Category Archives: Coburg

A Hipster Conversion

I love the way that real estate agents describe the city. “In the heart of Brunswick bridal district.” There is a poetry to their succinct phrases flavoured with slight exaggerations. “For Lease, A Hipster Conversion” sign on the factory in Albert Street that previous was the studio of 3 Phase Design. “Ideally suited for cafe/restaurant/brewery” the sign continues, describing the range of larger hipster businesses. Hipster fashion boutiques, coffee shops and barbers would be looking for smaller premises.

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This is not a sign of the apocalypse. I don’t object to the gentrification of a suburb, but I prefer the hipsterfication because it improves cycling and other things. It is interesting that ‘hipster’ has entered real estate agent’s vocabulary. (See my post on Hipsters.) The long term industrial decline in Brunswick and Coburg, two suburbs in the north of Melbourne, left vacant many shops and factory spaces that were used as art galleries and studios.

I thought that the sign would be a good a way of introducing a list of art galleries in the area that no longer exist; I couldn’t list all the artist’s studios in the area, like 3 Phase Design, as that would be a very long list. For the all the local art historians; this is probably not an exhaustive list and corrections and additions are welcome. It does not include all the pop up gallery spaces that had one or two exhibitions nor business, such as cafes or bookshops that exhibit art.

696

696

696, 696 Sydney Road, from 2008 to 2009 street art shop and alternative commercial art gallery that stocked one off artist creations along with spray paints and magazines. It had a small back room exhibition space with bi-weekly exhibitions and events. 696 also had one-night only exhibitions in “the Yard” in the backyard. Toby and Melika went on to establish “Just Another Agency” representing illustrators and organising exhibitions. 696 then became 696 Ink, a tattoo parlour with exhibitions of pop surrealism. Some of the street art the 696 commission can still be seen in the alley way along one side of the shop.

Circus Gallery in North Coburg (2004-2008), a single room shop front gallery that has to be the most northern art gallery ever in Melbourne. It was up the hill from the old Kodak factory in North Coburg amongst a culture of old shops. The shopfront room alternates as a studio space for Andrew May and an exhibition space; a heavy curtain is drawn across the front window to make it a studio. The gallery had the Starving Artist Prize; the cost of entry for the prize was a can of food and the winners received the cans of food.

Eisenberg Gallery – The Victorian Museum of Experimental Art was at 126A Nicholson St. in East Brunswick on the intersection of Nicholson and Harrison streets. It was an artist run initiative that ran for a few years in a former shop space. The small space was not open but visible from the street through the large shop windows. Exhibitions changed regularly but mostly they were seen by the passing drivers stopped at the lights.

Dudespace was an ordinary private suburban house at 22 Cassels Road, Brunswick. Run by Geoff Newton who went on to open Neon Parc in the city. The house would become an art gallery when a t-shirt bearing the word “Dudespace” hung out the front. The exhibitions in a room in the house would only last a day and featured some notable artists including Juan Ford in 2006.

Pan Gallery was a small commercial gallery in the corner of a pottery supply shop specialising in ceramics that closed in 2011. (See my blog post.)

Ocular Lab, 2003-2010 an artist run initiative, meaning “a site for experimental and alternative models of artistic representation and activity that encouraged the development of professional practice” in a converted shop space in Brunswick with an external ‘billboard’ space.

OM Gallery, was well located opposite the Brunswick Town Hall and ran for many years. It was both a photographic studio and rental exhibition space in a converted factory.

Rinaldi Gallery on Victoria St., Brunswick was an attractive single shop front white room gallery with some one-off designer furniture and objet d’art also for sale. It was run by a very tasteful Italian woman for several years and exhibited serious emerging and mid-career artists.


James Voller’s Urban Interventions

I was disappointed when Voller’s giant colour paste-ups on the public toilets came down but then MoreArts is only a temporary urban art exhibition. Voller’s paste-up on the industrial rubbish bin at the station carpark, although slightly damaged, is still clearly visible and creating a wonderful illusion. Now there is a new image of another house by Voller on the public toilets, appropriately for Melbourne’s summer, it has a stripped awning.

James Voller, Coburg

James Voller is a photographer from New Zealand who is now based in Melbourne furthering his studies. His urban interventions with paste-ups the cover the whole surface make powerful works of art.

