Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Serendipitously it seems Melbourne is relaunching itself with a bold new logo as reported in 'The Age' today.
Every time I hear from Robert Doyle, I am amazed at what a complete and utter turd sandwich he is. A complete douchebag, I feel it is a sad indictment of what Melbourne has come to be. I wasn't actually that big a fan of John So, but at least one never noticed John So, the man generated almost no publicity, aside from the 'John So is my bro' campaign, which wasn't really about anything, and thus suited melbourne perfectedly.

But from wanting to open up Swanston St to Traffic, presumably because Doyle wants to drive to work now, to spending $240,000 on a geometric 'M' logo. Doyle is just plain uncool and annoying. Plus we know he is a state government reject.

I do take solace though, in the fact that Robert Doyle, I am quietly confident, is no Cosimo Di Medici. I'm even confident in a quieter sort of way that he is not even a Lorenzo Di Medici or Niccolo Macievelli.

This means there is still plenty of room for my ambitions for Melbourne. You see I want to make a Florence aka Firenze out of Melbourne. When I told some friends about this they were all like 'uh-uh, never going to happen' which I interpret as a challange, and a possible threat to my sexual identity for good measure. But let's go through the raw material we have to work with:

1. It's not like Florence had something in the water, they just had a patron of some artists, namely Cosimo Di Medici, the banker that landed the Vatican account, he sponsored Donatello, his Grandson Lorenzo ended up spending away most of Cosimo's wealth on your Botticelli's, Da Vinci, and Michelangelo.
These guys were given the opportunity and lavish budgets to create sculpture, paintings, frescoes, etc. They pretty much got to work in any medium they chose. Stylistically, you can see al the renaissance artists were derived from the same sort of school, meaning they follow Malcolm Gladwell's rule of 10,000 hours plus the financial opportunity.
The point I'm making is Florence in it's heyday had a smaller population than Melbourne, education standards were still being dictated by the Catholic chruch (hell Galleleo got censured for proposing a correct model of the solar system) and it's not a divine coincidence that all the fucking greatest artists in the world happened to all be born in the neighbourhood of Tuscany and all work for the same family. It's the reverse, the family gave them work, to the extent that they could become the greatest artists in the world.

2. One of the objections to my ambition, was that culturally Australian's just aren't patrons of the arts. You'd never get the market here. But if you go to Florence, and walk through the Uffizi Gallery and take note of how many works were originally decorations for some Church, Chapel or Cathedral you will discover that the Renaissance wasn't about the incidence of some highly cultured population creating a market for the artists. It was just fucking advertising.
Specifically, it was the Medici's and the Vatican trying to wow peasent folk with over the top artworks and architecture to say 'look peasent, we Medici's/Pope's (and sometimes both) are in charge because God favoured us, and we repay god kindly.'
The Medici literally commissioned all the art to foster an impression of natural order. It did eventually succeed in getting them a Pope, a marriage into French Royalty, and the title of Duke in a republic. So it did work.
The real point being that again, it was a flip flop to how most people assume things work. Namely the work came first, the market second. Most renaissance art was created ironically, precisely because the general public was uncultured. If they had been highly cultured sceptics like a small proportion of current society is, Renaissance art wouldn't work. You would just say 'God doesn't favor the Medici's, he's spending all his fucking money on paintings.'

3. The above two, in theory apply to anywhere, it is a matter of will to make something like this happen. A matter of a few people havign the vision and investing in it and sticking to it. How is Melbourne a candidate though.
Well it's a second city, something that it has in common with Firenze. It means it's under the radar, just like people assumed Rome was the center of the Italian Peninsula whilst Florence snuck up and overtook, so too does Sydney outshine Melbourne in terms of sheer Iconography, think the Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Opera House, the Harbour itself.
Sydney is a reflection of the Australian economy writ large, it isn't about what we do, it's about what we have. It's all about sitting on natural resources and inheritances and reaping the rents in tourist dollars and raw produce.
Melbourne doesn't have such, the weather is shitty, Fed Square is not intuitively a treasure of the naked eye. Yes we have the fucking goldfields, and some of the most fertile countryside in all Australia, but overall it doesn't have the simple task of maintaining the efforts of previous generations like pre-renaissance Rome and modern day Sydney do.

4. The world is smaller, back in the renaissance logistically Florence was about as isolated from Greater Europe as Australia is now. You had to float or cart goods down the Arno to Pisa pack it on a wooden ship that used Wind power to cross the Mediteranian up to the South of france, where you then had to cart goods about 600km to Paris feeding and watering your horses all the while. Alternatively you could have goods send by road over the Alps, but somehow I simply doubt this happened much unless it was bound for Germany. But France was pretty much 'the world' back then. Also Italy wasn't one country, it was the Florentine Republic, The Duchy of Milan, the Principality of Venice, the Duchy of Genoa etc. etc. Every major city was it's own powerhouse back then, so presumably there would have been all kinds of tariffs and trade restrictions. Yet Florence was still the major exporter to the world.
Nowdays, with Globalisation, shipping goods from a place like Melbourne to the world, is roughly the same as shipping goods from Japan to the world. It is infact comparatively easier than back in the day of shipping shit from Florence to Paris.
Yeah Melbourne has some of the worlds worst infrastructure, and worlds worst docks but the point is that the means is out there to be a big export player, if only... only we were producing the culture.

