Tag Archives: public art

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.


Dan Wollmering’s Dwelling

Dan Wollmering is a Melbourne-based contemporary sculptor. He has works in sculptures parks in the China and the USA, a large metal sculpture Xanthe (also known as “The Future Vitality of Caulfield”) at the corner of Glen Eira and Hawthorn Roads, and closer to my home, a sculpture on the grounds of the Fawkner Leisure Centre. I took the train out to Gowrie just to see it.

Dan Wollmering Dwelling

Gowrie is a northern station on the Upfield line. It is past the Fawkner Cemetery where the train line goes through the park cemetery. I have only been to this part of Melbourne’s northern suburbs a couple of times before, so the area was all new to me.

Walking to the Fawkner Leisure Centre I asked directions from a sleep deprived young dad pushing his baby daughter around. She had been a “grisly little baby last night”. He was walking that way and happy to help in my search for the sculpture. We walked through the park at the front of the leisure centre where a lot of the outdoor exercise and the playground equipment looked like abstract sculptures, although nothing like Wollmering’s work.

I tried to describe Wollmering’s work to the dad; who said he thought that there was something curved and metal around the side.

Dwelling was commissioned by Moreland City Council with some funds from Monash University) sited in front of the child care entrance at the Leisure Centre in Fawkner Victoria. It is a circle of metal partially surrounded by a curved metal seat with a high back. Public art providing a place to sit is always welcomed by tired feet.

At one end of this bench is a local stone excavated from a council construction site with the word “Willam” (dwelling in the local Wurundjeri language group) carved on it. At the other is form like a half avocado with the seed still in; I had seen this form in Wollmering’s last exhibition (see my blog post.)

Around the back of the bench are more panels with text. It is amongst the most wordy sculptures in Melbourne. The text was written by Moria Bourke, the author of Loosing It (1998, Text Publishing), with lots of  local collaboration; the local Indigenous elder was consulted and much of the text was taken verbatim from the questionnaire about how people felt about dwelling in Fawkner, their incorrect grammar included.

The young dad put the breaks on the baby carriage. We could have sat down but it was a freezing winter day. We didn’t read all the text but we did clear the circle of metal of leaves, sweeping them away with our feet, so that we could look at the full work.

Mission accomplished; the dad and his baby continued on their way and I headed back to Gowrie station to catch the train home.


Elemental Forces in Public Art

Considering the use of the so-called ‘elemental forces’ of water, fire, earth and air in public art; with examples from Melbourne’s public and street art.

Air 

Although it is the space between, air is the most under used element in public art. Aside from making flags and banners flutter it is used in a couple of sculptures. The 15-metre-high wind-powered sculpture by Duncan Stemler, Blowhole in the Docklands. Elsewhere in the world there are musical sculptures that are played automatically, like Aeolian harps and the common wind chime. On a more subtle level there is scent of gardens, of incense and the burnt eucalyptus leaves of smoking ceremonies carried in the air.

Duncan Stemler, Blowhole

Water

Water was the first one to be used for public art with public drinking fountains and other water features from artificial lakes and waterfalls. There are many fountains and drinking fountains in Melbourne there are also mist sprays on the rocks in Footscray, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom by Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins. Street artist have also used water, one summer blocks of coloured ice were left to melt in Hosier Lane, the coloured liquid running between the bluestone cobbles. The street artist, CDH used hypochromatic ink for stencil works where the piece that only became visible when wet. Finally there is the unofficial colouring of fountains and moats often in conjunction with protests.

Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom

Fire

From the eternal flame at the Shrine of Remembrance, candle light vigils, to Indigenous smoke ceremonies fire is used in a variety of public art. Camp fire with Aboriginal story teller at Federation Square. It is not all sacred; there are profane gas flares at the casino and temporary public art events like, fireworks displays. Fortunately there is little use of fire in street art, aside from a rare CDH pyrotechnic painting.

