Thursday, March 21, 2013

In Conversation: with Anderson Hunt about his new public artwork

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Viewers taking in the latest addition to the public art collection.


Town Hall Gallery curator, Mardi Nowak, and her trusty new assistant, Marion Piper, are preparing to help launch a fantastic new Public Art Work outside of the City of Boroondara Council offices in Camberwell in March. The artist of this intriguing sculpture, North Balwyn resident Anderson Hunt, sat down with Mardi and Marion to have a conversation about Public Art, Language and the frustrations of predictive text.
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Anderson Hunt [AH]: When I was originally designing the work, it sprang from looking at books and libraries. Originally, that was one of my first proposals ... to build a book sculpture, or something that related to the library, but maybe not as literal as that.

Mardi Nowak [MN]: Didn't we google 'book art' around that time?

AH: Yeah, I do that every time now, just to see what is out there, but also to try and find something that is a bit more unique to this site. The underlying thing with this site was the building and how grand it was - this sort of monumental classicism, which is what it was called when it was built. It was almost pushed off the street, it was a bit untouchable.

The thing about the development is that it's really opened it up to people: that amphitheatre [on the corner of Reserve Rd and Camberwell Rd] started that 'typewriter' kind of thinking, where it looks a little bit like a typewriter. The actual structures within a typewriter pay homage to the design structures of this old building.
But in the really crucial part about trying to tie the sculpture into current day life, text and language became really important. When we go back to original scribbling, we went from hieroglyphics to script...to words and books and stories, and now we've come full circle back to kids sending smiley faces, hash tag this, we're at somewhere, it's all that sort of contemporary thinking.

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(above, artist Anderson Hunt showing off the blue stone keys)

Marion Piper [MP]: It's like modern hieroglyphics?

AH: Yeah, it's sort of like a modern day hieroglyphics. I'm really interested in the evolution of language and text and how things will change in another twenty or thirty years - and I mean it won't be long, so if we go back 20 years, who was texting? Who was doing this?

When you look at this old building, you wonder if the sounds of typewriters are still in the walls because a typing pool - if you've ever walked into one - is like a war zone of noise. But everyone was down there happily - well maybe not all happily - reciting or copying things into type. It was part of a job.

I think the work speaks on a few different levels and hopefully the public will get some little part of it. A lot of kids won't recognise the typewriter hammers but others, they'll definitely recognise the font, you know, they'll know that's the '@' key or the '#'. I've also included the 'command loop' because it goes back to pre-Christian times. It's a very significant symbol - it's the ancient symbol for infinity. So that goes back beyond the typewriters, which were from the 1960s and the text, and that is into the future. So it's a little bit of everything.

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MN: I always think in my reading of the hammers and keys - because we've put them the other way around - about the discussion we had that there's a connection there...It's a comment on communicating a bit more, and that's part of that whole redevelopment here, is creating a place where people can meet and have conversation, engage and interact, and I think that Typing Pool does that in a nice way.

AH: Definitely, that's a link and there are lots of ways we can tie the work into the site, but obviously there's the blue stone - there's something pretty significant about a big rock. It's got this sort of text that relates to the work, but it also relates it to the building. To change it around and have it backwards, people tend to think about why it is like that.

I wasn't commissioned to build a typewriter, so we're not copying things that have been done before. I mean as artists you tend to try and change things slightly so people start creating a little story in their heads about how things exist, about why they're there.

MP: And it also takes something that's quite ephemeral, and on a short time frame - the symbols and language - and gives a nice weight to them, which I think text and language doesn't have any more. We're missing that hit of the hammer keys...

AH: Exactly. It's like a passing phase, isn't it? You wonder where we're heading: it's all happening at such a rapid rate that the minute you go bronze or blue stone, it's a permanent thing. Bronze will be there for three and a half thousand years, and I'm not sure if the steel component will still be there, but the blue stone, well, we know how old that is.

There's something really nice about permanent work that's actually really substantial. It's about a fleeting moment in history. At 2013, everyone's got a web address - "at" somewhere - they're hash tagging this, that and the other. I still have to learn how to Tweet; I still don't know how to do that. I haven't even blogged yet, so, we're just learning to iPad at home and even that's pretty tricky!

