New to Canberra, I love exploring this city and the secrets that it holds with my family.
Published April 20th 2016
The weird & wonderful & what they mean
When I first moved to Canberra, one of the main features that I noticed was the amount of public art and sculpture around the city and outskirts. I have since learnt that there are 100 pieces of public art in Canberra's open spaces, not taking into account the privately owned sculptures at Canberra Airport, NGA Sculpture Garden or NewActon precinct, to name a few. It is such an inspiring feature of this city, to be able to walk down to the local shops and find a totally unrelated sculpture sitting amongst the landscape, waiting to be admired. We all have different ideas on what we think is Art. When you walk around the city there are some that make you go "wow!" and you may take a moment to stop and admire your discovery. There are also others that make you stop and go "Whaaat?" - for completely different reasons.
Modern Man - There is something about this bulking man that makes me smile when I see him outside the popular café Močan & Green Grout in the NewActon Precinct. Standing in a planter box, he looks a little concerned, however completely confident in his large scale nakedness. Modern Man is positioned on a corner, with many paths around him leading out in different directions around the city. According to Artist Tim Kyle, Modern Man is emphasising this location and describes him as a man at a juncture, not sure which way to go. It is a common problem to have in the modern day world, with so many choices to make.
If you can't get enough of this big guy, continue into the NewActon Precinct and discover Saltimbanque, also by Tim Kyle. "Saltimanque" means a "travelling entertainer or street performer", however this entertainer has lost his crowd and cuts a sad, if not a darker figure, outside the Nishi Gallery.
Ainslie's Sheep - This would have to be one of the most confronting sculptures along City Walk for visitors who come to Canberra. It is amusing to watch people do a double-take as they walk past, take in the vision of the sheep with her (or his?) legs up in the air and then wonder what it is all about. Is it a comment on childbirth - or something else? Why is the sheep in that position? Do we even want to know?
According to the artist, Les Kossatz (1943 - 2011) this sculpture is honouring one Canberra's early pastoralists, James Ainslie, who arrived into Canberra with 700 sheep for Duntroon owner Robert Campbell in 1825. James Ainslie was quite the character and flashy dresser it seems, with his embroidered waistcoat (which was later stolen by a bushranger) shown on the arm of the sheep's chair in the sculpture. It is a satirical look at Ainslie's amusing character, (perhaps comparing him to a comedic sheep?) and a comment on Canberra's sheep farming past and now urban present. Over the years this sculpture was made, artist Les Kossatz concentrated on using sheep in his work to make a comment on the desecration of the Australian landscape and a comment on human behaviour.
So what exactly was he trying to say with this sheep in such a position? It is left open to interpretation - it seems that no one knows, and the artist never explained.
Ainslie's Sheep - Les Kossatz (2001), located on City Walk
City Walk has a high concentration of public art in the one area, with colourful carousel characters (The Other Side of Midnight), a chrome pillow to sit on (Cushion), a pack of dogs on a mission (bush pack (nil tenure)) and four bird-like creatures looking up to the sky (Incarus). Both weird and wonderful, they make for an entertaining walk down Canberra's central CBD.
Moth Ascending The Capital - Alexander Knox (2012)
Moth Ascending The Capital - As a Tuggeranong resident, I drive past this structure every day. Our family has nicknamed it The Big Prawn and use it as a landmark when we are giving people directions. I was surprised to learn that it is less like a prawn and more a Bogong moth. It is designed to be viewed whilst in action from a passing car, as it represents a sequence of action shots of a moth ascending, with wings flapping at odd angles. This explains the various eyes on the sculpture, which looks like it has multiple heads but it is in fact the one moth, in various stages of flight.
Bogong moths were a popular food source for the local Ngunnawal people for many centuries in the region, particularly Namadgi National Park south of Tuggeranong. This 12 metre long sculpture is located near to Namadgi School, connecting the two. Interestingly, the Bogong moths of today still flock to Canberra each Spring, however they are confused by the bright lights and end up hiding in buildings and in dark places in the city.
Also whilst in Tuggeranong, look out for the life-sized bronze sheep sculptures outside Kambah shopping centre, by artist Matthew Harding. Some amusing locals dress them up at certain times of the year adorning them with Easter bonnets, Winter scarves, Christmas tinsel and seasonal costuming. They are another reference to Canberra's sheep farming past and much loved members of the community.
Perception and Reality - Andrew Rogers. Source: Canberra Airport website
Perception and Reality - This public art takes it up a level, with Canberra Airport becoming renowned for its sculptures inside the building and around the grounds. There are now 14 public art sculptures commissioned for the public to enjoy, including sculptured ladies waiting in the departures lounge (Introspection by Ante Dabro) and outdoor, wind-activated kinetic sculptures (Unnamed by Phil Price).
This sculpture above, is a stunning sight to see, located just outside the Arrivals Hall so visitors to Canberra see it when they first arrive. You can't help but look up and admire the scale and fine detail of this large scale artwork, sitting at 7.5 metres tall - although it looks taller. Artist Andrew Rodgers explores the human form in many of his works, particularly concentrating on the expression of hands, which is what he is emphasising in this sculpture.
Roos - Jeff Thomson (2014). Source: Canberra Airport website
Roos - Whilst driving past Canberra Airport, down the side of Majura Park Shopping Centre, I saw some unusual looking kangaroos in the far distance. Titled Roos, by New Zealand artist Jeff Thomson, these three kangaroos cut a striking vision at 3m high and made from recycled corrugated iron. These Eastern Greys are designed to fit into the landscape, which they do, and are positioned to be seen by travellers from planes coming and going on the runway nearby. It is to welcome them to Australia's Capital city, playing homage it's inland location and wildlife. Unfortunately, for us on the outskirts, it is just a look from afar.
With so many different public artworks to admire and explore in the city, north and south, there is sure to be one near you. From Gungahlin in the north down to Tuggeranong in the south, there are works to surprise, delight or shock. They are all worth stopping at and looking closer - are they weird, or actually quite wonderful? The enjoyment of public art is to wonder which is which, and only you can decide.
Public Art for kids - The Other Side of Midnight (Anne Ross), located at City Walk.