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Tag Archives: St. Kilda

Confined 9 – Indigenous prison art

Not every Indigenous person who goes to prison is an amazing artist and far too many Indigenous people are going to prison in Australia. Far too many, land rights activist Noel Pearson’s claim that Indigenous Australians are ‘the most incarcerated people on the planet Earth’ is an accurate claim according to the best available data; well over five times the rate that African–Americans are jailed. And you don’t have to be an amazing artist to do worthwhile art because something that is worth doing is worth doing. Even a first painting by a prisoner, like Ricky W trying to connect with his culture.

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Last year 130 Indigenous artists filling the walls of the St Kilda Town Hall Gallery; this year the annual exhibition by The Torch is even larger. With almost 200 work of art in the annual Confined 9 exhibition there is a great variety in quality and styles. There are some exceptional paintings including works by Bex, Daniel Harrison, Ray Taplin, and Robby Wirramanda. Gary Wilson Reid’s painting Wati Ngintaka Story is an intense and dynamic image from a traditional Pitjantjatjara/Yankuntjatjara story.

So if you think that Indigenous art is all about dot painting then this exhibition will show you there is a lot more. There isn’t one homogenous, big dot of Aboriginal culture, but hundreds of cultures, each with its own traditions and motifs. There are the sunset silhouette landscapes influenced by the Carrolup (Noongar) Art Movement and plenty of art combining traditions.

There is also wood carving, textiles, baskets and ceramics. And an awesome three storey model house Shane J’s Dream House. The house, like a lot of the art, shows what awesome things can be done with persistence, dedication, 5,500 paddle pop sticks, and 4,950 matches.

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The Torch is an organisation that supports Indigenous offenders and ex-offenders by running an Indigenous arts in prison and a community program. It works with hundreds of prisoners in fifteen out of the seventeen Victorian correctional facilities and it continues to work with them after they are released, providing career and in-community support. One focus of The Torch’s program is in assisting Aboriginal prisoners to emphasise a professional approach to art. But the most important part of The Torch’s program is that it is teaching cultural learning and cultural strengthening, which help the prisoners reconnect with their culture. Aboriginal prisoners didn’t want art classes about how to draw or mix colours; what they wanted was to learn more about their own backgrounds and country. They wanted to know about their culture. They wanted to know their totem animal, consequently there are many paintings of turtles from Yorta Yorta people.

There is parallel exhibition, Dhumbadha Munga – Talking Knowledge on at the Eildon Gallery at Alliance Française in St Kilda of the art by the Torch’s arts workers and ex-offenders who have continued an arts practice. Such an exhibition is a necessary part of their professional development so that they can still be practicing artists. The Torch’s founder and CEO Kent Morris’s exhibited two art photographs of natives birds. These are not the kind birdwatchers take yet his carefully constructed images originate with the artist “walking on Country.”

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Robby Wirramanda, Colours of Tyrell #1 and detail of Old Man Goanna

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Statues Wars 2017

The statue wars of 2017 sprang to prominence in the USA although the debate had been going for some time. Around the world people have been asking what to do with these monuments to evil men, from Cecil Rhodes in South Africa to General Robert E. Lee in America to John Batman in Melbourne. The debate about these statues has often been furious, ill-informed and poorly reasoned; so more of a war than a debate. However, if I have learnt one thing from it is that the greatest educative value that a statue can have is when it is being torn down.

Stanley Hammond, John  Batman Memorial, 1978 (3)

Stanley Hammond, John Batman Memorial, 1978

I doubt that statues on pedestals are the right thing to erect but then people have been making that observation for over a century. Back then the craze was for putting up these same statues and it was called ‘statuemania’ because it was obvious that the many statues being erected were insane, not just because of the quantity but given the direction of civil society, reason and art. The only purpose in putting something on a pedestal is to worship it. The great man theory of history is not taken seriously by historians any more but some conservative groups still think that a statue will do something worthwhile.

Many people in the debate were confusing, deliberately or idiotically, the monuments with the history that they were commemorating. If tearing down statues is some kind of ‘Stalinist revisionism’ (as a reason-retarded Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull claimed) attempting to rewrite history then what were the US troops doing with that statue to Saddam Hussain in Bagdad? In Melbourne this year the controversial statue of John Batman was taken down by a property developer to redevelop the site; I doubt that motives were revisionist or that the statue will ever be permanently installed anywhere.

