MATERIALS: Balsa wood, architectural figures, plywood plaster.
For those of you who aren’t up to scratch on the history of Melbourne (and goodness knows I’m making it up as I go along), its city streets were designed using a grid system. There are other “older” Australian city designs which found their origins from farrowed sheep tracks, which later became dirt tracks, then single sealed roads, and a couple of hundred years later devolved into a Fettuccine of confused thoroughfares, access points and intersections. However, Melbourne streets are a right-angleist’s dream, which fits in nicely with a range of revival architecture styles; from French provincial, Italianate, renaissance, and golden arches.
While studying art at RMIT there was this one building, a block away from my studio space, which I always seemed to be drawn to whenever I was in the area (fig. 1). It was across the road from an Aldi and when I’d occasionally pop over for my 4-pack of cupcakes and a Party Pack of potato chips (or a perfect artist’s breakfast as I like to call it), I would walk past this building and always find myself mesmerizingly gawking, then ogling, then gawking again, and before I knew it I was simultaneously gawking and ogling.
Although it’s a fine example of Renaissance Revival style from 1875 I wasn’t interested in it for historical reasons, more its appearance. Yes it’s a window...Window to your soul? Nah, this was geometric pattern porn...and yes, there is such a thing but don’t do a search for it.
On one such visit it occurred to me that the facade was like a map, festooned with intersecting outlines. I enjoyed its geometry, symmetry and design repartition which is just dandy for my spectrumed brain. Beyond that I hadn’t a clue why I was so attached to a building frontage, and further wondered what I would have looked like to passers-by seeing me standing there transfixed with laser-like focus in front of this building while accommodating an entire 4-pack of Aldi cupcakes within my ballooned cheeks and chewing like a cow chews cud.
When attempting to understand why I am so affected by a large scale object like this I've found it's sometimes helpful to make it. By constructing the piece by hand it is like a portrait painter making a preliminary sketch to get the feel for the subject. I learned this when I was at Tafe in 2010 when I had a similar interest in the Nylex clock.
The actual making of this “intersection” is a story for another day but the interesting part I found was once I completed the model I had the old sculptor’s dilemma: how do I present it?
I had two ideas: I was fascinated with what lies beneath a city landscape. Modern cities have a sub ground infrastructure of pipes and conduits and bits of the old city which preceded. I could hold up the edifice on a stilt-like structure (fig. 2). I also wished to present the piece in a box as a sort of 3d atlas (fig. 3), complete with a grid referenced map (fig. 4, fig. 5 and fig. 6).
The most apprehensive part in making art is once an idea greets the world as a newly formed 3 dimensional object: does the finished piece represent an accurate representation of what was originally in my head? Well, in this case the answer is yes, and no. There was a slight disappointment with the finished result. This may have been because I'd become too engrossed in the creative bubble which after months of immersion had eroded any freshness. I was happy with the craft side of things, but as an artwork, not so much.
It wasn’t until I added a small architecture figure (fig. 7) that the piece was transformed from a scaled copy of a larger object into an active sculpture that I thought gave the viewer pause for reflection.
A scaled architecture model has a purpose; to bring the vision out from 2 dimensional plans and offer a tangible idea of what the finished piece will look like in a spatial world.
When viewing these models as presentations pieces we look over them from above, yet when it becomes real and tangible, as with a skyscraper for example, we only see it looking up as we pass by. Reducing the city physically to a scaled bite-sized chunk can unpack a lot of narrative with a quick side-to-side movement of the neck.
I wouldn’t say I’ve reversed the process but skewed it. I find the facade interesting. It takes up my focus. The reality is I can’t take it with me. It’s fixed in place. A scaled copy makes it more practical to have a look at. I can even see details that I couldn’t see standing in front of the real thing at street level. It’s like enjoying a familiar icon or image and putting it on a t-shirt (insert flagrant plug for t-shirt shop here), but in 3 dimensions.
Building my piece has revealed how complex and intricate a modern city is in terms of planning (both above and below ground) and given that its construction was began in 2013 and resolved in 2015, it represents one of the first pieces that inspired an ongoing interest into why things are the size they are. The curious among you will find this idea examined throughout my evolving practice i.e. throughout this website. At this point I’m probably waffling a tad – it’s easier to scale an object when compared to truncating complex ideas. With that said, all I can add is that whether big or small, as a series of synergistic patterns and intersecting lines, the facade at 79-81 Franklin Street is, to quote Keanu Reeves in the Matrix, “Wooooooah”.
So, people, having said all that if you would like to know more about the real "intersection" click here for a .pdf history of the building.
GOOD TO KNOW: Melbourne's first building renaissance was funded thanks to the discovery of gold in the 1880s. Although extracted mainly from distant regional areas like Bendigo and Ballarat, Melbourne was deemed the epicentre for commerce and got a lot of cool buildings out of it. The ornate building construction boom began as bankers and money men engaged in what I believe Progressive Utilization Theorists refer to as a pissing contest. Over a century later commerce again fuelled another boom when well-funded and organized American franchises came to Melbourne, thus Melbourne’s fortunes came originally from the gold nugget followed a hundred years later by the chicken McNugget. The reality is that I don’t know if that’s the case or not, only that my research mainly comes from the internet - the qualifications and scholarly merit for which are somewhat seeded in a dark gloop of mire... The function of this whole paragraph believe it or not was just to get that McNugget joke out into the open, and to tell you the truth reading back it's hardly original and I'm not sure it was worth it. I've wasted both my time and yours. I apologize. Now, click on something else. :-)
Which is the building and which is the model?
Fig. 7 (with figure).