhere in the square.

When I visited, none of the shops were occupied and there was also two temporary black wooden cubes with street art painted on them; the standard city council move to use street art as an urban social-aesthetic solution.

The Foley’s bees is the only part of the square that refers remotely to the location. Otherwise, it could almost anywhere in the world and I expect to see it or its underground carpark in a movie that is not set in Prahran. There is much about Prahran Square that is forced, contrived and strained; it was controversial and the two year build doing nothing to assist local traders. The arts do not account for a single percent of the $64 million budget.

Maddern Square, Footscray

Contrast this to Maddern Square in Footscray in Melbourne’s west. It is smaller in many ways, less money was spent on the space and the public art is all aerosol. It has a drinking fountain, shady trees, seating and a shipping container being the only facilities that the square needs. The architectural elements in the square are the same set of contemporary elements that are used everywhere but at least you know where you are because it uses the backs of buildings: “Keep Footscray Crazy”.

Thanks to William and Matt for showing me these squares.


New Mars & Carbon Black

VIP Preview at Mars Gallery, the new Mars Gallery in Windsor; the last time I went to Mars Gallery it was in Port Melbourne. The new gallery has only been opened for four months.

The new Mars Gallery elegant contemporary architect designed art gallery with three floors and a six star environmental rating. In the basement there is the video room, another small gallery space and the stock room which is also has a lift for larger paintings to the main gallery space. Mars’s Director, Andy Dinan emphasised the accessibility of the design; the large glass front that can be completely opened and the main gallery is still wheelchair and pram accessible, one of Dinan’s original desires for a gallery.

Tricky Walsh, The Electromagnetic Spectrum, 2014, gouache on paper (photo courtesy of Mars)

Tricky Walsh, The Electromagnetic Spectrum, 2014, gouache on paper (photo courtesy of Mars)

Tricky Walsh, a Tasmanian artist with a background in architecture makes strange wooden machines and psychedelic paintings. At first it is difficult to imagine the same mind behind both but on closer inspection the detailed connections and architectural arrangements in both become clear. Packed with both factual and poetic content, Tricky Walsh is like a psychedelic version of Tatlin’s artist engineer. The intensity and detail of her paintings cannot be captured with a photography, tiny text reveal that the parts of the images are scientific diagrams about electromagnetic spectrum.

Walsh’s wooden machines are replicas of actual analogue machines, specifically Daphne Oram’s eponymous Oramics machine, along with a waveform scanner and valve amplifier. (See the You Tube video of the Oramics Machine. For those who don’t Daphne Oram was responsible for the sounds in the original Dr Who theme.) However accurate the exteriors of these machines contain the idea that there are tiny people inside machines making them work. Tiny wooden villages take up the space where components would have been. It is all very strange and fantastic.

Also on exhibition at Mars was Alexis Beckett upstairs in the works on paper room. Her exhibition Second Nature is full of beautiful botanical detail in a restrained palette both on paper and an embroidery series and works on paper. In the basement video room there is a three screen video by Brendon Lee about male culture: The Great Divide. It is very long (57 minute duration) so I haven’t seen it all; three screen used very effectively with the two male competitors on the outer screens, separated by the neutral space of the middle screen. Finally in the small basement space there was Jud Wimhurst’s series of skateboards Art Pros. The skateboards are like prop comedy art; I’m not sure if they are commenting about consumerism and art or being more consumer product. On my way to the toilets in the basement of Mars Gallery I spotted Sarah Field, The Aesthetics of Seduction and Disgust standing in the corner.

Sarah Field, The Aesthetics of Seduction and Disgust

Sarah Field, The Aesthetics of Seduction and Disgust

While I was in the area I also had a look at Carbon Black Gallery, a shop front gallery on High Street. It was showing Darren Madafferi’s exhibition of paintings and sculptures: Bush Week.  Madafferi surreal figures inhabit a limited landscape, a small psychic theatre, full of inventive intensity, like Albert Tucker meeting Yves Tanguy in the bush. There was also an exhibition by Carla Gottgens, Hope Longing Loss; I last saw Gottgens stories and photographs of model worlds in MoreArts 2014.


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