Tag Archives: urban renewal

Why does a Tree need a Sweater?

The man in grey on the footpath to Jewell Station has opinions about yarn bombing that he is loudly expressing to his girlfriend.

“A sweater for a tree! What the fuck does a tree need a sweater for?”

And a little bit further on: “A sweater for a pole!”

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I’ve never seen someone who hates yarn bombing with such passion. The focus of his anger was Yarn Corner’s work around Jewell Station.

For the length of the whole block between Barkely and Union streets, every pole, tree and rail was wearing a blue and yellow sweater. There are diamond pattern, bees on hexagonal patterns, spider webs patterns and the faces on poles. It has a complete artistic vision and the knitting is now amazing. The work of 24 women who are part of the enormous Yarn Corner collective.

There is the contrast between the careless fly tipping rubbish at the carpark and the careful knitting that covered the poles. There is so much long neglected space, derelict factory space and crude carpark, around Jewell Station.

Last year I was on a panel discussion about public art when I discover why it was being conducted in a tent outside Jewell Station.  It there was because there are big plans for the area around Jewell Station. The new micro park with the urban bouldering and the two massive murals at the end of Wilson Avenue is part of these plans. Another part is street art projects like Yarn Corner’s project.

So to answer the question posed by angry man in grey: why does a tree need a sweater? It doesn’t and that is, paradoxically, the reason why trees and poles around do need sweaters because art and design are a way of organising some of the excess generated in society.

There is a lot of excess in society, excess time and excess stuff, it can be art or rubbish. Knitting for yarn bombing is excessive, spray painting a wall in the street is excessive, as is the excess of the vinyl couch and other trash that has been dumped around Jewell Station. The disorganised excess, the rubbish is often ignored. The organised excess is intended to attract attention, to enhance a neglected space and create holding power in the place.

For more on Yarn Corner’s project at Jewell Station see Open Journal.


Urban Degeneration or Regeneration?

What is the influence of graffiti on urban degeneration or regeneration? New York in the 1970s was suffering from an economic decline, a heroin epidemic and a massive boom in graffiti/street art. In Melbourne the 1990s urban redevelopment preceded a massive boom in graffiti/street art.

The simple claim that graffiti is an indicator of crime and urban decay has to be challenged. If we compare the experience of graffiti in New York and Melbourne we can’t be sure that graffiti/street art is symptomatic of anything. In Kabul (Afganistan) and Misrata (Libya) street-art is shown as a sign of the city’s regeneration. The University Observer writes about street art’s contribution to Dublin. Sightline Daily has a photo essay about the regeneration of urban lanes in Seattle, Vancouver, San Francisco and Melbourne by Alyse Nelson. Even in law and order Singapore street-art has found an odd place in the city even aiding in the regeneration of Haji Lane, a street with old traditional style shops.  (See my post on Singapore Street Art).

The urban regeneration of Melbourne’s inner city service lanes has opened the areas up to bars, art galleries and other businesses. The street artists and the developers are both looking for the same things: desolate former industrial areas in city centres. Melbourne’s graffiti filled lanes look attractive, or maybe that was because of all the attractive young women hanging out there on a Friday evening taking photographs of each other. “If these wall could talk they’d say ‘Thank You’” read one stencil in Hosier Lane.

Hosier Lane, Melbourne

The anecdotal claims of graffiti being a symptom of crime and urban decline does not account for the contrary evidence. Anti-graffiti politicians use anecdotal claims to point to graffiti as an indicator of crime but this fear campaigns by politicians (and the industry of graffiti removal) only repeat the slanderous claims of an association of graffiti, crime and urban degeneration. Is this a case of blaming what you can change rather than pointlessly blaming the actual but uncontrollable causes?

And what are they proposing as an alternative to the threat of graffiti – more advertising space or more buffing is not going to make a city more attractive. In London I saw a sign warning that this wall has been painted with anti-graffiti paint along with lots of ugly black lumpy anti-graffiti paint. There is lots of grey paint buffing graffiti along the train lines around North Melbourne. The ugly paint does not remind me of urban regeneration. Or is it selling a dream of some ideal utopia that can never be realized?

I am not an expert, an urban planner or criminologist, but it is clear that there is far from conclusive evidence for the claim that graffiti is an indicator of urban decay. A survey with a greater geographic and longitudinal view of street art and graffiti is clearly required to determine anything about the impact of graffiti on the urban environment.


WTF Corner

On the corner Punt Road and Bridge Road in Richmond there is a small park area officially called “Urban Art Area”. Nobody was using it when I was there. I’m not sure who would use it in the area – it might be all right to sit on the bench and eat lunch if you worked in the area but I doubt it. “Everywhere, there and here” comments on this park “(the angry looking sculptures aside) yet I have only seen one person ever actually sitting in the site.” Beside the busy Punt Road the little park is multi-level area and contains three sculptures.

It is the site of the former Richmond Cable Tramway Engine House that was demolished in 1991; Melbourne had several independently operating cable tramway companies prior to the current electric tramway system in the early 20th Century. The site is heritage listed for what that is worth.

Of the 3 sculptures: one sculptor appears to have disappeared, another works in a completely different direction and one has gone on to produce more significant works of public sculpture in a very different style. These are the results of this shotgun approach to public art collecting.

Anton Hasell, “Yarra Thylacine”, 1995, bronze

There was no information on site of name of one the sculptures – a dog, a bridge and a boat with the words “Yarra” and “Acheron” on its bow and prow. It is Anton Hasell’s “Running Red Tiger”, 1995, bronze; what appears to be a dog is meant to be an extinct thylacine or Tasmanian tiger, a carnivorous marsupial and the tiger also references the Richmond football team. Anton Hasell (Dr Anton Hasell of the Australian Bell Pty Ltd) has gone on to produce many commemorative bells notably the Australian Bell for the Australian Centenary in 2001 and HMS Beagle Ship Bell Chime commissioned by Darwin City Council. Stlg48 wrote a blog post about Anton Hasell’s exhibition at the Bendigo Art Gallery in 2010.

Mary Perrott Stimson, “Mother and Daughter” 1993-94, bronze

Mary Perrott Stimson’s large figurative bronze sculpture, “Mother and Daughter” 1993-94, stands out against one wall. Although intended as a friendly statement the sculpture does not help the corner. Mary Perrott Stimson has created another public statue, “Reading the News”, 2001, located in Wagga Wagga but I have not been able to find out anything else about this artist.

Adrian Mauriks “Opus 15”, 1995, steel

The most successful sculpture on the corner is Adrian Mauriks’ “Opus 15”, 1995, of cut steel. This surreal sculpture contains a view onto the back lane and is the only sculpture to refer to the local environment. Adrian Mauriks now mainly works on in white painted epoxy resin and stainless steel and there are examples of his work at Chadstone Shopping Centre, Docklands New Quay Precinct, Bundoora Park, and Deakin University’s Burwood Campus. There is also an earlier work of his in marble in the lawn section of Sprinvale Cemetery. Amongst his early works is a “Homage to Jean Arp” 1972, plaster, showing the Dada/Surreal influence in his work.

This little corner in Richmond demonstrates that landscaping and erecting sculptures is not sufficient to revitalize an urban space.


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