Monday, September 12, 2005

Metal in Melbourne

Back in the glorious city (and a great boutique hotel) for a whole week, in the implementation phase of a leetle project. Let no-one kid you: replacing a core system is like tuning a running engine: it's hard not to get your fingers in the fan. 'Nuff said, perhaps.

It struck me during one of my rambles around the Yarra and inner city, just how much metal is used in artworks here. There's the obvious arty steel rivetted cover on the freeway in, the artily angled steel close by and at the convention centre, the gorgeous bridges (currently being re-painted as part of the Games preparation). But a whole lot of less monumental artwork is all around, and a considerable proportion is metal.

Now obviously Oz is a mine and a beach, so one can expect a lot of familiarity with the raw material. And equally obviously, the attraction of metal in public pieces is resilience and strength: hard for your average vandal to make much of an impression on a 40mm steel plate compared to (say) a routed wooden sign. But there's a little more to it, perhaps.

It takes a good craft knowledge to actually do much with metal, and a certain apprenticeship. Unlike say painting, where the tray-and-roller school can be faked pretty convincingly after a quick trip to the DIY shop. And it takes capital plus confidence to start, too. Oz has a larrikin, confident edge to its persona, and that might help. But I can't help wondering if the great open spaces here do encourage a wider, larger, more full-blooded response to things, compared to the incestuous, walled-in, me-in-my-little-valley artistic hothouse flower one sees so much of in NZ?

(And which latter one does not encourage, might I add, by ever, ever buying the results. Give me technical mastery first, then design, execution, quirkiness. Then I just might buy. And if you ever write words in a painting, see me turn around and keep looking elsewhere. That's why we print books.)

Perhaps Oz metal art is like the CEO's preference for a corner office: the wider vision which gets stuff down, with the materials at hand?

And talking of corner offices, the new Eureka Apartments (554 apartments, 88 storeys, all corners, a blade shape, not imposing, more growing than being built out of the South Bank): a floor layout that sees every apartment at a corner? Amazing building: they are still building around floor 70 and up (central lift tower is at full design height of about 300m). The crane on top of the lift tower is lit at night: just think of how much you would want to be paid to go up the boom (it's a conventional angled jib) to change the flood if it went out.....

OK, so if words are out, my favourite painting?

J W M Turner: Rain, Steam and Speed: Great Western Railway. 1844.

National Gallery, London, last time I saw it.

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