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.)

Mapping indigenous inclusion and exclusion in urban public spaces

Gavin tells me that his PhD is now available for download:

Gavin Malone, 2012, Phases of Aboriginal inclusion in the public space in Adelaide, South Australia, since colonisation, School of the Environment, Flinders University


‘Post-colonial’ Australia is evolving its identity and sense of self but reconciliation with its Aboriginal peoples remains politically and culturally unresolved. This reconciliation has been a national objective since the 1990s. Reconciliation is a multi-faced process to achieve the equitable inclusion of Aboriginal peoples in all aspects of contemporary society and for non-Aboriginal Australians to embrace Aboriginal people and their history as a valid and valuable part of the Australian nation and recognise their claim to sovereignty prior to colonisation. One way a nation, or people, presents itself and its history is through the cultural artefacts it places in the public space. This contributes to cultural identity at both civic and personal levels. Social inclusion or marginalisation is also reflected in the public space and historically Aboriginal people and culture have been largely excluded from it. Whilst a casual walk around the streets of the main cultural precincts and streets of a city may reveal some recent Aboriginal representations, little is documented on what may actually exist.

In Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia, this also appears to be the case with a limited number of Aboriginal representations apparent in the public space. But there has been no research to fully establish what exists. This research overcomes that lack by investigating and documenting the extent and manner of Aboriginal public space inclusion in greater metropolitan Adelaide. In all, 143 monuments, memorials, public artworks, public space designs, community artworks and commemorative and interpretive markers, collectively called Aboriginal Cultural Markers, have been located and documented through this research.

Having established what exists, interpretation of the data can then take place to better understand the historical exclusion, and gradual inclusion of Aboriginal people in the public space; how and when any change occurred, who was involved and the manner of representation. This research traces the inclusion (or exclusion) of Aboriginal people and culture in the public space from the colonisation of South Australia in 1836 to the present. It identifies six distinct phases, which link to broader historical and social periods or events, in the evolution of representation: The Silence (to 1960), Breaking the Silence (1960 to early 1980s), Aboriginal Voice Emerges (early 1980s to early 1990s); Community, Culture and Collaborations (early 1990s to present); Kaurna Country (mid 1990s to present); Kaurna Management and Determination (yet to occur).

The phases documented reflect: the gradual and ongoing decolonisation process; a nation coming to terms with its treatment of Aboriginal peoples through Reconciliation; an evolving self-determination by Aboriginal people; and movement towards control of cultural production and self-representation by Aboriginal people in the public space and the evolution of a bi-cultural cultural landscape that has a distinctive Aboriginal presence.

There are still considerable gaps in the geographic and cultural spread of Markers and there is much more to be achieved to provide a visually and culturally strong Aboriginal symbolic presence in the city centre and urban areas. I therefore make recommendations on themes, locations and processes to help guide future commissioning of Markers. The Markers form an identifiable collection of public artworks, albeit in diverse locations and under diverse ownership.  I make recommendations on the curation of this collection.

Keywords: Adelaide, Kaurna, public art, cultural markers, public space, cultural representation, reconciliation, social inclusion

And beyond…

For anyone planning to be in Adelaide in February next year, you may be interested in participating in Simon Terrill’s next Crowd Theory photographic project, this time in Victoria Square… Further details here.  Terrill, “inspired by the crowd scene paintings of 16th century Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel”, aims to create an event that:

allows the spontaneous properties of a large group of people to emerge. With the assistance of lights, soundtrack, rigging and catering that work to provide the atmosphere of a film-set, the project seeks to harness the emergent and socially promiscuous potential of a crowd. The photographic process ritualises the event and in so doing, provides an image of this unique facilitation of a transition from ‘individual and group’ to ‘crowd’.

Two new journal publications of interest, both from RMIT staff (including me:) … just in time for christmas (and university reporting schedules):

  • Quentin Stevens, Karen Franck & Ruth Fazakerley (2012), ‘Counter-monuments: the anti-monumental and the dialogic‘, The Journal of Architecture, 17(6):951-972

    Abstract: In recent decades, counter-monuments have emerged as a new, critical mode of commemorative practice. Even as such practice defines itself by its opposition to traditional monumentality, it has helped to reinvigorate public and professional interest in commemorative activities and landscapes and has developed its own, new conventions. Terminology and analysis in scholarship on counter-monuments have remained relatively imprecise with writers in English and German employing the term ‘counter-monument’ or Gegendenkmal in different and sometimes confusing ways. In this paper we draw together literature published in English and German to clarify and to map various conceptions and categorisations. To do so we distinguish between two kinds of projects that have been called counter-monuments: those that adopt anti-monumental strategies, counter to traditional monument principles, and those that are designed to counter a specific existing monument and the values it represents.

