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Tag Archives: Melbourne

Vampire killing at the Police Museum

Sometimes a small focused museum can be a wonderful thing, at other times, not. The Melbourne’s Police Museum is a small museum on the mezzanine level of the World Trade Centre on Flinders Street. You probably didn’t know that Melbourne had a police museum and this is possibly intentional as the museum, and the gift shop, are really for members of the force only, except that it open to everyone with a gold coin donation.

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Caricature of Sir Thomas Blamey by Leonard Frank Reynolds 1926

Aside from one suit of armour from the Kelly gang, the managed carcass of the car from the Russell Street bombings is the centrepiece of the museum. When I visited there was a temporary exhibition about members of the force who died in World War One which tells more about Australian nationalism than policing. These memorials to dead members of the force gets in the way of any other narratives that the museum could present. There is no display showing the development of handcuffs, uniforms or police radios. Technology, such as bomb disposal is presented in isolation rather than as part of a progression. This is because conservative history and museums are about memorialising the past rather than examining or explaining developments.

The Police Museum acknowledges that its former Chief Commissioner Blamey was a fascist in displaying a caricature of him. However, there is no examination on how that effected the Victoria Police (whose motto of ‘uphold the right’ has to be viewed differently in light of this association).

The purpose of the museum can be summed up by the strangest of all the museum’s exhibits is a vampire killing kit. Vampire killing kits are a thing and this isn’t a great version. They are about as real as religious relics, almost as common and like many religious relics vampire killing kits are confections concocted out of antiques. The kit contributes nothing to anyone’s knowledge of the police. The simple reason that it is on display in the Police Museum is that it is a curiosity that the police posses after confiscating it from a criminal.

The museum is hardly worth visiting but I did as part of my research into Melbourne’s art and crime. I was disappointed because I learnt almost nothing from the my visit, however, in examining my disappointment I have learnt the difference between a conservative and a progressive museum. Conservative museums are about memorials rather than explanation, events rather than developments, and satisfying curiosity rather than gaining knowledge. And the police museum is a very conservative museum.

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Political Graffiti in 2018

In late April on The Conversation Dr. Flavia Marcello. Associate Professor at Swinburne University’s School of Design, asks “Where has Melbourne’s political graffiti gone?” It is worth asking the question but aside from the yearning for the 70s and the overtly political graffiti of those times there wasn’t much to the article.

The scene on the street is now a more complex system, with greater diversity and more types of graffiti and street art operating. Rest assured Dr Marcello there is still plenty of political graffiti and street art in Melbourne. In all kinds of media from aerosol paint to stickers and even yarn bombing. Some of the best is done by stencil artist like Crisp and paste-up artists like Phoenix.

There is a wide variety of causes being promoted from ending Australia’s abuse of refugees to free West Papua. These causes are now in front of the eyes and cameras of international tourists who throng in their thousands to Melbourne’s graffiti attraction of Hosier Lane. The Free West Papua slogan managed to occupy space in the highly desirable Hosier Lane by using a chainlink fence that the aerosol and paste-up artists didn’t want. Consider the subversive power of a series of paste-ups calling to Free Liu Xiaobo in front of the cameras of Chinese tourists taking selfies in Hosier Lane.

So here is a collection of some of the best political street art and graffiti that I’ve seen in Melbourne in the last year or so. Although I am aware that there are many ways that graffiti and street art can be political, as in, contesting public and private space, I have tried to keep the politics of the collection clear and obvious. 


Chaos & Order : 120 years of collecting at RMIT

A collector can only span a lifetime but an institution’s collection can span more than one lifetime. A collector has a limited interest but an institutions collection policy can be redirected and renegotiated. RMIT’s 120 years of art collecting reflects a major period in Australian art history.

Chaos & Order : 120 years of collecting at RMIT

Chaos & Order : 120 years of collecting at RMIT

This makes RMIT Gallery’s exhibition of the RMIT collection, Chaos & Order, one of the best exhibitions of Australian art history that you will see. The size of the collection, which fills more spaces in the building that I’ve ever seen the gallery use before, means that it can tell Australian art history. And it does this without being too big and overwhelming.

The collection has works from the modern to the post-modern. Often these are not major works by major artist but works on paper and sculpture maquettes.

It is an exhibition to expand your knowledge of an artist, to round out your knowledge of Australian artists and to throw in a few surprises. A work by the Spanish artist Antoni Tapies? What is it doing there? The reasons why a work was added to the collection is one thing missing from the exhibition.

For a reviewer selecting a couple of  examples to write about posses more problems than even the curator, Jon Buckingham faced in selecting the exhibition from the collection. I am faced with constructing a narrative order whereas the exhibition fills a building or laid out as a mass in the middle of the gallery. Sculpture nerd that I am I have to take a photograph with the work of Norma Redpath, Inge King and Clement Meadmore in the one shot. Note the conflict of interest in a couple of paintings by my Facebook friends, Juan Ford and Sam Leach.

