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Category Archives: Coburg

Peak Books, Free Libraries and Art

We live at a time of peak stuff and consequently it is also the time of peak books. What once was rare and valued is now a glut. Collecting printed matter used to be a virtue and now it is the vice of a hoarder. Perhaps, we can only understand everything about books is when there is an excess of books.

Nicolas Jones, Holman Hunt book

My own book shelves are overflowing, packed two deep with books. More books are stacked in various strategic positions. Are they simply trophies of previous reads? How many of them will I ever read again or repeatedly consult?

Now, e-books might be an alternative to having physical books. I have read only one e-book, Medieval Graffiti, but I no longer have a dictionary or thesaurus or an encyclopaedia takin up space on my shelves. I no longer keep newspaper clipping or photocopy of articles as they are available online or in PDF files.

Peak books is a disturbing concept to bibliophiles and bookshop workers especially second-hand bookshops because peak books means more free libraries. I have been taking some of my excess books to the free libraries. There are free libraries at Coburg and Moreland stations, more around the streets and even one at Barkley Square shopping centre. I first noticed a free library in my neighbourhood in 2014 but the recent growth in them is a sure indicator of peak books.

Peak books means that there will be art made from the excess books, as art is made from excesses in a society. Art from books has been happening since before I started this blog and is on the increase. There are Melbourne based artists who used books as their primary media, for example Nicolas Jones. In Collected Odysseys, 2018, by Malcolm Angelucci, Chris Caines and Majella Thomas, a two metre cairn of books blackened with ink in the middle of the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick.

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Buff After Reading – the art of buffing

To ‘buff’ is to paint a wall to remove the graffiti or to prepare it for another piece of graffiti. But sometimes the results of buffing can be strange.

Buffing comes in several styles: colour field, hard edge abstract and more abstract expressionist. Colour fields require the complete buffing of a wall to a single colour. Hard edge abstract art is created by the repeated buffing of parts of a wall in different shades paint. The more abstract expressionist style follows the graffiti covering but not eliminating the form.

Buffing is not the natural enemy of graffiti and is often an ally of street art. People will buff around the stencils and paste-ups to preserve them in Melbourne. People like Baby Gorilla or Be Free enough to avoid destroying them. Then there was the Christian buffing around a crucifix in Coburg. I love it when an artist alters buffing to make something of it.

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Altered buffing, unknown artist, Brunswick, 2011

There were a couple of strange buffing incidents in 2016. Australian artist Scott Marsh was paid to paint over his six-metre-tall mural of Kanye West kissing Kanye West. Reportedly it was Kanye’s management that paid Marsh $100,000 to buff it. Also in 2016, but kind-of the opposite to Marsh’s pay to buff,  when Bologna street artist, Blu buffed everything he ever did to prevent the mayor of Bologna from exploiting it.

Meanwhile, an a fence in Coburg someone fights back against graffiti with paint. As effective a strategy as any but this has now been overgrown with vegetation; if you really want to prevent graffiti vegetation and not buffing is the solution.

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Movement of Sunflowers

Shopping carts full of sunflowers, portable gardens ready for adoption and placed near train stations on the Upfield line. Field Works II, The Colonies, 2017 is not the work of guerrilla gardeners but the Melbourne-based artist, Ben Morieson working through the RMIT’s Centre for Art, Society and Transformation.

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It is different from a guerrilla gardens due to the hopes for public interaction and scope of the piece. A guerrilla gardener hopes to grow something and doesn’t consider  how the public will interact aside from a hope to be appreciated. Whereas Field Works II wants to map this interaction and wants it to be art. In order to properly map the work it must be noted that it is also part of this years Havana Bienale with more sunflowers at train stations in Cuba. (How much of the Havana Bienale comes from the Melbourne? I don’t know but the see a guest post by Greg Giannis for another work by a Melbourne artist that was in the Havana Bienale.)

Sunflower move to track the sun but in their shopping carts these are very mobile sunflowers.

