Tag Archives: vandalism

Australian Art Terrorists

A few Australian groups have acted or threatened to take action outside of the law to achieve artistic and cultural objectives. Most are right-wing conservatives — so much for the so-called ‘cancel culture’ of the left.

A.C.T. target Picasso’s Weeping Woman

In 2003 the Revolutionary Council for the Removal of Bad Art in Public Places threatened to destroy a number of pieces of public art. That the “spokesman, Dave Jarvoo, told The Australian newspaper” about the threat speaks to the conservative taste of this so-called Revolutionary Council. The fact is that they were all talk and no action, and the spuriously named, Dave Jarvoo appears to be the only member of this organisation. 

Their targets were modern sculptures Fairfield Industrial Dog Object and in Sydney; Ken Unsworth’s Stones Against the Sky ‘poo sticks’ in Kings Cross and Brett Whiteley’s Almost Once giant matches behind the Art Gallery of NSW. David Fickling for The Guardian came up with several more deserving targets in Sydney (see his article), and I could do the same for Melbourne (perhaps in another post). (Thanks to Vetti Live in Northcote for drawing my attention to the Revolutionary Council for the Removal of Bad Art in Public Places.)

The Australian Cultural Terrorists (aka A.C.T.) stole Picasso’s Weeping Woman from the NGV, held it to ransom and then returned it undamaged. They seem to have twice as many members as Dave Jarvoo’s Revolutionary Council; at least one man and, maybe, one woman. They were more successful than the Revolutionary Council but, perhaps, no more radical given their demands for more art prizes for local artists. They had no follow up aside from stories that the following year they also wrote some  libellous letters about people in Australia’s art world. The A.C.T. wrote lots of jeering, satirical letters, several of them attacking state Arts Minister, Race Mathews.

To this list, we could add the Catholic Church for their attack on Andre Serrano’s Piss Christ in the NGV. Graffiti writers, like Pork, that cap and tag as a form of conquest and censorship. And BUGA-UP, graffiti to stop tobacco advertising, vigilantes with a specific type of art, selling a particular message in mind, not exactly the artistic kind but still ‘art’ in the advertising copy sense.

Revolutionary Council target Fairfield Industrial Dog Object

Malicious Vandalism

Paul, the vandal has been busy again with a spray-can again around Brunswick frenetically scribbling across street art and writing some nasty rude words on pieces. Paul is clearly a malicious vandal unlike the people whose work he is vandalizing. (I wrote about AWOL’s response to Paul’s vandalism in Vandalism @ Brunswick Station)

Lush repaints some of Paul's damage @ Brunswick Station

Now I don’t want to give this, or any other, vandal publicity but I do want to use this, and other examples, to demonstrate differences in vandalism. There is a clear difference between malicious and non-malicious vandalism that is not recognized in Australian law. Malicious vandalism is the opposite of benevolent vandalism, like the street art. Street art could be described in these terms as ‘benevolent vandalism’, or, ‘egocentric vandalism’ (that would describe tagging). Street art is clearly not malicious vandalism as there is no intention to destroy or other malice. Finally, there is self-righteous vandalism when the vandal seriously believes that the vandalism is morally/religiously justified (historically associated with iconoclasts). For example, when in 2007 Liberal MLA Steve Pratt stupidly vandalized/buffed street art he believed that he was morally justified and was unaware that the Edison Park Disc Golf Club commissioned the art.

When Heather B. Swann’s “Gates of Hell” was vandalised at the end of 2007. Melbourne City Council described it being “maliciously vandalised”. I was impressed with the Council’s use of language explaining the absence of the sculpture but in not distinguishing between malicious and non-malicious vandalism in street art they are hypocritical. (“Gates of Hell” was an excellent sculptural installation in Degraves Place part of that years’ City of Melbourne’s laneway project. The black subterranean arch was filled with barking black dogs, Cerberus and more; it fitted in perfectly into the architecture of the building whose wall it occupies, an excellent site-specific work to encounter coming up from the underground.)

Vandalism @ Brunswick Station

The large wall at the far north end of Brunswick Station has been covered with excellent aerosol art for years and repainted annually sponsored by Villain (stockists of spray paint, designer toys, art, books and clothing). Villain has been presenting this wall for three years, with a different mural each year. These murals have been defaced before but this time something different happened.

Adnate, Slicer, Itch, Morta, Deams, Zode, AWOL and UDS were repainting it this year. It was almost finished when the painting was defaced by a vandal, who slashed it with lines of pink spray paint. It was an angry and aggressive attack. The vandal revelled in ruining the work of these artists before it had even been completed. The vandal was some guy called Paul – he wrote his name along with angry messages with the same spray paint. It was like he looking for a fight.

Part of the wall in its slashed state.

