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Tag Archives: Melbourne

Three Public Sculptures in the Docklands

 

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Sally Smart, Shadow Trees, 2014

Shadow Trees by South Australian artist, Sally Smart, was installed in 2014 at the new Buluk Park and library the junction of Bourke and Collins Streets in Victoria Harbour, Docklands. Shadow Trees is both site-specific and creates a landmark for the site.

The plasma cut steel silhouettes are assembled into two large trees in a place where there have been no trees for probably a century or more. There were once many trees in that once swampy area where the river meets the bay before the Europeans arrived and chopped them all down to make docks for their ships. Now all of the trees, some of the docks and most of the ships have gone. Oddly this is not the only sculptural tree in the Docklands, there is also John Kelly’s Cow Up a Tree.

Painted pink, purple, orange, red, white, grey and black, Smart’s trees don’t pretend to be natural. However, they do appear more natural than the rest of the contrived, designed artificial area.

Trees are naturally a great sculptural form, redolent in meaning but until recently it was impossible to make at an appropriate scale. Smart’s trees seem full of stories. “The cut-out painted silhouette elements and text are open to interpretation, drawing on references from the site’s history, biology, botany, habitation, movement and language,” says Smart.

Shadow Trees tie in with Sally Smart’s gallery art works, where trees are a recurring motif. This is most obvious in her large installation, Family Tree House (Shadows and Symptoms),1999–2002. The felt and canvas with collage elements have been translated into steel for the Shadow Trees.

The shadows of these two trees links them to the text in the bluestone paving. The text is a poem by writer and cultural historian, Maria Tumarkin especially commissioned for the location. Like many contemporary sculptures it features an integrated lighting system rather than lighting as a modern addition.

Shadow Trees works well making and marking the location of a park and the Library at The Dock. For more see Victoria Harbour News.

Mark Stoner, A River Runs Through It, 2011

Mark Stoner, A River Runs Through It, 2011

The geometric rippling piles of brick and the organic rippling carved white marble rocks or waves are scattered across this large site. There is no front to this sculpture, no perfect vantage point; to see it you have to walk around it, seeing it only in part or as a process of exploration.

You even have to explore the site to find all of the blue explanatory text panels. I have brought all the text together in one quote.

“… this site is the intersection of two axes… one reflects the city grid and its built form, the other is the original flow of the site as traced by the river and the wind… … a collision of water, wind and sun… …a composition of sculptures that creates a landscape of spaces, materials and systems… …in acknowledging the flow and timelessness of the river we may imagine the primal site… ”

The ellipsis are all Stoner’s, he is obviously a fan of ellipsis.

Stoner has other public sculptures; at the Victoria Market a memorial to the previous graveyard and another sculpture on the Geelong foreshore. His work has a monumental heavy quality that has its foundations in the location.

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Adrian Mauriks Silence, 2001–02

On the NewQuay Promenade in Docklands there thirteen of these curvy white biomorophic fibreglass resin sculptures. It is all very surreal, like alien lifeforms growing in the Docklands. Silence, 2001–02 by Melbourne based sculptor, Adrian Mauriks, who described it as “a series of forms arousing to the mind”. Silence is spread out across an area of 18.5 metres by 12.5 metres outside Arkley Tower. The white painted surface of the biomorphic blobs are coated an accumulation of black scuff marks from the shoes of people, mostly children, who climb on them. (For earlier public art by Mauriks in Richmond see my blog post WTF Corner.)

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The Other Art Fair

What other art fair? Melbourne doesn’t have an art fair anymore as the Melbourne Art Fair was cancelled last year. There is the Not Fair. There has also been the Affordable Art Fair, Supergraph and probably a something else, like a craft fair.

On Thursday night I was at the opening of The Other Art Fair, the start of a four day event. Presented by Saatchi Art; it is very well run with a food, coffee, a bar, music, space to sit down, lots of portable gas heaters glowing red, an art wrapping service, performance art and other events.

