The Mayne Spring Works ?


The proposition of Public Art on the Albion Yland is sketchy at best;  sketchy insofar as the area is generally experienced from a car window.  So I’ve returned to the idea of Public Art in this vicinity as a result of a passing  experience this week and a mental construct that ensued, providing access to what I think is a construction of art peculiar to the road and driving: one retained from a temporary field and brought into a play of discursive association.

I was slowing down at the lights to the ICB on Abbottsford Road and was taken by a couple of signs that had collided in space and time on a single wall. This wall is part of a longstanding but recently closed factory, the Mayne Spring Works, an automotive associated industry of specialist steel manufacture, its logo of a striped tiger walking a curved line was underscored by the legend, “The Well-Tempered Spring”.   The area once known as Mayne was swallowed into a neighbouring designate several decades ago, preserved here in name only.  The bill posted below it is one readily associated with the current immigration debate. I took the photograph rolling into the lights, the two texts in contrasting graphics appealed in a purely visual way.

A block or two down the road and repeating these two phrases I began to find the pun hidden between. However a significance worthy of an actual construct didn’t appear till yesterday’s news of the Border Force bungle and the ensuing Melbourne protests .

mayne spring mono


Beyond the chimneys

On the hill near the stratified TAB building and still absent in the air above the Yland is the ghost of the Albion flour Mill. Last year it burned to the ground after revelations of structural weakness; the blue and white silo and factory was an iconic site marker to be integrated into the proposed apartment development as a council precondition. The developer’s fence now surrounding the site is branded with the logo Be A Part Of It, now topped by a marker-written ‘arson’ in a big wobbly hand.


The phrase ‘dark satanic mills’ in William Blake’s poem Jerusalem comes in part from the London Albion Mill whose charred remains Blake walked past to work in the early 1790s (it is now the site of the Tate Modern). This Mill was a huge chugging monster of industry that was ready to bring most of the small London miller’s to their knees until its owner, bent on paying off the huge cost of construction, overworked the engines, sparking the grain and combusting the entire Mill. Or someone burned it down.

We live and work in this light industrial area; for many years next door to the steady hum of a turning lathe making test equipment for the concrete industry, across the street a prestressed concrete beam manufacturer who oversaw the casting of the creek banks into a drain like sluice after the ’74 floods. These trades and their indicative names Con-test and Austress, have left; the properties are now consumed by services to body fitness while on the street another business model is developing.


Early mornings and weekends our sleep is broken by engines droning on the kerb side and the brittle, hard-edged timing of repetitive work.

Online delivery trucks cleaned out of hours on the road-side, workers yelling in Urdu, throwing things about in individually parked echo chambers, competing with each other for levels. I’m reminded of a time some years back when a taxi company settled in down the road. In the early morning hours the endless sound of car doors closing became a counting sheep meditation on how one vehicle could require so many doors to be banged shut prior to leaving.


The Yland has a natural geography of waterways and floodplains submerged under the energies of industry in the air above it. The Albion hill was once a security boundary of the then garrison town and the TAB building maintains the appearance. The Albion mill and the creek below, flour and water signified the staple bread to the early settlement. William Blake’s dark satanic mill was a metaphor intended to condemn the knowledge society of his day for losing its bearings in production. We think here in this overlooked and almost invisible Yland environment something is becoming evident in the overlay of information systems, physical architecture and natural geography.


The tides are dynamic in the waterway of Breakfast Creek drawing and receding with the moon’s orbit. The swelling tide flows onto footpaths, lifting boats with their reflections to the level of road traffic bringing vibrant bodily sensations with it.


The tides at this time of year are large. From roadside, boats bob up and drop away from view on a rhythm in half time to the peaks and troughs of traffic flow. Ropes tie boats to their berths; on the edge of the tide mooring lines are tense, the vertical passage eases the lines to form static traceries against the ripples.


The hanging rope under gravity forms what is known as a catenary, or chain curve. Once thought to be the line of a planet’s orbit, it describes the rotation of the turning focus of a parabola, a path with an expansive lift giving visual expression to the mute sensation of immense liquid volumes shepherded by the tide.


