Jun 26, 2015

Small Town Transformation - Revisited

Projects such as this usually escape critical scrutiny probably because the sponsors/funding bodies purposely present them as being primarily concerned with community well being, potential economic growth and a host of other rather spurious values. This is The Neerim Bower one of the winners in Regional Arts Victoria's $350,000 Small Town Transformation competition. The applicants won it with this rather clumsy illustration.

(fromThe Warragul Gazete) "A NEW public artwork inspired by the mating rituals of the Satin Bowerbird will greet people entering Neerim South after the state government committed $350,000 for its construction.

Pictured: an artist’s impression of what the new entrance will look like. Image from the Regional Arts Victoria website.

Neerim Bower: Inspired by Birds will consist of a number of large posts curving over a road, mimicking a bowerbird’s bower at the southern end of Neerim South.

Satin Bowerbird bowers are made of grass and are decorated with blue ornaments by male birds in an attempt to attract a mate.

Developed by the Neerim District Progress Association with artists Phil Henshall, Christine Cochran and Keith Graham, the artwork is being described as an entrance to the Neerim District.

A number of community events and programs will begin off the back of the funding announcement, including competitions, student photography, plant propagation and the creation of “blue elements” to join the bower."

Readers comments in the paper showed virtually no support for the project and included these:

What a complete waste of taxpayers money that would pay for a few more important operations for people on the waiting list.

I for one think this it is completely hideous. Art????? I think not. I hope they don’t ruin our little town. It is beautiful just the way it is.

I concur with Kim’s comment that this proposed ‘artwork’ is indeed hideous. It’s somewhat reminiscent of other (equally kitsch) installations at the entrance of other towns, think The Big Worm, The Big Banana, The Big Pineapple et al.

How anyone could think that the placement of such a monstrosity would be a positive addition to the gateway to the pretty little town of Neerim South is beyond belief

Horrendous,horrible, hideous. Shame so few of the 500 hours went into asking the community if they wanted a big red thing plonked at the entrance of the town.

Alarmingly both Regional Arts Victoria and The Neerim Bower team censored all unfavourable comments from their Facebook pages. The local shire, on the other hand, let them run. Many of these criticised the organisers for stiffing community consultation. In reality this consultation phase never reflected the wishes of the community.

The stated criteria for all of the Small Town Transformations projects was town transformation, here is the site before anything was installed, hardly any sign of the town, a very beautiful view of the mountains, all in all a rather pleasant place.Does it need Art? probably not. Could Art enhance it? Probably not. Would anything placed here actually transform the town? Probably not, but it would transform this place whether it needed it or not.

The team posted this illustration on their web page as the design phase progressed. Compromises in volume of elements, obviously caused by costs, meant that instead of something that resembled a bower in any way at all, the design had accidentally morphed into dead trees. The random blue ornaments, synonymous with the bower bird, had disappeared all together making the intended narrative even more tenuous.

Somewhere between the date of the previous illustration and the project installation the Neerim Bower team decided to paint it various shades of blue, possibly believing that it would somehow reference bower birds again, which, of course, it does not. Instead it becomes a pointless, possibly abstract, object with no obvious narrative or purpose. 

I posted a picture of it on Facebook to see primarily what local residents though of it now, one said, " If they were painted it a softer colour ...(perhaps). Although I still think they'd make a good monument to Black Saturday if painted grey and black. But mostly they remind me of freeway art. Hideous." Another with an art background said, "Unfortunately there is no way to fix this sort of flawed work, as no intellectual rigor, deep intention or thinking was applied before making it. It might be an interesting exercise to open this up to a 'real' art competition and future art interventions with the aim, not only to improve it but to critique this sort of very public waste of tax payers money." Which was followed up by, "You know, I don't care about intellectual rigor or any of that wanky talk. They just look like crap." And last of all, probably the most original, " I think it would be great for a rebuilt Croatian or Bosnian war town as a symbol of mans inhumanity to man. I think at the entrance of Vukovar or Sarajevo would be ideal", in other words get it as far away from Neerim as possible and re-purpose it into something genuinely meaningful.

My verdict, badly sited, one element is permanently lost in the trees (which probably isn't such a bad thing), its connection with the ground is seriously compromised by the compulsory crash barriers and it is surrounded by a variety of unrelated (ugly) signs. Its narrative and purpose are impossible to comprehend. The aesthetic decisions employed in its design are dull and unengaging. It is by no means original in any way at all and in truth it does not meet the criteria of the competition.

Was the entire Small Town Transformation project a sensible way to support the arts in regional Victoria - no it wasn't, instead putting money into artists pockets to do their own art, as they'd like it, would make infinitely more sense.

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