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Tag Archives: sculpture

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
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Most controversial public sculptures in Australia

Readers in Melbourne might think that this will be about the flat yellow steel planes of Ron Robertson-Swann’s Vault (aka the Yellow Peril) but it is not. Although the controversy lasted a year, mostly letters to the paper and angry city council meetings. A few people figuratively lost their heads but no sculptures lost their heads. For more on Vault read my post: And it was all yellow.

Other readers might think that the controversy was the statue wars of 2017 when statues of Captain Cook and Governor Macquarie were vandalised with paint. “No pride in Genocide.” Again a few people figuratively lost their heads but no sculptures lost their heads. For more on this read my post: Statue Wars 2017.

There are two sculptures that were so controversial that the sculptures were actually decapitated.

Robert Hitchcock Yagan 1984 (photo by Nachoman)

The Yagan statue by Robert Hitchcock is located on Heirisson Island in the Swan River in Perth. It was decapitated and the head stolen in 1997 by an anonymous vandal who identified themselves as a ‘British patriot’.

The decapitation occurred the same week that Yagan’s actual head was returned. Yagan was murdered in 1833, shot a point-blank range by an eighteen year old Englishman William Keates was speared to death in revenge. Yagan’s head was taken as a trophy to England; if this had been done today it would be a war crime. After passing through multiple British hands Yagan’s head was eventually buried in an unmarked grave along with the body of another Indigenous Australian, some dried viscera and a Peruvian mummy in a corner of Everton Cemetery in Liverpool.

The statue was restored with a new head only to be decapitated again in 2002 leading to a second restoration and another slightly different head. The pattern of racist attacks only stopped when the area was fenced off. There were no witnesses to either of these crimes although WA Police Headquarters has views across the Swan River to the statues site.

Greg Taylor, Liz and Phil Down by the Lake, 1995 (image gregtaylor-sculpture.com)

However, even the Yagan statue is not the most controversial public sculpture in Australia which has to be Greg Taylor’s Liz and Phil Down by the  Lake 1995. Made of cement fondue coated with iron oxide to give them a rested appearance. It was part of a temporary exhibition for the National Sculpture festival organised by the Australian National University in Canberra.

Seated on a park bench by Lake Burley Griffin were two naked figures. The wrinkly old naked Liz and Phil looked, the very opposite of regal, frail and human; only the crown on Liz’s head reminded the viewer who was being depicted. The fact that Lese-majeste is not in Australian law but that didn’t stop Returned Service League chief Bruce Ruxton calling for Taylor’s execution.

Then the head of Liz was stolen on the night of 13 April. The police log stated boldly: ”The Queen has lost her head and doesn’t know where to find it.” After the beheading a former Sydney policeman decided to dress the sculpture in bedsheets printed with the Australian flag. The following night the Duke’s head was removed along with further vandalism that severed legs from both figures and caved in Phil’s chest. The entire sculpture was was removed on 16 April, two days later.

Taylor told the Canberra Times: “It’s a pretty sad day for freedom of speech and freedom of expression when you can’t even put a piece of art up without its opponents being able to control themselves.”

In a secondary controversy the Australian Federal Police on May 14 issued a denial that the Queens head had been found in home of a right wing militia member who had infiltrated the computer and communications sections of the Defence Department and possessed an arsenal of weapons.


La Trobe Uni Sculpture Park

I studied at La Trobe University in the 1980s; recently I went back to its Bundoora campus to see some of its sculpture collection. The university describes itself as a “sculpture park” and features sculptures from every decade from the 1960s, when it was established, to the present. I am not going to look at all of the sculptures but have chosen to look at four.

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Charles Robb’s Landmark, 2004 was the main reason for my visit. In front of the West Lecture Theatres, Landmark is a traditional memorial statue of La Trobe that has been turned on its head with the plinth looming above the upside down figure. Made of fibreglass, polyester resin, steel, polystyrene, polyurethane, sand, automotive lacquers and acrylic paint to look like bronze and stone.

Robb’s anti-monumental sculpture was donated to the University through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by the Artist 2006. Landmark was originally installed as temporary sculpture in the City of Melbourne in 2005 when it was award a judge’s commendation the Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award.

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Outside of the LIMS building (La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science) is Reko Rennie, Murri Totems, 2012. The work was commissioned by La Trobe Uni in 2012. Rennie is an interdisciplinary artist who mixes his Kamilaroi heritage with graffiti style. The four aluminium pillars are a mix of contemporary art and traditional Murri designs. Each pole represents one of the five platonic solids – icosahedron, octahedron, star tetrahedron, hexahedron and dodecahedron on to which Murri designs have been painted.

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Bart Sanciolo’s Dante’s Divine Comedy, 1980-1983, is near the Thomas Cherry Building. You can’t miss it. This ten metre tall pointy pyramid of bronze was presented to the university in 1987 as a 150th Gift of the Italian Community to the People of Australia. This was the one sculpture that I remember from my years at La Trobe; I remember it because didn’t like it then and I still don’t.

