The words following the white line on Upfield bike path. The reflective white line dividing the bike path becomes the page, the site for the text. The path of words runs between the throughly domesticated work or architects and building engineers and the wild feral art that grows like weeds along the railway line.
It was part of More Art 2018, is A Narrow Road to the Deep North by Illimine. Illimine is an international collective of multimedia artists, performers and academics who have been doing site-specific art since 2013 that has a several Melbourne based members.
The text goes on for some kilometres, about 10 km making it amongst the longest works of urban art or poetry. (Not that I want to get into an urban art measuring contest, so you can put your hand down now Sigmund. We all know what you are going to say.) It is a durational writing performance the work.
If it is literature, it is the kind that nobody reads completely and just dip into a bit, so that they can say they have. It is even harder to read because although the text goes left to right, as the writer proceeds along the left hand side of the path north, the blocks of text go from right to left.
Now the mainstream news is reporting on it. This is an indicator of how slack I have been in reporting on what is going on in my neighbourhood; in my defence, it is poetry and there is no hurry to read it. As the text doesn’t compete for space with either the developers or the graffiti writers it will survive until the lines on the bike path are repainted.
The very hungry caterpillar crawls along the fence line. Three little pigs, Winnie the Pooh, Paddington Bear and other characters from children’s literature adore more of the fence and poles.
Yarn Corner Uncle Dickey’s Library Install
Near the train line crossing on Reynard Street in Coburg is Uncle Dickey’s Library, a little free library. It is just a small, red wooden cupboard full of free books and a red garden bench by the railway fence. Uncle Dickey’s library was the first of Coburg’s free libraries starting in 2014 a little further along the line before moving to its present location after a fire.
It is now decorated with an installation by Yarn Corner. The theme of children’s literature makes it one of the most elaborate and relevant yarn bombing installations that I have seen.
What a yarn bomber with the tag of “Fifty Shades of Grey”? Yes, yarn bombers tag their work with laminated tags.
Most of what we do in public is still exclusive, rarely do we walk or talk with strangers. Yarn bombing and free libraries, on the other hand, are inclusive street activities inviting strangers to join in. If you do want to do some yarn bombing just get in touch with Yarn Corner on Facebook.
This kind of open individual initiated anarchic activities, yarn bombing and free libraries, raise the larger question of what kind of society do we want to create?
The Coburg Plan is a paperback book of photographs, essays, stories, a poem, even some comments from Scott’s Instagram feed focused on the architecture of Coburg. Jessie Scott is described at the “principle artist” and it is an affordable, accessible kind of artist’s book.
I have lived in this inner northern suburb for decades, I helped crowdfund the book and was at its launch on Saturday at the Post Office Hotel. At the launch there were speeches, a reading of the poem by Timmah Ball and the kind of gastropub food that the PO Hotel is now well known for. I can remember when the Post Office Hotel had a different reputation; it was further down the pecking order than the Moreland Hotel with its strippers and pokies. It was the kind of place where some guy would come around to your table asking for a cigarette. Now, it has changed.
The Coburg Plan is neither a celebration nor a condemnation of the changes; it is a neutral look at the often anaesthetic nature of suburbia. It is an elegantly designed book with type set in Brunswick Grotesque, an easy to read san-serif font and a near perfect choice of hyper-local typeface donated by its designer, Dennis Grauel.
Kyle Weise’s essay is a good introduction to Scott’s photographs. Weise examines the history of banal suburbia in architecture and in photography; from Robert Venturi Learning from Las Vegas to David Wadleton’s photographs of Melbourne’s milk bars. It is the antithesis of the modernist architectural vision that Robin Boyd writes about in his The Australian Ugliness, but it is a feature of ordinary, banal reality.
Scott records the mundane details of suburbia in her photographs. The old houses and closed corner shops, the empty lots, a ghostsign revealed during demolition, and the construction of new units. There is the street sign dealing with the fact that there are two streets in the suburb with almost the same name Hutchinson Place and Street; Australia street names makes up in repetition what they lack in originality.
It is a Coburg ‘plan’; ‘plan’, not as in an advance arrangement, but as in a representation or artist’s impression.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Some great guerrilla gardening taking over a wide nature strip in Coburg complete with a mosaic ceramic features by local Mel Craven.
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.
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, 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.