Paul also trashed some of other pieces and not others – so obviously he had a particular antipathy towards the artists painting the wall. He also damaged two new pieces just around the corner from the large wall and a large blockbuster style AWOL that has been up at the station for many years. Paul clearly doesn’t like AWOL’s work and has been spraying over it around Brunswick.

Part of AWOL's restoration that was again slashed.

Inspired by the vandalism, AWOL cropped the piece by buffing parts of it with a paint roller into a blockbuster style version of AWOL. Undeterred, Paul vandalized this but with the cropped buffing form it was easy for AWOL to quickly return it to its second state incorporating Paul’s spray-paint into the piece. Now that he was just another contributor to AWOL’s piece, Paul gave up. AWOL retouched his old piece, but two pieces were not so easy to repair and remain slightly damaged by Paul’s aerosol slashes.

Both AWOL and Paul are spraying on Brunswick Station walls; the difference is that AWOL’s work is beautiful and creative whereas Paul’s actions are ugly and destructive. Finally AWOL added the last word to the large wall in this aerosol battle: “AWOL – Always Winning Over Losers”.

Another Banksy Gone

Now destroyed the Banksy rat in Hosier lane

Vandals employed by the Melbourne City Council have destroyed a Banksy rat stencil in Hosier Lane. “Council clean-up claims Banksy artwork” Thomas Hunter  (The Age April 27, 2010) After the owners of the Nicholas building unsuccessfully trying to protect Banksy’s “Little Diver”, off Flinders Lane, from a freelance vandal who poured paint into the gap in the plexiglass. This time the Council destroyed a Banksy stencil themselves.

Now destroyed Banksy’s “Little Diver”

I know that many street artists, probably including Banksy, will look on this philosophically. The buffed space will be a canvas for new creations; this is good for the artist but it is not good for the public or the history of street art. Street art is not the property of the street artists – it belongs to everyone. Even if the artist intends for the art to be ephemeral there is no reason for their wishes to be carried out; the person giving the gift does not get to determine how the gift is used.

In a few hundred years time there will be tourists look at a piece of graffiti preserved under plexiglass, or its future equivalent, and read a notice that explained that this rare piece of street art was preserved due to unusual circumstances when most was removed at the time by the local authorities who viewed it as vandalism. And the tourists will shake their heads and comment: “It was the city councils who were vandals destroying this art.”

I know that this will happen because I have seen the sgraffito images of a knight on horseback in Canterbury Cathedral preserved under plexiglass. Many of the painted walls of the Cathedral were scraped clean of painted images by the authorities in previous centuries because they believed that such images were wrong. The current trend to remove graffiti carries with a similar religious fervor. In 1992 in France a local Scout group damaged two prehistoric paintings of bison in the Cave of Mayrière supérieure near the French village of Bruniquel in Tarn-et-Garonne, earning them the 1992 Ig Nobel Prize in archaeology.

What about future history? Or are we at the end of history when the past but not the present must be preserved?

P.S. 29 October 2013, another Banksy bought the buff this year (see the report in The Age) and last year another Banksy was been destroyed by plumbing in Parhran (see Signed & Numbered‘s report).

Moreland Sculpture Show 2009

Early Tuesday morning I bicycled to see the Moreland Sculpture Show 2009 at Bridges Reserve in Coburg. Although it was only 10am I was not alone in the park. Some people were walking through on the way to the shops and they stopped to look especially after walking over Kitty Owens and Mary Zbierski pavement painting ‘Magic Carpet’ (Ghost Chinese Market Garden). And, also a class of children from Coburg Primary School, from just across Bell St., were looking at the sculpture with their teacher.

Kitty Owens & Mary Zbierski - "Magic Carpet (Ghost Chinese Market Garden)"

Kitty Owens & Mary Zbierski - "Magic Carpet (Ghost Chinese Market Garden)"

At the entrance of the park Tim Craker’s “Botanical Data Files” is a banner of images of leaves cuts from orange plastic fencing. Craker leaves the cut out remains under the installation. Over the years there has been an increased focus on the annual theme of the show; this year’s theme was “Growth”. There is increased interest in ephemeral art rather than traditional sculpture in permanent materials with the inclusion of a $1,000 Ephemeral Award (non-acquisitive). And the definition of the sculpture for the show has been expanded to definitely include installations. Last year’s winner “The Future is Now” by Joel Bliss is still on exhibit in the park. (See my review of last year’s Moreland Sculpture Show. )

Stephanie Karvasilis -  'The Grass is Greener'

Stephanie Karvasilis - 'The Grass is Greener'

Many of the works on exhibit were by artist-gardeners that incorporated living pants in the sculptural work; (see my entry on Artist-Gardeners). ‘The Grass is Greener’ by Stephanie Karvasilis is a portable garden, a suitcase full of grass. Karvasilis’s work exists in multiples, one of which can also seen in the Victoria St. mall, in Coburg’s shopping strip. Amanda Hills includes growing parsley in her sculpture/installation ‘Apiaceous (liked by bees)’. And Gina Cahayagan’s ‘Bird’, although basically a pot plant holder in the shape of a bird, is ingeniously made of mostly of plastic cable ties.

