Is it an ad? Is it an unfinished property development? Is it a roadside resort? No, it’s an artwork. It’s a mega sculpture, Hotel by Callum Morton on the side of ConnectEast freeway in Melbourne.
They do things differently south of the border, particularly along their freeways. ConnectEast is part of the EastLink freeway, heading east and south out of Melbourne.
We were heading to the Mornington Peninsula, having driven from Sydney along the endless Hume Highway. We had successfully avoided other major roadside cultural attractions NSW has to offer – the Big Merino Goulburn; the Dog on the TuckerBox (Gundagai); and had already seen the sub in Holbrook – though we had marvelled at the technology which brought 15 magnificent wind turbines to a ridge near Yass as we wizzed on by.
I did not expect anything vaguely art related until later in the week, back in Melbourne at Melbourne Now at the NGV.
So yes we were delightfully surprised when (a) we actually made it onto the Connect East freeway and (b) were well rewarded for our time, effort and expense.
ConnectEast has committed to a major public art project, with at this stage, 4 major works by key Australian sculptors and a number of smaller works along the EastLink Trail, pathways for cyclists and pedestrians.
First to stir our curiosity was James Angus’ Elipsoidal Freeway Sculpture: oversized lozenges are connected together to create a cross between playground climbing equipment and a 3D molecule of some new wonder drug. The lovely mix of greens and blues imply surrounding bush colours and are refreshingly at odds with the usual strident palettes of advertising logos.
Angus is a highly respected mid-career sculptor whose contributions to Australian public sculpture, in both museums and on city streets, is considerable. He explores the everyday by distorting it: turning the ordinary into extraordinary, turning things inside out, upside down, dropped from on high or upsized to a massive scale. His engagement with disciplines beyond playing with 3D – science, mathematics, design and nature – is clear in major public installations such Elipsoidal Freeway Sculpture and Day in Day Out (2011) at #1 Bligh St Sydney. Angus shows with Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.
We shot past with a “what was that?’ But too late to screech to a halt or turn back, it was a single glimpse, viewed in air conditioned comfort at 110km per hour, but a glimpse that has proved to be indelible. Did I say it was 42C outside ?
Continuing south we came upon Emily Floyd’s gigantic bird, eyeing off an equally gigantic yellow worm and simply titled Public Art Strategy. The early bird has the worm in its sights…. We began to appreciate that we had entered a sculpture safari park of sorts.
Floyd who has worked with different media and often with text, sees this piece simply as a sign, akin to those that guide us through cities – simple graphic elements which aim to be immediate to read and understand. Floyd shows with Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne & Sydney.
We wised up to Callum Morton’s Hotel pretty quickly. It had the feel of a property development gone wrong, but left as a reminder to those who choose to dump, cash in and run. I had no way of telling how detailed it was but it came across as sparse, unadorned and plain – there is no way such an unwelcome could herald a commercial enterprise. Everything that is eerie and lonely and unglamorous about roadside accommodation is summed up in this almost life size sculpture. More hotel than motel, not quite Psycho and certainly not the Hilton, its success lies in its unsettling familiarity. It is as many roadside motels, its potential merits assessed on the drive by. “I think it’s kind of interesting how putting something in a space that is slightly beguiling or is a little bit strange, how that maybe changes the way people think about art or practice … It’s the “little shocks”, the misrecognition that help reorient people’s relationship to the space in which they inhabit. For Morton, context is crucial, for it enables him to introduce what might have otherwise remained concealed.” Callum Morton, March 2013 I gather it lights up at night.
Morton has a great piece in Melbourne Now at the NGV and was the 2013 Winner of the Redlands Konica Minolta Art Prize for his piece Cover Up. A cheeky piece that does offer a ‘little shock’ it is essentially a work which has been covered up. Morton shrouds the object in fabric (in this case a no doubt replica of a de Kooning work from the Woman series), scans it and remakes it from the scan, in resin. ‘Tis a very bold acquisition for a private school on the Lower North Shore and I am sure would have generated (and continues to generate) a great buzz around the school community.
After hours in the car we were finally beginning to enjoy ourselves.
