Category Archives: Architecture

Sculptures in the Moat

In March 2014, a homeless man Gary Makin went snorkelling in the NGV’s moat collecting the coins. He was arrested – he should gone equipped with a buskers licence and told the police that he was a living sculpture. He would have been the most artistic thing that has been in the NGV’s moat for years.

That was until a few days ago when street sculptor, Will Coles placed some of his concrete giant soya sauce fish into it.

The moat of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) is now mostly empty, except for the prosaic coins and fountains. Once there were sculptures standing in its waters. Geoffrey Bartlett’s Messenger 1983 stood in the moat before being moved to the sculpture garden in the back of the NGV. Four years later Deborah Halpern’s Angel (1987-89) stood in the NGV’s before being moved to Birrarung Marr in 2006.

Deborah Halpern, Angel, 1987-89

Deborah Halpern, Angel, 1987-89

As a psychogeographer I am fascinated by the moats around Australian cultural institutions. There is something curiously medieval about moats. There are moats at Melbourne Zoo around some of the enclosures; there is also a moat around La Trobe University’s Bundoora campus. A moat, even an ornamental one, creates a clear separation between one area and another.

At the time of their design, La Trobe Uni opened 1967 and the NGV in 1968, their architects were clearly expressed with these moats the cultural divisions in Australia between the cultured and the barbarian hordes. The moat around the bastion of culture that is the NGV on St. Kilda Road symbolically removes it from the rest of the world, creating a fortress or a sacred island to protect the art inside.

Now there are no sculptures in the NGV’s moat; Will Coles sculptures have been removed. Now there only a few fountains including the curved steel fountain at the city end of the moat, Nautilus dedicated to the architect of the NGV, Roy Grounds.

Then there is the famous water wall entrance of the NGV that still delights small children. Originally the NGV had more courtyards and fountains, regularly spitting out jets of water amidst rocks. I find fountains in art galleries quaint, but there are a surprising number of water features in art galleries including MOMA.

Recently a friend asked me if I would move on to writing about fountains now that I had completed writing my book on public sculpture (Melbourne’s Sculptures – from the colonial to the ephemeral, due to be published by Melbourne Books later this year). I feel a kind of dread and can already smell the chlorine.


Of Wool & Slow Art

“I’m hopping that the sheep like the show.” Dylan Martorell told me.

Chaco Kato and Dylan Martorell, from the Slow Art Collective (SAC) have made a gateway for the Wool Week exhibition in the Atrium at Federation Square. A simple but impressive tent of red, orange, yellow and white woollen yarns, held down by eight giant balls of wool, framing the small exhibit of wool in fashion and furnishings. I was amazed that Kato and Martorell were able to pull off such a large elegant work that fitted beautifully with the Atrium’s architecture as often their art tends towards the chaotic.

Wool Week 2014 at Federation Square

Wool Week 2014 at Federation Square

Chaco Kato and Dylan Martorell are part of the Slow Art Collective (SAC) which has been around since 2009. The Slow Art Collective is not a fixed group, its members come and go. It continues to explore ideas around slow art and to challenge the conventional fast cultural exchange. Asking for a deeper reading rather than more.

The slow art is related to the slow food and the slow city movement in that it slows the pace down. Slow art involves bring what you are using in your life into art. If you buy materials they have to be re-used. Most importantly slow art is about slow exchanges of value rather than the fast, monetary exchange of value. It is about the slow absorption of culture through community links by creating something together an blurring the boundary between the artists and viewer. It is a sustainable arts practice, not an extreme solution; a reasonable alternative to deal with real problems in contemporary art practice.

Ironically some of the slow art is created very fast, spontaneous improvisation with humble materials and simple techniques. They have been very prolific in the last five years, only last Sunday I was listening Dylan Martorell audio art in the current exhibition at the Counihan Gallery. Visitors to the Melbourne Now at the NGV might have paused, as my brother and I did, in the SAC’s environmental installation, Marlarky made of recycled materials. Many of the SAC’s installations show an interest in functional architecture – their bamboo poles get used again and again.

A fortnight before I went to see Dylan Martorell and Chaco Kato at their Brunswick studio. I wanted to meet them after seeing their work for the last five years. They were busy working on one of the long bamboo poles, that have been used in many of their exhibitions.

