Tag Archives: Melbourne

Sewers and the City

Capitalising on fear of the bubonic plague in 1901 the suburb of Haberfield was built in Sydney. Australia’s first planned model suburb had limited height, there were no pubs and no back lanes. The back lanes were used for the ‘night-soil cart’; you can still see the low doors in the brick fences in some of the lanes in Fitzroy. We can assume from the absence of lanes that houses in Haberfield was connected to main sewers. (For more on Haberfield read Art and Architecture for more on bubonic plague and its effects on Sydney see the digital records of NSW.)

A lane in Brunswick

                  A lane in Brunswick

In his book The Australian Ugliness, Robin Boyd was appalled at the tangle of overhead wires but he doesn’t get beneath the surface ugliness to notice that although these suburban homes that were now connected to telephone and electricity had not yet been connected to the sewers. That Melbourne had a telephone system before a sewerage system is a striking fact. In 1880 a telephone exchange opened in Collins Street and seven years later, in 1887 the first Melbourne homes to be connected to sewers. Some homes in the suburb of Frankston were only connected to the sewerage in 1991.

Bootscraper in Carlton

Bootscraper in Carlton

The architectural evidence for nineteenth century Smellbourne’s muddy, shit covered streets and open sewers is still evident, not just with network of back lanes, but in the iron boot scrapers, a necessary architectural feature, built into the entrances of its older buildings.

My own suburb of Coburg, in Melbourne’s inner north, contains many examples of nineteenth and early twentieth century suburban development, most with back lanes but a few without. Lincoln Street and the adjoining street have a single house block, instead of the usual double blocks with a laneway down the middle. In “Lascelles Park” development there only a lane between the houses on Jamieson and Lascelles streets and two very short lanes behind the four larger lots at the Reynard Gosling Road ends.

Over last century suburban planners were turning against lanes as more suburbs were connected to sewers. In the nineteen-eighties and nineties the Moreland City Council was sell off several of the lanes in Coburg as they were no longer used except for fly-tipping and discreet access for burglars. The bluestone cobbles are expensive to repair and make traversing the lanes uncomfortable, difficult or even impossible especially for people with disabilities, cyclist and even ordinary pedestrians.

In spite of all of this the inhabitants of Moreland now want to preserve the lanes. After a 2,400-signature petition was presented to Moreland City Council in September 2013 the Council resolved to maintain Moreland’s bluestone laneways and there is now a plan to preserve these lanes. The Council explains on it web page devoted to bluestone lanes that “Moreland values the network of bluestone laneways as a community asset which is an important part of Moreland’s heritage and urban character.”

Unlike the lanes in the inner city Melbourne that are famous for their street art, little bars and boutiques these back lanes are amongst the least attractive features of the suburb, generally backing onto old rusted corrugated iron fences and old sheds. Maybe someone is hoping that their historic ambience of Coburg and Brunswick before sewers will add to their property value.

Coburg lane painted

                   Coburg lane painted


Post Nuclear Art

On Tuesday 26 May I went to an artist talk at RMIT Gallery by Ken and Julia Yonetani that brought their collaborative art together, at least for me, I’m sure that there are people who have been following their art for years now.

Ken and Julia Yonetani, Crystal Palace, 2013, photo from artist's website

Ken and Julia Yonetani, Crystal Palace, 2013, photo from artist’s website

I had seen the work of Ken and Julia Yonetani before but I hadn’t tied it all together. At the Melbourne Art Fair 2014 there was their market of inedible food cast from salt, The Last Supermarket. In 2012 at an earlier RMIT exhibition, “2112 Imagining the Future”, I had seen their Still Life: The Food Bowl (2011) a play on traditional European still life with a table, glasses, fruit bowl, cutlery, fish and crayfish all cast from the pinkish salt of the Murray River. And I was aware of Ken Yanetoni’s Sweet Barrier Reef , a Zen garden made entirely of sugar, raked sugar and icing sugar coral formations as it was chosen to represent Australia in the satellite exhibition held in conjunction with the 2009 Venice Biennale.

Ken and Julia Yonetani were exhibiting two of their chandeliers made from uranium glass in the RMIT Gallery exhibition “Japanese Art After Fukushima”. The uranium glass glows green under ultra-violet light with a fantastic beauty just like radioactive material always does in movies and cartoons. The artists explained that uranium glass “is made from depleted uranium and is a by product of the uranium enrichment process – so its like recycling the byproduct of nuclear power.” The uranium glass isn’t that radioactive compared to background radiation but it does link the beginning of consumerism to the advent of electricity and the invention of ultra-violet lights.