And then Simeon Nelson’s Desiring Machine. Again, an art work which speaks to both the natural and urban environment in which it is sited. It is both a fallen tree and a relic of agricultural machinery, made decorative by its almost frilly repetitive edging. Though ambiguous, its origins in its prone state are obvious and become quite poignant. Nelson lives in London and is represented in Australia by Mossgreen Galleries, Melbourne.
Landscaping, signage, the noise baffle boards, the fencing on the overpasses, even the furniture, as well as smaller artworks to delight pedestrians and cyclists on the interwoven off road pathways are all great examples of contemporary urban design – where everyday structures can be colourful, playful, interesting, event curly and still be practical, efficient, useful and cost effective. A freeway never looked so good. But, whenever the discussion is about how well Melbourne does something, then it stands that something must be said about Sydney. If only in the interests of predictability and ‘balance’…
We don’t do freeways like this in NSW. Yes, some freeways around Sydney have been lightly embellished, though nothing on the scale as seen in Victoria or with a similar commitment to working with artists and designers to enhance our daily lives; nothing with as much vision or dedication. Nonetheless, eminent artists such as Richard Goodwin have been brought in by the NSW RTA to make something of, for example, the otherwise lifeless concrete walls that edge the roads. Richard’s creative hand via his research group Porosity Studio can be seen on the panels around the Gore Hill Freeway, with markings which refer to the ancient Indigenous rock carvings from the area; and more relief decoration with additional sculptural elements at Glebe Island arterial. These constructed designs are effective in their subtlety, longevity and integration into the road-scape.
His design for roadside sustainable loos is commendable and has been realised along the highways and byways.
Otherwise, Sydney has to offer the frolicking dolphins set in high relief on the noise boards at the northern end of the Sydney/ Wollongong freeway and about which it is best to make no comment.
All the PPP’s which have re-wired this city’s roadway infrastructure to suit political, rather than public needs show that a lot of time, attention and money has been given to engineering and construction but very little on design. Very few artists or designers have been consulted or invited to make the freeways, on which we Sydneysiders increasingly spend an extraordinary length of time and money, a more enjoyable experience.
Back to our road trip south of the border …. We just made the exit onto the newly opened Mornington Peninsula Freeway, to head further south east. So glad we didn’t miss it because the sculpture safari continued.
McClelland Art Gallery + Sculpture Park is in the vicinity (Langwarrin) and has exerted its influence well beyond the confines of its beautiful park and building. McClelland has forged many great partnerships to ensure its status as a leading public art institution dedicated to sculpture – mostly outdoor.
They are indeed fortunate to have such a partner in The Balnaves Foundation which is very active and generous in the philanthrophic sphere and which supported the acquisition of land to effectively double the size of the park, as well as funds for some key acquisitions. Then in 2010, together with the Elisabeth Murdoch Sculpture Foundation (another major McClelland partner), they jointly provided the substantial funds ($100,000) for the biennial acquisitive McClelland Sculpture Survey in 2010 and 2012. The winner of the 2010 McClelland Sculpture Survey was Louise Paramor for her work Top Shelf and in 2012 Greg Johns won for his sculpture At the centre (There is Nothing). As an acquisitive award, both can now be seen in the McClelland Sculpture Park.
The 2014 Award is currently in planning stage, with finalists announced and the exhibition to open in late November 2014.
Then there is the unlikely, but visionary, partnership with Peninsula Link and Southern Way which really cements McClelland’s presence on the Melway’s. These are the groups which I assume built and now manage the relatively new freeway which takes you down to the Mornington Peninsula – our destination. The partnership is about public art, specifically sculpture, along the freeway. But it is an ongoing project which has the potential to maintain a contemporary edge as, over the next 25 years, different artists will be commissioned to create major pieces for chosen sites. It is dynamic and continues to be a prime example of contemporary public art.
Known as the Peninsula Link Sculpture Commission and the biennial Southern Way McClelland Commission, it is an arrangement which ensures one permanent commissioned sculpture at a particular juncture of the freeway (interchange with EastLink), plus 2 other sites which host semi-permanent commissioned sculptures. Southern Way works with the McClelland Gallery + Sculpture Park to manage the selection and installation of sculptures on Peninsula Link. The two additional sculpture sites are located at Skye Road and Cranbourne Road in Frankston, which are the exit points for access to the McClelland Gallery + Sculpture Park.