The lightly traced curve is visible in the rope and its reflection; a drawing of a bridge. The bridge of the Santa Trinita in Florence destroyed in a flood and rebuilt in 1567 with a series of arches is shaped by an unusual freehand line similar to the catenary curve, and deduced to be the line of Michaelangelo’s medici tombs.

Approximately twice every year road signs throughout this vicinity are unlocked warning motorists of flooded roads. We try to put a shine on the insecurity of rising water and our temporary tenancy, making analogies with Venice, Florence and the Arno river

River Ghosts

River ghosts can be sited all through the Yland, most often when the tides in Breakfast Creek are at their lowest. When there were moorings on the Sandgate Road side and people lived on the boats not long ago, a sailor/ gardener created an enviable kitchen garden in the rich wet soil alongside the wire fence.

Since the closure of the moorings the river ghosts float around a row of pointed white-capped columns close to the bank. I like to think these columns were placed there by Council in memory of the past tenants and that at low tide the tiny mangrove suckers hide the ghosts within them.


In a street away from these lost moorings there’s a looking point where if you linger there on a rainy day the ghosts are almost visible at the end of the view: an astigmatic view reflecting the image with a slight blurring of its edges, and lo, there they hover.


This isn’t a dreamy space though you have to be present with the street, the traffic, the slippery surfaces, the looking and reception. The distances are small and close and unless you’re on the Yland itself surrounded by your craft, plant your feet firmly.


Architectural Fantasies – VERTIGO Barbara Penrose 2011

Happy New Year! 

Screen Stories


The TAB (Totalizer Agency Board) building by architect Geoffrey Pie connects function and form in a classic modernist manner unlike anything else in the Yland district. Signs, billboards and walls writ large with text and image are the norm here, this environment is an  ode to the idea of the tableau, of surfaces that actively engage the passing viewer with content, reducing the spaces between messages to a blur.


I’d always resented the involuntary attention drawn out of me at every step by street signage, gone the intelligent glance or abstracted stare, enter a polarized experience of the referential sign relegating everything else to impenetrable reality.


This experience of walking around with a head full of catchphrases has made me more analytical towards such signage and its part in my environment.  Opposition changes to difference and a more permeable kinship of billboard and sky.


All week we’ve been thinking In terms of screens. A conversation we had with visitors to the studio last week brought up the current architectural code of using screens over blank buildings to create facades, street front visuals in the tradition of what Venturi called ‘the decorated shed’.


Over the years we’ve developed commissioned screens in a variety of incarnations as roofs and walls. The main function in a permeable screen is to hold the eye by means of some visual or referential device on the screen plane. It doesn’t cover what’s behind it like a curtain, but discovers the site in another way for the eyes, as shapes bathed in a local light.


So to start to deconstruct the Yland, we look, glance and stare at The TAB building, it externalizes its structure, ie the stair and lift well form a tower with ramparts to the central span, all in large mass concrete castings. there’s a clear reference to old castle architecture, also reinforced by its perched site overlooking the creek (moat) like an imperial dynasty gate house. The building functions partly as a sign with concepts of power and associations of history attached while the signage surrounding it: text, stripy graphics, photography in large scale, the branded environment, also trigger culture in the passing brain.


The point we came to was in thinking of the signage as screens and frames, in an interview recently, the artist RH Quaytman says walls can by like pages in a book, movable and able to be cross-referenced.


Billboards are large scale physical planes that block the vista just as roads are cut through it. We’ve started to see the roadway newly spatialized by the collage of signs that play a part in the discontinuity of the Yland environment along with the abrupt and edgy borders between businesses and their uneasy relationship with the creek.


The Movie Show


G20 has been and gone. Leaving its remnants in law enforcers weaving traffic, swooping cars and screening pedestrians in obscure back streets near the Yland. For a week this sector took an erratic pulse: one of its main arterial roads became a secured and restricted zone with intermittent road closures causing deeply banked traffic in a high activity transport route.

This is not the panoramic landscape vista or glancing social space of a shopping mall, It’s an urban phenomenon so ubiquitous as to be a category of visual environment all its own. A screen world, seated, air-conditioned, a kind of short before the program or after as a credit roll conversation.

