On events past and present

While I’ve been neglecting the blog over the last few months, I’ve nevertheless been taking inspiration from a few local opportunities and events!

Suzanne Paquette at her recent Adelaide seminar reminded me that the city is always already photographic, drawing on Latour’s concept of the cascade of images (or inscriptions) to outline the work of the Art and Site project in charting out (and also intervening in) relationships between urban space and the virtual (incidentally sending me off to visit the Ugly Public Art flickr group!)

The Competing Urbanisms workshop in Melbourne, organised by Lachlan MacDowall and Alison Young  (author of the recent book Street Art, Public City. Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination) brought together “academics and graduate students from Law, Criminology, Art History, Politics, Architecture, Urban Geography and Cultural Studies”, as well as writers, artists, policymakers, curators and architects and others, to facilitate conversations on “how urban interventions such as graffiti, street art and skateboarding are re-shaping city spaces and the way in which we use, interpret, regulate and create public space”.

To give a brief flavour of the event: a highlight was the discussions with local graffiti and street art practioners; Professor Andreas Brighenti (University of Trento), in his keynote address, gave examples of changing practices of urban representation as one way to introduce the concept of (competing) valuing practices; Kurt Iveson highlighted that power is distributed, bringing attention to the competitions that take place among individuals and agencies over the authority to shape public spaces and asking what kinds of authority it is that street artists enact in particular situations;  Lachlan MacDowall raised Taussig’s discussion of defacement as a touchstone for thinking about graffiti.

Participant Sabina Andron, PhD researcher at UCL (“Skin Deep: The material site specificity of urban surface inscriptions”), also took the opportunity to promote the forthcoming Graffitisessions in London, at which Alison Young is a speaker….

so, on the principle of better late than never, here is some information about this and a collection of other events that I would have quite liked to attend (or perhaps still might!):



The Everyday Life of Public Art – Part 1

Or covering, moving, and removing

Artworks in urban public space inevitably become actors in all kinds of sanctioned and unsanctioned activities and interventions (think of photography, sitting, urinating, taking shelter, graffiti, political protest, yarn bombing, skateboarding, cycling, parkour…). Some of these activities receive more attention than others across various media, such as the popular press and/or academic publishing.

Burke and Wills Monument 10 June 2013 Burke and Wills Monument 10 June 2013

IMAGES: Charles Summers (1865), Burke and Wills Monument, Swanston Street, Melbourne. Photography: David Richards, 10 June 2013.

The act of temporarily covering Melbourne’s Burke and Wills Monument with crayoned messages and gaffer-taped posters (already removed in the images above), does seem to puncture the often-cited ‘invisibility’ of nineteenth century statuary. It potentially draws a different range of public comment than the same acts applied to walls and footpaths; momentarily drawing the historical object from its invisibility cloak into more obviously contemporary urban politics and debate. (Where, no doubt, it had always belonged, had we only been paying attention.)

The commemorative function of such monuments seems interlinked with common assumptions about stability or fixity; assumptions belied by the evident mobility of public sculptures – these are objects (like the Burke and Wills Monument) regularly moved around the city according to the exigencies of road and building construction, politics and taste.

Sculptures from the late twentieth century are just as amenable to relocation as conventional monuments (irrespective of any artists’ claims about the integral relationship between artwork and site )  viz. Ron Robertson-Swann’s peripatetic sculpture Vault (1978) in Melbourne’s CBD; Owen Broughton’s Steel Sculpture (1976) in Adelaide (removed from Rundle Mall in 1988 only to reappear twenty years later in Liberman Close/Ebenezer Place); or the impending displacement of Bert Flugelman’s Twin Spheres (1977) a few metres along the Rundle Mall.

…I confess to a mental image of these objects, with each act of transport, flickering in and out of perceptual space from some other, hyper space of overlapping field relations!

Perhaps Adrian Doyle was thinking something similar with his recent Empty Nursery Blue project, presented by Doyle’s Art in conjunction with RMIT’s Urban Laboratory, and the City of Melbourne. With a wry nod to the practices of both contemporary art and City Council anti-graffiti squads, Doyle spent Sunday 26 August spraying over the accessible surfaces of Melbourne’s Rutledge Lane with a custom mix of blue paint, effacing all traces of the street art for which the Lane is famous, and making strangely visible the (re-imagined) lane itself.