5. If it ain't broke don't fix it. I put it to you that Melbourne, culturally is broke. We have our laneways, our graffiti is apparantly world class, but then walking past a plastic ice skating rink in the middle of Fed Sqaure, it struck me. Melbourne will never really stand on it's own two feet so long as it keeps attempting to import culture from New York and Paris. Other idiotic suggestions always coming from councillours are European vacation inspired visions of lining the filthy Yarra with artificial beaches for sunbathing in summer, architecture follows the globalised scene, even the new 'M' logo smacks of London's 2012 olympic logo, and the current decades preference for soulless geometric objects.
This perhaps is the most difficult concept to get around when trying to be world class in anything, not just trying to create a renaissance like hub city. You can't try to be like the current leaders, if you want to have a societal role like New York, Paris or historically Florence, then one thing you can't do is imitate New York, Paris or historical Florence.
To try and articulate it better, we are trying to reproduce the concept, not the execution. Think of pizza, you can get pizza in every country of the world, yet the execution is never the same. Australian's put an inch of ham or whatever other topping onto a deep dish base dust it with Mozzerella and toast it under a big rolling oven. Americans make a slice the size of your face, they put an inch of mozzeralla and rarely anything more than sauce underneath, you fold it up and eat it by the slice as you waltz around town. Romans do a square pizza by the slice, Naples do the thin melty 'culturally authentic' pizza, usually italian pizza's are simple affairs of tomato sauce, mozzerella and basil. The concept is 'pizza' the execution is always local.
So there, the concept is 'Renaissance Florence' or 'Edo period Tokyo' the execution though has to be Melbourne. There are some artists that have pulled this off in the past, like John Brack, sadly though they lack the imitation to make a city out of it.
But mayhaps in an illustrative example, what it means is Melbourne should construct buildings of master artistry and craftsmenship that can inspire the locals and the world, but they shouldn't take the approach of saying 'Florence has the Ponte Vecchio, and we want to be florence, so we will build a replica Ponte Vecchio on the Swanston st/St Kilda Road bridge.' that's the no-no. We don't want to imitate the cityies of reference, we need to stop doing that, we need to take reference from the cities and like them, create our own identities.

6. One corner, one vision. Following on from the last point, when you go to ST. Peter's Bassallica, infact everything about the Vatican, is the vision of Michelangelo. The Roman Catholic Church wasn't founded by Jesus or St Peter, it's standing in the world I think is the creation of Michelangelo.
The hardest hurdle, I feel for 'culture' world wide, is the memetic contagion of coolness. If you want an example, next time you are in the CBD wait on Swanston and Collins st intersection, and count the number of helmetless fixed gear riders basically the number of people you see dressed like this.
I predict that in an hour you will see between 3 & 5. Another example is the 'zine scene' go into the flinders st basement and waltz into sticky (it's where I sell FWOP) you'll notice for a culture of 'independant' zines made by various people with no editorial interference or accountability to any kind of market, how horrifyingly same-like it all is.
Similarly, log onto facebook, and look for a friends album that takes place in Shinjuku Japan. If your friend is a pretentious artist, I bet they have taken photos of pretentious Japanese teenagers dressed up in 'out-there' clothes like everybody does, in the same way that everybody also poses for a photo in Pisa such that it looks like they are holding the leaning tower up.
Memes spread so fast these days that it has become the universal struggle of street level independant artists. They all simply immitate eachother. Banksy in London is ripped off by Melbourne stencil artists, and that doesn't deserve to make Melbourne a world class graffitti town, because the world already had Banksy.
Do you see what I mean? Creation is more than just noticing something and documenting it, or replicating it. It has to, in my opinion come from the self, it has to be your unique perspective.
I don't know the fucking answers, but I know where not to start, and that is, you don't start by looking global and trying to import culture. This is about exporting. Exporting!

Anyway, I think it can be done. It just requires discipline and vision and investment. The 3 things alas, most people are born without.

But I'm taking baby steps, and hey to end on a cliche 'if you aim for the moon and miss you'll end up amongst the stars... in the cold vacuum of space where nobody can hear you scream, and you may as well scream, it uses up more oxygen and you'll die faster. Which that said, is really a post 1969 world view, what most likely will happen is that you won't escape earths gravitational pull and you'll come crashing back down to earth. The best you can really hopefor is to land up in some tree, then you can pretend to be the robinson family crusoe.'

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