Category Archives: Culture Notes

Life in the Fast Lane

“Graffiti writers don’t read. They just look at pictures.” The author told me when he dropped his book off. Film maker, musician, graft writer and now author. I first encountered “S.D. Rokkatansky” (SDR) five years ago watching his Graff Hunter videos online. At the time he was only living a few blocks away and I’m happy to call him a friend. This is his first novel but I’m not going to pull my punches with this review.

Spud Rokk Life in the Fast Lane

Road to Redemption – Life in the Fast Lane is a youth crime novel set in Melbourne in the mid 1990s. The worst thing about this novel is the title that sounds like a Christian story of hope when it isn’t and there are so many other books called Road to Redemption. I really hate the title. But that is judging the book by its cover and so is bitching about the appearance of poor copyediting and clunky book design.

Still on the subject of the book’s cover what is the parental advisory logo doing on the cover? It not a legal requirement, maybe it is a marketing code to attract the teenage readers, the very kind of readers who should read this book.

So why did this novel need to be written at all? Not just because some teenagers would buy it. Firstly, there aren’t enough low level crime novels, people are always writing about murders and major crimes as if those crimes happen everyday. Shoplifting, tagging, selling weed, stealing cars, breaking and entering happen everyday and these are the crimes that the central characters are committing. There aren’t enough novels written about doing graffiti (why I paid my money for the Pozible campaign). There aren’t enough novels about living in Melbourne’s outer suburbs and the war on teenagers has been a continuing feature of society for decades.

Graffiti writers are prone to boasts and exaggerations about their deeds but the story didn’t strike me as false (or redemptive). The story was more Ancient Greek with nemesis punching the protagonist Tommy hard in the solar plexus for his over-reaching hubris.

SDR was in that scene in the 1990s doing graffiti and probably other shit so there are good details about the formulas for ink markers, the popular brand clothes, the brands of perfume and dog food but I wanted more descriptions.

I also wanted more descriptions of the characters because it was hard to keep the relationships between all the characters in mind, they needed more of a backstory or an explanation and not expect the reader to work so hard. Tommy is a bit too much, it was hard to keep him in focus with his diverse activities: rapping, graffiti, cars…

Too often characters have their “mouth agape” as if they are all a bunch of slack jawed yokels. SDR is nowhere near as good a writer as Irvine Welsh and SDR’s novel is written in the third person rather than Welsh’s superb first person stream of consciousness. But it did remind me of Welsh’s drugsploitation novels, the narrative alternating between the group of young men and young women. The young women are a lot more serious than the young men. The seriousness of the young women is contrasted to the young men who regard life a series of drinks, drugs and other escapades.

S.D. Rokkatansky Road to Redemption – Life in the Fast Lane (Carry Case Publishing, 2015, Australia) soft cover, 286 pages.

Coburg Carnivale – on authenticity and robots

This post about Coburg fades in and out of focus because I am jet lagged but read on and forgive me for my omissions and digressions because this is a local story about authenticity… and robots! There is a robot pushing baby carriage with a baby robot in it…

Robot performer Coburg

… Where am I?

I am in Coburg, the suburb in Melbourne, not the city in Germany. It used to be called Pentridge but that became the name of a prison, so it was changed to Coburg to make it sound more like the British royal family but that’s not important now. What is important to me now is to eat some Lebanese cheese pies and drink fruit juice at the Lebanese bakery overlooking the parking lot. Mulberry juice tastes great, just one of the benefits of living in a neighbourhood with a large Muslim population is that you have a great selection of fruit juice available…

… What is going on in the parking lot and Victoria Mall?

The Coburg Carnivale (sic.) presented by the Coburg Shopping Precinct and Moreland City Council. I always seem to be jet lagged during the Coburg thing or whatever it is called… no, it is definitely called the Coburg Carnivale (sic? Or if it was in italics would that make it all right? Is it important?)