The project generated an immediate flurry of online reporting of images and text (including a time lapse animation of the transformation), with comments ranging from outrage at the arrant colonisation of a physical space assumed to be shared by a community of street artists, to appreciative accounts of experiencing the radically transformed environment, and sheer joy at the horde of street artists prompted to throw themselves almost immediately into re-claiming the empty canvas of the street. [See for example: ABC News, Sydney Morning Herald, Arts Hub, The Age (26/8/13), The Age (31/8/13), Herald Sun, Artfido Blog, Invurt, Black Mark, among many more. A statement from Doyle can be found here.]

A less sophisticated approach to the act of “painting over”, or at least one that seems to have provoked no obvious (online) trace of dialogue, is demonstrated with another example.

Bell St Mall 8 June 2013  Bell St Mall 8 June 2013

IMAGES: entrance to the Bell Street Mall, West HeidelberG, MELBOURNE. PHOTOGRAPHY: DAVID RICHARDS, 8 JUNE 2013.

At the entrance to the Bell Street Mall in the Melbourne suburb of Heidelberg West stands a family of three sculptural figures, probably made of cast metal and lately re-imagined through the simple application of paint as colourful and perhaps playful landmarks for the shopping centre.  Set amidst nearby neighbourhood renewal schemes of State and local government, the mall itself is the focus of a yet-to-be-implemented Urban Development Framework and Master Plan.  The mall is currently awaiting its own transformation while continuing to provide a range of goods and services to local residents, including an important meeting space for a lively Somali community.

The Housing Commission of Victoria designed the Mall in 1954-56, at the same time as the nearby Olympic Village, as a shopping centre for its Heidelberg estate. Regarded today as Victoria’s first “American style, drive-in shopping centre”  [Heritage Victoria (2008) Survey of Post-War Built Heritage in Victoria: Stage One, prepared by Heritage Alliance, North Melbourne, p 229], it was envisaged at the time as a shopping centre that would explicitly  “accommodate today’s traffic” by incorporating a central, open-air mall restricted to foot traffic, with surrounding areas set aside for off-street car parking. When it was opened in 1956, the Argus newspaper lauded the shopping centre’s “simple lines”, the shop “fronts designed and fitted by Silverwood and Beck”, as an example of “how plain, utilitarian planning can be attractive“.

I’ve found no documentation (yet) of the Mall’s sculptural entrance figures (other than the image shown below, taken prior to their latest coat of paint), but I’m inclined to think they arrived in 1956 together with post-war modern, cost effective and functional shopping centre design. [***NB See comments/replies below – sculpture has been attributed to Tuncay Tanyer, commissioned in 1997 by the City of Heidelberg as part of the Bell St Mall Entrance Design Strategy.]

Bell Street Mall Sculptures

IMAGE: Tuncay Tanyer (c.1997), The family, BELL STREET MALL, WEST HEIDELBERG, MELBOURNE. Source: National library of australia pandora web archive (City of Banyule council, 2011)

If there was ever a plaque or sign in the Mall indicating the artist or manufacturer of these figures, it has long disappeared (removed perhaps as a gesture to Australian artists’ moral rights legislation?).

In any case, the covering of these figures with new paint at some date clearly indicates their re-purposing – away from likely assumptions about the cultural sophistication that artwork would lend a suburban shopping centre in the 1950s (at the peak of national and international scrutiny brought by the Olympic Games) and towards more immediate concerns about the centre’s changing local uses and users.

It marks the effective decommissioning of the original artworks, not by physically removing them but by transforming them instead into new objects (that in this case are themselves probably only marking time before a new vision is overlaid). I’m speculating of course, in the absence of data. However, this family of objects seem equally absent from the documented plans for the mall. (…Please do get in touch if you can add to or correct any information about the history of these sculptures!)

The decommissioning of public artworks is not uncommon, although more usually conceived as physical dismantling or removal, after some lengthy period of tenure in a fixed location.  An example of decommissioning now playing out in Melbourne demonstrates an unusually rapid turnover between artwork installation and removal for an artwork not conceived as temporary or ephemeral, one occasioned by a public backlash against the work and the commissioning agent (the City of Darebin).

