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Tag Archives: sister city

Of Mall & Place

There are two little pedestrian spaces off the long straight length of the Sydney Road shopping strip. These two urban hubs are Sparta Place in Brunswick and Victoria Street Mall in Coburg. Sparta Place has some great aerosol walls, yarn bombing, sculpture and fashion boutiques and a cafe. Victoria Street Mall has yarn bombing, sculpture, cafes, post-office and public library. In both malls the public art, in both cases sculpture and street art, has accreted rather than incorporated into the design. These two malls were first designed and created by the Moreland City Council but then the public and surrounding businesses have added to this design. Just as the trees planted in them have grown these malls have changed over time.

Sparta Place

Three different groups are struggling for control of Sparta Place. There is the Moreland City Council urban design team who did the initial change to a pedestrian space in 1998. Maria Hardwick as a business owner invested heavily in renovating the old building gentrifying it to opening fashion boutiques. The five metal columns full of post and pans, “New Order” by Louise Lavarack have a post-modern approach to classical references. But some of the residents of Brunswick and their council member wanted a memorial to Sparta to celebrate the relationship between Moreland and its sister city in Greece (one of Moreland’s many sister cities) with the statue to King Leonidas and they got in 2009.

Petros Georgariou , King Leonidas

Petros Georgariou , King Leonidas

New Order,  Louise Lavarack

New Order, Louise Lavarack

Sparta Place has the architectural attractions of the Hardwick building and the Spanish revival building at the end of Sparta Place. The dappled shade of the trees, benches with yarn bombing, the shop signs unfolded on the pavement that emphasize the middle path through the mall. At the carpark end of the mall quality street art on the large walls adds to the sense of place.

Local people do use Sparta Place to sit and talk, although it is not as successful an urban space as Victoria Street Mall in Coburg. The old men who come regularly to Victoria Street Mall to sit on the long bench by along the glass wall of the library make it an institution. But there is a social balance in the ages of people using the mall from the very young to the very old and this is important in this time of age segregation.

Victoria Street Mall Coburg

There have been recent improvements to Victoria Street Mall with new water permeable cover around the base of the trees, replacing the area that was covered with heavy sand that quickly spread across the paving. The seats have been covered with an artificial turf giving the Mall a quirky and fun design feature. The style has become funkier along with the yarn bombing and other community art projects.

Board-games have been added to the large public table that is now located at the library end of the mall – not that I’ve seen anyone playing them yet although this public table (in a mall full of private café tables) is still well used.

At the corner of Victoria Street and Waterfield Road there is a small bronze house with a corridor with a corridor going straight through it. It is simplified but typical of Australian houses in Coburg. It is “Dwelling” by Jason Waterhouse, the winner of the 2005 Moreland Sculpture Show. Waterhouse has been making sculptures of this basic house form for a number of years in various media. At other end, the Sydney Road end chuggers and buskers compete for the passing trade.

ason Waterhouse, Dwelling

Jason Waterhouse, Dwelling

These two malls are urban nodes. Nodes are those points of interaction in urban environment that link various paths. The public perceives and navigates the urban space, in a graduated scale from a path, edge, node, to a district. Public art and sculpture is used to mark the edge of a path or as part of the design of a node.

Apart from these two malls poor urban design of nodes in far more typical in Coburg. Coburg’s historic railway station is still not working as a node even after the recent renovations to the station’s forecourt. All of the hubs around any of the railway stations in Coburg and Brunswick are badly designed; the local councils and the railways department don’t appear to be able to communicate.

(I’ve written blog entries about both of these malls in 2009: Leonidas @ Sparta Place and Victoria Street Mall Coburg.)

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Leonidas @ Sparta Place

Now Brunswick has a statue of King Leonidas of Sparta in Sparta Place off Sydney Road. The statue has been the subject of local controversy,  it is disliked by the local traders, and created as part of the junket politics of sister cities.

Petros Georgariou – King Leonidas 2009

Greek artist Petros Georgariou sculpted the bust of King Leonidas, in a retrograde and conservative nationalist-realist style. The modeling of the bust is crude and stiff. The statute’s black marble plinth, a material alien to the local area, makes it look like a tomb. Not content to leave the 2005 remodelling of Sparta Place alone, the statue has been erected right in the middle of the mall. The placement of the plinth and style of the statue clashes with the existing contemporary style statue in the mall, New Order by Louise Lavarack. There are a lot of things wrong with the statue but not as many as the things wrong with the politicians who commission it.

