Tuesday, 24 March 2015

To be demolished: Otto Herbert Hayek's site specific work 'Adelaide Urban Iconography' (1977)

Otto Herbert Heyek, 'Adelaide Urban Iconography' (1977)

Otto Herbert Hayek, 'Adelaide Urban Iconography' (1977)

Otto Herbert Hayek, 'Adelaide Urban Iconography' (1977)

Otto Herbert Hayek, 'Adelaide Urban Iconography' (1977)

Otto Herbert Hayek, 'Adelaide Urban Iconography' (1977)

Otto Herbert Hayek, 'Adelaide Urban Iconography' (1977)

Otto Herbert Hayek, 'Adelaide Urban Iconography' (1977)

Otto Herbert Hayek, 'Adelaide Urban Iconography' (1977)

Vandalism: Otto Herbert Hayek's site specific work, Adelaide Urban Iconography (1977) is currently slated for demolition. This unique site-specific work was commissioned by the Adelaide Festival Trust during the Don Dunstan years.

The decision to engage Hayek in the early 70s for the Festival Theatre's forecourts project was insightful. When Hayek came to the Adelaide project he had already participated in the Venice Biennale (1958), Dokumenta 2 (1959) and Dokumenta 3 (1964). As Thomson notes,  
'Hayek's 'walk-through' sculpture in Adelaide was an exploration of the environment that aimed to leave the boundaries between art and the viewer behind, to encourage new forms of perception and to allow for the close experience of art.'  As a German post-war artist, Hayek’s practice created new spatial languages that inspired poetry, thought and spatial awareness.

Given that perception is framed by history, it is little wonder that my Mother who is Polish chose to emigrated to Australia in the early 60s. I can remember my Mother and her friends saying that they absolutely loved Adelaide and Australia. Sleepy Adelaide provided my Mother and her friends with the opportunity to raise their children in a small city that was unlikely to be bombed and decimated as Poland was during the war. Subsequently, the leafy inner-west Adelaide community that I grew up in was heavily populated by Poles, Russians, Germans, Italians, Greeks, Czechs and multiple communities from the former Yugoslavia who had fled Europe after WW2. 

While my primary school was a mostly peaceful environment, there was a dark underside to Kilkenny Primary School. Occasionally, long standing feuds between different language groups saw small children repeat hateful statements that they could have only heard from the lips of adults suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or those who sadly had their primary school education interrupted by WW2 and did not have the opportunity to complete their education due to extreme poverty after the war. As an 8 year old child in the mid 70s I can distinctly remember a 8 year old boy conveying his (and his families) want for blood lust, as a self identifying patriot from ‘x’ community. He spoke of wanting to knife another boy because the other boy, also 8 years old,  belonged to ‘y’ community. Luckily, children being what they are, either Elvis’s death or Abba’s arrival in Adelaide shifted the schoolyard conversation; and ‘y’ narrowly escaped having his spleen punctured by a knife. With this in mind, the decision to commission Hayek’s work for the forecourt was visionary and inspired. Hayek’s work has always suggested at the most simplest and symbolic level that accommodating multiple ways of seeing guarantees our collective future. 
 
In a recent Artlink essay, Giles Thomson notes, 'The artist's opening speech stated that the Plaza's "landscape varies in significance and focus. It becomes a positive form- space to be experienced in contract to the negative forms of the surrounding buildings. This place will also act as an element of provocation because it will stimulate an awareness in the people of Adelaide, of the values of other open spaces, squares and streets of the city". As some of Australia's most agile art minds grew up in Adelaide during the 70s, its inevitable that this work has played a pivotal role in the gentle unfolding of Adelaide's cultural life. Writing this blog note makes me think that I want to start collecting interviews with artists who have grown up with this work and/ or appreciate the ongoing positive contributions Hayek's work has made to the lives of people in Adelaide.
 
As there has been little public debate in the wider community and the Australian arts community regarding this unique site specific work, this raises a difficult question: Is the ongoing and willful mismanagement of a public cultural asset, in this case a site-specific sculpture, an act of vandalism? 

It pays to remember that Crown land on the Glenelg Beach foreshore was legally released and sold off to private developers in recent years. The SA government has also sold off SA Electricity. These recent events in Adelaide lead me to speculate that there's potentially a dirty underside to this story that is yet to be revealed. 

In closing I quote the poet and artist, Katja Hajek (artist's wife),
'The Plaza of Adelaide is a well-known in the world of art and became acknowledged as an artistically outstanding creation of the last quarter of the 20th century. Should the destruction of this complete artwork occur, it would be, I am afraid, seen as sheer vandalism that cannot be accepted in the civilised world of today.'

For more information on Otto Herbert Hayek's site-specific work, please see:
Giles Thomson, 'The art of vandalism and the vandalisation of art: (de)commissioning art in public space', Artlink, Vol.34#1 [2014] pp53-55. All quoted material noted on this blog stems from Thomson's essay.

The photos that I have uploaded were taken on a recent trip to Adelaide in December 2014.

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