Kensington, on the other side of the Moonee Ponds Creek, is not a suburb associated with art exhibitions. Between two railway lines and near a tram line it is a surprisingly accessible location. The venue, The Facility is another surprise a converted wool-shed with some new interior additions.

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“Keep your eyes open, you never know what you might see.”

Reads the note that I selected at random from the performance artist’s bag, a work devised by by Rioko Tega.

Unlike most art fair the 98 booths at the Other Art Fair have artists and not galleries. The art ranges in styles from the painterly abstract, hard edge abstracts, large format art photography, realist landscapes, paintings of animals, surreal fantasies and erotic tapestries.

Most of the artists are not represented by a major commercial gallery but I recognised a couple of names, emerging artists that I have seen in various smaller galleries. The interior and exterior walls of the venue reminded me what was missing from the variety of artist exhibiting there were no street artists.

Meeting the artist is what every art buyer wants, to meet the person who created the art. It is a tough gig for the artist, four days of fronting their art, hoping to sell enough to pay their expenses. The artists were picked by a selection committee that included the artist Patricia Piccinini, Director of Mossgreen Gallery Lisa Fehily and Senior Curator at Australian Centre for Contemporary Art Annika Kristensen. The committee has done its job in ensuring a consistent quality of artists. There is a lot of attractive, fashionable art that would compliment contemporary decor, along with, depending on your taste, some beautiful art direct from the artist.


Thanks for the cocktails, Cheers

What am I doing at the Whitehart Bar, in Whitehart Lane, Melbourne? I am ‘doing things your way’ doing things my way with a hashtag Wild Turkey Kentucky Firebird smoke infused cocktail and hoping to win a work of art. Yes, there will be alcohol sponsored promotions in this post. My excuse, and I will stick to it  even under cross examination, is that I was there as an art critic observing the work of the guest artists: Gareth Stehr, Klara, Adrian Doyle. Will Coles, Bertie Blackman and Nikolaus Dolman were part of the publicity up in Sydney.

The Whitehart Bar is at the end of dark lane, separated by a chain link fence topped with barbed wire. Constructed out of iron girders and shipping containers in an old parking lot, the numbers are still visible on its old bluestone walls.

It is the perfect setting for a hard-bitten, true art crime writer. I need a break from working on my art crime book and writing about the art forgery convictions being quashed for The Daily Review. I haven’t had time to write anything for this blog in weeks.

Were you not there simply for the free Wild Turkey cocktails?

Not entirely, I was there to observe the synergies between artists and marketing event. I looked at the three paintings and I photographed Gareth Stehr’s jacket. I saw a lot of retro elements, I thought that circular paintings went out with painted tambourines. Stehr piece had a poker work skull, burnt into the wooden support with a hot poker; I thought that poker work went out with sailing ships but I’ve seen several pieces already this year. Hot Potato Band were a lot of fun but again lots of retro elements; I thought that Sousaphones went out with that expression but once again I was wrong.

The smoke filled glasses are spectacular of “Wild Turkey Kentucky Firebird” and the citrus notes cuts the sweetness. I am probably amongst the first million people in the world to taste the cocktail. I had to sample this smoke infused cocktail twice for accuracy along with a couple of other bourbon based cocktails. Burgers By Josh were launching a menu and I sucked in about three of their smoked “spicy turkey wingettes” with peach and bourbon BBQ sauce. The food bloggers on the guest list talking about “the biggest burger that I ever ate”.

Cheers.


Anti-Muralism

For the past three years murals, very large multi-story painted walls are the popular form in Melbourne’s street art. Murals are also very popular in advertising and with socialists. Van Rudd says that wants to revive the tradition of political mural painting in Melbourne that happened with Geoff Hogg in the 1970s.