In 2011 I saw James Voller’s exhibition “Constructing Site” at Beam Contemporary. Voller’s photographs his urban interventions that used architectural paste-ups the play with the size and meaning of urban objects. I didn’t get around to writing the exhibition at the time, it was just some interesting photographs and I’d seen big paste-ups before.

Now that I’ve seen Voller’s work on site regularly in Coburg, very regularly, just about any time I go anywhere, as I pass by the public toilets opposite the mall or see the bin on the way to the train station, I think they are fantastic.

James Voller

What I find fantastic about Voller’s urban installations is that suburbia is often used as a metaphor for dull and unattractive and Voller is one of the few artists who can make impressive art about the subject. Public toilets are rarely seen as the site for art, although see my post on the Russell Street Sculptures, but we all need public toilets and rubbish bins.

Voller’s two installations improve this with flare. They have done so much to improve the ugly heart of Coburg, the massive stretch of tarmac supermarket parking lots around the railway station on the second block west of Sydney Road.

James Voller, Fragmented Patterns

James Voller, Fragmented Patterns


Free Books

The little Free Library in Coburg is along the Upfield bike track between Reynard Street and Moreland Station. It is a very well done; a neat little red school house style with a pitched roof and glass doors

.Little Free Library

The setting is completed with a matching red seat, a sign and a small garden, wedged in between a fence and the bicycle track. Guerrilla street architecture is practical way to help the whole community; public seating may be a useful as free books.

The sign reads: Little Free Library – Borrow, donate or exchange – Have fun – In memory of David J. Cumming – “Uncle Dicky”

I’ve no idea who David J. Cumming was but the little library is fun tribute to his memory.

little free Library

The collective noun for books is a ‘library’ and, although the Little Free Library is not a circulating library that circulates its collection by lending books, nor a research library that holds a collection, it is still a library. It is a street distribution/exchange library, that informally distributes books between people privately without records. Imagine encountering a free library a couple hundred of years ago, or in a totalitarian regime, an anarchic intellectual paradise.

It is an interesting cultural note that books are becoming increasingly difficult to sell new or old. New forms of book swapping are emerging: Book Crossing, Book Mooch and Little Free Libraries. http://www.bookcrossing.com http://bookmooch.com http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_swapping

According to Little Free Library Map there are also ones in Seddon, Kingsville and Hawthorn, and Thornbury. I didn’t find the one that was, according to the map, on Kendall Street in Thornbury near the Merri Creek. I wasn’t surprised, I’m sure that some come and go without being recorded, like many things on the street. http://littlefreelibrary.org/ourmap/


Pentridge – more on prison art

At the bottom of a box of old books, mostly about Africa that my parents brought over to my house I found Denton Prout and Fred Feely, 50 Years Hard, the story of Pentridge Gaol from 1850 to 1900 (Rigby Limited,1967, Adelaide).

It was an enjoyable read although not entirely focused on Pentridge Prison, there is a lot of other details about the Melbourne colony. Sometimes the book lost focus but I wasn’t bored, there is a dramatic short story about a night ride from Geelong to Melbourne that was indirectly connected to Pentridge. Towards the end there is a bit of an examination of nineteenth century penal theory and practice but the book is more about historical story telling than any overall thesis.

There were also a few more anecdotal details about William Stanford, the convict who carved the granite fountain in Gordon Reserve (above Parliament Station) including speculations on who was the model for the boy. However, amongst all these details the authors fail to mention, the crucial detail that Stanford had been an apprentice stonemason before immigrating to Australia.

Stanford Fountain, Melbourne

Stanford Fountain, Melbourne

“Stanford was allowed the use of a shed for his work. The magistrate also supplied him with a kit of tools, and when the artist wanted a model for the eagles which were to ornament the rim of the fountain , he arranged for a stuffed eagle hawk to be sent to Pentridge from Bendigo. Mr Paton also came to Stanford’s aid when he wanted a child to act as model for the nude figure forming the finial of the work – a youth holding up a basket of flowers. Stanford, it is said, made many request to the warders to allow one of their children to pose for the nude, although the warders were willing their womenfolk had other views.” (p.139-40)

The vast site of the old Pentridge prison continues to be rehabilitated and redeveloped into a housing estate. However, apart from the residential development and a few eateries there is little going on in the area. I notice that people keep on searching for ghosts in the grounds of Pentridge prison but it appears rather soulless in the daylight. The old carved granite bluestones retain character but the development appears lifeless. Stone work was a major feature of Pentridge’s prison regime in the early years of the prison, some of it perhaps carved with William Stanford himself.