Considering its current impact on human life radioactivity has not featured prominently in contemporary art. In the immediate aftermath of WWII some artists did focus on the catastrophic destructive power of atomic weapons. Salvador Dali talked about atomic art and there was the Nuclear Art movement founded in 1951 by the Milanese painters Enrico Baj and Sergio Dangelo. But Fukushima brought all of this back for Ken and Julia; Ken now wears a wrist watch with a built in geiger counter. The danger of atomic weapons has been dwarfed by the dangers of billions of consumers buying sugar and using fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

Ken and Julia Yonetani are collaborative artists, a not uncommon feature in the contemporary art world where artistic partnerships are common, the most notable and enduring of contemporary art partnerships are Gilbert and George. In Australia there are several other artists that work in partnership, like Brown and Green or Gillie and Marc. For this Japanese/European couple the most obvious artistic partnership is that of  John Lennon and Yoko Ono and Ken and Julia Yonetani have played with the work, “War is Over! IF YOU WANT IT”, turning it into “global warming is over, IF YOU WANT IT”.

However, even compared to Lennon and Ono, Ken and Julia Yonetani are far more political and it is also far more personal as, Ken changed career from a financial broker to an artist. We might all need a change of career if don’t prevent global warming.

Ken and Julia Yonetani, Still Life: The Food Bowl (2011) photo from artist's webpage

Ken and Julia Yonetani, Still Life: The Food Bowl (2011) photo from artist’s webpage


Paul Montford’s Clay Is Still In Use

In the traditional way of making a bronze or stone sculpture a clay model on a wooden or metal armature is first made. A plaster cast is made of the clay model and the clay is pulled off the armature and reused for the next sculpture. The plaster cast is then used to make either a wax model for bronze casting or a plaster model for stone masons to copy. So the clay that Paul Montford used modelled his sculptures, including to create the models for his sculptures at Melbourne’s the Shrine of Remembrance, is still being used by sculptors in Melbourne almost a century later.

Paul Montford, John Wesley, 1935

Paul Montford, John Wesley, 1935

When Montford arrived in Melbourne in 1923 he reported in his first letter (May 12, 1923) to his brother, Louis Montford in London on the availability of materials for sculpture: “no stone that can be carved,” “no bronze founders here worth the name” but “good clay and plaster”. This would suggest that Montford acquired his modelling clay locally after he arrived. (Catherine Moriarty Making Melbourne’s Monuments – the Sculpture of Paul Montford, Australian Scholarly, 2013, p.82)

In other letters Paul tells his brother about the difficulties in keeping clay wet in Melbourne’s summer heat. In one letter (Jan, 1926) he reports hosing the cloth covered model for the Desert Mounted Corps Memorial because using “a syringe was too slow”. (Moriarty, p.118)

Due to a bizarre treatment for tonsillitis Paul Montford died of radium poisoning in 1938. At the time radium was still considered as a potential wonder drug. And his modelling clay was passed on to his assistant Stanley Hammond, who would have used to the clay to model his many sculptures from the lions at the Boer War Memorial on St. Kilda Road to his statue of John Batman on Collins Street.

Stanley Hammond, John  Batman Memorial, 1978

Stanley Hammond, John Batman Memorial, 1978

I lost track of Montford’s clay after Stanley Hammond death in 2000, at the age of 87. I heard a rumour that Louis Laumen had the clay but that turned out not to be true. I was disappointed not be able to trace this modelling clay from the Montford to the present as it would have given an unusual narrative thread to the first chapter of my book, Sculptures of Melbourne, but it was not essential to the history.

Then on the first day of my promotional walking tours for my book I was given the answer. Some of the Montford’s clay is now in the possession of William Eicholtz and is still being used to model sculptures, including Courage. Thanks Will.

William Eicholtz, Courage, 2014

William Eicholtz, Courage, 2014


Types of Art Galleries on Flinders Lane

There are a variety of galleries along Flinders Lane; if you want to see a variety of different types of galleries then walking down this lane is an education. These types of galleries vary on the way they select the art and are funded. Most of the galleries, look similar, white walled rooms in converted buildings. Only the powerful Anna Schwartz Gallery is in a contemporary purpose-built building.

Craft Victoria 2

When visiting the galleries on Flinders Lane I like to get out at Parliament Station and start with Craft Victoria because this means that I will be walking downhill rather than uphill. Craft Victoria’s exhibitions are regularly amongst the better contemporary art exhibitions that I see. Craft Victoria is a government funded gallery; it is funded by all three levels of government, federal, state and local along with corporate sponsorship and membership of the professional craft association. It also has a gift shop with a fine selection of high quality local craft products.

45 Downstairs is a not-for-profit theatre and gallery space that was founded by Mary Lou Jelbart and Julian Burnside in 2002. Exhibitions are by application and it is funded by rental of the space and donations.