Listening to the sound art in the basement on a multichannel sound system and trying to think of ways of finding order in the chaos of the collection. There are so many stories to tell in the collection. There is a watercolour by Albert Namatjira and Noel Counihan’s linocut depicting a crucified Namatjira. Should I follow this theme through to Reko Rennie’s neon graff-style slogan: ‘I wear my own crown’? Or, I could trace waves of immigration and its impact on the arts in Australia. Or, changes in artistic media… It is such a rich collection that many stands in the narrative of art history can be easily found in it. Strands that will reach into the future and define yet unimagined art.

Noel Counihan, Albert Namatjira, 1959

Noel Counihan, Albert Namatjira, 1959


Biomorphic public sculpture in Melbourne

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

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.

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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, Seats

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.

 

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.


Ten years of Melbourne’s street art and graffiti

Ten years in the history of Melbourne’s street art and graffiti told with a series of artists, crews and events. Rather than another listical of notable street artists this is an attempt at a kind of chronology that points out peaks rather than beginnings and endings. In it there are artists who opened new directions, who could not be ignored, who reinvented themselves or the techniques and the idea of street art and graffiti. There are artists who have persisted along with artists who for a short time made a big impact. It is a list based on my observation of Melbourne’s street art and writing them in this blog.

 

2008: Drew Funk and HaHa

Drew Funk and HaHa are two affable guys, studio mates and friends on the two sides of the aerosol paint use. Drew Funk’s aerosol art and HaHa’s stencil work were once ubiquitous with the Melbourne street art scene.

2009: Ghostpatrol and Miso

The power couple of the emerging illustrative street art scene. Ghostpatrol’s whimsical character illustrations and Miso’s paper cuts were fresh styles and techniques. Neither does any street art now both quickly moving into the fine art and legal murals.

2010: Yarn Wrap and Junky Projects

Both these artists expanded media of street art. Before Bali Portman and Yarn Corner crew there was Yarn Wrap guerrilla knitting. I was sceptical when I first heard about yarn bombing but I was wrong and the technique quickly became a favourite of city councils. Meanwhile, Junky Projects collecting rubbish from the street and transforming it in the most coherent and long term up-cycling project ever.

2011: The Everfresh and the AWOL Crews

The Everfresh crew of Phibs, Rone, Reka, Meggs, Sync, Makatron, Wonderlust, Prizm and the Tooth have been the most significant crew in Melbourne. The AWOL crew of Adnate, Deams, Itch, Li-Hill, Lucy Lucy, Slicer were not far behind and by changing their styles they sprayed their way to more fame.

2012: CDH and Baby Guerrilla

Two ambitious artists who made a big impact but are no longer actively making art on the streets. CDH was the mad scientist of the street art scene; trying out new techniques using fire, hydroactivated paint and creating conundrums for the NGV with his Trojan Petition. At the same time, Baby Guerrilla was reaching for the heavens, trying to fill the largest and highest walls with her floating paste-up figures.

2013: All Your Walls & Empty Nursery Blue

Both projects buffed the walls of Melbourne’s graffiti central to good effect. Adrian Doyle painted the whole of Rutledge Lane blue. And, as a curated part of the NGV’s “Melbourne Now” exhibition, the whole of Hosier Lane was repainted by some of Melbourne’s best graffiti and street artists in All Your Walls.

2014: Rone and Adnate

In 2014 year both artists painted very large legal murals of big faces on big walls. Everfresh crew member Rone painted women’s faces and AWOL crew member Adnate painted Indigenous people.

2015: Kranky and Tinky

Kranky was a crazy explosion of assemblages, then it stopped; maybe the supply of plastic toys ran out. Tinky used even smaller toys to make her little scenes Along with other artists Kranky and Tinky revived the street art in Presgrave Place.

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Lush’s work in Richmond

2016: Lush and Nost

The most irritating assholes in Melbourne’s street art/graffiti scene where there are plenty of irritating assholes. These two guys have made it a speciality. Lush does have a trollish sense of humour but he highlights a problem that is essentially for so much street art, especially murals, they are just click bait. Nost is a tagger, an aerosol bomber who hates street art.

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2017: Astral Nadir

The art Astral Nadir encouraged me to look down at the sidewalk and not up on the walls. With so many walls already painted and the backs of signs covered in stickers Astral Nadir artistically exploring a relatively unused area in Melbourne.