Roberto Calasso in The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony argues that Sparta could not be understood before Stalin. “Lycurgus was the first to compose a world that excluded the world: Spartan society. He was the first person to conduct experiments on the body social, the true fore-father all modern rulers, even if they don’t have the impact of a Lenin or a Hitler, try to imitate.” Sparta always acted in their “national interest” and would kill and enslave to achieve this end.

Mayor Lambros Tapinos said the statue symbolized “the contribution of the Greek community and its vibrant history within our municipality”. Other local politicians, like Cr Ange Kenos, have also praised King Leonidas for his defense “of human rights.”  To dismiss these politicians as stupid and ignorant is to be generous or sympathetic to them, these are the kind of people who would help another Hitler and Stalin to power. I’m sure that as a politician Mayor Tapinos has learnt the highest rule of Sparta society: you can do anything; steal, rape and kill, just don’t get caught. Laconophilia may be popular but it is also amoral and delusional.

I have written about Coburg’s multiple sister city junket politics before in regards to the use of the arts: see Man of the Valley and Cross Currents @ Moreland Civic Centre.  I have been unimpressed with the artistic standard of these exchanges and I have seen no other evidence of any value to the City of Moreland’s three sister city relationships.


Cross Currents @ Moreland Civic Centre

Cross Currents, paintings by Wen Jun at the Moreland Civic Centre would be almost entirely irrelevant were it not for the Chinese government currently throwing their weight around with attempts to censor and sabotage the Melbourne Film Festival. And the local debate in Moreland  usefulness of having sister cities. Moreland has three sister cities: Xianyang, in China, Viggiano, in Italy and Sparta, in Greece. Moreland does have a large Italian and Greek immigrant population but the connections with China are far more tenuous.

This is the 20th anniversary of contact between Moreland and Xianyang that was established by Wen Jun, Geoff Hogg and the then Mayor of Brunswick (now part of Moreland City). During this time Geoff Hogg has become an expert in public art and cultural exchanges. In 2006 he became the first Australian to be appointed an Honorary Professor of Art at Xianyang Normal University in China.

Moreland and Xianyang City Councils jointly sponsored the exhibition. At the opening of the exhibition there were of course the usual speeches, first by Robert Dorning, the Convenor of the Moreland and Xianyang Promotion Committee. The mayor, Cr Lambros Tapinos noted in his speech that Council has 2 of Wen Jun’s paintings in the council collections. In such low level diplomacy there is always talk about the benefits of such cultural exchanges without any evidence. It is an old line and probably no longer true in a time when there are many more routes for cultural exchange than just diplomacy. Wen Jun made a speech in Chinese, with a translation delivered by his daughter in English, about his art. About 40 people, including the artist, mayor, and city councilors, attended the opening of the exhibition. There was choice of a Long Vern 2008 Shiraz and Loire 2007 Sauvignon Blanc to drink and plenty of delicious finger food, typical of Moreland Council functions.

The best of Wen Jun’s paintings are reproductions of Tang Dynasty tomb frescos. His watercolor paintings are the same size as the original frescos. Xianyang was the imperial capital of the Tang Dynasty and the location for the famous Terra-cotta warriors. In Wen Jun’s paintings of the frescos every crack, lacuna, faded colors and other blemishes on the frescos are carefully reproduced. There are extensive didactic panels in Chinese and English. His earlier work, described as ‘traditional’ or ‘spring festival’ paintings are chocolate box sentimental images.

What is the public to conclude from this display of petty diplomacy hiding behind art and culture? That is all about putting on a good face and political junkets. That art and tourisms celebrating China’s imperial past are favored by China but documentaries critical of China’s imperial present are not. Is there any evidence that after 20 years that such diplomacy there has been any positive benefit for the ratepayers of either city? There is currently a local debate about the expense of Moreland City Council’s gift of a statue of King Leonidas to another sister city Sparta. I think that the debate should be about which local sculptor will receive the commission.


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