Elliot Ronald Bull, Pentridge 1

Elliot Ronald Bull, Pentridge 2

Walking around Pentridge Village, as it is now called, I finally found the preserved mural by the aboriginal artist, Elliot Ronald Bull (1942-1979) in a yet unnamed lane, between Pentridge Blvd and Sentry Lane. Like Stanford, Bull already had already studied painting before being sent to prison. In 1960 (or 1962 or 1964) Elliot Bull painted the mural with ordinary house paint in “F” Division. (See my post on Prison Art @ Pentridge.) Although Bull’s mural at Pentridge is his most important surviving artwork (S. Kleinert, ‘‘‘Blood from a Stone”: Ronald Bull’s Mural in Pentridge Prison’, Australian Journal of Art, 14, no 2, 1999, p 93) There was nothing about its history and it probably adds less to the lane than it did to the prison yard.

Elliot Ronald Bull, Pentridge 3Elliot Ronald Bull, Pentridge 4


MoreArt 2014

James Voller in Fragmented Patterns, uses the side of an industrial rubbish bin and a public toilet on Victoria Street in Coburg, as the support for photographs of the facades of suburban houses where the classical arch has become an architectural cliche. The sense of perspective given by these large scale prints distorts/transforms the surrounding environment. Is it a toilet block or the front of a small house?

James Voller, Fragmented Patterns

James Voller, Fragmented Patterns

A nineteenth century iron lamp post outside the Brunswick Town Hall is covered in gold leaf; Ria Green and Aliça Bryson Haynes, Everyday Monument. It made me question if I could remember the lamp post before this transformation.

Ria Green and Aliça Bryson Haynes, Everyday Monument

Ria Green and Aliça Bryson Haynes, Everyday Monument

Seeking to transform the way that people look at urban/industrial landscape of Coburg and Brunswick is the intention of the annual MoreArts exhibition of temporary public art. Not all of the art succeeds in this kind of transformation, some of it has just been plonked in a location.

Others suffer from other more complex urban problems, including tagging and stickers on the billboard style works of Benjamin Sheppard’s Crown in the Jewell and Chris Mether and Anthony Mecuri’s Bubbles. Not that this is a major problem in itself but it does highlight MoreArts ignoring the greater quantity, more permanent, but unofficial transformative art occupying the same area, the street art and graffiti.

Anthony Sawrey, No Tree or

Anthony Sawrey, No Tree (or do you see the street art?)

Carla Gottgens Baggage, is a series of old suitcases supporting photographs of scenes from Gottgens life recreated in miniature models. Along with Gottgens Baggage at the Coburg Railway Station bike shed there was a little sign to indicate that it is an art installation in case the increasingly paranoid and insane people, who are increasingly treated as reasonable, sane and normal, might think it is a bomb. (“If you see something say something” – I see fear mongering and encouraging violence, paranoia and war crimes. What do you see?) At this point the attempt at a transformative experience is diminished.

Carla Gottgens, Baggage

Carla Gottgens, Baggage

Moreart has a badly designed guide, available online in PDF format, that needed to be rotated multiple times in order to read it. It has been a great irritation to use; I assume that it makes sense only if you know what it is meant to mean and have it printed out in hardcopy. So why bother putting it online in that state?


Street Art Notes June ’14

I should write a post about street art, I keep telling myself that, but what to write about? There is little to nothing is going on in the street. I’ve feeling jaded and I post some click bait: My Top 10 Melbourne Stencils. Still my point remains, so I will type it again; little to nothing is going on in the street. Sure another wall has been painted, sure another street artist is having a show in Collingwood, and sure Doyle has had another controversy with another mural but it is just more of the same.

Will Coles has been in the city again. Will Coles, Is This Art?

Will Coles has been in the city again. Will Coles, But is it art?