Slow Art Collective at work

Slow Art Collective at work

There were boxes of wool in their studio to be assembled. The work is sponsored by Woolmark Company with a campaign slogan of “live naturally, choose wool”. The company and the campaign appears to be perfect fit for the SAC. After the Wool Week exhibition is finished the wool will be donated to the Knitting Group at Federation Square. In keeping with the idea of slow art the wool will continue to be used and reused.

SAC were attaching bundles of wool ready to be unrolled. They opened up the black plastic wrapping of one that they had prepared earlier, a great seed pods of wool, ready to spring out when installed. But it was impossible to imagine what the finished work would look.

The Wool Week exhibition at Federation Square also features three pens of sheep (rams, lambs and ewes). The sheep appeared to have no opinion of the products of their fleece but ewes were keeping a keen eye on the rams and the many people walking past.

Sheep at Federation Square

Sheep at Federation Square


Keep Hosier Real

Approximately 2000 people visit Hosier Lane every weekend, even on a cold, rainy Sunday in May. On this particular cold, rainy Sunday there were more than the usual number of people in Hosier Lane. People had to squeeze through the crowd that had gathered to rally in protest at a proposed multi-story hotel development in the aerosol paint covered lane.

Bride keeping Hosier Real

If you think that the lesson of the story about the goose that laid the golden egg couldn’t be more obvious, then you are seriously under-estimate the capacity of humans to be both greedy and stupid. The current proposed redevelopment of the old MTC/Chinese theatre site on Russell Street, that backs onto Hosier Lane into a multi-story hotel is not just an inappropriate development, it is a greedy and stupid.

Inner city Melbourne’s rejuvenation, the result of decades of planning, creating an event and spectacle based city brings people into the city. This in turn created a market for restaurants, shops and hotels – hotels, that would include the proposed multi story development.

Now a reasonable person would think that it would be in the interest of a development next to one of Melbourne’s major tourist attractions to be designed appropriately for its location but this would, again, under-estimate the capacity of humans to be both stupid and greedy.

I am not against development; I am not like Jeff Sparrow in Radical Melbourne moaning that the Melbourne’s Communist Party Headquarters, at 3 Hosier Lane from 1936 to 1939, is now occupied by a restaurant. What is needed is development that is appropriate to the location, that doesn’t simply occupy the space, that doesn’t simply take things away from the place without giving something back to the area.

Professor Roz Hansen, chairperson of the Ministerial Advisory Committee for the Melbourne Metropolitan Strategy points that the development doesn’t just threaten the tourist value the street art and graffiti in Hosier Lane it also threatens to overshadow the ‘Winter Garden’ in Federation Square.

This new development will also impact on the Babylonian-revival style Forum Theatre – the proposal admits it has no plans regarding the known vibrations from this live music venue. No doubt after it is constructed they will make a complaint and attempt to shut down the venue?

This is not to forget that Hosier Lane is distinctly different to the designed attraction of Federation Square or even the heritage listing of the Forum Theatre. The development also threatens services to the homeless that are provided by the Livingroom and Youth Projects in Hosier Lane. As well as, the pedestrian zone that the lane way has become.

Adam Bandt Keep Hosier Real

Describing these developers as “the real vandals” as Adam Bandt, Federal Member for Melbourne, did at the rally today is being too poetic and too kind. Perhaps I am being too kind in simply describing them as stupid and greedy.

There is an online petition and it is interesting to see that people are signing it from Brazil, Croatia, India, Italy and the USA, indicating that this is not simply a local issue.


Sculpture @ Melbourne University

There is an expectation of sculptures adoring the university’s buildings and gardens and Melbourne University’s collection provides a unique view of the history of sculpture in Melbourne. (Macquarie University established a Sculpture Park in 1992.) The removal of the iron fence around the grounds in 19th Century meant that grounds of Melbourne University were open to the public. However, although the sculptures are on public display they are in the separate space of the university and have a different history to that of the Melbourne’s public sculptures. This is not a guide to Melbourne University’s sculpture for that see Lorinda Cramer and Lisa Sulivan’s Sculpture on Campus.

