The stories behind St Kilda’s street art 

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By Louise Avery 

 

Public art is the highly visible community forum that gives people an opportunity to engage in the eternal discussion of: what is good art?’ Any work will attract both lovers and critics with similar levels of passion and compelling arguments about aesthetics, driving a community to either love or hate camps for something that is paid for with local government money. And the City of Port Phillp public arts coordinator Georgia Rouette has heard it all, which is why I was very eager to tag along with her for a public art walk around the St Kilda heartland.

The walk was triggered by the completion of the temporary artwork that has landed on the new Acland Street esplanade, but it was also a chance to see what other hidden surprises are around St Kilda. The new artwork is the Cave Urban’s Regenesis sometimes called the “Otter’s Nest. We all notice new things in our landscape if they are bold enough however, after a while, older pieces simply get lost in the visual noise of your neighbourhood. This walk highlighted some of the more interesting pieces Council has commissioned for public art over the last few years.

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We started at the top of Acland street to talk about the Regenesis project. It is described on the Council website as: a woven bamboo chamber that takes the shape of a seed pod or chrysalis. It is open at one end as if something important has already escaped. However ephemeral grumblings and songs emit from this mysterious pod. Sounds include earthquake, fire, wind, storms, birdsong, insects, human voices and industry.”

People can climb in and engage with the sculpture for another few months until the Council finds a more permanent home for it. The sculpture, being an ephemeral piece, may not stand the test of time but it will grace our neighbourhood for a little longer.

We then walked up the road to the small bronze sculptures on corner of Blessington and Barkly Sts which have been around so long they are often overlooked as parts of the visual noise that your streetscape sometimes becomes. How we see things is helped by context and Georgia reminded us of the process the artist employed of interviewing 600 subjects to find six stories to create bronze sculptures that told the story of St Kilda residents. Next time you are rushing to the ‘Sev’ (7/11) take a moment to find a remnant of old St Kilda woven in bronze on this corner.

From here Georgia took us to her more recent efforts with street art murals which are now a feature of the St Kilda landscape. The process for organising the murals is a complicated negotiation, which involves lengthy conversations with street artists to find out who and what is respected and thus won’t be tagged. It’s a tribal way of negotiating respect for art works that enable our streets to be decorated in the kind of beautiful vibrant art by known street artists like Bailer and his mate DVATE. The street art of St Kilda was a way for Council to resolve the increasing problem of a chaotic mess of tagging over any available wall in St Kilda. If the taggers respected and liked the street artists on the walls the murals are generally left alone.

In reality, it doesn’t always work that way. One cheeky artist painted over the wall art made by an older Aboriginal artist and while he was working on his act of sabotage, was questioned by local elders who were coincidentally having a gathering in the gardens near the wall he was painting. His response was to claim he had Council approval, which was a flatt out lie. His work is there  – for now.

The endless process of art in our landscape is both practical but also builds a story. As taggers evolve into artists they can gain commercial respectability. There are different classifications of street art to muralists. Who doesn’t love the huge hyper real Aboriginal faces painted by more established artist Adnate whose work was recently defaced near the Peanut Farm in St Kilda, disappointingly there was politics with this is as well. The nature of street art is that it is always at risk of impermanence and street artists understand this well. As the walls that are their canvas are moved and changed they seize opportunity in what was once an urban sub culture but is now reaching mainstream acceptance.   20170507_150354

Whether you love it or hate it, urban art is here to stay. It solves a problem with taggers and it is a majestic canvas for artists who love to use giant canvases working into the buildings and visual landscape of our environment. “This is why we have urban art!” said Georgia. “You don’t have to like it but if you respond, either loving or hating it then its doing its job. If it’s just ignored then perhaps it’s failed in its ability to provoke discussion in the local landscape”.

Our tour took as to the back of the Coles building which was an interesting collaboration commissioned by the Coles management and coordinated by Council that used a few different local artists who worked on the project together. Each had their own part of the building, which they built on in unison with the other artists leaving a spectacular combination of styles and presences that is best seen from Belford St.

We walked onwards and noticed more and more and enjoyed realising that the landscape that is our neighbourhood is best seen on foot and its not just about the natural magic of the sea but the built up surfaces that inspire creativity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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