It is also included in the Melbourne Fringe Festival (not a curated festival) to market to the hipsters. The Coburg Carnivale is definitely curated, it has a community, arty vibe to it and none of that carny festival feel. I suppose that the Coburg Shopping Precinct didn’t want anyone honing in on their trade.

Wow! The parking lot at the back of Coles in transformed, there are more people enjoying it than when it is full of cars. It should be a plaza all the time rather than another ugly carpark. Why do Australians believe in the right to free parking and no vehicle emission standards? I’m digressing, focus, focus …

… There is some art work around; public seating, like Callan Morgon’s Switchback deserves serious consideration as social sculpture. More gold is being applied by Alica Bryson-Haynes and Ria Green, see my earlier post about it.

Alica Bryson-Haynes and Ria Green, The Golden Opportunity Shop

Alica Bryson-Haynes and Ria Green, The Golden Opportunity Shop

… What time is it?

Saturday 26 September about 1:15pm, the sun overhead and it is pleasantly warm. Eid Mubarak to all my brothers and sisters of Moslem faith or “Bayramınız mübarek olsun” to my Turkish neighbours; I was reminded of this because I flew on Royal Brunei airlines. It is worth noting this fact because it was conspicuous by its absence at the Coburg Carnivale. I can see why, even though Coburg has many Moslems living here for generations, a mosque and a private Islamic school providing primary and secondary education, it is not something that you would advertise for a festival …

…. Okay if this is Coburg, then why are there so many South Americans around?

You are right. There are a lot of South Americans. It is Mosaik Experiences, a social enterprise providing authentic Latin American cultural experiences. But is that really authentic to Coburg’s population? When is a local festival not a local festival? How to unpack and explain that? The inauthentic authenticity of the festival is beginning to make my head spin as I am still having difficulty with reality due my jet lag…

Future of Arts in Melbourne

Imagining that Melbourne would become the centre for the arts and literature in the late 1970s could only be done with assistance of copious amounts of alcohol or other drugs. The post-industrial future of Melbourne was not secure and sections of Australia society was still openly hostile to any arts. The arts were considered a foreign, effeminate, waste of time and money compared to the macho occupation of exploiting natural resources by farming or mining. At the time Australia was suffering from ‘the cultural cringe’ that rejected any local cultural achievement as automatically inferior, the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ that strived for a mediocre undistinguished population and, consequently, a brain and creative exodus. It is amazing that Melbourne got this far, after all it could have become like Detroit.

Eleni Arbus at The future of arts in Melbourne forum

Eleni Arbus at The future of arts in Melbourne forum

The “Future of Art in Melbourne” was public forum on Thursday 13 August held on the upper floor of Melbourne Town Hall. There were about two hundred people were there but for anyone who missed the event the City of Melbourne has put three videos of it on YouTube.

Keynote by Councillor Rohan Leppert

Panel One: Ben Eltham, Eleni Arbus and Tony Yap (facilitated by Nelly Thomas)

Panel Two: Fiona Tuomy, Lynda Roberts and Christian Thompson (facilitated by Nelly Thomas)

Not that you missed much. Ben Eltham pointed out the eternal fault line between the underground and mainstream culture in Australia but then Luke McManus at the forum representing graffiti and street art, so it is not a major fault line.

The plan for the future of the arts in Melbourne does not address the megacity that Melbourne has become, it is just a plan for the City of Melbourne. What is needed if for the multiple local councils, at least in the inner city (is there life north of Bell Street?), to have a united plan for the arts. Actually the City of Melbourne’s plan addresses only a small part of the City of Melbourne; most of the focus of planning is on Melbourne’s cultural precinct. Even with a percent for public arts from the developments at Docklands the area has been written off as a cultural wasteland, well, what could you expect from Yuppies?