[For comment and images, see: Crikey (The Urbanist 15/8/13), Crikey (The Urbanist, 20/8/13), The Age (20/8/13), The Herald Sun (20/8/13), Herald Sun Leader (14/8/13), Herald Sun Leader (15/8/13),  Victoria Walks (Facebook), Mysterious Metal Pyramids of High St Northcote (Facebook), Esther Anatolitis (Twitter), Black Mark, etc ]

In brief, the Darebin City Council purchased an art installation for a section of High Street, Northcote, as part of a wider streetscape beautification scheme, along with new street furniture and landscaping, and in conjunction with tram works along route 86. The artwork, designed and manufactured by Syrinx Environmental, consisted of a strip of patterned galvanised steel, folded into raised, angular shapes and laid out along the road’s new, raised median strip.

While counter-narratives appeared, along with evidence of a lack of local consultation by the Council in selecting and installing the work, a discourse of safety prevailed in published comment on the piece, entrenching the work as spiky, pointed and dangerous to the life and limb of cyclists and pedestrians. Just over one week after it was installed, Council voted to remove the work altogether.

(I can’t help but wonder if complaints about that work might have been as much about the increasing range of barriers appearing in Melbourne streets to impede pedestrians and cyclists from moving freely across the road except at controlled points, as with the new, raised platform and fenced tram stops across Melbourne.)

Opportunities for Artists?

I’ve occasionally wondered whether to return to listing public art funding & commission opportunities, as I did more comprehensively in the early (pre-website) days of Public Art Research … recently I’ve only sporadically mentioned these where I’ve been personally interested in what I think they have to say about the broader landscape of public art practice and policy  (such as trends to develop temporary public art initiatives), or where they might be seen to fall within the boundaries of artistic research…

I’ve been prompted to look at my informal policy again by a recent request to promote Brimbank City Council’s Sunshine Town Centre Public Art Project :

Expressions of interest are now being sought to “develop a permanent artwork or series of artworks that is/are reflective of, and valued by the community and visitors to Sunshine”, Victoria, by 2.00pm, Tuesday 5 March 2013. Further information can be found on the tender website here  (EOI 13/1586) or, via either Ollie Kovaljev or Pauline Hassakis, at Brimbank City Council (Tendering Services), telephone: +61 (03) 9249 4298.

While there is certainly a need to bring together the numerous, diverse and highly localized range of public art opportunities out there, it’s probably not in these pages…

in the interests of offering a few tips to new players, however, here are a few quick suggestions for resources that Australian artists might find useful when searching for public art commissions or funding:

It would be great to hear your thoughts. Please do add your comments to this page if you have other suggestions to offer…

News from the end of the world

…Well not really, unless you subscribe to the dire predictions linked to the end of the Mayan calendar on 21 December (otherwise known as the December solstice). Personally, I think I might celebrate “the End of the World” (or at least the beginning of a new era) at one of Adelaide’s newest artist-run galleries, Fontanelle, which is marking the occasion with an exhibition of the same name…

Queen Victoria Statue 11 Dec 2012  Queen Victoria Statue 11 Dec 2012

In Adelaide, I was pleasantly surprised yesterday to see Queen Victoria looking a little less stern than usual; a result of the Adelaide City Council’s invitation to local knitters to “yarn up” the city’s central Victoria Square. (The bronze statue was originally unveiled in the Square in 1894 and now stands at the centre of both the Square and a busy traffic island, looked over since 2002 by an imposing Aboriginal flag. Cast in London from a model by Charles Bell Birch, a matching bronze statue of Victoria apparently stands in the Indian city of Oodeypore.)

The South Australian state government agency Arts SA has recently announced Unexpected City,  a new program of grants of up to $20,000 to enable South Australian artists to enliven the CBD’s “streets, parks and laneways” (deadline 18 January 2013).  It complements the upcoming, second season of Adelaide City’s Splash program that also seeks to foster temporary urban activities. Both the Splash and Unexpected City programs essentially aim to encourage people to spend more time in the CBD. I confess to a knee-jerk response, however, to the prevalence of the words enliven, animation, and vibrancy in the promotional material. It is fascinating to see the reproduction across Australian capital cities of efforts to facilitate creative “pop up” enterprises, to appropriate street art, and to generate new temporary artworks, especially in laneways… on the other hand, it would be nice to also see some broader discussion of the potential audiences involved (or left out) in the reimagination of “our” CBDs.

