Entries Tagged 'ARCHITECTURE' ↓

Public art can be dangerous for your health (and psychological wellbeing)


One of my favourite works in the Australian National University’s sculpture collection used to be Witness, by the renowned Indonesian/Australian artist Dadang Christanto. Comprised of aluminium forms attached to the skeleton of a eucalypt tree, it looked for all the world like a flock of Sulphur-crested cockatoos that had lobbed into the branches of the tree, as they do. Commissioned in 2004, when Dadang was artist-in-residence at the School of Art, for quite some time it stood in splendid isolation overlooking the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. Subsequently, in a wind storm, some of the aluminium forms detached themselves and fell to the ground.


For the last five years there has been a dodgy star-picket and wire fence to keep spectators at bay. Now (shock! horror!) the whole area has been surrounded by a vast backyard fence! It is now framed in a way such that the original work has a radically inappropriate new visual component. Now I know (and I’ve argued on this site) that reframing is a particularly Canberran discourse – witness the way the experts and architects at the National Gallery have redesigned and reframed The Aboriginal Memorial – but this is example of what is technically known as outsider design. Or is this Occupational Health and Safety gone mad? In which case, what about the psychological health of the artlovers like your iconophile who have to walk past it every morning?


There are ethical and moral rights issues at play here. Was the artist consulted? If so, we will need to reconsider whether the work has been transformed in some way into a sad statement about art in the public domain. Was anyone asked whether this was an appropriate addition to the work? If so, there is an interesting question of curatorial responsibility at play. Alternately, perhaps this is a test case for public art more generally? The Skywhale, for example, could be flown behind a giant fence, and then nobody would be unhappy. Except me.

doing it properly

Upscaling Aboriginal art to fit large public spaces can be problematic, as the big fish-trap saga at the National Gallery of Australia has amply demonstrated. In this case the work by the late Mrs Yunupingu at the Australian National University does it properly. In the large four-story atrium of the Corbett Lyons designed Hedley Bull Centre, Gulumbu’s Garrurru is a perfect fit for the scale and material qualities of the space. Garrurru invokes the memory and the narrative significance of the annual visits by Macassan traders who visited Arnhem Land up to the early years of the twentieth century. At nine meters high, it’s about twice the size of the original sail on a Macassan prau.

Here’s a snap of the opening ceremony, which gives a better sense of the scale of the work. University dignitaries Professors David Williams and Marnie Hughes-Warrington greet Gulumbu and her daughter Dhalulu Ganambarr Stubbs, and officially launch the work, to the acclaim of the audience assembled for the event. Both Dhalalu and the late Mrs Yunupingu spoke with great emotion about the work and its significance to the Yolngu of North-East Arnhem Land, and their satisfaction with the way in which the work had found its way to the ANU.

When Frances Morphy spoke about the aesthetic significance of the work, she observed that it is the manipulation of scale in the resolution of the work that gives it its aesthetic impact. Not only is its sheer size commanding – responding successfully to the somewhat challenging architectural elements with which it now coexists – but it is the scale effects of the complex motifs within the sail that pulls the viewer in to its other imagery, which is Gulumbu’s own vision of the starry night sky. The representation of the night sky – dazzling in its luminosity in that part of the world – has long been Gulumbu’s renowned signature iconography. The design of the painted low-relief surface of the sail-shaped panel successfully translates the micro-structure of the artists bark-paintings to the grand expressive gestural character of its new medium. It’s like looking back in time, as if through a telescope. As you may read in the wall text below, for the artist the infinite numbers of stars is symbolic of the almost-infinite numbers of the human inhabitants of the planet.

Garrurru has been four years in the making, since Will Stubbs from Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre in Yirrkala first visited the ANU to assess the potential of the site. It’s been worth the wait.

The ACT Greens and their Cultural Planning Expertise: a Case Study.

At the ACT Legislative Assembly’s Inquiry into the Future Use of the Fitters’ Workshop – or rather, it seems, the process of seeking alternatives to the occupancy by Megalo Print Workshop and Gallery – on last Tuesday the Committee heard from the acoustical engineers (Kimmo Vennonen, Duncan Lowe and Murray Neish) who had been commissioned to report on the 10 second reverb that has has been measured in the Workshop.

This “accidental acoustic” was the consequence of the original workshop design, including the 1950s ceiling – which, erroneously, the experts declared had been installed as recently as 2007. Despite the challenges posed by such historical facts and precedents, the Committee of Inquiry, on which the Government is outnumbered by the Liberal/Greens alliance, seems intent on searching for ways to justify the building being used as a multi-purpose space, which, presumably, it will argue, is a “feasible and prudent” alternative.

