Darwin Street Art – part one

There are so many great reasons to visit Darwin, especially in the dry season. During my visit last year, I discovered another. The Darwin Street Art Festival invites local, national and international artists to transform the streets and laneways of the CBD into a giant art gallery. Eight murals were painted in the  first year, 2017, followed by sixteen in 2018. A further fifteen were added each year in 2019 and 2020. We embarked on a wondrous voyage of discovery one morning, not realising the magnitude of the undertaking. Our introduction was a colourful graphic work by Melburnian urban artist Andrew Bourke (more about him later).

Riece Ranson started as a graffiti writer in London before moving on to murals. He has paid homage to his love of the coastline and fishing in the Northern Territory with his painting of a Queensland Groper.

Belgian artist, Vexx, incorporated his signature colourful ‘doodles’ to put his own twist on Darwin’s deadly animal, the crocodile.

Beneath the crocodile, in 2020 Northern Territory based visual artist, Polly Johnstone (Miss Polly), raised the question of what the future will bring.

Vibrant graphics burst forth from drab walls and a more subtle illustration emerged from the pavement.

Roller doors provided an alternative canvas for a nature-inspired triptych.

Saltwater Home was a collaboration between Sydneysider Tim De Haan (Phibs) and Darwin-born Larrakia man, Shaun Lee (Hafleg) in 2017. Both men grew up by the ocean and have blended elements of saltwater life with a Larrakia design presented in stunning colours of the outback .

Although not part of the Street Art Festival, some quirky animation graced the walls of the Babylon Bar at the Austin Lane end of Air Raid Arcade.

At the other end of the arcade on Cavenagh Street, the recently opened Birth of Venus Bar was similarly embellished.

Melburnian Mike Maka’s (Makatron) 2017 creation, Poppies for the People, was inspired by the location adjacent to the Darwin RSL Club. The mural links and contrasts the iconic red poppies of the World War I battlefield of France to the green of the tropical vegetation in the Top End.

Explorer John McDouall Stuart was the subject of local NT artist Ryan Medlicott’s portrait in 2018.

House of Darwin is a clothing company that reinvests its profits into social programs in remote Indigenous communities. Graphic designer and illustrator Liam Milner (Luna Tunes) painted a huge building in support of the project in 2019.

Native flora of the Northern Territory feature in the vibrant 2019 work by self-taught local artist, Jason Lee.

Once an illegal graffiti artist in New York, ELLE created a collage style painting in 2018 to tell the history of Darwin. The central image of an Aboriginal woman’s face has one Chinese eye, representing the influx of Chinese during the Goldrush. ELLE was fascinated by the accounts of lightning starting fires in the bush and the Black Kite picking up twigs from the fire and dropping them to spread the fires further in order to burn out food. She has used this creature as well as local flora to symbolise resilience, beauty, strength and pride.

Phibs, once again, contributed in 2018 with an abstract impression of the diverse flora and fauna found in the Northern Territory using a colour palette as seen in Darwin sunsets.

Tom Gerrard (Aeon) has a passion for finding shapes that shape a city and in 2017, the Melbourne-based artist teamed up with locals David Collins and Les Huddleston to capture some of the Top End’s most iconic structures. Gerrard has used his distinctive minimalist colour palette of red, black and white for the work entitled Darwin.

In 2018, Andrew Bourke combined his talents with NT artist Jesse Bell to honour the memory of Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu. The talented Aboriginal musician passed away in July 2017 and, with blessings from his family, the artists have immortalised his image with the lyrics from his song Baru (The Saltwater Crocodile) in the background.

The following year, a piece of traditional Aboriginal design by Nyanpanyapa (Wendy) Yunupingu accompanied her late brother, Gurrumul.

On the opposite wall of the car park are two more magnificent pieces that complement each other. Multidimensional Man, painted by Melburnian Peter Seaton (CTO) in 2018, is a portrait of Hilton Garnarradj an Aboriginal guide from Arnhem Land.