Do the sculptors who made these care about the fate of their statues? Not beyond the final payment; if I have learnt one thing about the kind of people who make these statues is that they are professionals.

Should these statues be preserved for the sake of their artistry? Ha ha… you were making a joke?

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Moving on the next question is: what to do with these empty plinths that the statues leave behind? Consider London’s Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square or, for a local example, Plinth Projects in Edinburgh Gardens.

Outside the St Kilda Town Hall there is this ‘monument’. Just as you thought it must be meaningful with the man, the airplane and the classical temple turns into crazy snake fun. Made of cast bronze, the sculpture and its large plinth is ironic in its content, materials and form. Local artist Richard Stringer’s Monument for a public building, 1994, turn the form of the monument into self-referential postmodernism.

Richard Stringer, Monument for a Public Building,

Richard Stringer, Monument for a Public Building, 1994, St Kilda Town Hall


Confined 8, Indigenous Prison Art Exhibition

Confined 8 is a large exhibition of art by hundreds of Indigenous artists who are currently in, or recently released from a prison in Victoria. There are about two hundred paintings and other works of art are packed into the St Kilda Town Hall Gallery.

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It is impossible to sum up all this art in a few words. There is a lot of variety from traditional to contemporary art and all kinds of mixes in between by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders from across the continent. The art, often painted in prison cells on small canvases, are such careful, delicate and considered works; the quality is often very high for amateur painters basically because of the time taken on them.

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Waridub’s painted football is a great mix of tradition and contemporary life: I’ve never seen a painted football before. “Legends of the Game” depicts Michael Long and Adam Goodes. (There should be a series of these balls; what about Mal Meniga?)

Ray Traplin of Kuku Yalandji people painted an impressive and colourful scene in “Cape York Hunting Grounds”. Traplin and many of the other artists depict animals, birds, fish, lizards, insects in meticulous dots or cross-hatching work however few can combine so many images as Traplin does into one spectacular painting.

The exhibition was organised by The Torch. The Torch runs the Indigenous Arts in Prisons & Community program. It uses art as a forum for cultural exploration to provide indigenous men and women in custody and on release with a new way forward. This has been enhanced by new legislation in 2015 that allows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners to keep any money that they make from art sales. The Torch does not take any commission on the sales and the money from art sales is held in trust by Corrections Victoria until the prisoner’s release. Having money to fund a new life on release from prison is important.

A few paintings are NFS (not for sale) meaning that they had already been given to a relative. It is sad that it might be the only time that they will get a painting is when one of their relatives is locked up.

Prison art is a much neglected part of Aboriginal art history. It is an important aspect due to the over representation of Aboriginals in Australian prisons; “The world’s worst levels of detention of Indigenous people” according to Gillian Triggs, President of the Human Rights Commission. So you can look at Confined 8 as either rehabilitation or resistance, survival in the face of genocidal policies and cultural destruction.


Recent Public Sculptures in Melbourne

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Alex Goad, Tethya, 2015

Alex Goad’s biomorphic Tethya on the corner of Fitzroy and Jackson streets in St. Kilda is a recent public sculpture. Since my history of Melbourne’s public sculpture was published last year there are a few new public sculptures around the city. Not that Sculptures of Melbourne was intended as an index of all the sculptures in greater Melbourne, that would be insane as I included street art sculptures.

Two ballet dancers, Les Belle Hélène by David Maughan, were installed on the lawn at the Arts Centre. And John Olsen’s Frog was installed in a pond in Queen Victoria Gardens. As if either location needed any more sculptures.

Further out of town and in a better, some might even say “site specific” location, John Kelly’s Man Lifting Cow was installed in Sunshine marking a return to his home suburb for Kelly. Brimbank Council really milked the cow with associated events: the 1000 cow project, an art prize, a John Kelly exhibition and an education program at the Brimbank Civic Centre.

Most of the recent public sculpture has been temporary sculptures or pieces put up by street artists. Local street artist, Kranky and other were reviving Presgrave Place. Ironically there were several street sculpture homes this year including several by MOW from the USA. MOW was in Melbourne sticking up a few tiny doors and windows.

The campaign this year to save Chris Booth’s Strata had a happy ending with MONA agreeing to take the sculpture and pay for it to be reassembled. Melbourne’s loss will be Hobart’s gain.