Culture Rubble, 1993 by Christine O’Loughlin

Culture Rubble, 1993 by Christine O’Loughlin

Sculptures at Melbourne University have accrued over time – there has been no over all plan.  Brian Lewis (Foundation Professor of Architecture, 1947– 1971) was described by Ray Marginson as “an outstandingly successful ‘magpie’.” (“Impecunious magpies, or how to adorn a university with little ready cash – Ray Marginson, interviewed by Robyn Sloggett” University of Melbourne Collections, Issue 7, December 2010 Dr Ray Marginson was Vice-Principal of the University of Melbourne from 1965 to 1988.) This magpie aspect to the collection ties in with the earlier trend of ‘façadism’, as well as, Melbourne University’s outstanding collection of modern sculptures.

‘Façadism’ at Melbourne University is a struggle to accrue identity in the post-colonial new world, a kind of antiquarianism on a gigantic scale. It is a local version of the American multi-millionaires who moved whole European palaces across the Atlantic to feel more in touch with history.

The redevelopment of the city brought sculptures to Melbourne University. In 1890 the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the USA acquired northwest corner of Collins and Elizabeth Street. When Whelan the Wrecker demolished the building in 1959 and the group of bronze statuary that topped the entrance portico was donated to the University of Melbourne.

The sculpture depicts a sandal-shod Amazon giving succour to a widow with two children. It was modelled and cast in Vienna in 1893 and is similar to the sculpture that once stood at Equitable’s New York office. It was originally located at its new Architecture school at Mt. Martha but was relocated to the main campus in 1981.

In 1966 Whelan the Wrecker’s work provided more sculptures for Melbourne University when the Union Bank was demolished. Two figures meant to represent Great Britain and Australia, also known as Ada and Elsie. (Robyn Annear, A City Lost & Found, Whelan the Wrecker’s Melbourne, 2006)

The gateway to the underground car park with figures by Percival Ball (1845-1900) was also saved from demolition.

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The early appearance of abstract modern sculptures on the Melbourne University campus demonstrates the progressive university community compared to the rest of Melbourne. Inga King and Norma Redpath played a more important part in introducing modernist sculpture to Melbourne than Ron Robertson-Swann regardless of the brouhaha over Vault.

Inge King, Sun Ribbon 1980-82

Inge King, Sun Ribbon 1980-82

In 1980 Inge King‘s Sun Ribbon replaced a pond on the Union Lawn; it was what the university students wanted (Marginson p. 28). The sculpture is the gift of Mrs Eileen Kaye Fox in 1982 in memory of her parents Ernest and Fannie Kaye. In 1985 a group of students covered the sculpture in aluminium foil. Also by King on the campus is “Upward Surge” 1974–75 Steel Commissioned 1974 for the Institute of Early Childhood Development, Kew and installed in its current location in 2001.

Norma Redpath, Flying capital, 1970-74

Norma Redpath, Flying capital – Sydney Dattilo Rubbo Memorial, 1970-74

The Sydney Dattilo Rubbo Memorial by Norma Redpath 1970 (signed 1969-70) is a bronze capital on top of a black steel column. Prof. Sydney Dattilo Rubbo (1911-69) was the professor of Microbiology from 1945-69. Leading post-war sculptor Norma Redpath 69-73 studied sculpture at RMIT, 1953 was part of the ‘Group Four’ with Inge King, Julius Kane and Clifford Last. Other public sculptures by Redpath in Melbourne, the Facade Relief (1970–1972) at Victoria College of Pharmacy and the Victoria Coats of Arms (1968) on the front of the Arts Centre of Victoria.

Although Melbourne University has an good collection of sculptures featuring works by many notable sculptors and with examples from many different eras of sculpture, it is a peculiar collection that often picks up what others were casting aside.


Hidden Gem in Cemetery

The Springthorpe Memorial, completed in 1901, is one of Melbourne’s hidden gems, not rhinestones but an over-the-top extravagant diamond from the late-Victorian era. In 1933 the Argus praised it as “the most beautiful work of its kind in Australia”.

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When in 1897 Annie Springthorpe died giving birth to her fourth child, her husband  Melbourne prominent doctor and art collector, John Sprinthorpe was grief stricken. They had only married for ten years; privately he poured his heart out in his diary. Publicly to commemorate her he commissioned the most impressive memorial in Melbourne at the Boroondara General Cemetery in Kew.