Immolating portrait of Yukio Mishima by CDH (photo courtesy CDH)

Earth

Earth art is the principle form of public art. From its landscaped gardens, the city is an artificial constructed landscape, complete with kitsch floral clocks. The metal and stone used in sculpture is also from the earth but that might be labouring the point. Street art also use earth and plants in guerrilla gardening.

Melbourne’s Floral Clock

Street art, public art and more in Coburg

I have been walking around my neighbourhood, the streets of Coburg, looking at the street art, the public art and the streets. You can see almost 150 years of history of domestic architecture on the streets of Coburg, from the 1870s to the contemporary buildings still under construction. And you have to love quality pop culture home modifications; we need more of this kind of Batman, not the John Batman kind.

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Notable Melbourne street artist, Al Stark Thinking of the Earth has painted a mural on a couple of buildings at Coburg Oval. Regardless of what I have recently written about murals I like this one. The abstracted geometric shapes and the colours glow against the dark ground improving the feel of an otherwise drek utilitarian carpark between the Sydney Road shopping strip and the oval.

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On the wall of the new flats by the Reynard Street railway crossing is Tropical Flora. It is a mural by experienced Melbourne stencil artist 23rd Key. The very large multi-layered stencil of hibiscus flowers and monstera leaves are technically proficient but boring.

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There is also more unauthorised street art around. I love finding little pieces hidden away, making a treasure hunt out of a walk around the neighbourhood. But this is the strangest piece of buffing; it leaves you wondering what either the writer or the buffer was thinking.

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Some great guerrilla gardening taking over a wide nature strip in Coburg complete with a mosaic ceramic features by local Mel Craven.

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The sculpture of a small bronze house on a rusty steel plinth has been removed late 2016 early 2017 from the corner of Victoria Street and Waterfield Road. Dwelling by Jason Waterhouse was the winner of the 2005 Moreland Sculpture Show. I don’t know what has happened to this sculpture; I hope that a better location has been found for it. It was too small to make any impression on the corner location. You can also see how bad Coburg’s pigeon problem was just a few years ago.

ason Waterhouse, Dwelling

Jason Waterhouse, Dwelling

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Sydney Public Sculpture

“A city is the greatest work of art possible” Lloyd Rees

What I did on my summer holiday. Did you ever write that for school?

I went for a holiday in Sydney. I wanted to have a holiday and get away from my work but when your work involves public art, even walking around the block can involve looking at a sculpture or street art. I did take a few photographs of some sculptures in Sydney.

I saw sculptures that I like; I loved the golden tree in Chinatown, Golden Water Mouth by Lin Li. I saw some sculpture that horrified me like the bronze sculpture of Governor Macquarie with its very large feet.

I can’t help explaining the differences between lost wax and sand casting when looking at the Robert Kippel sculpture at Circular Key. The Jason Wing alleyway in Chinatown brought back memories of seeing an exhibition by him in 2009. My wife asked me if I was thinking of writing a book about Sydney’s public sculpture, after my Sculptures of Melbourne.

People keep telling me that Melbourne is somehow special in its relationship to public sculpture and I just don’t buy that intercity rivalry. Admittedly Sydney did not have the year long “Yellow Peril” stupidity but it was just a stupid overblown Melbourne City Council dispute after all and not the end of civilisation. Sydney was less in need of landmark sculptures having both major architectural and physical landmarks.

I ran into the sculptor, Lis Johnson in the Art Gallery of NSW shop who was up in Sydney studying marble carving. She thought that Sydney was becoming more like Melbourne with the street art in the laneways along with small coffeeshops and bars.

There are a lot more public sculptures in Sydney these days. There is a similar historical trajectory as I trace in my book. And I have done the research on some of the sculptors like Akio Makigawa already. The street sculptor, Will Coles lives and works in Sydney; I could add interview with him instead of the one with Junky Projects.

Pipe dreams aside I have no immediate plans to write the companion book to my Sculptures of Melbourne because I don’t live in Sydney. About half of what I have earned from writing the book has come from walking tours and talks. Anyway the City of Sydney has a good website about its public art with walking tours.