The biggest mistake of the forum was to think that future of arts in Melbourne is about art; it is not, it is about culture, life and everything else. It is not just the millions of cultural tourist attending major events in the city, the arts in Melbourne effect the shopping and hospitality sector and real estate prices. Although underground artists are very familiar with their impact on real estate prices, as they are slowly price them out of the areas that they first colonised, it appears from Eleni Arbus’s talk that some real estate developers remain ignorant.

A Hipster Conversion for lease in Brunswick

A Hipster Conversion for lease in Brunswick

At the risk of all that interstate rivalry bullshit, Melbourne is in competition in the culture stakes with all the other capitol cities in Australia, except for Perth. At first only Melbourne and Sydney were really in the race although Adelaide has the long established Arts Festival. Canberra has the national central position but lacks the history. Queensland has recently started with major exhibitions at GOMA. Hobart is also in with a running with MONA.

The Suburbs in Melbourne’s Art

In Melbourne’s suburbs we still live in houses with bullnose verandahs, wooden fretwork and other Victorian architectural ornamentation built on a network of roads laid out in nineteenth century. The dream of domestic bliss was transported to the Australia, much like rabbits, foxes and other introduced species. Now the British home, like the other introduced species has gone feral creating sprawling suburbs around Melbourne and Sydney.

Adrian Doyle, Never Forget to Remember' 2015 (photo courtesy of the artist)

Adrian Doyle, Never Forget to Remember’ 2015 (photo courtesy of the artist)

Mass suburban living was a nineteenth century invention. It’s inventors, the local councils and property developers, had very little experience of suburban life; they might have grown up in a suburb but it was very unlikely that their parents had, and highly improbably that their grandparents had. Without experience, or any other evidence, many assumptions were made about suburban life. One popular assumption about the suburbs are that they are devoid of culture and yet this is where the majority of artists now live.

Just as modernists painters strived to depict the new urban environments of the modern city, the post-modernists strive to depict the suburbs. Generations of artists have grown up in Melbourne’s suburbs and some are now countering the romantic myths of locations of creativity by depicting the suburbs in their art. How to depict the suburbs is an important question for contemporary artists. What is important in a depiction of the suburbs?

Performance artist, Michael Meneghetti told me, “My house looks exactly like a Howard Arkley painting.” Meneghetti lives in Brooklyn, the outer suburb of Melbourne and not the one in NYC. The suburbs with all their ‘featurism’ was the main complaint of Robin Boyd’s The Australian Ugliness. Yet the Howard Arkley celebrates this featurism of the patchwork of patterns.

Jason Waterhouse, Dwelling, Coburg

Jason Waterhouse, Dwelling, Coburg

In Melbourne sculptor, Jason Waterhouse plays with the familiar shape of houses and by distorting the materials of suburban life. Urban intervention artist, James Voller installs photographs of suburban houses on suburban objects. And Adrian Doyle has long used the suburb as the central feature of his art.

There aren’t that many, in Melbourne. I could include Reg Mombassa’s pop-surrealist images mythologise suburban landscapes and Ian Strange’s (aka Kid Zoom) painting, film, photography, sculpture, installation and site-specific interventions involving suburban houses. Many artists must still be in denial about their suburban roots for there is a lot of anxiety and paranoia in the assumptions about suburban life.

In his recent exhibition of paintings and installations, ‘Never Forget to Remember’ at Dark Horse Experiment, Doyle returns to the pitched roof form of the suburban house. Doyle’s ‘Coin House’ consists of a basic house form made of one dollar coins on a marble slab. It is the obvious image for suburbia but does it tell the enough of the story of suburbia? Perhaps, Doyle’s patchwork of images in his paintings are better at depicting the diversity housed in the uniform buildings. His paintings of suburban existence tries to get that mix of ‘sarcastic nostalgia’ in a mix of techniques and paint. Of course, Doyle’s suburbia is a matter of nostalgia, memories and dreams because he has lived in the Melbourne’s inner city for years now.