Field Works II hopes to map the movement of the patches of sunflowers through the city. Th only problems is that I don’t think that any of the shopping carts have moved since they were placed by the artist. I didn’t take the cart full of sunflowers because I don’t feel like adopting any flowers and like the location that the cart closes to me is currently in as it decorates an ugly corner next to the book fridge, free library. Apparently this is a common attitude as narrated by the station attendant and writer, Jane Routley in Station Stories.

Maybe, given some time… and maybe they might all wilt and die from lack of water. This unexpected result would highlighting the lack of water and other basic facilities at some of stations along the Upfield line.

Rather than paint landscapes Morieson paints on the landscape with burnouts or flowers. He has worked with sunflowers before, Field Works I, a whole field of sunflowers planted on a vacant block of land near Macauly Station in 2014 and also 2014/15 Get Sunflowered, at eight assorted sites in Moe, Traralgon and Morwell.

There is a Van Gogh reference in sunflowers, Van Gogh painted his two series of sunflowers with his friend Gauguin in mind, thus doubling the art history references.

P.S. 17/1/18 Morieson informs me that 24 of the 70 trolleys have so far been adopted and moved so far.


The Smallest Pieces

“All the pieces matter” Lester Freamon The Wire

This is just a small post with a small collection of photos about the smallest works of street art. The antidote to the inflated egos and dubious aesthetics of murals are the smallest of graffiti pieces. To find them just look in the opposite direction to the murals, look down the wall below eye level. There are miniature street art sculptures, tiny drawings, small stickers; overlooked and often entirely unseen. At that scale they become a treasure hunt, rewards for being aware and looking around in the city. They are so small that often there is no room for a tag or signature but I think I know some of the artists, please comment to correct or add to this information.


Street art, public art and more in Coburg

I have been walking around my neighbourhood, the streets of Coburg, looking at the street art, the public art and the streets. You can see almost 150 years of history of domestic architecture on the streets of Coburg, from the 1870s to the contemporary buildings still under construction. And you have to love quality pop culture home modifications; we need more of this kind of Batman, not the John Batman kind.

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Notable Melbourne street artist, Al Stark Thinking of the Earth has painted a mural on a couple of buildings at Coburg Oval. Regardless of what I have recently written about murals I like this one. The abstracted geometric shapes and the colours glow against the dark ground improving the feel of an otherwise drek utilitarian carpark between the Sydney Road shopping strip and the oval.

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On the wall of the new flats by the Reynard Street railway crossing is Tropical Flora. It is a mural by experienced Melbourne stencil artist 23rd Key. The very large multi-layered stencil of hibiscus flowers and monstera leaves are technically proficient but boring.

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There is also more unauthorised street art around. I love finding little pieces hidden away, making a treasure hunt out of a walk around the neighbourhood. But this is the strangest piece of buffing; it leaves you wondering what either the writer or the buffer was thinking.

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Some great guerrilla gardening taking over a wide nature strip in Coburg complete with a mosaic ceramic features by local Mel Craven.

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The sculpture of a small bronze house on a rusty steel plinth has been removed late 2016 early 2017 from the corner of Victoria Street and Waterfield Road. Dwelling by Jason Waterhouse was the winner of the 2005 Moreland Sculpture Show. I don’t know what has happened to this sculpture; I hope that a better location has been found for it. It was too small to make any impression on the corner location. You can also see how bad Coburg’s pigeon problem was just a few years ago.

ason Waterhouse, Dwelling

Jason Waterhouse, Dwelling

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Teaching art in prison

In 1977 Chris Dyson was playing guitar with Paul Kelly in High Rise Bombers. However instead of pursuing music Dyson went on studying painting at Victorian College of the Arts and later Masters from Monash University. Dyson studied at the VCA 82-84 and then taught there until 1998. In the early 80s Chris Dyson saw an exhibition of aboriginal prison art at the VCA gallery school. He remembers a painting titled; “The park across the road from the bank I robbed.” A few years later Dyson was teaching art at Pentridge.