In other Australian funding news, the Victorian state premier Ted Baillieau this week announced the launch of a new Public Sculpture Fund. Over the next two years, the fund will provide $1m towards “the commissioning and/or installation of new public sculpture, of all forms” throughout the state of Victoria (deadline 15 February 2013).

…A reminder that February also brings the International Sculpture Center’s annual conference, the International Sculpture Symposium to Auckland, New Zealand (11-15 February 2013). Registrants to the conference receive a free tour to Gibbs Farm, a private sculpture park that includes monumental commissions by artists: “Graham Bennett, Chris Booth, Daniel Buren, Bill Culbert, Neil Dawson, Marijke de Goey, Andy Goldsworthy, Ralph Hotere, Anish Kapoor, Sol LeWitt, Len Lye, Russell Moses, Peter Nicholls, Eric Orr, Tony Oursler, George Rickey, Peter Roche, Richard Serra, Kenneth Snelson, Richard Thompson, Leon van den Eijkel and Zhan Wang”.

Other upcoming events for 2013 include:

TOUCH: Sculpture and the Land

The TOUCH program builds on Canberra’s 100 year history as a planned capital, to explore some of the issues associated with sculpture commissions. Involving the National Gallery of Australia, the Australian National University (ANU) School of Art, and a range of other organisations, the program includes visiting artists-in-residence, exhibitions, new commissions, walks, talks, and tours of existing collections.

An international Symposium will also be held, 10-12 May 2013, at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, in partnership with the ANU School of Art and Humanities Research Centre, RSHA. With a keynote address by Vivien Lovell, the symposium aims to:

examine the work, the people and the conversation around sculpture in Canberra and set it in a national/international context. Themes will elaborate on issues raised in the exhibitions, the history with commissioned permanent and temporary work for public spaces, environmental considerations, community interaction with the wide range of contemporary sculpture activity and its role in the creation of urban spaces and stimulating public imagination.

Call for Papers: 6th State of Australian Cities Conference

Tuesday 26 – Friday 29 November 2013
Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney, NSW

Abstracts are now invited for the interdisciplinary State of Australian Cities Conference, under one of the following broad themes: City economy; City social (people and place, population change and trends, migration, cultural inclusion, social polarisation, equity and disadvantage, housing issues, the healthy city, sport and recreation); City environment; City structure; City governance; or City movement.

Deadline for receipt of abstracts: 25 February 2013
Further informationhttp://www.soacconference.com.au/

More on biennials, triennials…

I recently wrote a short, illustrated article discussing the 2012 Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale in the context of the international boom in contemporary art biennials, triennials and the like…

Published as part of Craftsouth’s critical writing program, you can find the article online here. [*** Oct 2013 – relocated after Craftsouth’s rebrand to Guildhouse – here]

     Images:  Harumi Yukutake, Restructure (2006), Tokamachi region
(Photographed by Ruth Fazakerley, 2012)

Contemporary (art) pilgrimages

Some notes from the contemporary art trail.

Having recently joined other pilgrims at both the 2012 Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial in Japan and at Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany, I’ve been struck by some of the similarities with the forms of traditional pilgrimage (at least as I might imagine them to be):

  • a route marked out between locations of significance
  • the importance of human teachers (the “tour guide”), not to mention the BOOK, and increasingly the workshop, seminar, film or symposium – a variety of textual and verbal narratives to help guide pilgrims to gain special insights into the objects or events marked out at each location, over and above what might otherwise be gleaned from the primary sources
  • being with others; the sense of joining together with others in common purpose in undertaking the journey, while nevertheless engaged in very personal, individual quests
  • people watching, but also being watched – taking up a recognised role that is accorded certain conventional responses/behaviour in interacting with others (especially important for the solo traveller)
  • the framing of activity (especially in conversation with other pilgrims) in terms of feats of endurance, trials weathered, problems met and (mostly) conquered
  • competitive like encounters with fellow travellers (see above)
  • frequent irritation with fellow travellers
  • the associated selling (and purchase) of indulgences and souvenirs, and
  • the importance of food, drink and general markers of reward and revelry (between, and after, the days work – at rest stops and gathering places).

