The virtual world of digital art and the physical world of public art seem very far apart. So Troy Innocent was one of the last artists that I expected to have done public art. Public art in the sense that it is in a public space belonging to a privately owned building in Melbourne’s Docklands.
I remember in 1996 Innocent produced Psy-Harmonics a 50 minute video combining synaesthesia and electronic music. It achieved the pop height of being played on MTV in Europe and Australia. He is now a Senior Lecturer in Games and Interactivity at Swinburne University of Technology. For more on Innocent read my review of a group exhibition, Melbourne Future in 2014.
Innocent uses codes and icons to give unknown meaning to the entrance way of another anodyne office block. In Colony 2008 unknown symbols appear on lights, etched into the concrete walls and as coloured forms on the wall. The symbols even appear on the name plate for the art. How to interpret the symbols in the code is the key to how interpret Innocent’s art. It is all about semantics and the relationship between symbols and meaning.
This is not the first public art that Innocent has done. I have vague memories of a project that he did for Melbourne’s Laneway Commissions. It was an interactive work that built on both Innocent’s digital art and his way-finding “urban codemaking”. And Colony builds on that project in a more permanent form.
I was interrupted in contemplating and photographing the parts of Colony by a security worker. I was asked me to stop photographing. There were no signs saying no photography. I have never been stopped from photographing sculpture on display in building lobby’s before. But discussing the matter with a low-paid security worker was pointless. As I walked through the car park the reason became clear from the signs on the doors of the trucks; the building housed part of Australia’s fascist department, the paranoid psychos of Border Force.
I didn’t expect to see Godzilla in Tokyo. On my recent trip to Japan; I encountered Godzilla, a bit of graffiti and a few art galleries.
The statue is based on the film “Shin Godzilla” released in 2016 and had just been installed when I first saw it in March. It is the second Godzilla sculptures in the square; the previous statue, from 1995, was modelled after the original 1954 Godzilla. It is not monstrous, the statue measures about 3 meters in height, which seems small for Godzilla. It is located in Hibiya Godzilla Square where Toho Studios, who made the Godzilla movie, was founded. And it, stands next to a booth for buying cinema tickets.
“This statue contains the surviving final version of the shooting script and storyboard from Godzilla (1954). Here resides the soul of Godzilla.” The statue’s plaque states along with: “Man must live with Godzilla – Rando Yaguchi Unidentified Creature Response Special Task Force Headquarters” It is the first sculpture based on a movie that I have seen but as the quote from the movie script argues we have to learn to live with monsters. (“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.” Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, aphorism 146)
I almost always write a post about what street art I saw on my holiday (see my posts on Athens, Dublin and Korea) only I didn’t see much Japanese street art or graffiti. I was expecting to encounter some along the streets or lanes or along the rail corridors but I didn’t see enough to write a blog post about. Nothing that was even worth a photo: a bit of tagging, a paste-up and even a small piece of yarn bombing.
I did see several art galleries in Japan from the elegant contemporary, Museum of 21st Century Art in Kanazawa to the Sumida Hokusai Museum, the most unergonomic museum that I’ve ever visited (both C and I came out with aching backs from leaning in to see the prints). I have already written about some of the exhibitions that I saw in one post about sakura influenced art in Japan. I don’t think that I will be writing anymore as writing blog posts was way down on my list of priorities in my travelling to Japan.
Biomorphic surrealism was about making things in the shape of life, often microscopic animal or plant life. Alfred H. Barr defined biomorphism as: “Curvilinear rather than rectilinear, decorative rather than structural and romantic rather than classical in its exaltation of mystical, the spontaneous and the irrational.” It can be seen in the curvy amorphous forms created by modern artists, including Jean Arp and Barbara Hepworth, Juan Miro and Salvador Dali. You might think that biomorphic surrealism was an evolutionary dead-end but it has a surprising number of ancestors, especially in Melbourne’s Docklands.
Adrian Murick Silence, 2001–02
The most obvious of these is on the NewQuay Promenade: Adrian Murick Silence, 2001–02. This cluster of white sculptures are clearly influenced by Arp’s biomorphic sculptures.