There was no campaign to save Peter Corlett’s sculptures of John Farnham, Dame Nellie Melba, Dame Edna Everage and Graham Kennedy in the Docklands. There were many reasons for this chiefly because they had very little artistic quality, few people in Melbourne want to remember that these entertainers came from Melbourne and no-one ever saw them in the Docklands.


Tethya & Public Art

Alex Goad’s Tethya is a new public sculpture on the corner of Fitzroy and Jackson streets in St. Kilda’s restaurant strip. Tethya is a biomorphic post-minimalist sculpture. Being biomorphic and post-minimalist actually work very well together because multi-cellular organisms, like sea sponges of the genus Tethya, are made of smaller units that are basically the same. This reference to sea sponges with the smell of the cool sea air blowing in from the bay connects the sculpture to its location.

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Alex Goad, Tethya, 2015

Alex Goad is a sculptor and industrial designer who knows both about post-minimalist sculptures and marine organisms. He has won an award for designing a modular artificial reef system, as well as, sculpture prizes.

Incorporating lighting into public sculpture has returned now that the new LED lights have allowed this to be done safely with minimum maintenance, unlike earlier modern art attempts/experiments. In daylight, without its purple LED lights, the 2.7 metre high sculpture is not that exciting but the sculpture of fibre-reinforced concrete is not intended to be monumental but public art to create a hub, to mark the intersection between two roads and potentially a meeting point.

How the public will use this sculpture may be different from its intended function. It is a bit too lumpy to sit comfortable on but it will certainly tempt some people to attempt to climb it and this was the only interaction that I observed at the sculpture. The round forms don’t allow enough surface in any direction to tempt many taggers. The many deep gaps in the surface may well attract people to stuff rubbish into them, known as ‘wedging’.

One of the worst things that the media can do with a new public art is report on how much the art cost. It is misleading to the public as a figure in dollar terms fails to explain the breakdown of costs involved: materials, transportation, equipment rental, etc. In thanking the whole team of people involved in Alex Goad had to note that he was the lowest paid worker on a per hour basis. This is not unusual for a sculptor, a hundred and fifty years ago Charles Summers had the same experience making the Burke and Wills Monument. (For more about why reporting the costs is misleading see my post about another public sculpture: Big Cat Controversy.)

Instead of reporting on the cost try telling the story of the sculptures development. This time last year, Tethya was just an idea that Goad was trying to design a submission for the sculpture commission. In February he was awarded the commission. Construction started in July and the sculpture was finished a week ago, although the LED lighting still needs some more work. On Saturday afternoon I was at Linden New Art in St. Kilda to celebrate the installation of Alex Goad’s sculpture. There was a design exhibition at Linden of mostly elegant light shades, reminding me of Tethya’s lighting design.


Sculptures in Catani Gardens

Winter is here in Melbourne but I’m thinking about the public sculptures in Catani Gardens and walking by the beach in the summer. St. Kilda was Melbourne’s first beach front suburb and has been on the decline since it was established in the gold boom era. Some might claim that this decline has been arrested since the hight of its seedy existence in the seventies but this might only be temporary as there were earlier attempts. Often these attempts involve urban redesign and the addition of sculpture and other monuments.

Sir John Tweed, Captain Cook, 1914

Sir John Tweed, Captain Cook, 1914

The Catani Gardens were established in 1906 and developed as a tourist attraction on reclamation work on the land. It extends along the St. Kilda foreshore from the pier to where Beaconsfield Parade meets Pier Road. The gardens were then known as Captain Cook Lawns as the Captain James Cook Memorial stands near the intersection of Fitzroy Street and Jacka Boulevarde. It is another edition of the Cook Memorial by Sir John Tweed. Erected in 1914 only two years after the memorial in Whitby, England was unveiled. The local council intended to have a collection of statues representing British navel heroes to accompany Cook. The statute was relocated in 1988 to it current location to make way for a bicentennial rotunda, perhaps mapping the popularity of Captain Cook as a figure in Australian popular culture.

Unknown artist, Vice-Admiral Sir William Rooke Creswell, 1938

Unknown artist, Vice-Admiral Sir William Rooke Creswell, 1938

The only other navel figure in the park is the bust of Vice-Admiral Sir William Rooke Creswell founder of the Australian Navy. The bust was original installed in 1938 five years after his death in 1933. The bust stares out to sea and sheltering several spiders. It is not in its original location on the edge of the footpath as it was moved when the road was widened.

