The Wallflower of Collins Street

Rone street art 80 collins street melbourne

She is large, looming over a row of shop backs. Yet she is not threatening or grotesque. Nor is she tawdry or gaudy. Washed onto the cream wall in shades of warm grey, her lips have no shine, her eyes no azure intensity. She is not what we expect from Rone. She has walked from the pages of a magazine, but shed its glossy, saturated colours. An underpainting; a study in stripping back. She is not heavy, laboured or layered; her form barely impinges on the surface of the building.

She does not announce herself immediately, brazenly calling out from the wall as her predecessors do. Leaves curl outwards from plaza trees to veil her eyes and the curious back rooms of old city buildings protrude before her. Upon one of these, a doorway on the first floor opens onto air. From behind it, she seems to wink.

Rone street art 80 collins street melbourne

She has melted into her wall, charming those who look up into her eye. She seems to exude the subtlety, worldliness and charm of the stretch of sophisticated city street she adorns – this is Collins Street’s ‘Paris End.’ She is autumnal and mellow, perhaps mournful, as she seems to gaze through the glassy office buildings into a distance beyond.

Rone street art 80 collins street melbourne Rone street art 80 collins street melbourne

Longform // Mnemonic: Street Art and the Invocation of Remembrance

Miso street art Melbourne paste up

Street art’s power to invoke urban remembrance operates on dual levels: at the collective, artworks prompt the revelation of the city as accumulated,memory-laden residue; at the individual, many pieces have the potential to trigger recollection of personal city experiences and of personal pasts more broadly.

First, to examine street art’s role in collective memory. As popular awareness of the presence of street art increases, neglected city space comes under revision in the eyes of city dwellers. Graffiti and street art are almost always associated with neglected or forgotten space — abandoned structures, inaccessible or off-limits zones, secluded places, or interstitial spaces like train lines, fences, and walls.

In Melbourne, this enlivening of urban space has been most evident in the central city’s laneways, where much of Melbourne’s most sophisticated and most viewed street art is created. Originally rarely even noted on maps, these narrow alleys and lanes were built to service the greater streets of Melbourne’s 1830s grid; their concealed presence and public neglect (until tourists discovered them) has made them ideal places for artists to put up unsanctioned stickers, posters, stencils and pieces in privacy.1 Now, where once dwelled only rats and garbage cans, Melburnians sit at hole-in-the-wall bars, cafés and restaurants. It is no coincidence that changes to the licensing laws in the nineties were concurrent with the rise of stencil art in Melbourne.2 Along with unsanctioned street art, official public art programs — such as the Laneway Commissions — facilitate the development of the laneways.3 Under these influences, the once lost spaces of forgetfulness are reinvigorated and reaffirmed as lived spaces in which colourful graffiti art has become, for a segment of the population at least, a prized aesthetic; the laneways are now populated well into the night.

Alongside the rediscovery of forgotten urban spaces, it is also in the nature of all street art to reveal anew the very textures of the those spaces: walls, the basic but often unseen building block of the urban environment, become newly visible when painted or pasted upon, revealing the peculiarities etched into their façades by time. Urban dwellers cognisant of the city’s embellishment begin to walk the city in a different manner: their gaze becomes conditioned to seek textural detail, increasingly receptive to these physical landscapes of the past and of the past’s reworking. Continue reading

Idea // Interstitial space: neither here nor there

Interstitial spaces are those that fall ‘in-between’.

Such spaces are often claimed by the in-betweens of society. In nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Australian cities, for example, young ‘larrikins’ (the Australian folk identity of the irreverent young male with no regard for authority and a quick mocking tongue) claimed intersections, vacant lots and building sites as their territory. What were for most ‘non-spaces’ became for these urban youths sites of meeting, conversation and entertainment — the larrikin’s equivalent of the gentleman’s club. An 1873 article in the Australasian Sketcher describes how Melbourne’s larrikins were ‘to be found in every street’, ‘in the way of people at the corners,’ and even ‘knocking respectable women off the pavement.’

The point of the article was to paint a picture of the ‘halting members’ of the ‘living stream of humanity’ — the social outsiders who stopped where others passed through. We might trace the same impulse to occupy between-spaces to Philadelphia street corners or to Melbourne’s State Library steps, where students lounge, neither in nor out. And, of course, we might apply it to street artists and taggers as they decorate the divisional spaces of walls, fences, alleys and lanes. These are spaces that the rest of us see as borders and byways — zones to cross, pass through or move along in order to reach a destination. They are not destinations in themselves, unless we choose to redefine them.

intersticen. 1. an intervening space. 2. a small or narrow space between things or parts; small chink, crevice, or opening. Latin: space between. —interstitial adj.