[MN and MP laugh]
You know, it really is for the people, the voice of the community. I arrived at the title Typing Pool after seeing video footage of what looks like acres of women typing away, just putting all this stuff down. You look at the size of libraries now you wonder if we build modern libraries they could probably be 3ft square...filled with USB sticks!

MN: There is such a change with libraries now that, looking here at Camberwell Library, we don't acquire as many books as we used to. There are still a lot of loans but there is a move towards eBooks and just what a library is has changed too. It's not just going, borrowing something and taking them home, it's also people using the computers or studying.

AH: It's an access point for the public to come in...

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MP: And there's not this necessity to print everything as much anymore. In terms of books, in terms of messages, in terms of leaving a note for somebody - you don't have to do that anymore. You can just send them a text message.

AH: Yeah, certainly. I battle with it daily - most of my designs are still collage, paper-cuts, and scribbles. You get a shot of a site and then come in and put your ideas down. I rarely design on a computer mainly because I don't understand the language of 3D modelling. I'm finding even with this project - just getting the files done for the fonts in bronze - we've had to do those as a Rhino 3D file and have bits of ply wood cut at different sizes and stacked them all up so we ended up with a conical shaped mould. It's still an old process but we're using some computer technology in it.

If I had been born twenty years later I think I'd be doing purely computer design work - laser cuts and the like - there's a lot of it now and I feel I'm part of the old school. You can still create something that's got a modern twist to it, so it will be really exciting to see them in and see how people relate to them.

MP: Definitely! What do you want people to take away from Typing Pool?

AH: I think in my own mind it will be successful on a number of different levels. It may not suit everyone's taste, but you get that with public sculpture. I think the more I've been doing this sort of work the more you realise that you can't please everyone out there, but you maybe make a significant change in the way that people think about art and its role in community.

Look, you only have to travel through Europe to see that art and culture has been a big part of a lot of people's lives. But we've come here and it's like a clean slate (Australia) and we refer to Aboriginal art a lot in our work but we don't really use it because we're not allowed to.

We're creating our own identity and these public art projects can really be significant if councils are prepared to go with something a little bit edgy or a little bit alternative, rather than a statue. We've all seen Burke and Wills in middle of the city and the yawn-fest, but there are some great projects along the Eastlink Freeway. They're commissioning incredibly bold, big new works that are going to absolutely mess with people's minds. The hotel out there [Hotel by Callum Morton, 2008] is one of the classics where people are just so annoyed that they can't stay there or go there or drive into it. I love how art work can affect people in that way.
I guess these [elements of Typing Pool] will be quite overpowering because they're large and they'll be overhanging, and people will walk under them. But maybe they'll take something away from the building about their role and how we evolve with our language and our methods of communication.
I mean, we've come a long way since the days of two cans and a piece of string - but now I can hardly understand some texts sent by young kids because it's all code.

MP: Right now too, there's a push for the whole "vintage is cool" thing, so maybe the work will tap into a bit of that popularity?

AH: Hopefully. The minute you talk about typewriters, people tell you stories about all the ones they've had, or what their memories were, or how they used to pinch dad's typewriter or get it jammed. Or how they loved waiting for the bell to ding at the end of the row.

Cam, who I share my studio with (at Down Street Studios in Collingwood), both of his parents were journalists, so his life was inundated with the noise. When computers came out he could sleep! He wouldn't be woken up by his dad upstairs hammering away on the latest story.

It's really about the evolution of language and text and I can't wait to see where we end up. In the old days, you used to think about having walkie talkies on your wrist. But now, you see people walking around talking to themselves down the street, with a Bluetooth stuck on their ear like they're on Star Trek! We are at that stage now.

MN: That's where the voice to text stuff kind of freaks me out, because I have it on my phone - it translates a voicemail to a text - and just how it converts it can be very interesting!

AH: Yes, pre-emptive text - you can get into a lot of trouble with that. Don't press send until you've read it at least three times!
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