If Melbourne was to be represented with a big thing, it would be a big spray can. So I applaud the big spray can by Ling in Wills Street because it acknowledges the graffiti in the city. It fits the location; its spray painted surface is vandalism resistant, and the west of the city needs more public art. It fits in with the street tree and the benches and really makes the location. And Ling has been spraying walls in Melbourne for longer than I’ve been writing this blog.
Ling’s big spray can is part of Flash Forward, a COVID safe cultural public art in central Melbourne’s lanes. Forty visual artists teamed with musicians in some inexplicable combination. And how could I resist a walk to see some artworks responding to the laneway?
There isn’t a path to follow for Flash Forward and I ran into other trails. Lanes that have long been a fixture in Melbourne’s graffiti and street art scene. So I was somewhat confused to run into Ling’s work again at Finlay Alley, given that there is no shortage of graffiti writers who also do murals in Melbourne.
Finlay Alley is an established location for graffiti. So established that there is one of the old “City of Melbourne street art permit stencils” at the entrance. And there are plenty of pieces by Sofles and others in the dark of the covered alleyway.
For years, if not decades, I have complained that public art events in Melbourne ignore the street art and graffiti that is all around them. Ignoring paintings the size of an elephant while promoting the work of some contemporary art-school trained artist. Pretending that they aren’t competing with the street art and graffiti.
Now when Flash Forward integrates them, I will be critical of its efforts because that is what I do. I appreciate Ling’s piece in Finlay Alley with its interlocked letter style and subtle fade from candy pink to purple. The problem with the big spray can and his mural is that it is obvious and bland. It is giant fantasy art.
Walking on. I’m only going to see a very small portion of Flash Forward.
At the end of Platypus Alley, high up on a building, an LED display counts forward, Yandell Walton’s End Passage. This is not the first time this very short alley has been activated with art. Sunfigo had his No Face exhibition in Platypus Alley in 2008.
Walton’s clock is kind of sterile compared to the dialogue that Sunfigo’s stencil of a digital watch reading “NOW has provoked. As I look at the lanes after Platypus Alley, Warburton and Rankins Lane, where street art by Night Krawler, Mandy Lane and others abound.
There are other outdoor exhibitions in Melbourne besides Flash Forward and the unauthorised street art and graffiti exhibitions. MONA’s corner has a photograph, James Capper’s “Prototypes of Speculative Engineering, Hydra Step” 2014. It is somewhere between art and advertising, the distinction is porous, and art percolates through the border. And in the inner city suburbs, there has been a noticeable increase in shop window art galleries Even The Age’s art critic Robert Nelson is looking beyond the four walls of a gallery, but only as far as gardens or their online presence.