Pentridge Prison

Pentridge Prison, Coburg

In 1986 Dyson gave art classes at the psych unit, G Division. Dyson felt that what he was doing was art therapy than art classes. That it was a chance for the prisoners to take pride in something. A chance for the prisoners to think about something else. A chance for them to talk about things that they wouldn’t normally talk about. Maybe that’s why the guards hated it so much.

Many of the prisoners were so heavily medicated they were like zombies for most of the month. Dyson regarded most of the prisoners in G Division as people who couldn’t deal with the outside world. They painted dicks or marijuana leaves in acrylics. No oil paint was allowed due to fears from the guards at what other uses the prisoners could make of them. There was no music therapy after Gary Web David swallowed the metal guitar strings.

He wasn’t there for long somewhere between a year and eighteen months on shitty pay. He felt intimidated; the memo about the body search option, the missing art materials and general harassment from the guards. One day they wouldn’t let him go in with his cigarette and a prisoner ends up giving him a White Ox cigarette. Then the guards question him about what he is going to give the prisoner in return for the cigarette. He considered teaching jobs elsewhere in the Pentridge and later in other private prisons but corruption and lack of support from the guards weighed against that.

Dyson felt that the guards were worse than the prisoners. He only remembers seeing the guards body building with the gym equipment, never the prisoners who were all over weight from the stogy prison food and the side effects of psychiatric medication.

Using his old connections Dyson did get Paul Kelly to perform at Pentridge. He remembers the afternoon as a great performance followed by a BBQ.

This is some of my research for a chapter on prison art for my book about art and crime. The book is planned to be published later in the year, so I have been working on that and neglecting this blog. I don’t think that much this will end up in the book except as background because that chapter is taking a different direction, so I thought that it would make a good blog post.


Train Lines and Graffiti

I was intrigued when I saw a couple of these notes from the train, travelling past them at speed I couldn’t be sure of what I read. I knew that there were probably more and so I rode my bicycle along the Upfield bike track to photograph as many as I could find in Brunswick.

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The more of these messages that I saw the less interested I became. Soon it wasn’t as interesting as some of the graffiti and street art that I was seeing.

What is it? Why is it there? It wasn’t graffiti because there was no tag and the stencilled letters had no calligraphic quality. It had no obvious appeal or charm so it wasn’t street art. Therefore it had to be contemporary art, or, maybe post-graffiti, if there is a difference.

Why it was there became obvious when I saw the MoreArt 2016 program. Train Lines is the creation of interdisciplinary artist writer and director, Marcia Ferguson is the artistic director of the Big West Festival. Ferguson intended Train Lines to be a poem based in interviews about the use of the Upfield line as mortuary transport to Fawkner Cemetery. Again you would have to have read the MoreArt’s program to know any of that.

It reminds me that in all its years MoreArts has never come to terms with exhibiting in the same areas as graffiti and street art. Existing in their own conceptual bubbles, each competes for attention without acknowledging the existence of the other. There are so many groups competing to use areas along the Upfield train line, see my blog post from earlier this year.

Ferguson’s Train Lines has the quality of what Alison Young what calls “streetness”: “a quality whose importance derives partly from the fact that the street does not provide passers-by with details of authorship that we take for granted in a gallery.” (Young, Street Art World, 2016 p.35) However, Train Lines is not street art.

Many histories of street art and graffiti ignore that contemporary art also exists outside of the art gallery and often in the street alongside street art and graffiti. From land art to happenings contemporary artists were creating art outside of the gallery.

An early example is Christo blocking a small street in Paris with oil drums, Wall of Oil Barrels – Iron Curtain on June 27, 1962. It was a protest against the Berlin Wall that had been built the year before. If you look carefully at Jean-Dominique Lajoux photograph of Iron Curtain you can see that the street that Christo and Jeanne-Claude used has graffiti on its walls.

“Streetness” or urban locations for contemporary art is it a difference of competing ideas and intentions rather than one of style?


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