The semi-permanent sculptures will be commissioned every 2 years over 25 years, resulting in the creation of 14 new works for the McClelland Sculpture Park. Funds for these commissions were donated by Abigroup and RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland).
The permanent work is by Louise Paramor. Panorama Station is built from steel, is 17m at its highest point and is 11+m wide. To describe it as big and commanding is an understatement. If you missed it, you shouldn’t be out on the roads.
Panormama Station is an over the top extrapolation of Paramor’s previous works – assembling bits and pieces of found plastic detritus to create alien structures. Panorama Station feels familiar because the component shapes resemble all too familiar stuff, albeit scaled up. Is that a giant ping pong ball resting on top? Nothing like the petrol stations that line the highways and byways, Panorama Station stands defiant and independent, a bit like a kooky space station in which futuristic engineering and old fashioned fantasy come together on a tangible scale. It is where The Jetsons meet Astro Boy, with just a hint of Dr Who, in Land of the Giants.
“The artwork blurs the lines between sculpture, architecture and machinery and thus infers a direct affinity with the ways of the road, while the overall skyward thrust of the piece inspires a feeling of buoyancy and optimism.” Louise Paramor
The other 2 commissions, the inaugural Southern Way McClelland Commissions, were awarded to sculptors Dean Colls and Phil Price.
Dean Colls’ work Rex Australis: The King is dead, long live the King, is made of corten steel and is located on a site near the Peninsula Link Skye Road exit while Phil Price’s large scale, wind-activated kinetic sculpture The Tree of Life, is located near the Peninsula Link Cranbourne Road exit.
Colls’ speaks poignantly about his work– I remember long family car trips as a child, journeys that often covered thousands of kilometres and visited all corners of Australia. In those days there was a petrol company called Golden Fleece. I can still remember the child’s passport that would be stamped every time we stopped at a new Golden Fleece road house. The petrol company is gone now and the sheep-farming industry that its emblem proudly referenced is itself greatly diminished … [Rex Australis] explores the concept of changing fortunes and the transience of existence. The chosen medium of rusty Corten steel evokes the great lumps of iron ore that we haul from the earth and ship to the world. However, rust is also a potent image of decay and underlines the eventual mortality of all unsustainable ventures. Dean Colls
Price is a NZ based artist who is well known for his large scale outdoor kinetic sculptures. His practice is geared for the public domain. He is very well versed in scale, suitable materials and processes, engineering requirements and the natural elements ie the wind, which to build and activate his pieces. He thinks of everything, including vandal proofing is also a consideration. You may remember his Snake in last year’s Sculpture by the Sea. He has also shown in Sculpture by the Sea in Aarhus Denmark.
I imagine the engineers working on the roadways and verges would have had some great discussions with Price as they became involved with the Tree’s specifications and installation. Behind the scenes of exhibition installation is an inspiring and privileged place, where different disciplines bring different energies, ideas and expertises, to realise the given project. You learn a lot about the artist’s intention and practice, almost the secrets of the work itself, as you install it.
What happens next is that Price’s Tree of Life will be retired in April 2015 and removed to McClelland Sculpture Park for permanent installation. It will be replaced with a new work by Gregor Kregar, Reflective Lullaby (a commission to the tune of $250,000).
Kregar’s work comprises twisted connected geometric forms of shiny shiny metal. They are as much about reflecting the environment around them as reflecting the gaze of the viewer. Whilst the shape is fixed, the surface rarely is, enlivened by whatever is happening around it and whoever is gazing upon it.
Add into the visual mix, the noise boards which are at times oxidised walls (organic and gentle in feel), text walls (inspired by the work of Rosalie Gascoigne) and geology walls which are informed by the colours and textures of local stone, and you have a lively, sophisticated, interesting stretch of road. Traffic jams will take on a whole new meaning.
No noisy visual pollution, no littering of advertising billboards and signage but a cohesive, thoughtful and visually dynamic contemporary environment, a combination of urban, natural, native and cultural – all experienced at pace, once removed, as landmarks for time and place.
They do things differently south of the border.