This area we’re calling the Yland is experienced by most people as a matter of minutes. That is, it’s more a matter of when you’re in it than where you are in it; before the plot begins in a movie or afterwards as it’s soaking in. The Yland is a grey area in need of a story, but what kind of a story? Within the sheer physical reality of traffic, it’s force and directional violence, we are seated and have the time frame, just looking for a good plot.

The Other Side

In 2013 we were living in Lyon France for a while. Today I was sliding through some images of Bon Pasteur, a winding city street overlooking the old Roman Circus carved into the hill, and close to where we were living.


From a brownish toned circular shaped island of dirt, rise several embankments of stone seating above which Bon Pasteur continues the contour shifts up the hill to where the Croix Rousse plateaus. The seating arrangement, as for any large public venue was  constructed to focus the attention onto the central stage from which some form of entertainment was enacted.

I’d like to use this notion to imagine a public art work for the Albion Yland section of Breakfast Creek. The artwork itself exists already in the wonderful (f)act of rising and falling water levels. This breathing mass acted upon each day by moon, sun, tides, courts it’s audience with shimmering surface patterns and fluctuating colours.

What it needs is a place to sit and ponder. On the Sandgate Road side of Yland the concrete retaining bank which was built after the ’74 floods follows the curve of creek and road, while sloping down from street level to below water level. It was built by an old neighbour of ours, Austress, since amalgamated with a French company and relocated.

I’m imaging the old Roman Circus built into the curve below the
Sci-Fleet car yard. The ebb and flow the performance.

Racing Days


The Yland is a quick rabbit run of traffic, any attempt to bring slow and thoughtful public art into this space would be futile, the headspace inside each car swept through here is divided into departments dealing prodigiously with traffic, radio and phone signals, desires, chores and digestion issues. The nature of this flow is that everything metaphorical and visceral is thrown into the mix.

From our dining table to the main Yland thruways is a matter of 50 metres. The current billboard advertising Frankfurter  sausages on the Creek crossing dwarfs the TAB building behind, despite an architectural command from its hillside perch. It was the pillaging tartar himself, Russ Hinze, Minister for racing and everything else in the saddle when this building went up. The notion of Frankfurter tartar, floodwater log jams and dinner plans flicker through this space.

A Stony Question

There is a little pocket of space beneath the ICB where the Allison street bridge meets Sandgate Rd at the roundabout.  Unless you were exploring beyond Yowoggera Park on foot, or enjoying the creek by kayak, canoe or boat it is a hidden pocket.


Walking this area for many years now we still experience a thrill coming upon this place, as if we’re unearthing a lost Roman amphitheater or ancient Greek temple. At this end of the Yland there are shiny brut concrete columns extending across the creek supporting the raised motorway of the ICB . Those across the creek flanking the entrance to the headquarters of ad agency GOA have been papered with the flutings of Corinthian columns.

The stones forming the bank of the creek here are not rounded smooth by river water but sharp-edged flinty blue stones appearing as a mosaic of quick ripples, lapping the base of the  columns by the water’s edge.


There is an otherworldliness here and I think of Virginia Woolf filling her  pockets with stones for ballast before stepping into the water. Were the stones water washed and smooth in her palms? Did she carefully choose them one by one, feeling their weight, adding it up, calculating their combined effects? Or were they stones like these stones, their geometry pretend polyhedrons, mathematical straight edges drawn into existence by the crushing process of a machine. In Roman times stones were believed to contain spirits, numina, which were revered for their divinatory properties.

The Traffic Muse


The Albion_Yland project begins on an unremarkable section of Breakfast Creek between the Albion five ways and the ICB. Overlaid by bitumen and concrete, routed by transportation lanes.

The Albion_Yland is a 700 metre long site. Its width is Breakfast creek and the twin four lane roads running either side of it. The roads and their currents of traffic make the encircled water seem like an island. Most of the time it slides beneath, invisible, a form only in the tracery of traffic movements that follow it’s banks, angling over bridges and  when they can, resume direction and so define the upper and lower reaches of the Albion_Yland.

The creek is tidal, regularly lapping the bitumen at high water, a mirror surface within a system of corridors. City, burbs and ports. Destinations like watermarks on hallway walls.

Over the coming months we’ll develop weekly posts to support this concept and in the process produce a handbook that we aim to be a guide to viable art in an extremely un-still-life.