“When a gentleman sounds his own trumpet he ‘blows’. The art is perfectly understood and appreciated among the people who practise it. Such a gentleman or a lady was only ‘blowing!’ You hear it and hear of it every day. They blow a good deal in Queensland – a good deal in South Australia. They blow even in poor Tasmania. They blow loudly in New South Wales, and very loudly in New Zealand. But the blast of the trumpet as heard in Victoria is louder than all the blasts – and the Melbourne blast beats all the other blowing of that proud colony. My first, my constant, my parting advice to my Australian cousins is contained in two words – ‘Don’t blow.’”
– Anthony Trollop (The Birth of Melbourne ed. Tim Flannery, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2002, Australia p.283)
I am sorry to report that over a century later Melbourne is still loudly blowing its trumpet. There is a belief that a bigger local noise must mean a significant culture. I forget how many times have I heard that something in Melbourne is amongst the best in the world. World’s first feature film, world’s best drinking water, the world’s richest horse race, the finest fashion, world’s most liveable cities…
It just goes on and on – I hear street artists declaring that Melbourne street art is amongst the best cities in the world. Musicians talking about Melbourne’s little bands and its electronic music, from Percy Granger to the present day. The whole Melbourne and Sydney rivalry is part of this phenomenon.
Australian culture is obsessed with its own feedback but only stories that praise Australia are feed back into the loop, criticism is dismissed as ill-informed. It is just embarrassing to hear especially when you know that it is not true. Southern Cross Station even has signs that say: “world class station” – it is far from it but they won’t hear of it.
Australians are insecure and do all this blowing to be reassured. Australians have long felt insecure, as far back as the first colonial settlement and this colonial inferiority complex has many significant cultural and political implications. The Australian “cultural cringe” coined by Melbourne critic, A.A. Philips in 1950 describes the attitude of inferiority to Europe in all areas except for sport. This insecurity has also lead to sycophancy in politics and an inability to accurately assess or deal with criticism.
I feel that the constant sound of this blowing has deafened Melbourne’s public to any criticism. So I’ll say it again on behalf of Anthony Trollop because it obviously needs repeating – Melbourne please don’t blow.
In 1990 Andrew Seward and Richard Holt established The Platform Artists Group Inc. 20 years on and it has become Melbourne’s longest running artists-run initiative and public art project in the CBD. It is open to the public every weekday and Saturday mornings all year. It is a non-profit public art organization supported by the City of Melbourne, Arts Victoria and the Australia Council.
Megan Clunes writes about the Platform’s 20 years in Broadsheet Melbourne. The photograph accompanying the article shows the original Platform in the curved underpass at the then Spencer Street Station (now Southern Cross Station). The vitrines in the Spencer Street underpass were curved streamlined modern cabinets that became redundant after failing to predict the future of advertising. I remember seeing some early exhibitions in the Platform cabinets and being under-whelmed by the experience.
The cabinets at Flinders Street Station originally were known as Platform 2 and were opened 5 years after the original Spencer Street space. It was known as Platform 2 when I exhibited there in 1995 with members of Dada tribe #373.
“Celebrating 20 years of Platform” is an anniversary exhibition at Platform. There are lots of familiar names in this exhibition; not just from Platform but from the whole artists run spaces of Melbourne. (Try entering their surnames in this blog’s search box – don’t bother with their first names, it is a simple search system and will return every entry with that word.) I reviewed Brad Haylock’s neon “them/us” when it was originally exhibited at Platform; this is also a review of an exhibition by Simon Pericich, who is also in the anniversary exhibition.
This time when I looked at Platform’s cabinets I was most impressed with the Christopher Scuito’s exhibition in the “Sample” cabinet (next to the coffee shop booth and the exit to Flinders Street). “Sample” presents the work of art school students. Scuito’s has collaged beefcake cigarette lighters onto reproductions of classic sword and sorcery fantasy images emphasizing the S&M and homoerotic quality of these illustrations. Patrice Sharkey has beautifully curated Scuito’s exhibition; the details are tremendous from the black backboard supported by stacks of comic books to the whip on top of the black-framed images.
There is a publication, What Art, Which Public: Platform Artists Group 1990-2010 edited by Angela Brophy. I haven’t been able to get hold of a copy of it (I did ask at Sticky Institute but they didn’t know anything). Platform has rarely made history; its internal chronology has not been tumultuous either. In 2008 the roof of the Campbell’s Arcade collapsed when road works on Flinders Street broke through but this only damaged the shops and not the exhibition spaces. Later that year Cecilia Fogelberg and Trevor Flinn’s exhibition at Platform, ‘The Puma, The Stranger and The Mountain’ was censored for nudity. But it was overshadowed, a week later, by the subsequent attack on Bill Henson.
Looking back over my blog entries I have reviewed so many of the exhibitions at Platform, not because of the quality of the exhibitions but because it is so accessible. I can easily see the exhibition a couple of times before writing about it.
Enjoyed or ignored by the public who pass through the pedestrian underpass each day on their way to or from Flinders Street Station. Platform’s exhibitions space presents a variety of works by mostly student and other new artists. 20 years is a remarkable achievement for any artists-run initiative, it is an institution for a whole generation of Melbourne artists. Platform will probably continue providing exhibition space to new artists until the subway is renovated which is unlikely to happen in the next 20 years.