The notion of interstitial space comes primarily from biology and medicine, where it describes the space and fluid surrounding the cells of a tissue. In the 1990s the art world appropriated the term to refer to artists whose work fell between the margins of traditional or familiar genres and media. In communications, the term is used for interstitial television programming (a brief segment between shows) and interstitial web pages (a transitional page like a welcome screen or age confirmation).

In architecture, interstitial spaces are those that neither fall inside any room, nor are outside the building — the gaps between floors and inside walls. Though we do not inhabit them, they can be integral to a building’s function. Entire accessible interstitial levels can be built in to accommodate the plumbing, electricity and mechanical systems of a building, particularly in hospitals, where flexible floor plans and accessible services minimise disruption. The first building to really take advantage of an interstitial space design was Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California (19591965), where large intermediate levels between the main floors provide access to the ducts, tubes and wiring that service the institute’s laboratories. Such a design allows building services to be continuously upgraded as technology advances — foresight critical to a research institute.

Sectional view of Salk Institute

This section shows the Salk Institute’s three laboratory floors with an interstitial service space (with the striated ceiling) above each floor.
Image: University of Pennsylvania via Oxford Art Online

More recently, architects have used the term to describe spaces at the margins of built environments. This might mean a sharp delineation between building and natural landscape, or a blurred ground where inside meets outside, a transitional space that can profoundly affect our experience of the site. A covered porch provides a place to sit that is sheltered yet outside; a retractable wall of glass confuses the division between in and out. Architects also refer to the interstitial spaces between existing buildings, where new structures like New York’s Goldman Alley cause city space to converge and overlap. Melbourne’s famous laneway culture inhabits these gaps, blurring the boundaries of the intermediate and the experienced, or the journey and the destination.

Longform // The Awakening of Forgotten Space

DSC08672

INCREASING POPULAR AWARENESS of the presence of street art prompts a collective revision of neglected space — indeed, graffiti and street art are almost always associated with abandoned or interstitial spaces.

In Melbourne, graffiti tags appear ubiquitous; they are in backstreets, on building sites, factory walls, along the train lines, under bridges, and on street corners. For those who create this kind of graffiti and for those to whom its language is legible, it has the power to awaken into action those idle spaces in which it flourishes. Yet the audience of such graffiti is limited: personal tags usually either simply ignored by the wider community or vilified as aesthetically contemptible and symbolic of disorder.

Street art, on the other hand, is seen as more accessible and publicly inclusive — although sometimes carrying a political message, it is most frequently intended purely to delight the viewer or to vitalise a drab, colourless surface. Calling out to passers-by, street art draws a greater number of people into engagement with the city.

In Melbourne, this enlivening of urban space has been most evident in the central city’s laneways, where much of Melbourne’s most sophisticated and most viewed street art is created. Originally rarely even noted on maps, these narrow alleys and lanes were built to service the greater streets of Melbourne’s 1830s grid; their public neglect and concealed presence has made them ideal places for artists to put up unsanctioned stickers, posters, stencils and pieces in privacy.

Now, where once dwelled only rats and garbage cans, chic Melburnians sit at ‘hole-in-the-wall’ bars, cafés and restaurants (changes to the licensing laws in the nineties were concurrent with the rise of stencil art in Melbourne, both encouraging active reoccupation). Along with unsanctioned street art, official public art programs — like the Melbourne City Council’s Laneway Commissions — facilitate the development of the laneways. Under these influences, the once lost spaces of forgetfulness are reinvigorated and reaffirmed as lived spaces in which colourful graffiti art has become, for a segment of the population at least, a prized aesthetic; the laneways are now populated well into the night.

Alongside the rediscovery of forgotten urban spaces, it is also in the nature of all street art to reveal anew the very textures of those spaces. Walls, the basic but often unseen building block of the urban environment, become newly visible when painted or pasted upon, revealing the peculiarities etched into their façades by time. In the image of ‘the girl in the tunnel,’ the poster is pasted within an inset archway in the tunnel’s wall and its rounded shape mirrors the contour of the arch, emphasising its construction; red tears streaming down an otherwise black-and-white face underscore the bright, deep, crumbly red of the bricks.

Urban dwellers cognisant of the city’s embellishment begin to walk the city in a different manner: their gaze becomes conditioned to seek textural detail, increasingly receptive to these physical landscapes of the past and of the past’s reworking.