John Meade, Aqualung
Aqualung by John Meade in 2006 is like a big black slug or an enormous tube worm with a bifurcating end that stretches through the atrium of the National Bank/Lend Lease tower at 839 Collins Street. “The counter positioning of the sculpture against the utility of the design and function of the building” (artist statement 2006) Melbourne based sculptor Meade was born in Ballarat in 1956 and has a sculpture in the NGV collection and another public sculpture, Riverside Corolla 2011, a suspended sculpture the central atrium in Southbank.
Patricia Picinni, Car Nuggets, 2006
Patricia Piccinini’s Car Nuggets, 2006 are in the grounds of the Kangan Institute of TAFE’s Automotive Centre of Excellence. Piccinini is famous for her hyperreal sculptures of mutant creatures. In earlier work she made biomorphic mopeds with mirrors like antlers and I took this trio of sculptural seats to be the eggs or pupae of similar creatures.
Matthew Harding, Fruition, 2013
Alex Goad, Tethya, 2015
Other biomorphic public sculpture in Melbourne include Matthew Harding’s Fruition 2013 in Royal Park on the corner of Flemington Road and Elliot Avenue. And Alex Goad’s biomorphic Tethya on the corner of Fitzroy and Jackson streets in St. Kilda; Tethya is the genus of some Port Phillip sea sponges. Biomorphic forms are still a fruitful form for many Melbourne sculptors.
I first saw a sculpture by Louise Paramor when her Noble ape was exhibited in Melbourne Now 2013; it is currently installed in the garden at the back of NGV International. Other people might know her from her Panorama Station sculpture beside the freeway in Carrum Downs. Then I saw Paramor’s sculpture, Ursa Major being installed in Federation Square for the Melbourne Prize 2014. I hadn’t seen any of her previous twenty or so years of exhibiting sculpture.
Louis Paramor, Noble ape, fiberglass, plastic and steel
Currently the NGV is exhibiting Paramor in two large spaces on the third floor of the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with a specially commissioned installation of new paper sculptures and a survey of her recent colourful plastic assemblages.
Palace of the Republic is a series of massive paper sculptures. Honeycomb paper decorations on a scale that will leave you awestruck. It is a reference Paramor’s earlier artistic practice before she started to collage found plastic objects.
Louis Paramor, Palace of the Republic, paper, steel, aluminium and plywood
Unlike the personal art of Del Kathryn Barton, exhibited on the same floor to the Potter Centre, Paramor’s sculptures inspires no interest in the artist. There is nothing that I can tell you about her that will help you make any more sense of her art, so I will tell you nothing. Likewise you don’t need to know the history of art, anything of biochemistry or French to make sense of her art. Partially because her art makes little sense; her sculptures are cool and humorous and I know this by the smile that they grew on my face when I saw them.
A curator explains them noting that they “combine formal concerns with a pop-inspired sensibility.” That is arranging found plastic in an asymmetrical way makes them look silly and funky.
Studies for Boomtown is a series of maquettes for sculptures that demonstrate Paramor’s seemingly inexhaustible creativity. Perhaps it is inexhaustible due to the supply of plastic objects in the world.
Louis Paramor, Studies for Boomtown, 2016, plastic, steel, wood
Public sculptures of religious figures are becoming more common in Melbourne. A decade ago there were hardly any but recent commissions seem to have doubled their numbers. The cynical psychologist in me suggests that the erecting permanent statue is a compensation for the decline in religion’s status in Melbourne. I use the word statue, rather than sculpture, because all of them are life-sized realistic figures made of bronze.
Darien Pullen, Fr. Patrick Bonaventure Geoghegan, 2017
Darien Pullen’s statue of Fr. Patrick Bonaventure Geoghegan (1805-1864) the first Catholic priest in colonial Melbourne, stands with his hand outstretched in a blessing. Installed in 2017 in front of the oldest Catholic church in Melbourne, St Francis Church on Elizabeth Street. The sculptor, Pullen has worked at Meridian Sculpture Foundry since 1984 where he mostly assists in the modelling area. This is the second life size statue of a religious figure that Pullen has made; in 2015 he was commissioned to make a statue of St Patrick, for Australian Catholic University, Melbourne Campus.