  • Maggie McCormick (2012), ‘Urban practice and the public turn‘, Asia Pacific Journal of Arts and Cultural Management 9(2):3-13

    Abstract: By reflecting on the City, Public Arts & Cultural Ecology forum in Shanghai March 2012 in the context of changes in concepts of artistic collaboration in art within China and within the China–Australia public art dialogue, Dr Maggie McCormick argues that contemporary art has gone beyond the multiple variations on the collaborative turn to what she describes as ‘the public turn’. Public art, long relegated to the sidelines of the contemporary scene or located as a ‘between’ practice is now set to be centre stage, as a practice of the times. As new urbanism, changing urban consciousness, urban flux and transience are central to changing perceptions that define public art practice, she argues that much can be learnt from the urban turn of Chinese experience that is reshaping not only cityscapes but also mindscapes. Concepts within the paper draw on research undertaken by McCormick leading to her doctoral thesis, The Transient City: mapping urban consciousness through contemporary art practice (2009), which investigated the changing nature of urban consciousness through a study of contemporary artistic and curatorial practice emerging out of the Chinese experience.

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/

Miscellanea: projections, conferences

Oh my, how things are piling up in my inbox while I’ve been conferencing and generally cogitating (not sure if my recent reality tv binge quite fits either of those two categories though)…

Thanks Mary, City of Norwood, Payneham & St Peters (SA), for letting me know about the Stepping into the Light digital projection commission produced by Illuminart and due to make an appearance on the facade of the Norwood Concert Hall (6-9 pm, on the 22, 24-26 May 2012).

A couple of other items of interest:

Call for proposals: exURBAN SCREENS

Frankston City Council, Frankston Arts Centre & Monash University
23 June – 7 July 2012

Call for proposals for digital media content:

Navigating between art, media and screen, the resulting exhibition programme will be composed from a combination of curated artworks, events and open call exhibits that highlight issues relating to the contested outer spaces of the city. The Frankston Arts Centre and its Cube 37 new media galleries will function as the project “hub” with other “pop up” locations situated across the city centre. A focal point of (Is there) Light in outer space? will be an ambitiously scaled, building projection by leading Australian artist Ian de Gruchy

Entry deadline: 18 May 2012
Further information here.

Call for papers: Place and Displacement conference

Community, Identity and Displacement Research Network
Victoria University, Melbourne
21-23 November 2012

This conference aims to provide a forum for scholars, students, artists and community activists to discuss new ways of thinking about place and community. For instance, displacement may not always be a consequence of forced mobiity. We are surrounded by the immobile displaced, those stranded by the economic and political changes of recent decades and for whom familiar places exist but often in unrecognisable form. Displacement also implies a connection to the place left behind. The role memory plays in the process of identificaiton with place and community will also be a focus of this conference.

This conference will provide the opportunity for a range of research approaches and aims to attract students, emerging scholars, established researchers and those active in relevant non-government and government agencies. Papers based around performance or visual arts projects are also welcome.

Deadline for abstracts: 20 June 2012
More information here

Festivals, Biennials, and more.


The 2012 Adelaide Festival of Arts is almost upon us, this year’s program looking remarkably bare of the usually obligatory manifestations of outdoor contemporary art. Fortunately, the Adelaide Fringe comes to the rescue with a cornucopia of biennials, festivals and installations (so, perhaps I exaggerate a little). The Fringe visual art program does include:

Let me know if I’ve missed anything interesting in the forthcoming art fest (always highly likely!)

Call for Papers: Seismopolite Journal of Art and Politics

Seismopolite, a journal published 4 times a year in Norwegian and English, is seeking contributions for a forthcoming issue, focusing on artistic interventions in, and reimaginations, of political geographies. The editors write:

The distinction between “place” and “space” is of particular interest, as it is fundamental not only to much art, but also to our global situation within neoliberal political geography. If time has come for us to reimagine this geography, as well as the interrelationships between, and definitions of “space” and “place”, is it thinkable that art could be an ideal site for such reimagination?

The construction and exploitation of a particularism of the local also seems indigenous to the logic of neoliberalism, in the sense that it relies on the opposition between place and space to be able to expand in the first place. Among other things, the space-place dichotomy facilitates the reduction of developmental issues, political unrest or violence to irrational expressions of local misguidance, backward culture or belief systems. When the evolution of neoliberal space is merged with democratic and civilizing pretentions, the otherness and fixed specificity of places appears to be a legitimate pretext to expand into always new (potentially profitable) areas in and beyond the periphery.

The self-fulfilling prophesy of neoliberal geography also constitutes an effective impasse in alternative visions of political geography – on the one hand, by making the critical reconstruction of place and its interconnectedness with a larger picture, beyond the dichotomies of space/place and local/global, superfluous – on the other, by dissimulating any locally based meaning of universality that cannot be reduced to the civilizing prospects and ideals of neoliberal universalist geography. In this sense, the self-upholding myth of the local which neoliberal geography feeds on seems to express another form of orientalism, convincingly presenting itself and its worldview as the necessary cure to global and local problems, and reversely; presenting political issues in localities beyond its borders as a temporary void in its over-arching, inescapable logic.

Further information here. Expressions of interest are requested by 10 February 2012, with completed submissions due by 5 March.

[Source: Melbourne Art Network]

And a reminder

The call for papers for the 23rd International Sculpture Conference: Process, Patron and Public, to be held in Chicago, October 4-6, 2012, closes on 6 February 2012.