Archive for the ‘Melbourne’ Tag
I was out walking with friends the other evening, and on Gertrude Street in Fitzroy I came across two beautiful interventions in public space – really two of the most delightful and pleasurable pieces of work I have seen in a long time.
I’ve found it hard to put a name to what kind of work they are: I suppose the name that would most obviously be given to them would be ‘yarn-bombing’, but seeing these works made me realise how little I like that term and how inadequate I think it is for the grace and delicacy involved in these works, in which knitted woollen shapes are fastened around a grey metal pole, and white lace is fitted closely to the narrow trunks of nearby trees. As you can see, part of the visual pleasure in the works is how they make the man-made pole and the natural tree trunks somehow akin to each other, linked by their verticality and their new roles as part of the street sculpture.
‘Yarn-bombing’ draws an analogy with tagging, whereby a writer puts up their tag so often that a city or a suburb is ‘bombed’ by the tag. Somehow that just doesn’t seem right with these sorts of works, and I think a new name needs to be found: textile sculptures? fabric sculptures? The works use a textile, such as wool or cotton, to make shapes in public space, but they also work with the shapes already present: in these images they are wrapped around the trees and around the pole supporting a street sign. To that extent the work is dependent on transforming something into part of the sculpture, so that a pole is no longer just a pole, and a group of trees becomes part of a delicate network of lace.
Encountering these works really was a delight: we all exclaimed out loud and stood and admired them for several minutes. It is an incomparable example of the potential for street art to intercede in public space in a manner that brings sheer joy to the spectator. Maybe others might walk past feeling simply puzzled as to their presence or thinking dismissive thoughts about the purpose of the activity. For me, it demonstrates the care and effort that can be involved in street art. How long did it take to make these works? How did the artist(s) select the site? And it demonstrates that street art still has the capacity to create moments of delight in the midst of the city.
Headed into the centre of Melbourne today to try to do the minimal amount of xmas shopping that I am involved in. Since I was on Bourke Street, I came across the massive queue of people that was waiting to see the Myer windows.
For those readers who are not from Melbourne, let me explain that Myer is a large department store (a bit like Macys in New York City, or Selfridges in London). Every year, its windows are the location for a display of elaborate mechanised puppetry and kitschery, with some kind of seasonal theme (this year it’s The Nutcracker; in previous years it has been things like a staging of Mem Fox’s novel Wombat Divine, or one of the Olivia stories).
The Myer christmas windows are particularly kitsch, like a pantomime staged in the middle of a city street. They exist ostensibly to entertain children and are supposed to be part of the ‘magic of christmas’ and viewing the windows has become part of the run-up to christmas for many people. (The fact that viewing the windows brings people to a department store where, after looking at the windows, they might well wander inside and spend some money, is both taken for granted and also repressed within the acceptance of the Myer windows as part of ‘the magic of christmas’ in Melbourne.)
The Myer windows have hosted some other displays which have been less kitsch and more challenging. Over a decade ago, the Urban Dream Capsule lived in the Myer windows for some weeks: eating, sleeping, dancing, clowning, and passing the time, all the while on display to the passers by. I went down to Bourke Street on several occasions and watched the Dream Capsule’s members, and the whole event was, variously, highly entertaining and humorously staged, while also being quite moving and affecting at times (occasionally, the participants would feel the strain of their lengthy performance, and would attempt to find moments and spaces of privacy within the extreme visibility of the windows: at those times, as an audience member, you would suddenly become aware of the nature of the gaze and the relationship between performer and audience in a completely new way).
So the Urban Dream Capsule was a nice antidote to the commercialism of the christmas windows. But now there’s another way to think critically about window displays, commerce and art, thanks to Nick Ilton and Bados Earthling, who will be putting on their own version of the Myer christmas windows on Saturday 18th December in Union Lane and Hosier lanes.
Bados has done some larger panels which will be temporarily put up in the lanes, and he’ll do his performance graffiti in front of them; Nick has made triptychs depicting Mary and Joseph as outer suburbanites:
Sounds like a great reason to come into the city next Saturday.
So sings Nick Cave, in the opening line of the track ‘Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow’ on No More Shall We Part.
And this line jumped into my head this morning when I walked down a street in Fitzroy to find the Graffiti Removal guys busily washing a wall that I had photographed and posted about only last night (see the previous entry).
One of my favourite recent works, which seems to be signed ‘Mona’, was being buffed.
So if you are walking through the streets of Fitzroy looking for the artworks of Mona, as far as this partoicular site is concerned, ‘she’s long gone’, and what’s left is this:
I guess this must be one of those issues of personal taste. All the other recently added works nearby seemed to be still there; it’s only the ones on this house that have been buffed. Did the residents ask the council to remove it? Or did the council decide that this house should be buffed and not the others? The latter seems unlikely so I’m assuming it’s been done at the residents’ request.
