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Tag Archives: skateboards

Wilson Avenue Urban Bouldering

The construction has been going on for months but the small new park off Sydney Road has opened in time for the school holidays. There is still work going on, a bit more paving and a wall for Makatron, Itch and Otis to finish painting but lots of people are already using it. I enjoyed the temporary pop-up park in Wilson Avenue February and March 2014 and I was keen to see the finished park. From a simple intersection, a more complex area has been created and at the centre of the complexity is a physical puzzle, an urban bouldering form.

Wilson Avenue Park

The plan for the small 700 square metre park won the Planning Institute of Australia (Victorian Division) Best Planning Ideas – Small Projects 2014 award. The initial public reaction has been just as enthusiastic. I spent almost an hour there just sitting in the sun, talking with people, watching how they used the space.

When I arrived a couple of little girls had found that the springy surface around the urban bouldering form was perfect for turning cartwheels. They were a bit too small to really climb the boulder but they had found their own use for the area. I talked to a skateboarder who hoped that they were not going to be put in skate stoppers as the moulded concrete seats and benches as they have excellent skating potential. Adding complexity to an area means that more people will different find uses for it.

Sam, a bouldering enthusiast explained the concept to me. “Bouldering is rock climbing for people, like me, who are scared of heights.” The short routes are close to the ground (under 3m.) so ropes are not required. The boulder terrain is suitable for novice to advanced climbers, with different trails of coloured holds. Sam told me that he normally climbs informal urban bouldering walls, like the one that used to be under the Burnley Bridge, and was unsure about “doing it in public”.

The Wilson Avenue urban boulder will be the first public art piece designed for bouldering. The boulder was designed Stuart Beekmeyer of Bouldergeist and fabricated by Big Fish.

Knowing that I was interested in micro-parks Stuart Beekmeyer started sending me emails and photographs from his Brunswick studio. Beekmeyer wrote, “I think people will be fascinated by the movement on the sculpture. It is a beautiful activity to watch.” And, after watching the people climb the sculpture today I agree with him.

Stuart Beekmeyer

Looking at one of the photos of the top of the boulder with the sunlight shining through making it glow golden it was easy to see the connection between it’s angular planes and a well known Melbourne sculpture, Ron Robertson-Swann’s Vault. At the time I received the email with the photo I was looking at photographs of Emily Floyd’s Public Art Strategy on EastLink. At the park the drains and forms are yellow, as are the native flowers. (Are these more references to Vault? Denton Corker and Marshall would love it.)

Stuart Beekmeyer has more ideas for the urban bouldering installations. “I really like the idea if getting artists to sculpt climbing holds in the  future so its sculpture on sculpture.” What would be better if Beekmeyer got artists to choose the colours for the hand holds because the selection of candy colours looks like hundreds-and-thousands.

There is a small mound of grass, a few small trees and a lot of complex paving in the park, a mix of concrete, asphalt, cobbles, wooden decking and the spongy surface around the boulder. The sculptural aesthetics of the boulder, in its central position, surrounded by seating determines the look of the small urban park and the way that people move around it. The new park at Wilson Avenue appears to be very successful and fun.

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Uses of Art in Public Space

The Uses of Art in Public Space was a free public research symposium on Tuesday 12th of March hosted by RMIT University’s Design Research Institute and convened by Quentin Stevens. Held in the “Design Hub” (RMIT Building 100); that building on the corner Victoria and Swanston Street covered with round plates of glass.

The conference looked at public art in a broad sense to include commissioned and unofficial artworks, memorials, street art, advertising, and street furniture – all topics that I’ve looked at in this blog. Jane Rendell of University College London in her opening address on “The Use of an Object” spoke via video about the use value of public art as distinct from exchange value of private art. Rendell also noted that to use an object is to relate to it.

This was followed by two talks about the unconventional use of public art and street furniture by parkour and skateboarders. Mirko Guaralda presented a paper by himself and Christopher Rawlinson, QUT on “The Art of Parkour of Art”. And Mat de Koning and Tim Yuen from Perth gave an excellent talk on “Skate Sculpture” (check out their website). Both parkour and skateboards change the normal navigation features of the city; edges become paths and the presence of spectators can change a path to a node.

Anton Hasell, the artist who created Melbourne’s Federation Bells, spoke about “Art in Public Space as Multi-Sensory Sites of Experience”. Hasell is a technological optimist who wants shared creative interactive public spaces.

Karen A. Franck from New Jersey Institute of Technology in her paper “The Life and Death of Public Art Works” gave a basic structure to what can happen to public art: occupation, addition, subtraction, multiplication, (re)moving and destroying. Another paper that gave structure to the issue was Quentin Stevens “The Ergonomics of Public Art”. Stevens looked at the opportunities afforded by public sculpture: a table, a shelter, holding on to, leaning on, a challenge or something to fall off. As opposed to the way that city councils think about how to make areas less useful with anti-seating, anti-climbing, anti-skateboard knobs and skate-stoppers.