Paying to Play – Art & Craft Shops

Yesterday, a friend was telling me about auditing all his art material. It was a familiar story, many creative people have more craft and art supplies than they know what to do with or will even have time to use. I have recently inherited all the unused art materials from an aunt of mine, an amateur artist.

Senior Art Supplies

The desire to be a creative individual is a strong drive in contemporary society, the ideas of expressing your identity through art or crafts because you can’t be alienated from what you have made. This desire is easily exploited in the sale of materials to assist your creativity and the marketing of creativity and artistry is just another way of selling more products. It is the compilers in the art world are the only ones who can really make a profit (the publishers, the suppliers, the performance venues, etc.) rather than the creative individuals and art supply shops are compliers of materials. A couple of major chains completely dominate Melbourne’s art supply shops.

When I was in a band I knew of venues where you had to pay to play and maybe if you attracted a large crowd you might make some money. If you are a writer you will know about vanity publishing or a visual artist you will know about rental space galleries (see my post on Rental Spaces). However, there is more to it than the costs in producing and marketing a performance or publication. These are the obvious instances of exploiting the artists but the whole creative industry is exploiting the idea of being an artist, a musician or other creativity individual. A lot of equipment and materials have to be bought before you can exhibit or perform.

This is where the art supply shop comes into the story of art. The artist, or potential artist, is drawn in to the shop by the attraction of chromatic rows of paints, pencils, pastels and coloured papers; the orderly world of brushes, palette knives and prepared canvases; the availability of everything that you could imagine creating with and more.

In his book 50 Techniques of Magic Craftsmanship, Salvador Dali recommends buying something new every time that you visit an art supply store. But before you do ask yourself do you really need all those coloured drawing inks, tubes of paint or sketch books?

Remember, if you are an amateur or professional artist, the most expensive thing that you can spend on art is your time. Instead of buying some new materials only buy what you need to replace. You don’t need to spend money and expensive equipment to be creative. You can buy a HB2-6 pencil and paper in stationary or 2 dollar shops. Porn magazines are cheaper than life models and twice as useful. There is nothing wrong with making your art practice around your income: that is the first step in making it sustainable. Dancing, singing and beat-boxing are free.

That said the creative industry is not as bad as the exercise and sports industry. Walking is free, no equipment required and amongst the best exercises that you can do.

Logic and Art

Given: the waterfall and the illuminating gas

We assume that there is a logic to beauty and art. If x is art and y is equal to x then y must also be art. If you think that x#1 is beautiful then it would be reasonable to assume that you would agree that x#2 is beautiful. If not; then why not?

Artist painting at Flinders Street

Artists propose these questions all the time. If one Elvis is desirable then why not have more than one concluded Andy Warhol. If puppy dogs and flowers are beautiful therefore a giant puppy made of flowers must be beautiful concluded Jeff Koons.

The word art is used as both a category and a quality and this duality confuses many discourses about the nature of art.

If art is a quality with a certain cut off point, a bench mark of quality, then there is no such thing as bad or poor art. Are we talking about what qualifies to be entered into the category or about the quality? The idea that art is a category or a quality has led some people think that there is a rule book for art (sent down by God at the same time as the 10 Commandments) and become disillusioned when they discover that artists aren’t playing by this imaginary rule book. That the image wasn’t drawn freehand, that other people worked on it, that it was done to make money…

The distinction between the category and the quality of art is often raised in discussions about the defence of work accused of obscenity or pornography people will bemoan that they wish that it was a great work of art, as if, only great works of art are worth defending.

If art is a category is that there should therefore be parameters that define the category. However, any attempts to find such parameters will be proved incorrect with counter-examples and excluding all counter-examples to the category of things that are called ‘art’ but aren’t becomes a curmudgeonly position because art is part of a continuing culture and not part of a narrowing category.

The idea of a category of art has emerged after many of its contents were created as ‘art’, whatever it is, is an idea that has been made up by people as they went along and there are several different versions of ‘art’ in the last five hundred years.