A year later, Brisbane based artist Russell Orrie Fenn (Sofles) added the Interdimensional Space Crab alongside using the same tones as the Aboriginal man.

Polly Johnstone’s 2017 work, For the Love of Reading, features an image of Darwin local Artia Ratahi, representing the diverse culture of the community. The background is inspired by the colours of the Top End from the soil and crystal blue waters to the pinks and purples of the sunsets.

Another Darwin resident, Emma Murphy, combined fashion and nature for her bold creation in 2019. Models faces morph into birds, inspired by the Kookaburra, Hooded Parrot and the Rainbow Bee-eater bird.

Ryan Medlicott’s 2019 mural depicts the rare Oenpelli Python, the longest snake in the NT found only in the sandstone massif of western Arnhem Land.

With a lunch date looming, we ran out of time to complete our mission and returned a few days later but that will be another post. I could find no information on these last two paintings except the second one is titled Winner.

artists of Il Giardino

There are fifty four artists represented at Il Giardino di Daniel Spoerri, a sculpture wonderland set in the Tuscan countryside. I thought we had done a credible job of covering the ground but, on reflection, we only discovered half of them. It doesn’t matter, what we did see was astounding. Eva Aeppli was born in 1925 in Switzerland and, after her studies, moved to Paris. Around 1967, she started concentrating on textile life-size figures, creating sewn heads that refer to the planets. If you look closely, the stitch lines can be seen on the bronze casts of the Astrological Signs group.

The gold faces of The Planets represent the positive aspects of the Moon (in silver), Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Pluto, Neptune and Uranus

while the negative aspects, responsible for the sinful facets of human beings, are expressed in A Few Human Weaknesses. From left to right, these are Sloth (Moon), Envy (Mercury), Lust (Venus), Pride (Sun), Wrath (Mars), Gluttony (Jupiter), I seem to have missed Avarice (Saturn). Again, the heads were originally sewn and the texture of the silk fabric can be seen on close inspection.

An attempt to glue the figures rather than sew them wasn’t very successful. Two of the failed pieces were used as scarecrows in Eva’s vegetable garden while others were used for airgun target practice. One of the heads, collapsed and shrivelled, has been cast in bronze and embedded between two branches of an olive tree. Although it seems to be watching the passersby, the empty eye sockets see a world on The Other Side.

The three Greek goddesses of vengeance and retribution, known as the Erinyes or Furies, represent the negative aspects of the so-called invisible planets Neptune, Pluto and Uranus.

Ars Moriendi (Latin for ‘The Art of Dying’) by Italian artist, Giampaolo di Cocco, comprises three sculptures that represent life-size elephant bodies in various stages of decomposition.

Katharina Duwen’s Refuse from the Bronze Age relates to the subject matters that interest her most: traces of the past and relics of civilisation. Various items lie together as if on an illegal dump site, made of bronze they contradict the notion of putrefaction and decay. In the future, this evidence may provide useful information to archaeologists about the everyday lives of a past culture.

Not only is Angelo Maineri a maestro of sculpture, he has been responsible for the care and maintenance of the Giardino since 2016. He has melded bodies of steel and cement, seemingly weightless yet grounded, with the twisting branches of a tree for Chlorophilia – Rooted Life. He describes the work as, “humans, destroying nature, are yet dependent upon it and cannot escape it.”

When Daniel Spoerri was invited to propose a sculpture for the slopes of Vesuvius, he immediately thought of a drawing by his friend, illustrator and satirist, Roland Topor who died in 1997. The crouching woman intently watched a handful of small balls rolling from her lap (I’m not absolutely convinced of this anatomical description). The Vesuvius project was abandoned and Mamma muntagna, the Neapolitans name for their volcano, was sculpted in stone for the garden by Simone d’Angiolo.