To my mind, this raises lots of interesting issues. In my view, the residents are completely entitled to remove the work if they wish. If an artist puts work up without permission, then there’s always the risk that the person living or working inside the property may not appreciate the art, and wishes to remove it. It’s like if you give someone what you think is a cool T shirt or interesting book for their birthday, but they then ask if they can exchange it for something else – maybe you wish they wouldn’t, but hey, people are entitled to some autonomy about what they read and wear. Same with street art, I guess. If you don’t like it, I guess you can remove it (although many wish that removal wouldn’t happen quite so often or quite so speedily).
But the problem is that what’s left here really don’t look great, and so this raises the question of the technologies of graffiti removal. It’s like painting out graffiti but leaving a mismatched square of paint that just looks odd, or blasting off bill posters and leaving tattered strands of paper hanging from the wall. All of these techniques seem to be acceptable to many people, so it makes me wonder how aesthetics are being operationalised, such that blurry lines of faded paint, tattered paper or sloppily rollered paint looks ‘OK’ to those making the decisions about removal (whether these are council workers or residents). Perhaps these individuals would say that the ultimate solution is for artists not to put up work in the first place, thus obviating the need for removal, in all its imperfections.
I don’t agree. I think that it would be far more useful to have a debate about the aesthetics of the street, in which the effects of removal can be compared to the process of leaving a piece to weather and fade, or in which people can learn to appreciate that some streets are going to be modified in various ways as part of the culture of an area or a city, and in which artists can learn what types of image will work best on different kinds of surface…. I’d like to take part in such a debate, and I think others would too.
ADDENDUM 2: Take a look at the link in the comment by Seldom which follows this entry – there’s a really interesting essay by ESPO (Steve Powers) about the pointlessness of painting over graffiti.
After a lot of travelling this year, it’s good to be home, and to be here to stay for a while (except for a weekend in Canberra that’s coming up, about which more later).
And it’s wonderful to be back in Fitzroy, where a lot of activity has been taking place on the streets.
Here are some of the things I’ve seen since returning:
There’s an interesting installation piece on Smith Street, involving boxes attached to poles, with text on mirrored surfaces:
As you can see, this one reads ‘thief’; there are others which read ‘liar’ and ‘loser’. Nice stuff. Since first posting about this, Vetti (of Live in Northcote) contacted me to let me know this installation is by Nick Ilton, and Nick himself has sent me a link to a little video which provides a nice summary of the guerilla sculptures he has been placing around Melbourne in recent weeks. Check it out here.
I’ve seen a lot of fresh paste-ups, such as these, outside the Sutton Gallery on Brunswick Street:
You can find these near Alimentari, where there’s been a lot of activity:
And this is pretty striking:
It’s nice to be home.
I’m back in Melbourne, arrived a few days ago and still propping my eyelids open to combat the jetlag, but at least the weather this weekend is helping me get used to being in the southern hemisphere again – Melbourne looks its sparkling best, bathed in sunshine and with one of those amazing clear Australian blue skies….
But also helping me keep awake is the knowledge that Sweet Streets is on…. The erstwhile Melbourne Stencil Festival has been re-designed to take account of the huge range of street-based art activities that we find in Melbourne and in other cities, and the result is Sweet Streets. During the Festival, you can find exhibitions of some brilliant artwork, both local and from overseas; workshops on everything from stencil-making to yarn-bombing; and some film-based visual enjoyment too – the DVD of Exit Through the Gift Shop is being launched during the Festival, and there’s even a dedicated Film Night, showcasing some amazing looking documentaries.
Check out the Festival website for further details….
On the panel, there was Miso, Ghostpatrol and Tom Sevil, with me acting as a kind of discussion-facilitator and moderator for the discussion.
We started off with the artists saying a few words about how they came to Melbourne, and how they came to do artwork for the street in particular. Each one them spoke about the good and the bad things in the street art scene, and about what makes Melbourne such an amazing place for street art.
We then took questions from the audience, and a fantastic discussion ensued, with people making commenst about how much street art means to them in their neighbourhood, about buffing, about council policy and State government policy, about Melbourne as it compares with other cities, and about how street art has become part of the very essence of Melbourne.
It was a really enjoyable event for all of us, and I hope that everyone who came along enjoyed it too.
Some pictures, taken by Andrew McDonald from Readings….
Last Friday was the launch at Federation Square of Street/Studio: the Place of Street Art in Melbourne (Thames & Hudson), the book that Miso, Ghostpatrol, TImba and myself have been working away on since last August.
The launch was amazing! We were completely overwhelmed at the numbers who turned up to buy a book, get it signed, have a beer or a glass of wine, and celebrate the publication with us.
