Tag Archives: Royal Arcade

Time Warp to Victorian

Sitting upstairs at Coco Black enjoying a cup of hot chocolate and looking out the half-circle, one-way mirrored window out to the Royal Arcade. Watching the shoppers, the group of cub scouts and the tour group. Walking tours are now a common sight in Melbourne, this one is lead by a guide with a stereotypical red umbrella, not that there weren’t walking tours of Melbourne in the nineteenth century.

Royal Arcade

At the base of the display windows in Royal Arcade the shop signs, like that of The Games Shop, are still hand painted in keeping with the late nineteenth century design of the arcade. I think about how many sign painters are still working in Melbourne.

Royal Arcade Games Shop

Time warp back to Marvellous Melbourne, through Royal Arcade and its sister, the Block Arcade, to the invention of shopping as a social experience in the nineteenth century. So much of life as we know it; a home in the suburbs, ‘childhood’, ‘domestic bliss’ and ‘the standard of living’ are nineteenth century inventions.

The Victorian legacy haunts the state of Victoria. Each generation after has created their own version of this time as they live in the houses on networks of roads that were all built in the late nineteenth century. We can’t avoid it, we have inherited a built environment like we have inherited our genes. The Victorian legacy also defines the Australian constitution and other aspects of the nomesphere, the legal construction of geography.

Not only geography but our psychology and taste are still effected by the Victorians. The next generations, the moderns, turned their back’s on their parent’s tastes, even though they had been brought up in a nineteenth century manner. For the baby boomers this meant the joyous rediscovery of all the decorative excess of their grandparent’s generation that were now readily available as heirlooms or filling second hand dealers. Nineteenth century design became part of the psychedelic aesthetic. The spiritualism of the late nineteenth century was also revived as the new age. For the Gen X, with no living connection to their nineteenth century ancestors, they are free to invent their own interpretation, steam-punk. In much the same way, and about as accurately, as the Victorians has re-invented King Arthur, Vikings and the Druids. We continue to try to live with and adapt the legacies of the late nineteenth century.

Also remembering the connections between modern art and modern shopping; Walter Benjamin on shop window displays. Almost every time I go past Aesop I have to remind myself that I’m not passing a contemporary art gallery but an up-market cosmetics shop. Their display is so elegant and minimalist. What is the difference between a shop window display and an art installation? I was not surprised when I read that there was a performance art piece at Aesop during the Melbourne Art Fair 2014.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the legacy of the Victorian era on Melbourne’s culture. There are so many aspects from the architecture and design of Melbourne and my own suburb of Coburg, to the current revival of the popularity of board games. I should think, research and post some more on this subject.

(For more about the Gog and Magog clock in Royal Arcade see my post on Melbourne’s novelty clocks.)


Clocks & Kitsch

Gog and Magog, Melbourne’s floral clock and the giant animated fob watch at Melbourne Central – these clocks, from three different eras, show changes in public taste, however kitsch. All of these kitsch clocks are created as a kind of public sculptures, as local tourist attractions. They range from Anglophile to international to Australiana.

In 1870 the first arcade in Melbourne, the Royal Arcade officially opened. In 1892, two of the Royal Arcade’s most attractive features were erected. Gog and Magog are the bell ringers on Gaunt’s Clock located at the end of the arcade above the Collins Street exit. This extravagant clock was installed in 1892 a year before the Australian banking crisis of 1893 when several of the commercial banks and the Federal Bank collapsed. The figures are modelled on the figures from the Guildhall, London in 1708 that are based on earlier medieval sculptures. The two legendary British giants are depicted with large beards, staring eyes and heavy limbs standing in stiff poses. Carved from pine and painted in multiple bright colours these figures refer to the gothic medieval tradition.

Melbourne’s floral clock is the most boring of the three clocks but they were fashionable for many decades around the world, especially in former parts of the British Empire. The first floral clock was installed in Princes’ Street Gardens in Edinburgh in 1903. The first floral clock that I saw was at Niagara Falls in Canada, built in 1950, so I was never impressed by Melbourne’s floral clock. There is a degree of intercity rivalry with floral clocks – the first and the largest – Sydney installed a floral clock at Taronga Zoo in 1928. Melbourne’s floral clock was donated in 1966 to the City of Melbourne by a group of Swiss watchmakers after it was used at an international trade fair in the Exhibition Building.

The last of these three tourist attraction clocks is the giant fob watch at Melbourne Central. It was installed in 1991, when Japanese company Daimaru opened its department store in Melbourne. This Seiko clock plays Waltzing Matilda on the hour with mechanical Australian parrots and musician figures. The nativism and Australiana was intended to appease Australians to the presence of the foreign store. Although Daimaru has now closed the giant fob watch plays on.

Over a century after Gog and Magog Melbourne shopping arcades still use large animated clocks as marketing attractions. Although such animated clocks have been used in Europe for centuries as civic attractions they were also demonstrations of civic technology, what makes modern giant clocks kitsch is because the technology has become commonplace. In explaining the taste for floral clocks it is worth noting that Michael Jackson had a floral clock at his Neverland Ranch.


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