The Guardian Commission:
I was commissioned by the Brisbane City Council to make this public artwork, as they were aware of my activities as an environmental artist.
The brief was for me to recycle any of the left over roadside materials at the new entrance to Kangaroo Point near Story Bridge, where there were major new road constructions taking place. I came across piles of reject guardrails and concrete pipes and decided to use these to make this totemic construction.
I envisioned it as a spiralling totemic tree like structure, kind of like a wind chime, which would both reflect the grass below and be large enough to act as a landmark for the community who live at Kangaroo Point. I named the artwork, “The Guardian” – A work heralding the new, much safer entrance to Kangaroo Point, it was also a pun on the reuse of guard rails.
I always look out for it when I’m up in Brisbane – I live in Byron Bay. I think what I like the most, is how it’s changing with the elements over the years and settling into the landscape in different ways, the surrounding trees have grown and the Guardian is not so brand spanking new now, as the intersection was also then. I think my highlight in seeing the Guardian, was one time when I flew over Brisbane and my wife Rago and I could see it from the plane.
From what I’ve heard people love it and have commented to me over the years that they see it as being a really positive addition to the public art landscape, seen across Brisbane and in QLD. I did extensive public consultation in the form of meetings with the Kangaroo Point community in the early stages of this project to inform them about the work and to gauge any possible concerns and feel their response and support. It was unanimously supported. Another point about the Guardian which I’m pleased to mention, is that it’s gone on to be the focus of a number of university thesis studies, with the focus being on public art work that shares with the community positive messages about recycling and Re-use in the creative process.
This particular work was in response to a brief from the Brisbane City Council, who decided that a public artwork would be appropriate for the entrance to Kangaroo Point, which is a small suburb in inner city Brisbane. It was to receive a new traffic intersection and entrance without the traffic lights, which had been slowing down this particular entrance for a number of years.
The tender for this project was advertised nationally and drew a wide response from artists across Australia. I was amongst four shortlisted artists being considered for the project after the initial submissions. The successful artist who received his or her commission was to use any left over roadside materials and recreate it into a large public artwork that would act as an entrance statement. I devised the design, which included the use of a large number of leftover roadside guardrails and also concrete pipes of various sizes to make this particular work.
I designed a work in the shape of a spiral with the guardrails twisting around and reaching towards the sky extending from the concrete pillars. The overall effect ended up looking quite like an industrial tree formation, which reflected the green grass at its base, or a huge wind chime. I was fortunate to win the commission to do this particular sculpture as I was an out-of-state artist and I believe I was one of the first artists from another state to receive a commission in Queensland at the time. I was also known for my professionalism and to the fact that I could deliver on time and I also specialized in working with environmental themes and with found and recycled objects. Once again, together with a great team assembled, this project took on a life of its own.
I arranged meetings with the local Kangaroo Point community group to establish a clear dialogue with them and to gauge the required level of community support, which ended up being overwhelming. I made presentations, answered all questions that came my way and received a pleasing response and got the go-ahead. This is important to me, knowing that the community is behind a project, which essentially means, they are behind what I am creating as an entrance statement to their suburb. It’s a significantly important milestone to pass, as the work would be ‘in situ’ for at least ten years and possibly between fifty and one hundred. I built it into my contract that the community should be given the right to re-assess this public artwork at ten-year intervals and have it either relocated or disassembled if they so wished.
I’m a firm believer that as times change and as people and the needs of the community change they should also have the right to keep whatever contemporary statement they wish as the entrance statement to their suburb or village. Even if this means my artwork may not be there forever.
It is only because of the extensive amount of ‘in-kind’ support that I received from both the Brisbane City Council and the road making company Barclay Mowlem, that I was able to make such a significant work in relation to the payment that I received, even though that was in itself quite significant. As a result, I was able to make a work that was probably twice the size than I had originally planned. This was because of all of this ‘in-kind’ support I received in the form of the use of Crane’s and bulldozers, concrete specialists and semitrailers.
The support was enormous and some of the staff including project manager and on site administrator were instigators of this support and ensured that it would be the resounding success it became. In presenting to the community my rationale behind this recycled sculptural piece, beginning with the briefing notes that this large-scale work was to use road infrastructure, that would otherwise be discarded which needed to be robust, to be set in trees by the highway and to be highly visible in this location and also lit at night.
