Obsolescence and the loss of impact

9 December 2021, 12:00:00 am

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Session Convenors

Professor Hannah Lewi, University of Melbourne

Session Moderators

Professor Roger Benjamin, University of Sydney

Session Speakers

India Urwin, University of Sydney
Ruth Fazakerley, University of South Australia
Professor Hannah Lewi, University of Melbourne

What duty of care and custodianship prevails when public art works are no longer wanted and no longer command impact? This panel aims to discuss issues surrounding the loss of impact, whether through obsolescence, a fall from fashion, or shifts in social and cultural expectations and tastes about public sculptures and works that are integral to buildings, landscapes, urban and architectural conceptions. All too often these kinds of works have been casualties of redevelopment — merely in the wrong place at the wrong time —and have been destroyed without record, left to die a natural death through neglect, or have been moved away from their meaningful original settings. Paper contributions are sought by academics and practitioners in the disciplines of art, architecture and heritage that critically interrogate case studies, explore policy successes and failures or tease out theoretical implications of the cycles of forgetting and obsolescence in this realm.

PAPER #1
Of Monuments, Ruins and Rubble: Anti-memorials in the Cypriot Landscape

PRESENTER
India Urwin, University of Sydney

Cyprus has endured repeated waves of Imperial rule and colonisation since antiquity. The material memory of the Ottoman occupation from 1570, followed by British colonisation from 1878 - 1960, is now entangled in the landscape with the ruins of classical antiquity and the rubble and ruptures of the 1974 invasion and partition of the island. Cyprus’ newly established independence (1960) was followed by several years of devastating inter-ethnic conflict between the Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots. The remains of this conflict manifest everywhere in the landscape; whole cities destroyed, abandoned homes, mass graves, and the division of the island by the still-extant Green Line, which has preserved 4% of the island in a state of perpetual ruin. Many contemporary Cypriot artists have explored the unresolvedness of the ‘Cyrus problem’, and of the rubble, ruins and memories that saturate their environment, through what could be termed anti-memorial work. These anti-memorial art works, such as ‘The Green Line’, a VR project that seeks to memorialise the island’s ‘dead zone’ using the ‘uncanny’ of VR to mimic the alienation of this ‘un-dead’ landscape, reject the material nature of colonial monuments, their teleological purpose and aims of historicization, with more ambiguous, ephemeral and embodied engagements.

PAPER #2
Lost in translations: Stadtikonographie Adelaide

PRESENTER
Ruth Fazakerley, University of South Australia

A curious legacy of post-war cultural diplomacy and exchange with the Federal Republic of Germany, Adelaide Festival Centre’s Southern Plaza, the Stadtikonographie Adelaide, was an environmental sculpture commissioned from Stuttgart-based artist Otto Herbert Hajek (1973-1977). Persistently framed by local experts and popular media as a concrete wasteland, “out of place”, the Plaza was also plagued by maintenance issues, shunned by Festival Centre events and programming and isolated by successive redevelopment. When demolished in 2018, the Stadtikonographie Adelaide was already a ruin; with the danger of new or lingering public attachments eased by the erection of extensive hoardings making it completely inaccessible for the 18 months prior. With plans agreed for an “active interpretation” of the sculpture within the development that would replace it, demolition of the Plaza cleared the way for new, official versions of the past to be inscribed, presumably better suited to the present. This paper recalls some of the different spaces and times of the Stadtikonographie Adelaide, with the aim of knotting together contradictory narratives from a range of perspectives to explore just what may have been lost in the translocation of a concrete utopian vision and its material destruction.

PAPER #3
“Don’t move them, get rid of them”: obsolescence on the campus

PRESENTER
Professor Hannah Lewi, University of Melbourne

The commissioning and acquisition of outdoor artworks for Australian university campuses from the 1950s onwards was seen as integral to the humanising of new and often desolate places, and to re-energise and modernise older ones. Campuses provided a modern secular setting that demanded a new artistic language through which cultural and social aspirations could be expressed. Sculpture, reliefs, murals and fountains were charged with the marking and defining of places within planning, landscape, and architectural schema, elevating them from mere utilitarianism and instead making them relatable and ‘imageable’. As patrons, universities aimed to bridge the sometimes wide gulf between contemporary art production and criticism, and its acceptance by the general public. And this was achieved through the realisation of site specific works to augment new buildings and landscaped spaces, and the less intentional acquisition of gifted or now ‘unwanted’ artworks that were repatriated to find new homes on campuses. This paper, drawn from a larger project, will survey the destiny of some of these integral works that have been subject to endless cycles of rebranding through campus redesigns, thereby seen to have lost their ‘relevance’ and ‘impact’, and have faced various fates of relocation, destruction or slow decline into obsolescence.

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Biographies

Professor Hannah Lewi, University of Melbourne 

Hannah Lewi is a Professor in the Faculty of ABP at the University of Melbourne. She has research interests in architecture and art history, heritage, and new media. She is Vice-Chair of Docomomo Australia and Co-Director of ACAHUCH. She has been a past President of SAHANZ. Recent book publications include Lewi & Goad, ‘Australia Modern: Architecture, Landscape and Design’ (T&H, 2019); Lewi, Smith, et al, ‘The Routledge International Handbook of New Digital Practices in Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums and Heritage Sites’, (2020); and co-author of the forthcoming ‘Campus: Making the Modern University’ (UWA, 2021). 


Professor Roger Benjamin, University of Sydney

Roger Benjamin is an art historian and curator trained in Melbourne, Bryn Mawr and Paris. He has written widely on Matisse and other European modernists, French Orientalist painting, and contemporary Aboriginal art. Supported by grants from the ARC, Benjamin’s publications include Kandinsky and Klee in Tunisia (U of California Press, 2015) and the exhibition Biskra: sortilèges d’une oasis (Institute du Monde Arabe, Paris, 2016). His recent work on Matisse’s Tangier landscapes was published in The Art Bulletin (Sept 2019), and his current project is the ARC-funded “Art and Cultural Exchange at the Strait of Gibraltar”.
 


India Urwin, University of Sydney

India Urwin completed a Bachelor of Art (Honours) in the Art History department at the University of Sydney in 2019. She received a First Class Honours for her thesis entitled Art of After: Negotiating Memory in Contemporary Cypriot Art. India went on the complete Master of Art Curating at the University of Sydney in June 2021. 


Ruth Fazakerley, University of South Australia

Ruth Fazakerley works as an Academic Developer in the Teaching Innovation Unit at the University of South Australia. With a background in the visual arts, she has a longstanding professional and research focus on the field of public art and its discourses, including undertaking a 2016 commissioned study for the SA Government on the history and significance of Hajek’s Stadtikonographie Adelaide . Since 2002, Ruth has maintained the informal “Public Art Research” network, with the aim of connecting people, public art knowledge and practice across artistic, academic and professional realms.