Tuesday, 19 June 2012


Public art in inner-city locations can almost become invisible. The visual clutter of crowds and densely packed buildings is hard to visually compete with. Outside, on the city fringe and in regional areas public art is a rarer species, and often has room to breathe and an opportunity to contrast itself against a less frenetic context.

Toolim (2006, Paul Desmond Johnson) is a work PAV happened across in Pakenham, on the outer eastern fringes of the Melbourne metropolis. It is located in front of the Cardinia Cultural Centre, which itself is located on the edge of a constructed lake. While apparenatly referencing a rush that grows in the surrounding wetlands (and the name of the work being derived from an aboriginal word for the plant), the vertical elements also have a lot of 'oar-ness' about them, which is also not out of place in the water-side setting.

The work did also bring to mind issues of local input into these kinds of works. To get the kind of outputs desired, works are often sourced from non-local artists (which is the case for this work). The argument for this is that the works acquired by Council (or acquired for them through 'percent for art' schemes) are then an asset that may appreciate in value. The alternative view is that the dollars argument doesn't make sense. Council is not easily able to sell the works, and the maintenence of them (cleaning grafitti, operating and maintaining lighting, repairing any damage) is likely to cost more over the life of the work than the original capital investment. An alternative strategy is to use art budgets to invest in people within the local community by providing opportunities for local artists with small scale and/or non-permanent works (that don't have the same kind of ongoing maintenance commitment).