Tag Archives: Melbourne

spatial poetics: Graffiti Featurism

The extent to which graffiti is not an aesthetic, but a mode of cultural production (with its own materiality, process, social embeddedness, but also ethos, and an ethics), a whole and living thing, is exactly the extent to which this building is pathetic and vulgar kitsch.

Robin Boyd defined featurism as the subordination of the essential whole and the accentuation of selected separate features, so that something always looks like a bouquet of lots of somethings. Boyd considered it the most representative characteristic of the national aesthetic of Australia, particularly of its ugliness, and I wholeheartedly agree. Once you have trained your eye, you can see featurism leave its mark on everything: from our plays (a little bit of comedy, a little bit of drama), to our policies (always treading the middle ground between USA and Denmark, as one of my students once remarked, approvingly). For Boyd, featurism is a symptom of Australia’s “unwillingness to be committed on the level of ideas. In all the arts of living, in the shaping of all her artefacts, as in politics, Australia shuffles about vigorously in the middle – as she estimates the middle – of the road, picking up disconnected ideas wherever she finds them.

More clarifications on the building below (please note that the ‘walls of the apartments are inscribed with these letters and other hip hop iconography’):

The Hive Apartment was designed by architect Zvi Belling of ITN Architects.This site was specifically selected for a graffiti/architecture project. The ideas in the building have been refined over time by the designer in prior competitions, publications and collaborations with street artists. The architect developed the project with his neighbour (aka Prowla), a respected old school Melbourne graffiti ‘writer’ who contributed the design of the graffiti letters. The external precast concrete walls of the apartments are inscribed with these letters and other hip hop iconography.

The graffiti relief panel spells HIVE written in ‘wild style’ with some initiation into the cultural codification of letters being required to decipher the words. These external geometries directly determine the interiors and have been extruded into living spaces in bulkheads and wall shapes. There are inherent tensions in the building where graffiti complete with spray drip effect has been created without any paint and an anti-establishment art form has been situated in an exclusive inner city residential suburb. These tensions are resolving over time as respect for the building spreads within the graffiti community and the local residents begin to claim ownership of their new street art. The outward presentation of robust public art fortifies the internal spaces into a calm refuge that is adorned with street art frames and canvasses. The notion of hive as home has been extracted from the facade and reappears through the fitout in various guises.

The concrete relief façade containing shapes such as letters, arrows, swooshes and drips has been slotted into the exposed brickwork shell of an old Carlton tailor shop. It was important for the street art, graffiti in this case, to be essential to the experience of the building inside and out. The 4m high concrete letters are load bearing with the weight of all four stories transferring to the footing through the oversized letter ‘E’ and simultaneously creating a dramatic visual entry to the apartment. Similarly the punctuations in the facades allow interesting views and natural light opportunities within the habitable spaces.

via The Hive Apartment | competitionline – Wettbewerbe und Architektur.

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Planning the ‘creative city’ – forum announcement

A wonderful discussion about the role of the arts, particularly performing arts (such as music and theatre), in shaping our cities, and the role of our cities (particularly inner) in shaping our arts, will be taking place soon in Melbourne, and I hope many of you will get to it.

A few years ago, I worked with Dr Kate Shaw, one of the smartest and most well-spoken critics of both the existing arts policies, and the patterns of development in Australian cities, that this country has at hand, on a research project called ‘Planning the Creative City’. It was one of the most interesting periods of my life, and it opened up questions that I am, in Berlin as much as in Tokyo, Istanbul or Brisbane, still attempting to answer. We were looking at Melbourne’s self-branding as a ‘creative city’, at Richard Florida’s urbanist propaganda (in which the creative class meant growth and prosperity), at graffiti tourism and clusters of architectural bureaus and live music, the relationship between liquor licensing and the vibrancy of a music scene in a city, the relationship between housing prices and the arts, and cross-tabulating all of that with hard data. Some of it made it into newspaper and magazine articles even as the project was progressing, but, as with most research projects, there was a lot of data to crunch.

The project is now finally finished, and its findings are being presented next week on Thursday, 27th September 2012, at something called Yarra Living Arts Forum. I would love to tell you more about it, but from a quick google it doesn’t appear Yarra Council wants anyone to know about it, because there is no website, and no online announcement about this event – all the more reason to go, I would suggest.

The details are below, as is the summary of the event. I would love to be there, not just because I feel great love for this particular project, and because I think it’s hugely important for artists in Australia to understand both the social power they possess, and the structural forces that shape their lives – but also because Kate is a fantastic public speaker. You are most cordially invited to go.

Yarra Talking Arts Forum
Planning the ‘creative city’ with Dr Kate Shaw

This forum will present findings from research into the idea of the ‘creative city’. Creative city strategies are often used as economic development strategies, with the intent of decreasing vacancy rates and increasing land values. The effect is to displace lower than best economic uses of land, including low and no-profit cultural activities. The contribution that alternative cultures make to established city cultures is well documented – the City of Amsterdam calls it ‘No Culture without Subculture’ – but few Australian governments accord creative subcultures a place in their planning policies.

The presentation uses time-series maps of inner Melbourne to show the location of independent cultural activities from 1991 to 2009. These are overlaid with maps that track shifts in demographics, land values and voting patterns. Small cultural producers are being pushed into tighter and tighter clusters, but rather than going to where the land values are lowest, some are concentrating in the CBD and parts of Collingwood and Fitzroy. The presentation discusses the particular conditions that support the clustering in these areas.

The forum will conclude with an analysis of ‘creative city’-inspired urban renewal strategies, and a discussion of possible local and state government policy initiatives to encourage creative subcultures. The audience is invited to participate in this discussion.