Mailbox Art Space is an artist run space is a series of mailboxes that have been converted into one of Melbourne’s smallest art spaces. Exhibitions are based on an application and it costs nothing to exhibit.

There is also community access gallery on one wall of the upper floor of the City Library. Exhibitions are based on an application by “artists in the early stages of a professional art career”. It costs $800 to exhibit in the gallery for the month, substantially lower than other far less attractive rental spaces in Melbourne, as the costs of the space are mostly funded by the City of Melbourne.

Flinders Lane Gallery 2

The majority of galleries in Flinders Lane both historically and currently are commercial galleries, like Arc One, Anna Schwartz and Flinders Lane Gallery. These galleries select their artists from a stable of artists that the gallery represents. Flinders Lane Gallery opened in 1989 and is the oldest of the exiting galleries on the lane. It represents “emerging, mid-career and Indigenous Australian artists”.

When I last walked along Flinders Lane last weekend Arc One and Flinders Lane Gallery were both having shows from their stockroom, group shows of the artists that they represent. It is always interesting to see a commercial gallery’s stockroom for the same reason that a stockroom show is interesting. Australian Galleries used to have a whole building in Collingwood devoted to their stockroom but it has now closed. In contemporary galleries a stockroom may not be a drab utilitarian store room, Fehily Contemporary has an attractive upstair’s ‘stockroom’ that would put to shame many people’s lounge rooms.

For more on different there is my earlier post on types of art galleries.


Vacancy @ No Vacancy

It was the worst exhibition that I have seen for a very long time. Of course I have seen some bad art in my time, many more simply poor exhibitions, but at the far extremities of the bell curve, which ever way you go, examples become rarer. This exhibition was so far off so many critical scales that it is hard to measure back from any benchmark; no talent, no content, no point, no…

Spenceroni’s Hello Play at No Vacancy is a crass, crap collection of swiggles that makes Ken Done look sophisticated. I look at art as a very broad category but this could barely even count as design.

Why aren’t I writing about some other, better exhibitions? There are plenty of average exhibitions on. I could be reviewing Made In House, “works of Redbubble’s Artist in Residence” at No Vacancy’s other space in Fed Square.

Most of the artists, photographers, painters, illustrators, commercial, amateur, are working on something called culture. Their average individual efforts are tears in the rain, significant to them and those who share that moment, but only a drop in the ocean of culture. I am writing about this exhibition because it is not average, it is extremely bad.

A selfie-wall, WTF! All that I can think is that this smug, social-media-friendly, creep ticks all the boxes for being a narcissist who thinks that some suckers will buy his shoddy stuff. Spenceroni has made it easy for the suckers with multi-level marketing of multiple editions from the wrapped letterpress cards at $7 to the acrylic paint on paper, framed in hardwood frame, 800 x 1050 mm for $1450. According to his blog he has been working on this for six months; I hope that he is very lazy and wasn’t working full time on it.

I try to be sympathetic to young artists with their first exhibitions. Mostly when I’m critical of an artist I mean the best, I want to help them with tough love. With zombie artists I just wish that they would stop. I rarely want to destroy their soul but I doubt that Spenceroni has a soul. This is his first exhibition and I hope that it will be his last.


Melbourne Central has Art

Monday 1 June, a very cold morning, the start of winter in Melbourne and art consultant, Bernadette Alibrando is giving a tour of Melbourne Central’s art for the media. Some people are surprised that Melbourne Central, a shopping centre above a train station, even has a public art collection. Another surprise is the number of street artists commissioned by the shopping centre.

Hamish Munro, Filling the Mould, 2014

Hamish Munro, Filling the Mould, 2014

The tour did not look at the novelty clock (for that see my post on Melbourne’s giant novelty clocks) or the way that the old shot tower is incorporated into the glass cone architecture the central features of the centre’s main space. We started with the floating Hamish Munro sculpture, Filling the Mould that was slowly deflating after the morning rush hour. The fabric sculpture over a stair well expands and contracts relative to the number of people in the shopping centre. The grey fabric of the sculpture matches the raw concrete architecture of Melbourne’s Central’s interior.

There is the huge (61m. long x 3.5m height) heritage listed mural in the Swanston Walk entrance way to the train platforms that dates back to the completion of the station in 1984. The mural is by Dr Hogg was made in collaborated with Ilma Jasper and Kay Douglas and celebrates workers in a variety of trades and industries. Dr Hogg is the Coordinator of Public Art/Art in Public Space in the School of Art and has been working with public art and murals for most of his career.

Part of RMIT lightscape project at Melbourne Central from earlier in the year.

Part of RMIT lightscape project at Melbourne Central from earlier in the year.

