Tag Archives: Coburg

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.

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Street Messages

I’ve been looking, photographing and thinking about messages on the street. Not the stencil or paste-up poster messages directed at a mass audience but the individual messages directed at a specific audience or even an individual.

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I’m not sure of the accuracy of this claim outside Anstey Station, but it has been at least 20 years of providing a great legal wall.

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I am interested in the ethics of graffiti writing and the messages that debate this. Often this is the ethics of what counts in the claim of “I was sitting there first.” Claiming a right to a chair in bar or to occupy a spot by the pool or to paint a wall when such things are a limited resource by virtue of a prior claim of occupancy. Amongst graffiti writers there is a transmission of a code of ethics through an oral tradition, as well as, messages written on walls.

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Generally graffiti writers are only interested in communicating with other graffiti writers but occasionally they want to make a point to a wider audience. Messages written on walls, as an adjunct to a piece is the only direct form of communication. This note from Bailer was probably intended for a idiot who often caps pieces in the area.

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“No Style” is an irony free cap over a cleanly executed bubble letter style piece by Speds.

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Old skool graffiti writers do not respect anyone without good aerosol skills just like the old school conservatives would not read anyone who could write neat copperplate with prefect spelling and grammar.

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I don’t want to be a grammar nazi but some people have to, just like some people have to tag. This comment was in reference to a tag with unconventional spelling. (Are you still reading Facter?)


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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The City As Art

The buildings in the centre of Melbourne are both familiar and unknown, they seem to change around like something out of the movie, Dark City. Exploring the city has to be a regular activity as there are changes occurring all of the time and a once familiar area transforms.

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The city as a creation, as a great co-operative work of architecture, art and engineering stretching over a vast area and reaching into the sky, a larger concept than a medieval cathedral. The creation, curation and alteration of which is a mix of planning, adapting and neglect.

The city draws you along its streets, wanting to see what is coming around the corner. Each street creates a new scene, one block is totally different from the next.

Underneath the city, the ground level is as constructed on foundations. How deep does it go? The labyrinthine network of tunnels, the subway, the subconscious of all cities. There is a mystery beneath all cities, the mystery of  the labyrinth and at its core the Minotaur.

Too much repetition in a city reminds one that it is also a labyrinth where a Minotaur hunts for sacrificial victims. “Bloody tribute!” says Theseus after tagging the wall with an outline of his hand sprayed by mouth in red ochre, or is it bull’s blood?

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Cities are visually dense; signs and symbols compete for our attention. The accretion of images, of advertising and signs. The many shiny surfaces reflect the many lights further confusing the vision. The visual density of the city has presented a challenge to visual artists for the last two centuries.

Graffiti and street art rise to this challenge by imitating the visual intensity of the city, by being part of and by being framed by the infrastructure of the city. Graffiti tries to fit into this environment by becoming a tag, a personal logo in a world full of corporate logos. Both the graffiti writer and the street artist rectifies the urban environment by adding their designs to the layers of images, personalising the alien, impersonal architecture of the city.

The whole of Melbourne could be seen as an un-curated art gallery for graffiti and street art. Except that there are small semi-curated zones, like… roll the credits… Doyle’s Blender Alley and Lovelands, the area of Fitzroy curated by Shaun Hossack of Juddy Roller, Dean Sunshine’s factories in Brunswick. Gordon Harrison, the City of Melbourne engineer should also get some credit of street art in the CBD. I’m sorry if I have missed anyone.

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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…

Robot performer Coburg

… 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…


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