At the time of submission I made the following address:
“The concept of creating cultural landscapes with selected items that would otherwise be relegated to the tip for landfill as waste or recycled, has preoccupied me for some time in my totemic works, installations and sculptures, as well as larger scale works for public places.
My totemic works represent my cultural landscape expression, an example being my winning piece for the 2000 Wynne prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales using found thongs.
The Story Bridge Art Project, will give me a unique opportunity to create a body of work for the city, which will further explore the sculptural possibilities of working with recycled materials.
Materials for this project will be predominantly selected from redundant roadside infrastructure from the immediate vicinity of either end of the Story Bridge.
These materials would otherwise be thrown away or recycled. This palette of objects, culled from the location’s road works will be fused together to form a memorable totemic structure for the fascination of motorists and pedestrians.
By using found objects left over from road construction I intend to inspire people to reflect on everyday functional objects in a new and creative way.
The object of my proposal is to create a durable sculptural installation, positioned within the city environment that will intrigue, inspire and act as a talking point for those who view it.
I intend that the sculpture will be a welcome totemic structure for the local community to enjoy, as well as a contemporary artwork that will jolt the jaded motorist, so used to roadside advertising and traffic control signs, out of any visual complacency.
I believe that art in public spaces should be conceptually accessible.
It is important that people find my work legible and understandable on different levels.
My proposal will succeed on both the aesthetic and thematic levels. My work, based on previous responses from the public, will evoke reactions of curiosity, confrontation and amusement.
For people who walk, ride or drive by this space on a daily basis, it is possible that my installation will involve new discoveries at each passing, or at the very least arouse amusement, that such ordinary and functional items have been recreated into an artwork.
By using recycled old road infrastructure from road works the artwork will convey a subtle environmental message of re-use to those who view it.
Despite the use of strong, robust and long lasting materials reflecting and heralding the masculine nature of roads, bridges and city engineering, the totemic structure will have a tree like quality which will give it an interesting empathy with the landscaped environment.
My aim is that this piece will create a sense of community ownership, whether amused, grateful bewildered or confronted, most will appreciate that the towns engineers and planners have made a serious effort, to install artwork between a major thoroughfare and an inner city community. Similarly I am sure the local community will appreciate the artwork as its own by the nature of its proximity to it and relate to its artistic and environmental message.
This piece will act as a celebration of roads and the city infrastructures. Historically, public art has been employed to soften the ‘blow’ of a city’s infrastructure and the predominance of tough and durable structures and the masculine elements of engineering.
My design has come about after an intensive appraisal of the site through several visits, taking photographs of the site, reading a comprehensive briefing of the history of the site and project discussions with the design team: Deicke Richard’s representatives and finally choosing the various materials which are available to me from the site to work into this sculpture.
My proposed art piece will contribute to a humanizing of the streets-cape and roads-cape, adding variety, vitality and an important contemporary, environmental, educational and artistic message. While attracting attention, the sculpture will respect public safety, it will be accessible to the public for close viewing, and will not impede any normal pedestrian activity.
The key themes underpinning the installation will be environment, conservation and place. These themes, given an edge by my own style and interpretation, will give the artwork its unique identity. Conceptually the installation will respond to the site’s traffic and its historic association with the Story Bridge: a link between two sides of a city. In a community like Kangaroo point, where its bridge and road link to the other side of the city deeply inform its identity, as much as the geographical positioning in the elbow of the river. Rather than ignore the presence of the major road system as a necessity to modern day traffic and convenience, the proposed installation will resonate with a broad audience and celebrate this area as connecting the two shores of a major capital city.
My challenge as an artist is to take found objects, which might on first meeting have no apparent dialogue and to work with them until they speak and tell their story. Rarely are roads celebrated and this art piece will offer a unique opportunity for me to assemble roadside infrastructure into an important contemporary artistic statement.”
Having developed this kind of in-depth rationale in my presentation to the community it wasn’t that surprising that I received their full support. Since the sculpture has been in position, it has received wide praise by both the community and also the various media. This particular work was featured in a virgin in-flight magazine for example and was brought to my attention by many people who saw it.
I have monitored this artwork over the years, keeping in touch with the Brisbane City Council, to see that appropriate tree pruning activities take place around the artwork, to ensure its integrity and overall visibility. I see this as being my responsibility to view the work intermittently and make any reports to them that I consider necessary. I view responsibility as my ongoing role with all of my major commissions.