No expense was spared. Dr Springthorpe assembled the all star team of his time: architect Harold Desbrowe-Annear, sculptor Bertram Mackennal and landscape gardener William Guilfoyle. Harold Desbrowe-Annear (1865-1933) was an admirer of Ruskin and his most well known work in Melbourne is the Church Street bridge, Richmond (1924). William Guilfoyle (1840-1912) was a landscape gardener and botanist who, in 1873 became the first curator of Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens. Sir Bertram Mackennal was Australia’s international superstar sculptor of his time. Although Mackennal was born in Fitzroy he was equally at home in England where he sculpted portraits of British royalty. Melbourne residents many know his friezes on Parliament house, his statue of Circe, 1893 in the NGV or his memorial to Edward VII in Queen Victoria Gardens.

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A gate with a shield creates an entrance way to the small landscaped area around the Springthorpe Memorial in the very crowded space of the cemetery. There is a small areas around the memorial with a few seats and some trees.

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The stain glass roof of the memorial gave the white marble statuary an unreal red glow. The large dome of red glass in a scale pattern reminded me that the snake as an ancient symbol of eternal life because the snake sheds its skin. The snake motif is repeated in the water spouts on the roof.

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There are so many loving words all over the memorial. On the tiled floor and bronze words in Ancient Greek around the inside of the entablature and English on around outside.

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Mackennal’s complex three figure group consists of a full length portrait of Annie Springthorpe laid out on a Roman style sarcophagus and surrounded by angles. The angel hovers over the tomb floating on a marble nimbus; the idea of carving a nimbus out of marble strikes me as absurd, trying to carving rock to look like vapour.

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There are a few other mausoleum worthy of architectural note at the Boroondara Cemetery including a gothic-revival chapel and an Egyptian-revival temple with fantastic detailing. And there are a few other tombstone carving worthy seeing including a tomb with a bonze dog on top reminiscent of the famous tomb in Highgate cemetery tomb of bare knuckle Tom Sayers, guarded by a carving of his faithful dog. But the Springthorpe memorial is over the top in its grief, opulence and luxury, it is a five handkerchief experience.

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Kitchen Status

Visitors to a private house in Melbourne are frequently shown into the kitchen to socialise. If they are in my house there is a combined kitchen and dinning room and is designed to socialise in. A century ago visitors would not have been shown the kitchen then kitchens were small narrow rooms near the back of the house with only space for one or two people in them at the most. Kitchens in a social and cultural context have changed, a complete reversal of status in the house.

Finishing up on my 2006 kitchen renovation

Finishing up on my 2006 kitchen renovation

Socialising in the kitchen allows the hosts to conveniently serve food and drink to guests and family without leaving the room. They are the entertainment hub in Melbourne’s homes from the wealthy to the poor; except where the old house designs do not allow for socialising in the kitchens.

Houses are the form of lifestyles, their architecture defines the way that we live. The architecture of rooms and their use in a house contains information about social hierarchies, taboos and other information about the way of life of its inhabitants.

My kitchen fills half of a large room that also functions as a dinning room and a central intersection of the house. It is the first room after the hallway that a guest usually enters. This combination makes the process of serving food at dinner parties so much easier. I can get up from the table and within a few steps reach the stove, fridge or anything else I need.

The change in the status of kitchens in our culture is a kind of parallel to the change in the status and social role of women. It is also an indication of social equality both in the greater society, in that kitchen staff are no longer commonly affordable, and in the family where the wife is no longer her husband’s servant. My wife and I share the cooking, I probably do slightly more. I’ve been a kitchen hand and I often help when my wife is cooking by cutting up onions or preparing other vegetables.

This change in the status of kitchens has also lead to a change in the way that food is enjoyed and the kinds of food enjoyed. Food preparation may involve designer utensils or novelty kitchen gadgets. Food is a chance to explore the variety of things to eat – fish sauce, Canadian maple syrup and Spanish olive oil can all be found in my kitchen.

In 2006 I built my own kitchen, screwing it together from a flat pack kit. I’m kind of proud of the biggest DIY job that I’ve ever done. Most Australians get professionals to do their kitchens and the kitchen in a Melbourne houses is one of the most expensive rooms. Mine has an island bench, the transition point between food preparation and consumption; most of the plates, bowls and cutlery are stored under the island bench. There is a great flow from the pantry and fridge, through to the cooking area and the finally the cleaning area and waste disposal, sink, dishwasher, and bins. There are three bins: one for compost, one for recycling and one for non-recycling. Then there is the area that where I feed the cat; it has a mat of newspaper because she likes to eat with her paws, dragging her food out of her bowl.