A tower of old harrows and ploughs, wedged in amongst each other and screwed together, is titled Monument to Settledness. The artist, Arman, was well known in the sixties for his accumulations of several objects of the same kind such as milk cans, hairslides and bottle caps. These agricultural machines are the insignia of soil management and are stuck, immovable and useless, while the sound of modern agricultural machines can be heard in the surrounding hills.

Amongst the olive trees, sixty geese run in the direction of Seggiano, pursued by three extremely threatening, oversized and masked figures with drums. French artist, Oliver Estoppey has included a boy standing off to the side holding a goose under his arm, perhaps protecting the bird from the Day of Wrath.

An interesting figure that appears like a piece of wood is, in fact, bronze and is carefully attached to the wall of the villa. The Pisser served as an artist shower during a sculptors’ symposium in Freiburg in 1977 and Daniel Spoerri retrieved it from storage for the Giardino with artist Alfonso Hüppi’s consent. The refreshing stream of water usually emitted from the woman was absent on this day.

A connecting link between the distant past and modernity is seen in Two Steel Lenses, One Leaning Tower and Five Geode. The installation, by Jürgen Knubben, consists of two lens-shaped steel constructions lying next to slate stones of similar shape and size, known as geodes, that are around 180 million years old. The leaning tower resembles the obelisks used in Egypt around 2000 BC as cultic stones to honour the sun god.

Daniel Spoerri wanted an iron sculpture by his Swiss friend, Bernhard Luginbühl for the Giardino. Peasant Monument comprises ploughs and parts of agricultural machines, symbols of power, and the exaggerated verticality is a symbol of fertility.

Over the course of a year, Josef Pleier visited the Giardino several times to make measurements and calculations regarding different positions of the sun. The holes in his basalt column, Sunstone, direct the gaze to certain points on the horizon where the rising or setting sun can be seen on the day of the winter solstice (21st December), the equinox (23rd September and 21st March) and the summer solstice (21st June). The opening at the top is the point of true midday when the sun is at its zenith in the sky (and it’s not 12 noon).

Pavel Schmidt has an interest in the phenomenon of kitsch, in particular replicas of popular sculptures. Do Not Open Before the Train Has Halted (Venus and David Between the Buffers) features kitsch figures of Michelangelo’s David and Botticelli’s Venus that he blew up and then glued the fragments together. They have been placed on railway buffers arranged in the form of a cross, gazing in opposite directions.

Austrian artist Erwin Wurm became famous for a series of One Minute Sculptures where he poses people in unexpected relationships with everyday objects. Sewn together at the waistband, the pant legs of Doppelhose seem to be fidgeting in the air.

The Gordian Knot is a legend associated with Alexander the Great, the untying of an impossibly tangled knot often used as a metaphor to describe an intractable problem. German artist Till Augustin created a series of sculptures with this title, two of which are presented atop pillars each side of the path. The cables were pressed together under huge pressure and then cut so that the inside of the twisted rope is visible, giving the impression the knot could spring apart at any moment.

In a hollow in the Giardino, elaborate iron constructions topped with reddish-brown, bell-shaped heads reach 4-6 metres into the sky. Luigi Mainolfi’s mushrooms symbolise The Fertile Earth in these towering species.

The bronze figure of Banzai! Banzai! Banzai! was inspired by a small sculpture standing on Ay-O’s desk when Daniel Spoerri visited him in New York. A few grains of rice placed in the boy’s mouth would traverse the short digestive tract and exit from the rear. This impressed and amused Spoerri and he asked Ay-O to produce a life-size version for the Giardino where Banzai! wishes happiness, success and good health. I didn’t realise at the time but for those wishing to see the little fella “in action”, little bags of rice are available at the reception desk.

Roberto Barni’s figures in Continuo are positioned mid-stride on a seesaw in permanent equilibrium. The title is a contrast to the musical term, Continuo, meaning a constant accompaniment provided by the bass instruments. The men are blindfolded, a typical element of Barni’s works, perhaps in order not to disappoint their illusion of progress.