It is also an unfunded alternative, which suggests that it will never happen. Nevertheless, the current political process will attempt to save face by finding alternative visions (with imaginary budgets) for the use of the space, which will justify them to stymie the (approved, budgeted) Megalo plans. In this cause, (straying far from their brief), the acoustics experts enthusiastically attempted to correct some of the public interpretations of their submission. It would be possible, they argued, to “curate” the space to suit a wider range of musical performances than those cited, to make it “amenable to contemporary music”, as well as the “outer boundary” musical forms (gregorian chants and bathroom songsters, they suggest) which might benefit from the existing eccentric acoustical qualities of the space. These are, they said “at times superior to anything else” in Canberra. At what times? you might well ask… Within this alternate cosmos, an expert, some “acoustical curator” presumably, would, through the choice of furniture, the rotation of carpets in and out of the space, and the installation of retractable curtains over the (substantial) window areas, “model” the space for each event. Hmmm, good, that’s interesting, nod the Green/Liberal Alliance.

But the really interesting point raised by Kimmo Vennonen, Duncan Lowe and Murray Neish is the implicit necessity for a professional role for an Acoustics Curator, who, presumably, would be responsible for managing the changeovers (several times a week?) between the role of the space for exhibitions, raves, and rug sales – and the unique and magical performance space role that is being promoted for The Fitters. When it’s empty.  And, of course, let’s not forget that if there’s an Acoustics Curator, there will need to be an Exhibitions Curator, to manage the re-installation of whatever art exhibition is sharing the space at any given moment. And both of these characters, having different professional expertise, will necessarily “manage” crews of workers to make this happen. And then someone will have to manage the managers, plus the scheduling, plus the financial accounts and acquittals. And the cleaners, and security, and so on. And, as the experts agree, there will need to be incursions into the space, for dressing rooms, green rooms, toilets, safe access, ticketing offices, heating, a PA system, and storage facilities for chairs, carpets, and exhibition materials etc. Whether or not such incursions alter the acoustics of the space…

Now for an unfunded set of ideas, that should make the Greens start to wonder what they have got themselves into. Nevertheless, this is now being promoted on all sides as the best outcome for everybody – except Megalo, of course.

Shame, Greens, shame!

Curious? Read the submissions and transcripts here.

Architecture in China

read this blistering review/interview with Meinhard von Gerkan in Spiegel Online. And then read the Banhof court case reference here in The Guardian.

I Like Pavilions

See why at ArtInfo

Architectural Anomalies 101: was there a moment when

the architect of this UniLodge building in downtown Acton (the west facing wall here photographed at 2.30 on a sunny afternoon) said: “Merde! (he’s from France) We put the sunshades on the wrong way round! Do you think anyone will notice?” (Answer: only the residents. And they’re OK on the other side of the building. And they’re probably OK in France.)

This may have been the same architect who scattered this other kind of ineffectual shading on this other building across the road in the same complex. Clearly the designer does not subscribe to the design aesthetic (or should that now be ethic?) that works to reduce the heat exchange load of a building by designing solar-effective shading. Just provide the politically-correct appearance of same and it will look contemporary enough.

As opposed to the Tax Building in Civic, from the same angle as the first image, which looks good to me in every sense.

Albert Speer builds ghost town – in China, of course

Story here, in Der Spiegel

Simon Schama’s “abstraction of convenience” and the 9/11 memorial

He’s in a bit of a spin when it comes to contemporary art, it seems. Interviewed here on ArtInfo.

public artefacts: after four years of despair

Look! A person! Despite which, it seems the Dead Heart of Canberra is truly a lost cause. Every August 23rd for the last four years your iconophiliac has been pointing at these sick little public artefacts in the centre of Canberra, and asking: who takes responsibility for this run-down, derelict space between the Melbourne and Sydney Buildings? Follow the thread. You’ll be amazed at what you see.

It’s a public disgrace. No amount of dinky fairy lights can disguise the fact that this abandoned space gives a dreadful impression to every visitor to this (apparently) soulforsaken city. I’ve suggested pavilions, like the Serpentine, but nobody is listening. But now we have a new Chief Minister, a new Minister for the Arts, and a new Director of the Canberra Museum and Art Gallery (among other things). Memo to all: get advice. Do something really significant. Like the Serpentine does. And yes, they’re for sale

So while Singapore has its Supertrees, Canberra has its petuniae. Each is memorable in its own special way…

Postscript: The power of the press! Three days after this was posted, the objects have vanished! Nonetheless the pervasive sense of ennui remains…

Kandahar Modern

At last! Formalist sculpture has a use-value…

The futuristic Kandahar International Airport terminal was built between 1956 and 1962 by Pacific Architects and Engineers, Inc., for a cost of US$ 15 million under the USAID program. It never took off (as a tourist destination), alas. And here’s a contemporary postcard…

and in construction…

(and thanks to i.mcgrath for the perspective at the top of this post)