However, art is not a category that can be empirically defined, such as a particular wave length of light. It is not a football code, there is no rule book that defines art. The more stringent the code that is thought to define it, ersatz art and the ossification of the art. The more that the logic of a rule book is applied to art the more that it becomes a tired, stale version of its former incarnations.

Art is sequential and each work is part of a very long series, a series that we keep on adding prequels as well as sequels too. The items in the series have a family resemblance because they are members of the series rather than that they can be a defined category because of particular qualities. Examining the items out of sequence makes no sense and nor is it possible to predict through logic too far ahead in the sequence.

Since Duchamp other artists have humourlessly followed the same logic that he successfully employed but as they have a different position in the sequence their desire is different; not to collapse the boarders of art but to extend them.

Wilson Avenue Urban Bouldering

The construction has been going on for months but the small new park off Sydney Road has opened in time for the school holidays. There is still work going on, a bit more paving and a wall for Makatron, Itch and Otis to finish painting but lots of people are already using it. I enjoyed the temporary pop-up park in Wilson Avenue February and March 2014 and I was keen to see the finished park. From a simple intersection, a more complex area has been created and at the centre of the complexity is a physical puzzle, an urban bouldering form.

Wilson Avenue Park

The plan for the small 700 square metre park won the Planning Institute of Australia (Victorian Division) Best Planning Ideas – Small Projects 2014 award. The initial public reaction has been just as enthusiastic. I spent almost an hour there just sitting in the sun, talking with people, watching how they used the space.

When I arrived a couple of little girls had found that the springy surface around the urban bouldering form was perfect for turning cartwheels. They were a bit too small to really climb the boulder but they had found their own use for the area. I talked to a skateboarder who hoped that they were not going to be put in skate stoppers as the moulded concrete seats and benches as they have excellent skating potential. Adding complexity to an area means that more people will different find uses for it.

Sam, a bouldering enthusiast explained the concept to me. “Bouldering is rock climbing for people, like me, who are scared of heights.” The short routes are close to the ground (under 3m.) so ropes are not required. The boulder terrain is suitable for novice to advanced climbers, with different trails of coloured holds. Sam told me that he normally climbs informal urban bouldering walls, like the one that used to be under the Burnley Bridge, and was unsure about “doing it in public”.

The Wilson Avenue urban boulder will be the first public art piece designed for bouldering. The boulder was designed Stuart Beekmeyer of Bouldergeist and fabricated by Big Fish.

Knowing that I was interested in micro-parks Stuart Beekmeyer started sending me emails and photographs from his Brunswick studio. Beekmeyer wrote, “I think people will be fascinated by the movement on the sculpture. It is a beautiful activity to watch.” And, after watching the people climb the sculpture today I agree with him.

Stuart Beekmeyer

Looking at one of the photos of the top of the boulder with the sunlight shining through making it glow golden it was easy to see the connection between it’s angular planes and a well known Melbourne sculpture, Ron Robertson-Swann’s Vault. At the time I received the email with the photo I was looking at photographs of Emily Floyd’s Public Art Strategy on EastLink. At the park the drains and forms are yellow, as are the native flowers. (Are these more references to Vault? Denton Corker and Marshall would love it.)

Stuart Beekmeyer has more ideas for the urban bouldering installations. “I really like the idea if getting artists to sculpt climbing holds in the  future so its sculpture on sculpture.” What would be better if Beekmeyer got artists to choose the colours for the hand holds because the selection of candy colours looks like hundreds-and-thousands.

There is a small mound of grass, a few small trees and a lot of complex paving in the park, a mix of concrete, asphalt, cobbles, wooden decking and the spongy surface around the boulder. The sculptural aesthetics of the boulder, in its central position, surrounded by seating determines the look of the small urban park and the way that people move around it. The new park at Wilson Avenue appears to be very successful and fun.


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