Italian Luciano Ghersi describes himself as a ‘hyper-textile hand-weaver’. The chairs of The Fakirs’ Meeting are woven with barbed wire, a comment that they would be a good seat for the government which, in Italy and elsewhere, should not be able to sit back in comfort.

The Cake Dream, created by Rosa Roedelius using aluminium and clay, is accompanied by a few lines:

What remains is the cake dream

What was or will be, trivial

Floating above the water

Living things grow from it

Standing on a viewing tower taking in the ambience of the landscape, The Visitor by Esther Seidel looks out over the labyrinthine wallpath. But is he really observing it or only seeing images inside his head?

Flying Buttress is one of the many installations by Mauro Staccioli found in public spaces all over the world. Viewed as a fragment of an archway, the large steel construction establishes a link to the motto of the Giardino, Hic Terminus Haeret and to Terminus, the Roman god of boundaries and transition.

Famous ballet dancer, Daniel Nijinski was legendary for his high leaps from a standing position. A photographer captured the moment when, at an advanced age, he leapt unexpectedly for one final time into the air. Artist Non Vital based his sculpture, Daniel Nijinski Superstar, on that photograph and he is appropriately suspended high above the ground.

Yoko Ono is famous for many reasons, one of them being her contribution to art. The first iteration of Play It By Trust was exhibited in 1966 and since then has been represented in various sizes and materials. The all white interactive chessboard functions as a metaphor for the futility of war, eliminating the colour-based opposition of one side versus another. Beyond a series of initial moves, the game is doomed to failure.

Il Giardino

After lunching in the beautiful town of Seggiano, we just had to visit nearby Il Giardino di Daniel Spoerri. The Swiss artist created the sculpture park in the early 1990s and it opened to the public in 1997. Set among 16 hectares of rolling Tuscan countryside,

there are now 113 installations scattered seemingly at random. Even with map in hand, I think we missed quite a few. There are too many works to cover in one post, with 54 different artists represented, so I will firstly cover those by Daniel Spoerri himself. The adventure begins as soon as we leave the ticket office

with an oversized cup atop an antique capital standing on the lawn.

The Cup

A baking oven has been constructed in the style of a Trulli, a traditional dry stone hut from the Puglia region of Italy. Five smoke stacks, modelled on a family of tailors dummies, have been added so when the oven is in use, fine smoke flows from the heads.

Trullo – Smoke is Coming From My Head

Daniel Spoerri is best known for his snare-pictures, a process where a group of objects, such as the remains of a meal along with the table setting, are fixed as they are and transformed from a horizontal plane to a vertical one. There are two snare-pictures cast in bronze at the garden. Luncheon Table in All Eternity is suspended on the exterior wall of the restaurant, Non Solo Eat Art, while Eternal Breakfast, complete with bread and eggs, complements it on the adjacent wall of the estate villa.

Many of the sculptures feature ordinary objects used in unconventional ways. Remnants from a foundry form the face of The Bersagliera, a sharpshooter who seems to have received a few shots herself, awaiting visitors outside the restaurant.

A Flower Bouquet made from mirrors, a variety of rods and a chestnut roasting pan is arranged in a flattened bucket.

The artist was invited by Acquedotto Santa Fiora to create a Golem, a human-like being from Jewish folklore usually made from clay. They gave him parts of water supply systems including old pumps, valves and sieves and Acqua Golem was born.

One of the first installations in the garden, Unicorns – Navel of the World, is on the site where, according to legend, the village of Seggiano once stood. There is now a spectacular view of the town on the opposite hill. The long horns protrude from horses skulls and are held by gloves like lances leaning towards the centre of the circle.

The inspiration for Damocles’ Rose Bower Walk came from a trip to England where Spoerri sketched a pergola comprising a row of interwoven sickles. Roses and Jasmine will eventually grow over the framework.