My kitchen is sparsely decorated. There are a couple of vases for flowers and a couple of my paintings on the dinning room side of my kitchen. The fridge is an odd centrepiece to one wall of the kitchen and acts as a kind of noticeboard and place for souvenir magnets. In the 1911 Marcel Duchamp made a small painting for the kitchen of his brother Raymond’s house, “Coffee Grinder”. “It’s normal today to have paintings in your kitchen but at that time it was rather unusual.” Duchamp said, noting the status change in kitchens.


Melbourne Now

Thirty-three years after that tumultuous turning point in Melbourne’s culture when Ron Robertson-Swann’s Vault (aka “The Yellow Peril”) was installed and then removed from the City Square. Melbourne Now is yellow; the exhibition’s logo is yellow, at the launch of the exhibition the Minister for the Arts, Heidi Victoria was dressed in yellow complete with yellow nail polish. Back in the 1980s Barry Humphries suggested that Melbourne should be called “the big Orange”, in reference to NYC moniker, “the big Apple”, but the orange trams are no longer on Melbourne’s streets. In Peter Tyndall blog post for 21/11/13 (reproduced in Melbourne Now) Tyndall suggests that Melbourne’s colour is black – that appeals to me (ha ha).

Thirty-three years ago it would have been impossible to have an exhibition of the quality and scale of Melbourne Now. There were not enough quality artists or gallery space in Melbourne then. Now Melbourne has become the city that Robertson-Swann’s sculpture anticipated, a city where the arts and design flourish.

Daniel Crooks, A garden of parallel paths, 2012 (still)

Daniel Crooks, A garden of parallel paths, 2012 (still)

Melbourne Now is huge exhibition covering 8000 square meters of gallery space in both of the NGV galleries, and extending out of the galleries into the sculpture garden at the back of the NGV International and onto Melbourne’s streets. It is all free and will occupy most of a day; it took me over three hours to just to get an impression of the exhibition. I’m sure that I must have missed something and I will happily to go back for another look.

The exhibition includes so much – painting, sculpture, drawing, art publications, design, architecture, fashion, music, and dance. I will try to focus on a just couple of aspects.

Parents take your children to this exhibition; later in life they might thank you for it when it is mentioned in Australian art history and there is plenty to keep kids engaged with this exhibition at the present. Children’s activities include making experimental music with The Donkey Tail Jr. on the mezzanine gallery of the NGV (St. Kilda Road) and adding silhouette bird stickers to the sky of Juan Ford’s huge work You, me and the flock. The Dewhurst Family supported both these features of the exhibition. Much of this exhibition is interactive; you can also make your own jewellery, design your own shoes out of cardboard or sketch in the beautiful room of taxidermy work by Julia DeVille (sketching materials: black paper, gold and silver pencils and boards provided).

Street art is a major part of Melbourne’s current art scene and the influence of street art, graffiti and tagging is clear in Melbourne Now. There is Ponch Hawkes photographs of tree tagging, Stieg Persson’s paintings, Reko Rennie’s paintings, Ash Keating’s video and Lush’s installation: Graffiti doesn’t belong in the gallery? It is typical of Lush to get his tag up everywhere. Daniel Crooks’ a great video installation A garden of parallel paths and a Rick Amor painting Mobile Call also present views of Melbourne’s graffiti covered laneways. The walls of Hosier Lane, with All Your Walls, are also part of Melbourne Now. (I will write about All Your Walls in a later blog post when the project is complete on Friday 29th of November.)

Some of the artists in Melbourne Now

Some of the artists in Melbourne Now

Finally with such a large collection of contemporary artists it is worth doing a bit of statistical examination: 56% of the artists are men, 44% are women and 11% identify as indigenous Australians. Indigenous Australians are well represented in the exhibition given that, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics “Victoria had the lowest proportion of people of indigenous origin at 0.6% of the total state population”. I only counted individually named artists and not groups. Compared to statistical break down of the artists to be included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial with only 32% women and 7.6% artists of African descent (see Hyperallergic “The Depressing Stats of the 2014 Whitney Biennial”) Melbourne Now is very balanced and representative.


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