Louis Laumen Mary MacKillop 2012
Louis Laumen’s Mary MacKillop 2012, Catholic university depicts a young female figure plain 19th Century dress. The figure is on a conversation bench; you can sit down next to Mary, if you can squeeze in between the her and dove, but it looks like she is just getting up. She is about to put her book down and stand up. She is looking towards her birth place across the road. It is also a reference to images of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, with the dove to symbolise the Holy Spirit. In the middle of Australian Catholic University’s new St Mary of the Cross Square on Brunswick Street that connects to the University. Laumen is best known for his statues of sporting heroes at the MCG, has done other sculptures for the Catholic church, including a previous Mary MacKillop for Penola College in Victoria and St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. Laumen finds the church’s commissions were less restrictive than those for the MCG.
Julie Squires, St Mary of the Cross McKillop, 2012
St Mary of the Cross McKillop, 2012 by Julie Squires is installed at the new St Mary of the Cross Mausoleum at Melbourne General Cemetery. A life-sized statue of a nun, an older Mary MacKillop, embracing a little girl. The plinth puts the two figures at eye level for the average viewer. The use of different patinas on the sculpture adds to both the realism and increases the sentimental nature of the sculpture. Its sculptor Squires has taken over from Laumen in sculpting the sporting heroes around the MCG; after all sport is the major religion of most Australians.
In Brunswick there is a pedestrian footbridge that crosses over CityLink Tullamarine Freeway between Peacock Street and McColl Court. The bridge is adorned with 24 cast concrete faces. In 2017 a couple of newspapers reported on it under the headlines: “Brunswick’s creepy bridge – 25 concrete faces, not one nose and no one knows why” and “Creepy concrete faces appear on Brunswick bridge”.
When I saw it on the news the artist who made the masks was a mystery to me (and I am trying to be an expert in the limited field of Melbourne’s street art sculpture) but one that I didn’t have time until now to investigate. Now that I have it is the paranoid reaction and the lack of any memory in suburbia that are the most disturbing elements.
What caused this paranoid reaction? Was this reaction just because a local graff writer, the prolific tagger Felon had decorated one of the faces, death metal style or was it because of the absence of a plaque to identify the art? I’m not surprised that the noses are all gone, it is the first thing to be damaged on a sculpture and it gives the masks an antique feel.
The propensity for paranoia in suburbia is no reason for alarm. A mystery has to have an element of danger and intrigue or it wouldn’t be mysterious. However, once the facts are revealed it generally turns out to be not that interesting, perhaps even mundane, like a pizza restaurant in Washington DC.
The following day The Age reported that it was the work of Melbourne artist Mary Rogers who “sculpted the 25 life-size faces in her home studio in the mid-1990s as part of the Freeway Bridge Project.”
The work combines architectural decoration on brutalist concrete and was intended to help humanise the freeway overpass. The masks were cast from local residents but, after twenty years, this has not given the bridge any local context or memory. The lack of any urban memory of the bridge speaks of the transitory nature of the urban life.
Unlike what many sculptures become by accident, Habitat Filter is intended to become a bird roost. The green, blue and orange shards fit into Melbourne’s contemporary architecture on the skyline. Eight shards stand in the middle of a freeway off ramp. In some areas there would be no need for the extravagance of such a construction but the highly visible location near ACCA and the Malthouse Theatre requires more than just a generic design solution.
Habitat Filter comes with many environmentally friendly design solutions: a vertical garden creating an urban forest island and providing natural filtration of water and air by native species vegetation. It makes use of recycled materials and provides renewable energy, through photovoltaic cells, to offset the energy for its lighting. I hope that the vegetation has grown more over the year since I took these photographs shortly after it opened in 2016. It is part of CityLink’s sculpture collection; see my earlier post for more on freeway art.
It is an attempt to restore a small circle of degraded inner city land designed by Drysdale, Myers and Dow. I use the word ‘designed’ because that is what is used on the sculpture’s information panel and to emphasise the background of the designers. Matt Drysdale is an ‘urban designer’ and both Matt Myers and Tim Dow studied architecture. The large letters spelling out its name is just prosaic; it eliminates the mystery of art, reducing it to a branded design solution. For more on the subject of sculpture vs architecture.
I can understand why the chainlink fence is essential and yet it is not part of the design plan but rather added as an undesigned after thought. However, neither the sign nor the chainlink fence is not going to put the birds off roosting. Perhaps my pedestrian perspective on it is wrong; perhaps I should be travelling in a car to see it at speed rather than stationary. Or maybe, as Habitat Filter is a human free zone, I should ask the birds. I tried but various species of parrots argued amongst themselves, the crows commented dryly and the magpies just attacked me.