Planning a city

“Between the Street and the Sky” describes itself as a “provocation for Melbourne” rather than an exhibition about urban planning. It is at the City Gallery in Melbourne Town Hall. The elegant little display is certainly provocative in putting the gigantic growth of central Melbourne into perspective. More people are living in tall buildings with an ever smaller footprint. However, increases in population have not been met with an equivalent investment by either the city council or businesses.

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“Between the street and the sky”, model by Christopher White/Bates Smart

Planning is currently a hot topic in Melbourne, maybe in the rest of Australia too. This is because the quality of planning in Australia is catastrophic. Consider another example not covered in the “Between the Street and the Sky” exhibition. A major tourist attraction damaged for the benefit of a short term commercial interest. It could be  the impact of the Culture Kings shop on Hosier Lane, it could be the Apple store in Federation Square or Adani coal mine in Queensland potential to destroy the Great Barrier Reef. Take your pick they are all examples of Australia’s lack of planning. It is not just tourism that is threatened but the environment, to culture, to being able to live a good life.

Rather than focusing on one issue I want to know why Australians repeatedly makes these kind of decisions. I will not be blaming one political party for it because that is simply false and the people who do that are part of the problem, as they are trying to get a short term political advantage while damaging Australia in the long term through entrenched partisanship. I am happy acknowledge that this kind of decision making is not unique to Australia if the Australian demanding this will acknowledge that Australia is amongst the best in the world at doing irreparable damage to its own long term interests.

It is a problem of poor planning, avoiding planning and not planning. It is as if many people living in Australia never intended for Australia to be a permanent residence. Even if they never did, most of Australia’s population arrived planning to exploit the natural resources, become rich and return to their home country. This is especially true of the British colonial immigrants who became Australia’s ruling class. Australians often don’t want any other people in the area because this would additional people who will just reduce the amount that they can exploit. This paranoid and greedy reaction to the limited resources drives both Australia’s abuse of refugees and a local defence of the status quo in suburban infrastructure and planning.

Instead of avoiding the difficult issues Australia needs plans.


A gallery crawl down Flinders Lane

I started my gallery crawl at the Spring Street end of Flinders Lane and worked my way down the hill to Elizabeth Street, having a look in the various art galleries. The art I saw varied from the beautiful, fun and engaging through to the why is this even being exhibited.

Lisa Seward “A thousand kisses deep”

Lisa Seward’s “A thousand kisses deep” at Forty-five Downstairs

Most of the commercial galleries were closed last Thursday for various reasons. Two, Arc One and Anna Schwartz were installing new exhibitions, Lesley Kehoe Galleries in 101 Collins Street was only open “by appointment” and it was too early in the day for Stephen McLaughlan Gallery to be open.

The only commercial gallery that I saw was FLG (Flinders Lane Gallery). It had two wall hanging sculpture exhibitions by the sculptors Richard Blackwell and Dion Horstmans. Blackwell’s curvy op-art sculptures are mesmerising and Horstmans’s look like the graffiti outlines with colour fades.

There were two exhibitions at Forty Five Downstairs. Mike Nicholls exhibition “Bird as totem” features both his wood carvings and works on paper; Melbourne sculptor Nicholls was a founding member of Melbourne’s first ARI, Roar Studios. And Lisa Seward’s “A thousand kisses deep”, an exhibition paintings, etching and installations. The only problem with Seward’s exhibition was that with 58 works it was a bit too much, too obsessive repeating a whimsical surreal thought about parachutes and jellyfish.

At Blindside, Majed Fayad “Fly, Sky High … Dubai” explores the neutral space aesthetic of airport passenger lounges with their bland aesthetics and complete surrender to international commercial interests. In Blindside’s second gallery there is a neon work, “Shift (corner)” by Meagan Streader and Genevieve Felix Reynolds painting on curved aluminium looks like a badly hung poster. There was also a video work, “I’m a steamroller baby” by Kray Chen from Singapore.

Miranda Jill Millen solo exhibition of paintings and ceramic sculptures My Kath & Kim was all boganfreude (a word coined by Brigid Delaney of the Guardian meaning “meaning the thrill you get from reading about bogans behaving badly”). The images based on the tv series Kath and Kim are so close to a copyright violation that only the legal fees are separating it. I think that the City Library can and has a responsibility to do better than simply having a publicly owned space for hire on a monthly basis that doesn’t take commission.

The ceramic cigarettes in Millen’s exhibition were similar to the textile versions of objects in Pimento Mori: Life and Desk Lunch by Chloe Smith at Mailbox Art Space at 141 Flinders Lane. However, unlike Millen’s work, Smith’s fantastic little exhibition is not laughing at outer suburban bogans, like Kath and Kim, but at everyone who has ever eaten at their desk. Smith’s round pimento shaped and coloured invitations were a perfect added detail.

And that concluded my gallery crawl down Flinders Lane and I wanted sushi for lunch.


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