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Everyone’s talking about it

30 Jun 2016

Everyone’s talking about it Image

By Ella Gibson

It’s an issue that has been known to elicit opinions from even the most non-committal.

Art is inherently subjective, so it makes sense that everyone has something to say. One of the great things about art, public or otherwise, is the variation of reactions it prompts.
The arts and cultural development of the Docklands area has been a priority since its inception. By law, 1 per cent of the $6 billion construction budget is required to go toward the continued funding of public art. This process has integrated $15 million worth of artworks into the

Docklands precinct as of 2006, as Places Victoria indicates on its website.

Artist Warren Langley, whose artwork Poise is a part of the Docklands Art Walk, said people shouldn’t think of funding as an either/or situation, or see the funding for public art as a drain on funding for other things.

“Money for public art comes from discretionary spending by government and corporate entities. In the large scheme of things it is miniscule funding,” Mr Langley said.

“We need to remind ourselves that when a drunken hoon wraps his car around a telegraph pole on a Saturday night, the cost in infrastructure (paramedic, hospital, police etc) is more, in one single night, than 80 per cent of the public art budgets,” he said.

It’s about personalising our space, and it is, quite literally, for everyone. Public art occupies a unique position in that it is accessible in a way that gallery art is not, and it helps to develop our sense of place and our attachment to our community.

Mr Langley’s artwork sits near Bendigo Bank building, on the Etihad Stadium concourse. All safety glass and LED lighting within a steel frame, the work represents the concept of a “sacred vessel” apparent within every culture’s mythology.

“The precarious position of the vessel speaks of the delicate state of balance,” he said.

One of the most important things about public art is how it relates to the people and the space around it. It must function foremost on a visual level, as – given the public sphere in which it is situated – not every viewer will contemplate the meaning behind the work.

Artist Jonathan Jones said that public art could often cause the audience to rethink, re-imagine and re-understand sites.

“I believe public art is most successful when site specific, looking closely at the site’s history, current and future usage. Public art creates place and generates multi-layered spaces that help locate and create a sense of community,” he said.

“For me, personally, public art is a way of connecting a site’s deep history and uses to highlight Aboriginal knowledge and lived experiences in a site. Public art can link people to places and places to people.”

Mr Jones’ work Salt/Fresh was placed in the foyer of 380 Docklands Drive, and responded to the site’s natural history. It honoured the traditional homelands of the Kulin nations, and represents the mixing of salt and fresh water of the Yarra and Maribyrnong rivers.

Art is an incredibly important form of self-expression and public art acts as a form of cultural bookmark – a clear mark that describes the kinds of issues and discussions that are prevalent at our time.

Public art covers so much – from memorials and historical monuments to contemporary installations and performance events. It can be permanent or ephemeral, subtle or bold.

Whatever form it takes, it makes a contribution to the aesthetic and the nature of a city and supports and expresses that city’s cultural life. Melbourne is known as a city that supports art and culture and public art has always been a big part of this, from graffiti to installations to performance art.

“Melbourne’s continued history of commissioning and celebrating public art has promoted a great city that is continuing to evolve and an environment of warmth and humanity,” said artist Virginia King.

Her work Reed Vessel, sits elevated in Docklands Park. The boat-like cradle is sandblasted with texts that quote Australian poets and writers, also referencing marine archaeology and the foods – once abundant – that Aboriginal people harvested from the former tidal wetland.

“Cities without public art are generally bland, commercial, callous and emotionless. This can generally be considered as being a city without a ‘public heart’,” Ms King said.

When considering any work of public art, it is important to keep in mind what the environment, be it city or community, is gaining through the continued existence of art within the public sphere.

It is a bookmark of our evolving culture and can illuminate the issues that matter to us, prompt thought, or act as a mirror of the community within which it exists. It is accessible to absolutely everyone – even if you don’t pay attention to it.

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