Moving Art: Coming to a tram near you

Published:  July 27, 2015
Eloise Mahoney

The annual Melbourne Festival is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2015 from 8 – 25 October. The festival seeks to connect various art forms, people, ideas and inspire creativity.

For the last three years the festivals visual arts program has given Victorian artists the opportunity to feature their works on one of the more obscure galleries in Melbourne; the tram.

The Melbourne Tram Art project partnering with Yarra Trams and Creative Victoria has been a huge success as a public celebration of the culture and creativity of our city. Trams are an iconic part of Melbourne and by featuring artwork that moves across all areas of the city it enables the everyday person to engage with art in everyday places. ”Often galleries can be an overwhelming environment to interact with art. The Tram Art project allows people to engage with art and architecture on a part of Melbourne’s infrastructure that people identify with” says artist James Voller.

This year’s theme “Architecture and the City” has been interpreted and adapted by the eight diverse artists selected from more than 145 submissions across Victoria. Each artist has put their own unique creative spin on the theme applying different methods from photography, installation, collage, typography and paintwork.

desktop got in touch with four of the winning artists Bird & Adams, Louise Forthun, Stephen Banham and James Voller. We learn about their collaborations, creative processes, favourite architecture and which tram route they like to ride.


Rooftop Landing by Bird & Adams

Side One: Rooftop Landing by Bird & Adams

Freeway by Bird & Adams

Side two: Freeway by Bird & Adams

How did a choreographic artist and architect come together to form Bird & Adams?
We meet through mutual colleagues in the basement garage of a wealthy art patron and discovered we share a mutual love affair of anything modernist especially the flavour of the esoteric. Over the years we have collaborated on various projects through a mutual cross‐disciplinary narrative of unorthodox human movement and built forms. Since 2010 we have presented our unsolicited, live performance and photographic works at international festivals, galleries and museums and often travel to exotic locations to inspire and stage including Mojave Desert, Luxembourg and recently Brazil.

What tram route do you enjoy riding on and why?
We enjoy all tram experiences throughout Melbourne as each route journeys through it’s own idiosyncratic and intriguing valley of our metropolis’ diverse built environment. But if we were to have our favourite the Route 8 tram that journeys via a catalogue of Melbourne’s best architectural modernist gems including a variety of mid twentieth century apartment towers on Toorak Road then onto the Domain Park Apartments (Domain Road), up past the iconic Arts Centre cluster with easy head turn for the modernist art vault wonder of the NGV International and then across the the Yarra to enter the CBD’s grid of high-rise block effigies.


Louise Forthun's Z class tram, running on routes 55, 57, 59 and 82

Louise Forthun’s Z class tram, running on routes 55, 57, 59 and 82

What is the inspiration behind the selected tram art?
The city has always been a source of inspiration for my artwork. My urban paintings are often based upon aerial views of world cities, some are singular views of a particular city while others show several cities collaged together. For this project I have selected one of my oil paintings titled ‘Electrifying’, as a starting point for the tram art work. ‘Electrifying’  portrays the central business district of Melbourne. It is a view of the CBD that reveals both the remnant historical fabric of Melbourne as well as contemporary development, a type of transformative landscape. This segues with the iconic nature of the tram as it too has experienced a type of transformation from a symbol of Melbourne’s historical past to an icon of Melbourne’s future.

What techniques and methods did you apply to produce the artwork?
As the tram artwork is based on one of my paintings of Melbourne, I was able to photograph and digitally manipulate the image of my painting in order for it to fit the shape of the tram. This method suits my artistic way of working as I often cut up compositions, mirroring and collating images together in order to find new compositions and variations. In this artwork there are a number of recognisable Melbourne CBD buildings like the dome from the State Library of Victoria together with the cone which covers the Shot tower in Melbourne Central. The images vary in size, some representations are blown-up to become almost indiscernible, while others are smaller and more clearly depicted as part of the cacophony of the layered net of city imagery. Cloud-like shapes ‘billow out’ suggesting a city in transformation. Collectively the architectural fragments form a moving snake-like pattern due to the painting being mirrored and stretched to fit the shape of the tram.


Stephen Banham's C class tram, running on routes 48 and 109

Stephen Banham’s C class tram, running on routes 48 and 109

Your design studio Letterbox mainly works on typographic and signage projects. So tell us, where does one begin when starting with a ‘blank’ tram?
Yes, I guess a ‘ blank’ tram could be seen as intimidating. Mainly because there’s more at work here than just sheer scale, it’s the fact that this bulky thing slides and screeches across greater Melbourne in front of thousands of people everyday. But if anybody is equipped to handle the design for immediate and compelling impact, it’s the graphic designer. So designing for a tram is both familiar and new, all at once. I ride the trams just about every day so have a pretty good idea of the culture that surrounds them. It’s the public element of trams that I find most exciting and rewarding.

Do you have a favourite piece of Architecture in the City?
Yes, plenty. The first one that comes to mind would have to be the Manchester Unity Building. Not just because of its beauty but because of the modernity it brought to Melbourne and the employment it provided during the depression. Which makes the speed at which it was built (a floor a week on average) absolutely astounding. Such artistry and efficiency. Little hidey-holes like the micro-café Switchboard make it even more cosy.


James Voller's C class tram, running on routes 48 and 109

James Voller’s C class tram, running on routes 48 and 109

What architectural differences have you noticed about the facades of homes around Melbourne during your documentation over the past two years?
What I have focused in on is the unique affect that migration has had on domestic architecture, wrought iron freezes from late 19th century and odd pillars and arches Greek and Italian migrants placed on their facades in the 50’s 60’s and 70’s. The main reason I photographed these facades is that urban infill in the northern and western are replacing unique facades with generic apartment blocks. These architectural changes shift the social dynamics of North and Western Melbourne.

This years theme is Architecture and the City but with an extensive travel history, do you have a favourite piece of “Architecture in the World”?
That is a tricky question; I am interested in the growth of towns and cities and how these changes reflect the people that are living there. I really enjoyed photographing Edinburgh and looking at the weight and materiality of the city. But If I had to choose one building it would be Ian Athfield’s House on the top of a ridge in Wellington, it is the strangest architecture I have ever seen. Ian Athfield was one of New Zealand’s most important architects. Since his passing the house is still used as Athfields headquarters, who continue to design and shape New Zealand’s architectural identity


Keep an eye out for part two of Moving Art when the four remaining artists and their tram art will be revealed.

The tram art will hit the tracks when the festival opens in October.

All images provided by Melbourne Festival.

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