No Vacancy Gallery put on a really nice exhibition based around the book, which ran until Sunday:
Some of the artists featured in the book are overseas right now and couldn’t be there, but Niels Oeltjen, Twoone, and members of Everfresh came along to sign copies of the books.
Thanks to Thames & Hudson for organising such a great night, and thanks to everyone who came along; apologies to those who weren’t able to get in because of the crowd.
And a huge thanks to Alex from NIce Produce for the amazing photos.
More Street/Studio events to come in the next couple of weeks….
I’m really proud to announce my involvement in a book which is about to be published by Thames & Hudson Australia.
It’s called Street/Studio: the Place of Street Art in Melbourne.
Here’s what it’s about:
“Through a series of intimate conversations, Street/Studio offers an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at how street art has entered the mainstream and become one of the most collectable new art forms. It offers an unparalleled insight into the work of ten of Australia’s most influential, dynamic and creative artists living in Melbourne.
Read about the adventures and challenges of the street as well as the demands of the studio and gallery as told by the artists themselves. Stylishly designed with extensive archival photographs, Street/Studio is an exceptional book written by artists about artists.”
Ghostpatrol, Miso, Timba and I have been working on this since last August, and it has been an amazing experience to put the material together. The book features ten different artists (or group of artists, in the case of Everfresh): Ash Keating, Al Stark, Tai Snaith, Miso, Ghostpatrol, Everfresh, Mic Porter, Twoone, Tom Sevil and Niels Oeltjen, and their work is explored through conversations about their work and some really amazing photographs… There’s also a long essay describing the evolution and distinctiveness of the street art scene in Melbourne.
There are a few events coming up to mark the book’s publication:
Friday, 4 June 7:00 pm
Official launch of Street/Studio at No Vacancy Gallery, Atrium, Federation Square
Sunday, 6 June 2:00 pm
ACMI Screening of Exit through the Gift Shop followed by panel discussion including Miso and myself
Book signing at 5pm with the authors
Saturday, 12 June 1:00 pm
Outre Gallery, CBD
Book signing with Miso, Ghostpatrol and me
Tuesday, 15 June 6:30 pm
Readings, Lygon St, Carlton
Signing and discussion with Miso, Ghostpatrol, myself, Niels and Meggs
Details about these events, the artists, and the authors can be found on the Street/Studio website.
The book should be available in all good bookstores, as they say, in Australia, or, soon, from Thames & Hudson’s own website. You can also order direct from Ghostpatrol.
Sometimes travel provides an occasion to reflect upon the place you’ve left behind… While I was in New York recently, there were two different kinds of ‘home’ that I felt conscious of having left.
One was England (or Britain, I suppose). I left Britain in 1995, when I moved to Melbourne, but New York this April was full of buzz about the release of Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy’s movie, which I have written about here and here already, and I certainly think of Banksy as a quintessentially English (or British) artist…
New York was also full of visual reminders of Melbourne, the city that became my adopted home. As I mentioned before, one of them was Meggs’s stickers, which I saw in many places around New York.
I’ve written about Meggs before (see here), and in that entry I was discussing his work in conjunction with that of Anthony Lister, an Australian artist from Brisbane, living in New York these last several years. There are several different consonances between these two in terms of their artistic preoccupations, but in terms of simple coincidence it was amusing that while I was in New York, Anthony Lister was paying a visit to Melbourne, where he had a show at Metro Gallery.
But it’s not as though Lister was entirely gone from New York. His stickers are still very much present on the streets:
And the front of Faile’s studio was adorned with this wonderful Lister painting:
Lister also had a solo show, How to Catch a Time-Traveller, at Lyons Wier Gallery in April, running simultaneously with the Melbourne show.
Meggs and Lister are linked by more than a common nationality; there’s a strong thematic link in their fascination with the superheroes of popular culture, and comics in particular. Both create painted works as well as their own versions of action figures, miniatures and busts. Both Meggs and Lister show superheroes as figures of crisis, barely holding themselves together in the face of unknown assailants or obligations.
But in representing these highly familiar figures away from the context of comics, their methods with paint are very different, however. Meggs uses a combination of stencils and techniques from graffiti art; Lister is evolving a style that recalls Francis Bacon’s way of blurring the painted figure to create a sense both of movement and of the disintegration of the self.
In Lister’s show at Lyons Wier, its title alludes to the idea that these figures are in motion – the artist is the one with the power to stop time, to freeze the disintegrating superhero for an instant, for our scrutiny. Lister’s had a prolific career on the street for a long time, and it’s fantastic to see his painterly skills evolving. Maybe Lister’s thematic will start to broaden a little so that it is no longer simply the superhero which is subject to examination. Charlie Isoe’s current show at Lazarides in London, while containing a lot of works that seemed to me to be somewhat similar, disappointingly, to Lister’s style, showed at least what can be achieved when a wider range of objects are brought into the paintings.
What next, Mr Lister? Can’t wait to see.