Artwork located outside of the institutional walls of a gallery or museum is of course de rigueur for contemporary biennales, triennials, etc. It adds to the experience of the trail that special question that comes with everyday encounters: “is this art?”  As rewarding as that engagement has the potential to be for the pilgrim, I’m sure it can wear a bit thin with the locals:


On the principle that “art is what you say it is”, signage can be very helpful.

Jan Gehl has often written that people attract other people – I’d suggest that people looking at something (anything) probably attracts even more. It only takes one or two people to linger, perhaps point, before there is a general turning of attention – pull out a camera and there is definite movement.

My own initial uncertainty here in deciding what I was looking at, generated by the motionless performance of the gentleman lying on the grass – and his bevy of observers engaged in art-viewing like activities – dissipated somewhat when the group seated to the left of the image started calling out to passersby “Documenta art!  Das ist Documenta art!” (and giggling).

Men in Bronze (3), Tokyo

Also hidden away amongst the summer foliage is the statue of Prince Arisugawa Taruhito (1835-95), created in 1903 by Ōkuma Ujihiro and originally located in front of Army General Staff buildings. In 1962 it was relocated to the Arisugawa no miya Memorial Park. The name of the park marks the Arisugawa no miya branch of the imperial household, which ended with the death of Prince Arisugawa no miya Takehito in 1913. The site had been donated to the Tokyo metropolitan authorities for use as a public park in 1934 by a younger half-brother, Prince Terunomiya Nobuhito who had an interest in children’s recreation and education. The park was handed over to the Minato ward municipal authorities in 1975.


I suspect I may have now exhausted the surviving equestrian statues of Meiji imperial military leaders in the city centre, but will keep you posted!

Sven Saaler, a historian based in Tokyo, suggests that Japan’s first commemorative bronze depiction of a person seated on horseback is the 1898 statue of Lord Mouri Tadamasi in a park in Yamaguchi (in western Japan). Saaler’s personal website includes fascinating images documenting the drawings and prospectus soliciting funds for the Yamaguchi commission, the regulations of the organizing committee, local reporting of the event and subsequent postcards.

More generally, Saaler offers a fantastic resource for historical and contemporary research (or browsing) with an online collection of images of pre- and post-war Japanese statues drawn from photographs, postcards, and lithographs.

I believe that an independent organisation, the Japan Institute for the Survey and Conservation of Outdoor Sculpture may have undertaken, or at least proposed, a comprehensive survey of outdoor sculpture in Japan, but am yet to track down any details. The Institute was founded in June 1997 “by sculptors, conservators, conservation scientists, staff of local government organizations, and art historians… to prompt local government and other organizations that own outdoor sculptures throughout Japan to appropriately manage these works that are often neglected in their current conditions” (Tanaka Shuji).

If undertaken, the survey would provide an interesting complement to the 1999-2001 national survey of memorial monuments by Japan’s National Museum of Ethnology (partly reported on by Hirochika Nakamaki in 2005 in the English language book chapter Memorial Monuments of Interrupted Lives in Modern Japan: From Ex Post Facto Treatment to Intensification Devices).

I’ll spare you further listing of the other prewar men in bronze around Tokyo I’ve discovered (for now at least) but suffice to say there are more!

And I think I’ll also have to leave you wondering for now about the abundant evidence of postwar taste in smaller scale, mainly female, neo-classical nude figures in stone and bronze that seems to have largely replaced commemorative statuary in the urban landscape. (See a discussion of this in the 1993 article by Aoi Shimizu, Sexism in Tokyo’s New Public Art: Preliminary Results from Field ResearchMiddle States Geographer vol 26.)  While this trend overlaps the arrival of outdoor abstract sculptures in city streets and building foyers, not to mention landmark urban development projects incorporating “signature”, site-specific artwork, and everything else in between, the continuing preponderance of figurative, especially nude, sculpture always strikes me as remarkable – its a feature that Julian Worrall, an academic at Waseda University suggests is related to the importance of the Nitten art organization, its annual exhibitions, and influential reach and patronage.

[PS I’ve updated the lost date/sculptor in my earlier post Men in Bronze (2).]