Statues of Limitation: A Look at Perth’s Crummy Public Art
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Statues of Limitation: A Look at Perth’s Crummy Public Art

How do you beautify a place whose greatest cultural output is Rolf Harris? Why, with crummy public art of course.
22 February 2016, 12:00am

Me standing by the Perthiest thing of all, Gina's rock. All photos by the author.

Perth is the kind of city that spends public money on pop-up urinals. Our piss-strewn pavements give way to streets of chain stores and Chicken Treats; little piddling cul-de-sacs that lead to an infinite loop of iPhone repair huts, JB-HiFis, and number plate customisation workshops. How do you beautify a place whose greatest cultural output is Rolf Harris? Why, with crummy public art of course.

I recently toured some of the crummiest statues, monoliths, and indiscernible plinths around Perth. We had commentary provided by a "Mr. K"—a public planner who has worked throughout Perth "okaying some of this shit"—who asked to remained anonymous. We threw in the minute yet pretty Ruby Kerrisk so readers could get a sense of scale, and have something to take their minds off the sheer awfulness of said public works.

This is only a taste of Perth's crummy public art. Mr. K stated that for health reasons no man can expose himself to the "Fukishima-lame" levels of crumminess that are Perth's monuments to existential despair. "It can be done," he told VICE, "but you might just end up with a 300k mortgage and a two bedroom out in Midland. You've been warned."

But before we get to the statues themselves, here's a short contextual interview.

VICE: why do you think public works in Perth are so "controversial"? They're the butt of so many jokes amongst so many Perthians.
Mr. K: A part of me would like to say "cultural cringe," but it's really more than that. Public art is so difficult. You have to strike the right balance of banal and striking, which is just about impossible. But in Perth, where public spaces are so loaded with history and contrast—statues at the sites of massacres, or statues celebrating the mining boom in a neighbourhood that is for all intents and purposes economically dead etc—it becomes very difficult to have a piece that doesn't attract a certain level of absurdity.

On top of that, Perth is pretty daggy. That's what we're know for, right? I feel like no matter what we put up—even if it was something by Ai Weiwei—people would find it laughable because we are always going to be perceived as a city striving to be perceived as cool/cultural, but falling short.

Is it OK to poke fun at this art or are we just solidifying the idea that Perth is lame?
Look, no. Public art is just that: public art. Statues etc are such a part of local identity precisely because they become such a part of the colloquial conscience – taking the piss out of something adds to our cultural shorthand. It's nothing new. If you're willing to have your giant 30 foot statue in the middle of a round about, then you're willing to be made fun of. Besides, the artists get paid handsomely.

And I don't see it as Perth being "lame" so much as totally unique: we are constantly at war with our identity, and that anxiety/uncertainty is reflected in this tonally inconsistent art. I think that friction of self and anxiety is what makes the Perth identity so fascinating, the lack of certainty is why our overall art scene is so strong.

That said, lack of certainty doesn't translate well into a giant statue.

Thanks Mr K. Now let's look at some of these eyesores already!

John Curtin Statue
Kings Square, Fremantle
By John Walsh Smith, Charles Smith 2005

Mr. K: How do you pay tribute to a Prime Minister who was known for his humble nature? Build a statue of him in which he looks like he's beating a neighbour boy's dog to death. Seriously, this thing was commissioned by Mark McGowan, now state Opposition Leader, the placing of Curtin on a giant obelisk speaks volumes re their misinterpretation of the man and his message. And look at this face! It looks like it's fucking melting! And his arm is the deformed claw of a thalidomide baby. Shameful.

Bon Scott Statue
Fishing Boat Harbour, Fremantle
By Greg James 2008

Mr. K: It says everything that the best statue in Perth is one of a man who choked to death on his own vomit. Highway to BULLSHIT!

"Wuyi"
East Cottesloe
Peter Lundberg 2008

Mr. K: I have driven past this on the way to work every day for five years and I still have no clue what it is meant to be. It looks like crumbling dog turd left out in the sun. Or some gunk out of a giant caulking gun. I don't know what it is but I know I find it depressing.

"Round About" AKA Recycle Arrows
Cottesloe
Jennifer Cochrane 2007

Mr. K: Is this a tribute to Windows 98? Maybe it is meant to represent the infinite loop of despair that living in Perth sends you into, your inability to escape etc. The cycle goes unbroken, buy an SUV an drop your kids of at PLC.

"Totem" aka Corn Cob
Perth Stadium

Mr. K: Shit! Did you see that! The damn thing moves! Man, that motion almost takes my mind off the fact that it looks like a corn filled shit rendered in the old N64 engine. Conker's Bad Turd Day, haha!

"Paper Planes"
Adelaide Terrace

Mr. K: At least I know what these are supposed to be. Is it a reflection on the loss of childhood innocence? If so it's pretty mean to put it across the road from a Dome, on a street full of office drones, who are probably depressively soul searching every waking hour of the day. Just glad it's not shaped like a turd.

Ascalon AKA "The Jizz"
St George's Cathedral
By Marcus Canning, Christian de Vittri 2009

Mr. K: Oh FFS. I know everyone calls this "the jizz statue" or "the cumshot" or "the wad" but still, when you are actually standing in front of it you just have to wonder how much the guy who designed it was wanking off in his spare time. It's like an homage to year 10. Cummy tissues and misspent ideas.

Grow your Own aka "The Cactus"

Forrest Chase
James Angus 2001

Mr. K: Another piece best known by its colloquial nickname, "the cactus" has managed to confuse Perthians every day or the past eight or so years. Someone once told me it was meant to be a map of the transit lines? That's pretty bleak. It looks like the ABC logo if it was designed by Brevik. I think 'the cactus' is perfect because it is emblematic of Perth as cultural wasteland.

OMG
Beaufort Street
Lucy Vader 2012

Mr. K: A classic. I think it popped up around 2008-2010? Big controversy over this one. The council coughed up 12k for this, and I remember talk about asking the artist to make the "M" similar to that in the McDonald's sign. It's a neighbourhood known for its 'hip/young' vibe, and some marketing expert in his mid-50s took that to mean "txt-speak." Yes, something truly timeless: O M G. Christ. Its placement in front of a McDonalds is the cherry on the turd McFlurry.

The Walrus
Morley Galleria

Mr. K: Love it. It's baffling. You drive your family into what is one of the bleakest shopping malls in Perth (now THAT'S bleak!) and as you're driving around desperately searching for a park you find yourself circling a cement mountain of seals and walruses, all gazing down at you with benevolent dead eyes. We're twenty minutes inland why are there statues of marine mammals EVERYWHERE!?!

Gina Rinehart's Poetry Rock
Morley Galleria
Gina Rinehart

Mr. K: The ultimate big mama—the Perthiest thing in all of Perth. A 30 tonne boulder which looms over everything, and on it a plaque engraved with Gina Rinehart's batshit rhyming polemic about the importance of the mining industry. A poem with such corkers as: "The world's poor need our resources, do not leave them to their fate / our nation needs special economic zones and wiser government, before it is too late." If there is anything that sums up Perth's Faustian pact with the mining industry like this giant symbolic tumor, I'd like to see it (please don't send me pictures of Twiggy Forrest or Sam Barnett).