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Murals are seen as community art solution, read Tony Matthews and Deanna Grant-Smith “How murals helped turn a declining community around” in The Conversation, as well as an advertising technique. Dvate’s painted banner for The Lion King in 2015 or HaHa’s 2016-17 3MMM banner at Macaulay railway station, a favourite old haunt of HaHa when he was running around the city getting his name up. Smug’s mural on Otter Street promoting a luxury apartment development, makes gentrification cute. The popularity of murals makes for endless commercial applications.

I think that I lost a lot of my interest in Melbourne’s street art when murals became the dominate form of street art. I don’t like most murals, street art or otherwise, as I have already written about the Harold Freedman mosaic mural on the Fire Station. So I don’t feel as motivated to write about street art, although I have written about Rone and Adnate’s murals.

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Rone in Collins Street, 2014

I’m not sure what it is about murals that I don’t like, after all they are just very large paintings. I do like a few murals in Melbourne. The Keith Haring mural in Collingwood but that is because I like his other work and the mural is simply a large example. I don’t think of the large walls by sprayed with fire extinguishers full of paint by Ash Keating and others as murals because they are just paint whereas a mural is about something.

Often murals are so about something that it feels like you are being lectured or advertised at. I’m not sure that I want the intended message or non-message of a mural and even if I do then what about people who don’t? The intended mass audience of a mural makes is like advertising. Whereas I like art that is aimed at a small audience rather than the lowest common denominator. The bigger the audience does not mean the better the art; size is kind of pornographic.

At other times there is so little content in a mural, like Rone’s faces, that being content free and abstract would have something more than these substitutes for content. For this reason I found Doyle’s Empty Nursery Blue to be more artistic than any and all of Rone’s murals.

I was also wondering if it is because murals lack a human scale. Murals are different to graffiti pieces in terms of scale. The reach of a graffiti writer defines the height of a piece, the arc of the curves so that a piece of graffiti reflects a human scale. Whereas the size of a mural is determined by the size of the wall and the equipment used.

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Cam and Scale, Brunswick 2017


Dada Meme Infects the World

At the beginning of the twentieth century for the first time in history there was enough young people not just to fight a world war and to start to create subcultures. With the Dadaists there was still too few of any of them to bother with classifications. The history of eccentrics leads people to retrospectively classify them in subcultures, those strange attractors in the chaos of society.

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Greil Marcus in his book, Lipstick Traces tries to trace Dada and punk back to the Anabaptists. Others trace them back to Cynics of Ancient Greece. Was Diogenes was a hippy or a punk?

Instead of wondering about future histories or museums, instead of trying to trace an illegitimate ancestry for Dada or punk, look at the attraction. What was the reason for their existence? Why do people around the world identify with them?

Dada and punk gave expression to a status frustration of talented and intelligent youth who had no influence in the direction of art, culture or the world. Dada was the first of many cultural guerrilla resistance forces. Operating in occupied territory, these movements attack and retreat, sometimes melting away into the general population. Their tactics change to take advantage of the local terrain and exploit weakness in psychosocial defences. For such movements survival is the same as success and both Dada and punk did so much more than just survive. They spread rapidly. Perhaps this was because the conditions were right but more likely there were already people who were doing that kind of thing looking for a larger movement to identify with.

The thing about Dada was that it was an art movement not just for the professional, trained artist, but for anyone. Many of those involved in Dada did not continue to be artists because they were medical students who became doctors, students who became teachers. Is it any surprise that Dada didn’t survive long with such an incoherent group of proto- punks, hippies and new agers.

The Cabaret Voltaire and the Dada Gallery in Zurich ended like so many artist run initiatives to come after them. Wednesday 9th April 1919 was the date for the final grand soirée in Zurich. By then Dada had already spread around the world. The debate as to where punk started, USA or England, mirrors the debate about the origins of Dada. The meme of Dada was transported in person by members of the Zurich crowd but it was also spread by mail. The impact of the postal service on Dada and subsequent similar movements cannot be ignored.