Sanciolo was born in Messina, Sicily in 1955 and arrived in Australia in 1968. I also disliked his sculpture groups that were in the western and eastern internal moats of 101 Collins Street, Melbourne CBD. They looked an ugly pile of figures and have fortunately been removed by the owner. Sanciolo’s sculptures are big but I don’t know if that is a good quality.

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The bronze figure of a woman on the Peribolos Lawn is Herman Hohaus’s Sofia, 1970. Although Sofia is the goddess of wisdom, this Sofia seems more concerned with her hair. The sculpture was purchased with funds donated by Dr Roy Simpson through Friends of La Trobe University 1986 but it seems more suited to a private garden than a university. Herman Hohaus was born in Germany in 1920 and moved to Australia 1954 where he lived until his death in 1990. The NGV has one of Hohaus’s sculpture in its collection (but not on display) another crouching female form in bronze.

There are sculptures on the campus by Inge King, Jock Clutterbuck, Robert Kipple and other notable sculptors; more on La Trobe University as sculpture park.


Laneway tributes to rock legends

Bursting through the bricks of the wall is a giant rock god with shoulder length curly hair singing into a microphone. To make the figure more identifiable he is wearing, unlikely for Bon Scott, an AC/DC belt buckle. This new sculpture was unveiled on Tuesday 6 March. It was widely reported around the world due to the popularity of Bon Scott’s band AC/DC; one of the best reports can be found in Stack.

Makatron, Bon Scott, Melbourne

Makatron, Bon Scott

Why is a twice life-size, Bon Scott should be breaking out of brick wall? Why has he got cracks in him? Why Bon Scott? when there are two aerosol tributes on the opposite wall to AC/DC’s recently deceased guitarist, Malcolm Young. We may never know the answers because I don’t think that anyone has thought beyond ‘cool idea’.

Makatron’s base relief sculpture of Bon Scott in AC/DC Lane is the Melbourne’s first commissioned public sculpture from a street artist. It might be Makatron’s first public sculpture too, as he is more famous for his 2D aerosol murals than 3D work. It is not the first sculpture of Bon Scott; there is one by Greg James standing on an amp shaped plinth at the Fremantle Fishing Boat Harbour in WA, and another holding bagpipes in Scott’s hometown of Kirriemuir in Scotland. None of these sculptures are particularly tasteful, none are nuanced nor deep but then, neither was Bon Scott.

There is plenty of good, even tasteful, intelligent and nuanced street art to see in AC/DC Lane and more was being added when I visited. Makatron is not the first street artist to install a sculptor in Melbourne; there are plenty of un-commissioned examples some can be seen my series on street art sculptures.

Lush, Malcolm Young

Lush, Malcolm Young tribute (not to be implied that I am endorsing Lush’s work as tasteful)

 

There is another Melbourne laneway tribute to a rock singer with Amphlett Lane off Little Bourke St, near Spring Street. The school uniform hanging up is a tasteful tribute to Chrissy Amphlett of the Divinyls; the stack of road-case using the door from the buildings sprinkler-booster box.  Amphlett’s stage costume of a girl’s school uniform was inspired by Angus Young’s stage costume of a boy’s school uniform.

unknown, Chrissy Amphlett tribute

unknown, Chrissy Amphlett tribute


Louise Paramor @ NGV

I first saw a sculpture by Louise Paramor when her Noble ape was exhibited in Melbourne Now 2013; it is currently installed in the garden at the back of NGV International. Other people might know her from her Panorama Station sculpture beside the freeway in Carrum Downs. Then I saw Paramor’s sculpture, Ursa Major being installed in Federation Square for the Melbourne Prize 2014. I hadn’t seen any of her previous twenty or so years of exhibiting sculpture.

Louis Paramor

Louis Paramor, Noble ape, fiberglass, plastic and steel

Currently the NGV is exhibiting Paramor in two large spaces on the third floor of the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with a specially commissioned installation of new paper sculptures and a survey of her recent colourful plastic assemblages.

Palace of the Republic is a series of massive paper sculptures. Honeycomb paper decorations on a scale that will leave you awestruck. It is a reference Paramor’s earlier artistic practice before she started to collage found plastic objects.

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Louis Paramor, Palace of the Republic, paper, steel, aluminium and plywood

Unlike the personal art of Del Kathryn Barton, exhibited on the same floor to the Potter Centre, Paramor’s sculptures inspires no interest in the artist. There is nothing that I can tell you about her that will help you make any more sense of her art, so I will tell you nothing. Likewise you don’t need to know the history of art, anything of biochemistry or French to make sense of her art. Partially because her art makes little sense; her sculptures are cool and humorous and I know this by the smile that they grew on my face when I saw them.