Marble slabs depicting the last meals of twelve famous women are mounted on a wall, an unusual monument to Marie Antoinette, Hannah Arendt, Hildegard von Bingen, Tanja Blixen, Madame Curie, Marlene Dietrich, Isadora Duncan, Mata Hari, Frida Kahlo, Cleopatra, Empress Elisabeth of Austria and the goddess Leda.

Eight gaunt Nightmares appear from the shadows and I am pleased to say I have never encountered anything like these in my sleep.

The scary theme continues with the four bronze cast skulls guarding Gorilla Bridge

and the macabre totem of Skull Tree.

The title of You white? You black? comes from the merging of two figures where the African and European heads have been switched.

In a shady, wooded area, a Marble Table is set with movable pieces that are work samples from a studio in Carrara. The table is supported by cast bronze scraps rather than ordinary table legs.

Next to the table, a twisting column holds up a small golden head which appears to grow out of a flower bud. Renaissance is dedicated to the Sicilian town of Gibellina which was destroyed in an earthquake in 1968.

At the rear of the restaurant there appears to be a pile of old slippers, the kind that are made of felt and handed out at palace tours to protect the floors. No entry without slippers pays homage to artist Joseph Beuys who frequently used felt in his work.

The villa, where Daniel Spoerri lived for a long time, has been divided into four spacious holiday apartments all with fabulous views of the garden.

The Chain Heap is just that. Spoerri saw the mass of iron chains hanging in an Italian scrap merchant yard and had them transported to the garden where he augmented the collection. The result is reminiscent of a chieftain or medicine man decorated with fetishes.

Something you don’t expect to find in a sculpture garden is a meatgrinder, however, Spoerri finds the diversity of form of this piece of kitchen equipment astounding and intriguing. The 3 metre high Meatgrinder Fountain was sans water on this day but I imagine it would be quite a spectacle.

The same kitchen appliance has been combined with hat models for Warriors of the Night, a small battle-scarred army rising up from a pond.

Five life size mannequins lie distorted in a ditch, reminiscent of mass gravesites as humans destroy other humans. The Mass Grave of the Clones isn’t exactly uplifting, though, as the artist explains,
“Over and over again, the Giardino shows us dark sides, for without these there could be no beauty”.

The Labyrinthine Wall Path is based on a pre-Columbian Neolithic cave drawing, altered slightly to create a labyrinthine form, it was then ‘drawn’ on the meadow using a low wall. The cosmic union of Mother Earth and Father Son is symbolised by representation of a hermaphroditic creature with a phallus and breasts.

Tintin-Elefant is so named due to its similarity to the spherically headed hero of the Belgian comic series Tintin by Hergé. Obviously, the hoseline nose contributes to the second half of the title.

When Spoerri’s good friend Roland Topor died in 1997, he felt there should be something to memorialise him at the garden. Topor was a satirist and illustrator and so Spoerri selected a drawing from which to create the sculpture that is The Eccentric Reader.

Skull Chapel verified Spoerri’s fascination with the cadaver’s cranium. The collection housed in the chapel includes Tibetan monks’ skulls, two mummies’ heads and monkey skulls.

There are so many more incredible sculptures at Il Giardino, they will be featured in a later instalment.

Dawn Gathering

Two years ago, we attended the opening of the biennial Ten Days on the Island festival on the beach at Devonport. This year, we gathered just before dawn, on the pataway/Burnie foreshore to celebrate mapali.

Following a Welcome to Country ceremony, Dave manganeer Gough took us on a journey to the beginning of time and the creation of the first palawa or Tasmanian Aborigine. As the beat of Taiko drums bounced off nearby rocks

we learned that moinee, the great creator, came down the sky bridge, the Milky Way to lutruwitta/Tasmania, collected some soil and ochre and took it back into the sky. There, he formed the first palawa and sent him down the sky bridge back to lutruwitta. Unfortunately, he had legs with no knee joints and the tail of a kangaroo and was unable to sit or lie down.