The bust of the Vice-Admiral was stolen sometime in the nineteen-seventies and was never recovered; stolen bronze sculptures never are, they are melted down for the metal (see my post Stolen Sculptures). The current bust is new, recast from the original plaster mould. Did the English or European foundry keep the mould (there were no Australian sculpture foundries at the time) and if so why isn’t the sculptor known? The bust was restored as part in the 100th anniversary of the Royal Australian Navy and an additional copy was made for the HMAS Creswell Naval base at Jervis Bay, NSW.

Charles Adam Irwin, Sali Cleve drinking fountain, April 1911

Charles Adam Irwin, Sali Cleve drinking fountain, April 1911

The ornate pillar with the sailing boat on top also has a nautical theme is the Sali Cleve drinking fountain designed by Charles Adam Irwin and erected in April 1911. It has also been relocated because of road widening.

Paul Montford, Carlo Catani, 1932

Paul Montford, Carlo Catani, 1932

The Catani Clock Tower was dedicated on the Saturday 22nd August, 1932 and presumably the gardens renamed at the same time. The Italian-born civil engineer, Carlo Catani worked for St. Kilda Public Works Department and design the gardens. Clock towers were an important part of civic infrastructure before everyone carried one in their mobile phone. The brick memorial clock tower has a bust of Carlo Catani by Paul Montford and a bronze plaque that reads: “In Honour of  Carlo Catani” “A Great Public Servant Of Victoria 1878-1917”. Creating sculptures for architectural war memorials, like figures on the Shrine of Remembrance or the Cenotaph in St Kilda was what Montford most wanted to do but mostly he made busts.

The gardens still retain some of their original Edwardian formality and enterprise, it still looks like is a place to promenade and admire bronze statues of worthy notables, although now people are wearing significantly less formal attire. The rough volcanic rock walls are from another era of garden design. They look like parts of the Alexandra Gardens by the Yarra River that was established in 1901 not surprising given both were laid out by Catani.


Open Entry Art

The Linden Post Card Show 2014 at the Linden Centre for Contemporary Art has hundreds of entries. There are so many entries because it is a long established open entry show. (Did it start in 1986 when the Linden Centre opened?) Open entry means that anyone paying the entry fee of $55 for one work, $66 for two works, $77 for three works is exhibited. All the work must measure 8” (20cm) x 10” (25.5cm) (landscape or portrait) including any frame.

Linden Centre for Contemporary Art

Linden Centre for Contemporary Art

Looking at the entries and thinking why are there so few photographs, given that it is a popular media and the winner was a photograph. The winning entry was from WA artists and 2013 Archibald Prize finalist, Abdul Abdullah. His The Reintroduction of Australian Knighthood is a powerful, frightening and topical image of a masked thug draped in the Australian flag.

I was also thinking why are there so few artists that I recognise? With hundreds of artists on exhibition I started to wonder if I had missed an entry, forgotten a name (I don’t have a great memory for names). The mix of “professional, emerging, amateur or hobbiest” in the exhibition was not the problem because I regularly review that kind of mix of artists. But it did make me think that maybe there needs to be more short hand descriptions for artists, more words than: established emerging, professional, amateur … I mean what do you call an artist who has been around for a couple of decades but is not represented by any gallery and has not won any major prizes?

Linden Post Card Show 2014

Not that a lack of such terms is the biggest problem, the problem of the term ‘art’ is enough of a problem. Sometime in the seventeenth century, as the Enlightenment took the epiphany and mystery out of religion, Art emerged: Art with a capital A, Literature with a capital L and Music with a capital M. Robert Dixon’s The Baumgarten Corruption – From Sense to Nonsense in Art and Philosophy (Pluto Press, 1995) identifies the start of this process with Alexander Baumgarten’s use of the word ‘aesthetics’ in the 1750s. Roberto Calasso in Literature and the Gods (Vintage, 2001) places that start of what he calls “absolute literature” in 1798.

For me, it obvious that there is Art and art and after a walk along the Sunday market at the Esplanade, or even, a look at some of the entries in the Post Card show, you might agree. Oh, look another version of the Redhead brand match box, this time it is made out of bits of tin nailed together.

You might not agree, many people at the both the Post Card show and the Sunday Market clearly did not. The word ‘Art’ is probably more divisive than the image of the ‘Australian Knight’ by Abdul Abdullah.


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