Tag Archives: Ola Cohn

Commissioner of Sewers

When I was in high school at Bendigo Senior High I was always amused to see in Rosalind Park a brick memorial drinking fountain to the founder of Bendigo’s sewerage. I never drank from it as the drinking fountain parts did not function for many years although it has recently been restored. I was also unaware, at the time that I lived in Bendigo, that it was the work of Ola Cohn, not that I would have cared at the time if I had known.

Ola Cohn, detail of Curnow Memorial drinking fountain

Ola Cohn, detail of Curnow Memorial drinking fountain

One of the reasons why Ola Cohn received this particular commission was that she was born in Bendigo. By the time she received the Curnow Memorial she had already exhibited and work for Paul Montford, studied with Henry Moore in England and returned to Australia. The Curnow drinking fountain was another commission and it hardly rates a mention in her biography.

Ola Cohn describes the commission:

“I was to design a tribute to the late Cr. J.H. Curnow, a prominent city councillor in Bendigo who had been five times Mayor and had campaigned for proper sewerage for the city. I chose clay as a medium and designed a drinking fountain build of tapestry bricks, with inserted panels of red terracotta. It was placed in Rosalind Park, Bendigo, and looked very well against the green trees.” A Way With The Fairies – The Lost Story of Sculptor Ola Cohn edited by Barbara Lemon (R. W. Stugnell, 2014, Melbourne p.95)

Set into the brick fountain there are four bronze bas-relief panels. There is a boy and girl at either ends, strangely suggesting a segregation of  sexes for the two drinking fountains. In the middle, in his mayoral robes and chains the bespectacled bald man, a post humous portrait of Mayor J. H. Curnow, along with the text: “Public Memorial to James H. Curnow JP, Mayor of Bendigo 1902-04, 1912-13, 1919-20, 1927-28 Founder of Bendigo’s Sewerage”.

Ola Cohn, fountain DSC09958

Yes, the commissioner of sewers, sewerage is an important issue for any civilisation and there aren’t enough memorials about such civic infrastructure but a drinking fountain to the commissioner of sewers, seriously, didn’t someone think that one through or was the nature of irony somehow different at the beginning of the twentieth century? However, I hope that some of my readers have thought beyond the toilet humour and realised that Bendigo did not have a sewerage system until the twentieth century. This is a typical Australian response to basic infrastructure, delay building it for a long as possible; Melbourne had a telephone system before a sewerage system. (Seriously read William Burroughs on becoming the Commissioner of Sewers as it is a wonderful text on political power, the text is reproduced on Toilet Guru).

Ola Cohn


Oddities of Melbourne

Melbourne has Gothic Revival, Moorish Revival, Romanesque Revival and Venetian Renaissance Revival architecture and a Model Tudor Village. The end of the 19th century was so into retro revivals they make current retro styles appear prospective. And Melbourne is a place where the king tide of the eclectic architectural revivals of the 19th Century washed up. The round arches, belt courses of stone or brick are all features of Romanesque revival but Melbourne’s Romanesque revival has more decorative brick and tile work than it’s American counterparts. The architectural revivals tended to be more exuberant because there was still money from the Victorian gold rush around. Maybe this excess is one of the reasons why Melbourne was known as “marvellous Melbourne.”

Victorian Artists Society - Romanesque Revival building

I was standing around in the stucco covered foyer of the Forum Theatre in Melbourne after the Tripod show last year. The whole place, inside and out, is covered in this over the top, eclectic collection of styles from the faux Renaissance interior to the over the top Moorish Revival exterior. Amongst all this stucco there are plaster casts of classical sculpture from the Uffizi, Naples Museum and other Italian collections. These copies of statues were included in the original 1929 décor to contribute their aura of classical quality to the then new media of cinema. Unfortunately the plaster sculptures are now covered in a thick layer of acrylic paint.

It made me think what are the other art and architectural oddities there are around Melbourne. The typical list came to mind: Ola Cohn’s “Fairy Tree” in Fitzroy Gardens, William Ricketts Sanctuary in the Dandenongs, with its Australian romanticism carvings.

Model Tudor village in Fitzroy Gardens

Fitzroy Gardens is full of art and architectural oddities: there is Model Tudor Village, Captain Cook’s cottage transplanted from England and Ola Cohn’s Fairy Tree. The Model Tudor village – this is from another era when model villages were considered legitimate garden decoration. It is part of Australia’s colonial longing for England; even if it was represented in miniature scale.

detail Ola Cohn, "Fairy Tree" 1931-4

Melbourne sculpture, Ola Cohn carved her “Fairy Tree” between 1931-4. I have some sympathy with the fairy art obsession of the late 19th and early 20th century because of its respect for nature; Ola Cohn declares the place sacred “to all living creatures” on the inscription bronze plaque beside the tree. The tree is carved with images of Australian native fauna but all the fairies are European.

These things did not start life as oddities, they were intended to be mainstream even progressive, but the future expected by their creators didn’t happen and they now look oddly out of place. They have been caught in time lags and other psycho-temporal eddies and whirlpools such that their existence now appears disjointed from reality, the detritus of history washed ashore in Melbourne. They are not simply curiosities, these oddities demonstrates particular but irrelevant features of Melbourne’s past. But what do we do with these odd monsters? Hide them, ignore them and hope that they will go away or conserve these unsuccessful mutants?


Sculpture Show

Finalists in the 2008 Ola Cohn Sculpture Award are on exhibition at City Library. Ten sculptures showing the diversity of contemporary sculpture from figurative to funky, fabric to kinetic.

The winner of the 2008 Ola Cohn Sculpture Award is Patrick Delbosc for his sculpture ‘Tween’, a bulbous bronze plated form on two stumpy legs. Patrick Delbosc is a former Diploma of Visual Arts student at CAE.

Patrick Delbosc says: “This work explores the nature of family and of reactions to society life. Full of life, ‘Tween’ engages in an emotional conversation about love and seduction, but also the changing loving relation between persons within a family. The warm copper materials, changing colour over time and light conditions aim at enhancing this expression of change, discovery, excitement and pleasure.”

Other sculptures on exhibition include Antonia Goodfellow’s “Wormhole” is a kaleidoscope-like creation playing with light, space and mirrors. Carl Scrase’s construction of super-balls and toothpicks; which I had seen when it was previously exhibited in Seventh Gallery April 2008, in the group show “We’ve Got a Love Like Electric Sound” (see entry Only Rock’n’Roll)

There were two of the sculptors were working with fabric. Catherine O’Leary covered telephones with material. And Kate Just created a knitted-fabric covered figure sinking in knitted brown mud watering a green carpet lawn ambiguously titled “Paradise”.

And my personal favorite James Cattell’s “The Vigilant Insomniac”, a very engaging kinetic sculpture. Everyone wanted to play with it and the “Please touch” sign gave permission. When the handle was cranked the sculpture rotated jerkily, bells rang and its many eyes winked and blinked. Cattell works in a number of media: ceramics, sculpture, wood and metal, painting, and does children’s book illustration. He created the Children’s Sculpture Garden at Linden Gallery, St Kilda and ceramic pavement inlays in the Bourke Street Mall. Cattell studied Fine Art at Elam School of Art, Auckland.

James Cattell says: “I live to do art and have practised this through painting and sculpture, as well as puppetry and illustration. I will attempt almost any medium or format, as long as I can use my hands to create the work.”

There are also sculptures by Christopher Bold, Katie Weedon, Natasha Frisch, Peter Rosman and, an old sandstone carving by Ola Cohn, herself (not an entry but a reminder).


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