The proximity of RMIT to Melbourne Central brings in RMIT lightscape project with a regular rotation of works by six students. In the food court there is a painted piano, inviting and encouraging buskers to ask permission from the shopping centre administration.

Although I had seen the work before when I thought about it was surprising how many street artists have pieces in Melbourne Central. The tour took in Kaff-eine’s pillar and Kelsey Montague selfie wings. Kelsey Montague cold called Melbourne Central when she arrived in Melbourne to do this piece. The tour didn’t get to the Lucy Lucy and Slicer mural that is also in Melbourne Central.

Lucy Lucy and Slicer

Lucy Lucy and Slicer

The commissioned works in the controlled environment of shopping centres by street artists known for their uncommissioned/illegal art is either a complete sell out or the obvious triumph of their style of guerrilla urban decorations. There are also works by street artists at the QV Centre and read my post about the street artists at Barkly Square in Brunswick. I am reliably informed that there is also pieces by Adnate-Sofles-Smug in Northland and Lister in Broadway Shopping Centre. That shopping centres consider street art to be the best style to present to their customers stands in contrast to the frequently seen small business owner doing vox pop complaints to the media about graffiti.

It feels odd to be writing about the arts policies of shopping centres but Melbourne Central has a similar arts strategy/policy to Barkely Square with using both recognisable and popular street artists along with buskers to add local colour and atmosphere to a shopping centre’s architecture.


Memories of David Bowie

I remember that David Bowie Is… a touring exhibition from the Victoria and Albert Museum that will be at ACMI in Melbourne from 16th July and 1 November. Not that I’ve seen the exhibition, I remember seeing the exhibition in the film. My brain felt like a warehouse… the lyrics sheets of familiar songs, the photographs, models of stage sets, over 50 costumes, memorabilia and lots of videos.

Installation Shot courtesy David Bowie Archive (c) V&A London

Installation Shot courtesy David Bowie Archive (c) V&A London

Russell Briggs, Head of Exhibitions & Collections at ACMI described the media preview as “a Russian doll, a film of an exhibition of a biography…” There are a lot of Russian doll aspects to anything about Bowie, the actor playing an alien rock star, as you unpack one doll it is revealed to contain another and another. And David Bowie is hyperreal, he is more real in simulacra than actually.

During the film I remember thinking that blockbuster exhibitions and stadium rock have a lot in common and even with the audience for the exhibition capped at 200 visitors per hour the experience will be similar. Do I want another experience like Bowie’s Serious Moonlight concert in a packed (40,000+) at VFL Park, the Waverley Football stadium? From my position in the stands I saw most of it on the big screen, so maybe it would have been just as good to have watched it on TV. Andrew Peacock, the then Liberal opposition leader was also in the audience and Bowie was going through a 50s retro phase. Even though they are on the cutting edge there is something conservative about successful trend spotters, like Bowie.

Original photography for the Earthling album cover, 1997. Photograph by Frank W Ockenfels 3, © Frank W Ockenfels

Original photography for the Earthling album cover, 1997. Photograph by Frank W Ockenfels 3, © Frank W Ockenfels

The exhibition does over hype Bowie and it would like you to forget that Bowie with Mick Jagger ever sung a cover of “Dancing in the Streets”. I’d like to forget that too but having seen it I can’t. After watching David Bowie Is… (the movie) and during the writing of this post I avoided listening to any classic Bowie hits and restricted myself to an aural diet of his soundtrack for Labyrinth, the Laughing Gnome and Rubber Band. I started to wonder if Bowie hadn’t changed the whole history of the novelty song; taking it from a statistical minority of pop songs to the majority.

But remember that with all this novelty Bowie demonstrates the art/politics of constructed identities. The constructed identity is opposed to both the idea of a given or a natural identity and this is a very important contribution that liberated many people. The diversity of Bowie’s artist practice, from actor to visual artist defies assumptions about work and identity, but also a celebrity art practice in the role of producer/director and collaborator. But does this qualify as genius?

The discourse on this subject and the greater discourse around Bowie is another layer of Bowie’s much vaunted collaborations. The absence of Bowie is significant, the long periods between albums, the points where his only presence is in the public discourse about his career. Along with the exhibition there will be a two day symposium on The Stardom and Celebrity of David Bowie, presented in partnership with The University of Melbourne and Deakin University with the support of the Naomi Milgrom Foundation.

David Bowie Is… would like to define how David Bowie will be remembered, a creation of art and design. I expect that in 2050 a scholarly book on the history of a century of rock music will be published but how many references to David Bowie will there be in the index? It depends on the way that author tells the history. If the book is about popularity, the mass effect of rock music or icons of rock then there may be a many references to Bowie. If the book is about the development of rock then there may less; there is only one reference to Bowie in the index of Greil Marcus’s Lipstick Traces.


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