On hearing the pleas from palawa to help him, moinee sent down his brother, drumadeene the star spirit,

who cut off his tail, rubbing animal fat into the wound for healing and gave him knee joints.

There was much rejoicing,

fires were lit

and a trio of dancers performed to the beat of more drums.

A penguin rookery inflated in front of the drummers

and the penguins cavorted on the sand before retreating in fear from the humans.

Another story followed, that of a young warrior, niyakara, who leaves his village to hunt tara/kangaroo. He sees the village women collecting maireener shells at the water’s edge

and three warriors he doesn’t recognise are watching them.

Assuming they are up to no good, niyakara gives chase but their running strides become bounces and the three transform into kangaroos and bound away.

Three large flags, signifying the strong connection of the palawa and tara, fluttered in the light breeze

as the fires diminished and celebrations came to an end.

A few days later, we visited Makers’ Workshop to see the exhibition, Making mapali. Hundreds of artists and collaborators, along with Goldberg Aberline Studio, worked for months to bring the event to life, it was fascinating to see the detail and hours of work involved. Community participants developed abstract sketches inspired by the night sky for the sky bridge lanterns. The drawings were then digitally overlayed in Photoshop to create the unique Milky Way design.

Even the firesticks are a work of art. Made from paperbark, wattle, native grass, eucalypt leaves, banksia nut, moss and reed pods they were used carry fire, see at night and ward off bad spirits.

The inflatable penguin rookery was most impressive with colours of the rocky North West shoreline, reflection of light across Bass Strait, native grasses and penguin feathers representing an abstract interpretation of the coastline. The Goldberg Aberline Studio hand-painted the circular sample fabrics and enlarged penguin feather, then photographed and printed them onto 500 metres of fabric that has been sewn together and hand-finished.

maireener shells, also known as rainbow kelp shells, are used by Tasmanian Aboriginal women to make traditional necklaces.

The tara flags were created using a similar process to the sky bridge lanterns, combining drawings by students from Parklands High School to express the movement of the tara as well as the transformation of tara to palawa.

nice natiche

It is no secret that Italy is home to some of the most impressive classical statues in the world. The Piazza della Signoria in Florence has an abundance of marble crafted male genitalia, all notably underendowed (I will get to the reason for that shortly). In my opinion, the true forte of the 16th century sculptors was fashioning a fine set of buttocks. Florentine artist Baccio Bandinelli excelled himself with the spectacular derrière of Hercules, poised to slay Cacus for stealing his cattle.

The work was commissioned to stand to the right of the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio, to balance Michelangelo’s David on the left. At around five metres tall, they are both rather imposing figures, although David is probably more widely known. Many aspersions have been cast on the size of David’s appendage and much has been written on the subject. Historians have reasoned that large penises were associated with unappealing characteristics such as foolishness, lust and ugliness, whereas a small member belonged to a rational, intellectual and authoritative man. In 2005, two Florentine doctors argued another theory that the impending fight with Goliath has caused some shrinkage due to fear. The reasoning is irrelevant, the point is, David’s real assets are viewed from behind.

There is a young man on the left of the doorway to the Palazzo Vecchio sporting a modestly poised fig leaf but he doesn’t rate a mention in any literature I could find. He may represent Adam and, although he is smaller in stature than Hercules and David, he too has a pleasing posterior.

Across from the palazzo in the Loggia di Lanzi, Flemish sculptor, Giambologna, has continued the custom with his work, The Rape of the Sabine Women (I must clarify, at that time the term ‘rape’ referred to abduction or kidnapping not sexual assault).

There are many more superb examples in the Piazza della Signoria although I wasn’t really aware of it at the time, I shall have to return for more extensive research. At Villa Reale di Marlia, the adolescent god Apollino presented a youthful rear

but this one had seen better days. Perhaps the marble will shine again with a good clean.

It seems it wasn’t only human bottoms that were given such attention to detail as we found at the Colosseum.