In 1917 Richard Huelsenbeck spreads the meme to Berlin where Club Dada was formed. In 1918 Dada spread to Max Ernst and Johannes Baargeld in Cologne via Hans Arp. Marcel Janco took Dada back to Rumania were Contimporanul is formed. In 1918 Kurt Schwitter’s applied to join Club Dada in Berlin but is rejected so he creates his own Merz movement, or magazine, or both.

Dada was already in New York with Francis Picabia acting as the link between the Dadaists in New York and Zurich. He was already doing his own thing, publishing a zine in Spain before he ever heard of Dada. Dada continued to spread in Barcelona with Picabia to a mix of French, English, Italian and Russian.

Tristan Tzara takes Dada to Paris.

In Russia (Krutchony, Terentieff, Zdanevich) Perevoz was DaDa. Ma is the Hungarian version 1918-22 (Lojos Kassak, Sandor Barta). It was Mécano in Holland with Theo Van Doesburg.

There is the big Dada/Surrealism split in Paris in October to December of 1919. But to the east new Dada like groups are still announcing themselves. Tank in Zagreb 1922, The Green Donkey Group in Hungary, 1927 (Odon Palasowki). In Japan it was Mavo.

Dada eventually arrived in Melbourne in 1952 with Barry Humphries, Clifton Pugh and Germaine Greer where it was known as Wobboism. It was so old by then that neo-Dada movements had already started in Japan and the US.


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?)


New Sounds on the Street

The conversation at the BBQ turned to complaining about various buskers: love them or hate them, the bagpipes at Flinders Street Station or the Chinese fiddle player at the NGV. Melbourne has a good culture of buskers from living sculptures and sidewalk performers to musicians. There is an international feel to Melbourne’s buskers, reflecting the multi-cultural nature of the city. There are amateur musicians with just their instrument and its case open for coins to professional buskers with CD for sale and so much equipment that they need a roadie or at least a handcart to move it.

India Bati and friend

India Bharti and friend

I always like to see different instruments played on the street, not the usual busker with a guitar. This is about the stranger instruments, the unique inventions that I’ve seen played on Melbourne’s streets. New musical instruments are a combination of invention, engineering, make-do and art.

The variety and quantity of buskers in Melbourne is impressive. From the bagpipe player who used to play on the on the steps of Flinders St. Station to a guy doing beat boxing . The human beat box was doing bass and drums with just a microphone and an amp. He was excellent, impressive as the vocalisations — covers of ‘Stand By Me’ and ‘Another One Bites The Dust’. The human beat box was also expressing his artistic desperation in between songs: “I don’t want to be busking for the rest of my life.”

One day I saw a guy playing a “dagpipe” player on the corner of Elizabeth and Bourke. The “dagpipe” were his inventions, or maybe not, another guy playing one called it a “gagpipe” — either way it is a very Australian alternative to a bagpipe. It used a foot pump for an air mattress to inflate the plastic bag from a 4-litre cask of wine that supplies air to the single pipe.

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Man playing “dagpipes”

Another day I saw another very Australian improvised instruments being played by a busker — tuned beer bottles hung on a wooden rack.

In the late 1980s there was Jerome and Soul Desire who were street performers using improvised percussion instruments. And now there is Victor Lancaster aka Mr Mention who plays the improvised drum kit made of plastic buckets.

India Bharti is my favourite busker because of his unique collection of instruments. He is a Shivaism, a Shiva devotee with long wild hair, trident and other accoutrements and his lyrics reflect this interest. He performs with several unique handmade stringed instruments; the largest being a long piece of natural wood with many strings attached. All of these stringed instruments are augmented with many guitar effects peddles. The sound that it produces is somewhere between an electric guitar and a tempura (the Indian instrument that provides the continuous tonic drones that backs the soloists). He has released CDs and I even saw a video clip on Rage many years ago (he now has many videos on YouTube).


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