Then there were several papers that looked at specific examples of using public art. Shanti Sumartojo from Australian National University spoke about “Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth: creating and contesting national identity”. Julia Lossau of the University of Bremen talked on “Tree Planting: The use of public art in an urban regeneration project in Glasgow”.

Kate MacNeill from the University of Melbourne gave a paper on “The quotidian life of art in public places” looking at the ordinary, unmediated engagement with public art: touch, play, emersion and contemplation with examples from familiar Melbourne public sculptures. And, to complete the variety of public art covered by this symposium, Lachlan MacDowall of the Victorian College of the Arts spoke about “The Uses of Street Art”.

Finally there was a panel discussion that ranged across a variety of topics that had not been covered in the symposium from the relationship between artists and architects to the moral rights of the artist to determine interactions. The symposium presented lots of ways of looking at the use of public art that will influence my thinking on the topic for years to come.


Shaun Gladwell – Physical Graffiti

I could get cosmic about the Gladwell’s art and write about the spinning fat god that is the turning universe. I could art historical and refer to Gladwell’s references to Turner and Caspar David Friedrich. Or examine his cinematic references to Mad Max and Ozploitation films. Instead, due to my interest in street art, I saw something else in Gladwell’s art a kind of physical graffiti.

Shaun Gladwell is most famous for his video “Storm Sequence” (2000) (it is not in the ACMI exhibition) but how did he come to this? I vaguely remember some of his early paintings.  Joanna Mendelssohn reviewing Shaun Gladwell’s exhibition at Sherman Galleries in Sydney has clearer memories of these paintings. Mendelssohn notes that Gladwell started painting giant copies of Penguin paperback classics. (Artlink Vol 23 no.3 2003) There is nothing of this early phase in Gladwell’s art in the ACMI exhibition. There are still a couple of minor works on paper scattered through out ACMI’s exhibition but they are largely incidental. One drawing, “Untitled” (2011) does provide a key to Gladwell’s art showing a diagram of train surfing yoga positions.

When Gladwell stopped focusing on painting and drawing and turned to video he was able to better integrate his art and his own life. Videos of Gladwell’s street movement; skateboard riding in “Storm Sequence” or hanging from the handrails of a Sydney train in “Tangara” (2003) became the foundation for his video art. Using BMX riders, break dancers, graffiti artists, skateboarders, pole dancers for his videos – this is physical graffiti.

Contemporary movement defines space in a creative, interactive way: what can be done with this space, what orders can be found, explored, used and created. Movement and perspective are not determined by the space but by the person using the space. This is body art as an urban intervention, captured in the locations and the momentum in Gladwell’s videos. In his photographs of the rollerblading police at the Louvre Gladwell is documenting changes in contemporary movement. “Planet & Stars Sequence: Bondi” (2011) looks at the movements of an aerosol art busker routine.

“Shaun Gladwell: Stereo Sequences” in the large Gallery 1 space at ACMI is the first in what ACMI promises to be a series of commissioned new works by ”leading Australian and international contemporary artists.” The horizontal tracking and the walk through “Parallel Forces” (2011) curiously reminded me that the long Gallery 1, deep under ACMI, was once a platforms at Flinders Street Station. It is an engaging exhibition and I hope that has an influence on Melbourne’s street art scene.


Art Decks

No Comply is a touring exhibition of decorated skateboard decks featuring local and international artists. It is currently on at No Vacancy Gallery, Red Cape Lane in the QV centre, Melbourne.  (Red Cape Lane takes its name from the very large red awning with white spots that hangs over this street level path through the QV shopping centre.) Next month the exhibition will be moving to Sydney.

The “ply” in No Comply refers to the shaped and moulded plywood that forms the deck of a skateboard. For decades skateboards have been decorated but the decks on show at No Comply are too elaborate, too beautiful or modified to have wheels fitted to them and used. These decks are just works of art. And as a skateboard deck is long and narrow many of the artists used 2 or 3 decks to create a bigger picture.

The exhibition is “produced” (rather than curated?) by the NiceProduce Team, Alex, Karl and Stuart. And appears to has been very well produced, the exhibition has been well hung with didactic panels on each artist. But there is more to producing an exhibition than simply to hang it. Appropriate sponsorship must be found, promotion and advertising organized, artwork transported, and more – a production. The entrepreneurial spirit of these producers, like the NiceProduce Team makes Melbourne’s street art a strong and dynamic scene.

A curatorial effort seems to have been made for this exhibition. There is a good selection of artists. There is a good balance in the styles of artists from the lowbrow illustration to contemporary art, from elegant designs to old school hip-hop. There are so many excellent works in this exhibition, so many significant local and international street artists, that it is difficult to make comments on particular works without ignoring others of equal quality.


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