MoreArt in Coburg Mall

At one end of the Coburg mall, strung between two trees there was the banner announcing Ben Landau’s Coburg Quest, at the other end stood Dan Goronszy’s large chalk board, The Launching Board on its platform. In between them, the usual crowd of activity in the Coburg mall: tables of people drinking coffee and eating, small children playing and a woman busker singing folk songs with a strong vibrato voice.

Larissa McFarlane, A Ritual of Handstands

Larissa McFarlane, A Ritual of Handstands

Larissa McFarlane, A Ritual of Handstands cane detail

Larissa McFarlane, A Ritual of Handstands cane detail

Some people in the mall also noticed the paste-ups by Larissa McFarlane, A Ritual of Handstands in the walls running off the mall. The paste-up of the walking stick leaning against the wall was particularly popular. An elderly Greek man gestures at it, “Somebody leave this behind?” he says and laughs. Coburg Mall and the laneways around Coburg are generally too far north for the street artists and these paste-ups are also part of MoreArt program for 2015.

The MoreArt program is Moreland City Council’s annual public art show. This year there is a theme “Participation: Real or imagined, conjured and or discovered, a shrine, a monument, a ritual, a tribute, a custom”. There may have been themes in the previous six years but never has it been so clear in the art. The theme makes it clear that this is show is not simply art in public space, nor art for public spaces but that the public actively engages and participates in creating. This opens the program to multidisciplinary artists like Dan Goronszy and Ben Landau.

Ben Landau Coburg Quest

Ben Landau Coburg Quest

Ben Landau’s Coburg Quest required more time and participation than I was willing to devote, with multiple individual tasks and two Sunday afternoons involved in this art/quiz/game.

Dan Goronszy, The Launching Board

Dan Goronszy, The Launching Board

Dan Goronszy’s large chalk board, The Launching Board had the question “What does peace mean to you?” on both sides of the double sided blackboard. Containers for chalk are built into the blackboard. Most people who stopped to look just read the few responses but every now and then someone would write something. A group of men on bicycles arrive in the mall, they stand around and watch as one of them writes: “Stop bombing the **** out of Syria” on the blackboard.

I am involved in MoreArt this year. I am part of a panel discussion on public art along with Geoff Hogg, Louise Lavarack, Dean Sunshine, Laura Phillips and Aiofe Kealy: Making it in Moreland.


Progress on Man Lifting Cow

At Fundêre Foundry in Sunshine John Kelly, the artist famous for his Cow Up a Tree sculpture, is making the third sculpture in his cow series. This one will be a 5.5 metre bronze, Man lifting cow, but at the moment it is mostly clay.

John Kelly at work

Now that I am the author of Sculptures of Melbourne, a history of Melbourne’s public sculpture I get invited to foundries to meet artists. I should really check exactly what I have written about them in the book and on my blog before meeting them, so that I can be prepared. The first thing that John Kelly wanted to talk about was site specific sculptures as I had described his Cow Up a Tree sculpture as “completely non-site specific”.

I doubt that I will say anything like that for his next sculpture as there is a big hook for that story: local boy makes a sculpture for his local suburb in a local foundry. John Kelly is not the only contemporary artist who grew up in Sunshine, but sculptures by Leigh Bowery or Stelarc might be too extreme and confronting for general public.

The local Brimbank City Council is making the most of the sculpture’s local manufacture, holding a “commissioning launch” at the foundry for the sculpture in a few weeks time. Something to do before the model becomes unrecognisable in plaster moulds. For several reasons the model for fake camouflage cow will be made of fibreglass, chiefly as it would weigh several tons if made of solid clay like the figure of man.

John Kelly and the marquette

John takes a break from pushing clay around on the sculpture and shows me the marquettes as Cameron McIndoe of Fundêre Foundry welds the armature of the hand. The problem of fitting the hand to the cow’s leg is going to take some time.

John Kelly and Cameron McIndoe

In the corner of Fundêre Foundry there is the larger than life size equestrian sculpture of a Australian horseman from the Boer War by Louis Laumen. There are plans for three more.

Louis Laumen Boer War equestrian at Fundêre Foundry


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