A curator explains them noting that they “combine formal concerns with a pop-inspired sensibility.” That is arranging found plastic in an asymmetrical way makes them look silly and funky.

Studies for Boomtown is a series of maquettes for sculptures that demonstrate Paramor’s seemingly inexhaustible creativity. Perhaps it is inexhaustible due to the supply of plastic objects in the world.

Louis Paramor

Louis Paramor, Studies for Boomtown, 2016, plastic, steel, wood


Gorilla carrying off a woman

I thought that I should look closely at something that I hate; Emmanuel Frémiet’s Gorille enlevant une femme (gorilla carrying off a woman) 1887, a bronze sculpture. It won a medal in the Paris Salon of that year. Most people in Melbourne, or Montreal or various other cities would be familiar with Frémiet’s Jeanne D’Arc. In Melbourne it stands, in a strange pairing, with Boehm’s St. George outside the State Library.

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Emmanuel Frémiet’s Gorille enlevant une femme (gorilla carrying off a woman) 1887

Frémiet was a nineteenth century French sculptor who specialised in animal sculptures. I find some nineteenth century sculpture ridiculous; man’s battle with monster from his unconscious that is, in retrospect, in the post-Freudian world, so obvious. But Frémiet’s sculpture is far worse than any sexual fantasy because this isn’t simply a prototype King Kong. The ape is carrying a stone hand axe. The ape as primitive tool maker means that this sculpture is perpetrating the ugliest of racist stereotypes. Along with the idea of women as property that foreigners want to steal.

The primeval scene is not referencing classical or biblical mythology but a fantasy of pre-history. It is the kind of thing that you might expect on the cover of one of an old Tarzan books from the 1960s. It is not the kind of image that art galleries collect today. If you tried to sell that kind of shit today there would be a campaign to put a stop to your business because it is both racist and sexist.

There is a snake disappearing under the rock. The obsessive details and the quality of the modelling are enough to save the work but not enough to keep it out of storage at the NGV where I hope it spends most of its time.

Fantasy art and visionary art are now considered as a separate category to serious art but Frémiet’s Gorille enlevant une femme is a reminder that this was not always the case. Fantasy art uses broad metaphors, if they are metaphors, and not symbols or icons. It makes me wonder if the change of art styles in modernism was about a change in meaning expressed than in an outward appearance. The rejection of works like Frémiet and what they meant and resulted in art searching for a different meaning and look. Modernism was about looking for a new subject and not a new way of depicting an old subject.

If I were to write such a grand history of art I would write about the crisis of meaning that lead to modern art. ‘Meaning’ is a word that could encompass all those fuzzy words like ‘spirituality,’ ‘truth’ and ‘beauty.’ For there was a crisis of meaning in European art due to increasing reports and evidence of death of the one, true God; the same God that was meant to be the foundation of European culture. Meaning in art and the meaning of art started to crumble and the obvious racist fantasy presented in Frémiet’s Gorille enlevant une femme is now best seen as evidence of this disintegration. The patriarchy and its ugly irrational racism in bronze.


Akio Makigawa @ NGV

Akio Makigawa’s sculptures are elegant works amid the often ludic, bombastic, and inappropriate public sculptures in Australia. Now there is an exhibition of his sculpture at the NGV. The exhibition is on the foyer of each floor of the NGV Australia at Fed Square. It is part of the NGV’s series of exhibitions about sculptors that has included Inga King, Bruce Armstrong and Lenton Parr.

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Makigawa is also a break from the list of European names in the history of Melbourne’s public sculpture. Makigawa moved to Australia in 1974; the year after the White Australia policy finally ended in 1973. The sculptures on exhibition are familiar because Makigawa’s public sculptures are all around Australia. You have probably seen his sculptures as they are out the front of buildings in most capital cities and regularly appear behind parliamentarians giving press conferences in the gardens of Parliament house.

In public spaces his sculptures influence the space around them. It is a larger space than just the negative space around the sculpture; it is a space, a pause or rest, in the movement of the city. They are not obvious and neither are they rigorous theoretical abstractions. Their rigid geometry dissolving into natural forms of a leaf or flame of marble or resin.

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Seen in an exhibition, the viewer quickly becomes familiar with the similar shapes repeated in variations of material: corten steel, stainless steel, marble… Most of the work in the exhibition was very similar to his public sculpture until the third floor where there were three early works that are very different. In these early works lighter materials: papier-mâché, wood, rope, cotton… contrasting heavy materials, like stone and lead.

Also on the third floor is a collection of his maquettes, models for his sculptures. These are interesting because where other sculptors will use any convenient material, Makigawa used exactly the same materials that he used to make the final sculpture. There is a respect for the materials in his work, in the alternating, contrasting surfaces.

For more on Makigawa’s public sculptures.


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