The only person currently doing anything worthwhile on the street right now isn’t in Melbourne. It is Peter Drew in Adelaide with his boat people street art. Peter’s paste-up boat people project is right for the streets because it is in the streets where the protest can be heard the loudest amplified with TV news coverage and Facebook. This visual form of protest has been called for by the refugee advocacy groups (see my post and my post). (This isn’t personal Peter; that’s one thing that critics and the mafia have in common – it isn’t personal)

No, I don’t want to write about Australia’s inhuman treatment of refugees again and again, it makes me despair. Should I mention that I came to Australia by boat, at this point? It was an ocean cruise ship, PO Oriana; even at the time I knew that it was a bizarre experience but that was nothing compared to the insanity of Australia current refugee policy.

I have to go for a walk and calm down in the cold air.

“Pillars of Community Celebration” by Aaron James McGarry

“Pillars of Community Celebration” by Aaron James McGarry

Looking at Coburg, my local neighbourhood there are stencil painted totem poles on corrugated plastic sheets attached to the trees in the Victoria Street Mall. They are “Pillars of Community Celebration” by Aaron James McGarry and the totem poles mix in with an earlier work by McGarry, in the mall, the koala bears in the trees. The koala bears are made from plastic shopping bags – and like his totem poles they will last for years. It is a new look for the area after the yarn bombing. Street art techniques continue to be employed on this busy local hub of el fresco eating and sitting.

Pillars of Community Celebration, Aaron James McGarry

Pillars of Community Celebration, Aaron James McGarry

Sitting is very important to this area; there are a group of men who regularly sit on the seats along the front of the library. There is plenty of public seating in Victoria Street Mall. Sitting is the contrary position to the pedestrians. Sitting is local, low energy and social. It has long been of interest to me (see my post of public seating in the city) although I don’t practice regularly it. On a suburban street I walk past a seat that some kind person has built into the fence of their house.


Melbourne’s Weather

On Thursday, taking advantage of one of the last sunny days of autumn, I bicycled along the Merri Creek to the old Kodak Bridge on Edgar’s Creek. I didn’t expect to find street art in the wilds of North Coburg but the pillars underneath this unused bridge is an excellent location. There above a couple of superb graffiti pieces with gold paint splatter highlights was a whole set of paste-ups by Phoenix.

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The graffiti writers below had carefully buffed their undercoat around Phoenix’s skull.

The remains of a camp fire under the bridge reminded me that although there are still pleasant days like this, the nights are getting colder. I’ve been resisting commenting on this for over a year now. I heard about Elmor Leonard’s rules for writing a novel – never start with the weather. Weather is dull conversation. However, Melbourne’s weather is part of its psychogeography, it influences the way that we move about the city, and it influences the writing of this blog.

Terry, the postman had a story for me about delivering mail in the city. “Looked out the back of the building it was all sunny, looked out the front of the building the city looked all sunny. Went outside and it was raining, directly above. Typical Melbourne weather.” That night we had the strongest winds in thirty years.

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Looking through my notes from January: “Street artists painting in the heat of the day. Too hot for me to attend; there is a heat health alert in the city with a maximum of 36 degrees is predicted. I feel like I have become a vampire living in perpetual twilight – the sun, it burns! It burns!)” This extreme weather does effect the culture, artists living in rural areas have to prepare their art collections for bush fires.

Melbourne’s weather influences when I choose to go out. September and October’s uncertain weather are Melbourne’s choice for arts festivals. You roll the dice, you take your chances, it could be good, it could be fantastic, it could be horrible. Melbourne’s population are tired of the bleak wet and cold winter weather (now for my Canadian cousins when I say cold I’m not talking about freezing, sub-zero Celsius temperatures that you would call cold – Melbourne’s cold is a freezing wind coming off the antartic ocean with or without rain).

Then the are the heat waves of extreme baking heat, days above 40 degrees and nights where the temperature does not get below 30. There is no humidity, the sun bakes the leaves on trees and bushes to a brown crisp. After a sever heat wave lasting for days there is a feeling like jet lag as your body deprived of adequate sleep catches up with the rhythm of the day.

Although Melbourne’s weather is a major topic of conversation there is very little contemporary art about the weather. It is not as if there isn’t modern and contemporary art about the weather; consider Duchamp’s Unhappy Readymade exposed to the Parisian elements or Joseph Beuys’s claim of artistic responsibility for any snowfall in Dussseldorf during February 1970. The artists who do comment on Melbourne’s weather are the paste-up artists, including Phoenix whose street art paste-ups warn about global warming are exposed to the elements.

Phoenix Kyoto t-shirt


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