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Category Archives: Coburg

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 or 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?


Upfield Bike Path Graffiti

The Upfield bike path goes through Brunswick and Coburg before running out at the northern end of Fawkner Crematorium and Memorial Park. There has been graffiti along the bike path for decades. It is interesting to observe the urban real politics of competing uses of this stretch of land that is maintained by Moreland City Council.

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The city council built the bicycle track on land that is bounded between the train line controlled by VicTrack and the backs of private property.

Private property owners with walls backing on the bike path have been upgrading their property; the old corrugated iron sheds are being replaced with walls of concrete. This has created more and better walls for the graffiti writers extending further north. (See my post on The Commons Graffiti.)

The areas around the tracks controlled by VicTrack are the most neglected. This is not entirely due to utilitarian considerations and derelict railway buildings are allowed to decay without allowing them to be used as surfaces for graffiti.

The graffiti writers were there first, making use of the walls beside the train tracks. Their work has been slowly accumulating until it covers about six kilometres of walls on both sides of the tracks. Sometimes the same graffers will paint the same walls years later.

Then came the bike path and the cyclists and in the last couple of years the guerrilla gardeners.

If you want a way to prevent graffiti, the solution is to plant trees and vegetation in front of the wall. This has worked at Brunswick Station where all the graffiti is more than two years old now due to extensive planting by the “Friends of the Upfield Linear Park”, who have more extensive ideas for the whole area on their website.

Further north along the bike path the graffiti and the guerrilla gardening create a beautiful combination, growing simultaneously along the Upfield bicycle track just north of Moreland Station. Here a back laneway has blossomed, the colour of flowers mixing with the paints. Further enhancing this area is the solar powered lighting built into the fence separating the bike track from the railway. At this point there appears to be a balance between the competing interests but the situation is dynamic.

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MoreArt in Coburg Mall

At one end of the Coburg mall, strung between two trees there was the banner announcing Ben Landau’s Coburg Quest, at the other end stood Dan Goronszy’s large chalk board, The Launching Board on its platform. In between them, the usual crowd of activity in the Coburg mall: tables of people drinking coffee and eating, small children playing and a woman busker singing folk songs with a strong vibrato voice.

Larissa McFarlane, A Ritual of Handstands

Larissa McFarlane, A Ritual of Handstands

Larissa McFarlane, A Ritual of Handstands cane detail

Larissa McFarlane, A Ritual of Handstands cane detail

Some people in the mall also noticed the paste-ups by Larissa McFarlane, A Ritual of Handstands in the walls running off the mall. The paste-up of the walking stick leaning against the wall was particularly popular. An elderly Greek man gestures at it, “Somebody leave this behind?” he says and laughs. Coburg Mall and the laneways around Coburg are generally too far north for the street artists and these paste-ups are also part of MoreArt program for 2015.

The MoreArt program is Moreland City Council’s annual public art show. This year there is a theme “Participation: Real or imagined, conjured and or discovered, a shrine, a monument, a ritual, a tribute, a custom”. There may have been themes in the previous six years but never has it been so clear in the art. The theme makes it clear that this is show is not simply art in public space, nor art for public spaces but that the public actively engages and participates in creating. This opens the program to multidisciplinary artists like Dan Goronszy and Ben Landau.

Ben Landau Coburg Quest

Ben Landau Coburg Quest

Ben Landau’s Coburg Quest required more time and participation than I was willing to devote, with multiple individual tasks and two Sunday afternoons involved in this art/quiz/game.

Dan Goronszy, The Launching Board

Dan Goronszy, The Launching Board

Dan Goronszy’s large chalk board, The Launching Board had the question “What does peace mean to you?” on both sides of the double sided blackboard. Containers for chalk are built into the blackboard. Most people who stopped to look just read the few responses but every now and then someone would write something. A group of men on bicycles arrive in the mall, they stand around and watch as one of them writes: “Stop bombing the **** out of Syria” on the blackboard.

I am involved in MoreArt this year. I am part of a panel discussion on public art along with Geoff Hogg, Louise Lavarack, Dean Sunshine, Laura Phillips and Aiofe Kealy: Making it in Moreland.


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…

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… 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…


Walking and Thinking about Sculpture

Taking advantage of the winter sunshine on Friday I walked around Melbourne thinking about sculpture. I have to plan my sculpture tour for Melbourne’s Writers Week walking around Melbourne looking at sculptures. I am amazed that I am in Melbourne’s Writers Week with my first book, Sculptures of Melbourne.

Kranky, Miss You Frida

Kranky, Miss You Frida

I am doing a few things to promote my book – I’m writing this blog post and pointing out my up coming events, like Melbourne’s Sculpture Walking Tour on Sunday 23rd August and my talk at Brunswick Public Library on Thursday 10th September. For more details see my events page.

I’m glad that I’ve scouted out the walk as there was test drilling along Swanston Walk for the new underground rail line going on. There was temporary fencing around Akio Makigawa’s Time and Tide. The fencing and drilling rig might be gone by the time of the walk but I probably won’t take the tour that far up Swanston Walk.

Walking up Hosier Lane I noticed that there are more street art sculptures. Lots of new mixed media assemblages by Kranky, including a spectacular painted skull and a lot of rats. From Blek to Banksy rats are a traditional theme for street art.

Kranky, Rats

Kranky, Rats

After my walk around the city I noticed that there was a very small retrospective exhibition of Lenton Parr’s sculptures in the foyer of the NGV Australia. Lenton Parr (1924-2003) was born in Coburg and initially studied engineering. Another engineer – I keep writing about  engineers – see my recent post on Skunk Control; several of Melbourne sculptors started studying engineering (Lenton Parr, Clement Meadmore and Anthony Pryor). Parr was a member of the Centre Five, Melbourne’s modern sculpture group but what surprised me about Parr’s modern steel sculptures was the number of titles with classical references: Perseus, Andromeda, Orion… It seemed that even in the early 1980s the classical names still retained an artist aura. Now, classical references, even in the titles of sculptures, are very rare.

Lenton Parr, Orion

Lenton Parr, Orion


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