David Marshall - 'Petecormic Growth'

David Marshall - 'Petecormic Growth'

David Marshall’s sculpture ‘Petecormic Growth’ is also clearly a gardening sculpture. ‘Petecormic Growth’ is a fantastic concept using the Pete plastic bottles stuck into a large burnt log. During the drought in Melbourne people have these bottles stuck around their garden and Marshall has made this ordinary object look like beautiful crystals.

Laurie Collins - 'Seed'

Laurie Collins - 'Seed'

There are sculptures in the show made of more permanent materials. Laurie Collins sculpture ‘Seed’ is a circle of found metal objects with a painted green sprout at the centre. And looking closer, on the green sprout a male and female figure sprout. Tony Farrell’s ‘Out of the Ashes’ a metal base relief scene made using found materials. Regina Wells followed recent trends of using mirrors in sculpture with her work ‘Still Reaching For The Sky’, a cluster of pine logs with mirrors on top reflecting the sky; the school kids said that it looked “like sushi rolls”.

Regina Wells - 'Still Reaching For The Sky'

Regina Wells - 'Still Reaching For The Sky'

The exhibition included two political works Liz Walker’s ‘Advance Australia Where?’ that was damaged on Sunday 14/6 had been replaced with a photo and a notice from the Moreland Council. Moreland Sculpture Show has had problems with vandalism for many years but vandalism with a Australian nationalist political agenda is new.

There was also an anonymous inclusion of a site-specific, post-minimalist, plastic-crate sculpture with collage details from the ‘High School for Coburg’ group that was not officially part of the show.

Marynes Avila - 'Ancient'

Marynes Avila - 'Ancient'

Alice Parker’s ‘Growth’ fabric minimalist installation didn’t really work. Dawn Whitehand’s ‘Earth Eggs’ made from unfired clay that would naturally decay was unspectacular. Helen Pollard’s ‘Carry the Message’ made of junk mail origami cranes were very ordinary. And Jo Zito’s ‘Roba Trovata’ was simply ugly.

Moreland Sculpture Show


The solution to the recurrent vandalism of the Moreland Sculpture Show in previous years has been found with a change of the location from Coburg Lake Reserve to Bridges Reserve. This along, with the threat of video cameras watching the sculpture reported in the Moreland Leader, has allowed even some fragile sculptures to survive, so far unscathed.

The sidewalks of the park are covered with stencil painted signs announcing the show; showing the extensive influence of stencil art on Melbourne.

The theme of the show is “the future is now.” Given the threat of global warning this was interpreted by most of the artist as an environmental concern. Recycling is a dominant theme of the show; 9 of the 19 artists used recycled material in their sculptures. The use of recycled steel by Mark Cowie in “The Kneeling Square” or Kelly-Ann Lees “Totem After Kippel” demonstrate that good non-figurative public sculpture can be made from recycled materials. Tanja George’s “Tur Door: Please Open”, uses recycled steel in the tradition of Ernst and Picasso’s sculptures transforming these found materials into a figure.

Bonnie Lane took the use of recycled materials to an interesting extreme with her work “All You Need”. Lane found all she needed on the streets of Moreland, obviously making good use of the recent hard rubbish collection. She found enough for a home, well, a letter box, front door, chairs, coffee table etc. And she arranged this as a home behind the wire fence at the back of the pool to surreal effect.

Not all of the sculptures with an environmental theme were made of recycled materials. One of the best sculptures in the show is Jim Howson’s “In need of reversal”, showed a historical view of the local environment in a series of four elegant eucalyptus leaf forms in steal and wood. Candy Stevens went further on the environmental theme creating a living sculpture of grass, titled prosaically “Keep Off the Grass”.

With all of the sculptures on environmental themes or using recycled material it is important to note that there were other good sculptures. Paul Allen’s impressive “Mandala #3” a rather two-dimensional sculpture of milled steel painted red, yellow and black that transforms the view of the park when you look through it. And, David Marshall’s “Quinta Essentia” of stone and steel makes a hero of the humble paperclip without looking like a Claus Oldenburg.

Some of the sculptures would be better suited to private or smaller gardens, like Liz Walker’s “Shop Till You Drop” (I last saw it in a gallery but it looks even better out in a garden with a small tree growing in it). Yoshi T. Machida’s “Where to?” would look great in a smaller intimate garden; it looks like a large bird with elegant curving metal legs and body of wood and stone.

Melbourne needs more public sculptures especially in the suburbs and it is good to see so many strong works in this year’s Moreland Sculpture Show. I hope that other city councils follow Moreland’s example.

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