[Edited by Elizabeth Mossop and Paul Walton. Craftsman House, 2001. $39.95
Edited by Elizabeth Mossop and Paul Walton. Craftsman House, 2001. $39.95
This book discusses the role of design and art in city spaces through a collection of general essays and project descriptions.
Reviewing it, I was struck by the relationship between general urban intention and site specificity. The introductory essays articulate the urban paradigms that undoubtedly affect Sydney – cyberspace, events, multiculturalism, and so on – however, few of the essays or art works that follow evoke the sense of Sydney as a dysfunctional, glorious place. Rather, they seem intent on that other peculiarly Sydney obsession: aspiration. Here the Olympics are about developing an indicative newness and remediation and public art seems to be about remembering and restoring an absent indigenous past at the expense of present cultural issues.
Only Rollin Schlicht’s essay captures, for me, the exciting hybridity that characterizes Sydney: the excesses of glitzy commercialism and distorted grids over eroded sandstone; the archaeology of imprecise colonialism. He also notes that “it is difficult to think of a single harmonious juxtaposition between art and architecture [in Sydney]”. This may explain why the rest of the book avoids urban spaces in favour of community art projects in parks. This said, the thorough discussion of Janet Lawrence and Fiona Foley’s Edge of Trees refutes this position (except insofar as its specific virtues has caused a fascination with poles to develop as a line-of-leastresistance approach to art in landscape as designers attempt to make typologies from site specific art responses).
In contrast, Richard Goodwin’s essay, “Exoskeleton”, characterizes scenarios that could be by Italo Calvino about Sydney. Anne Graham’s work emphasizes an ephemeral existence, where to be a Sydneysider is a engage in a certain mode of geographic experience. This gets close to crossing the culture/nature divide, as one must do to engage with Sydney’s particular qualities.
The effect of designers presenting such an overview of art projects in public emphasizes the democratization of taste.
That is, judgement about quality is deferred in favour of general discussions that suggest more quantitative provision – in policy terms.
Yet one must be suspicious about any per square metre provision of public expression and its ability to openly and honestly speak for and to the public. Perhaps this is why Graham and Goodwin see Sydney as being about illicit, interstitial occupation. As the introduction notes, in another particularly Sydney apologia, “the emphasis has been placed on real rather than hypothetical or self-generated works in order to stress their achievability”. “Art and design” may have happened in the public realm, but the question we are left with is, was the work actually any good?
DESIGNING AUSTRALIA: READINGS IN THE HISTORY OF DESIGN