Art & Design


Docklands, Dada, and one giant Ferris wheel

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Melbourne’s Docklands development, a politically crucial aspect of Kennett’s vision for a privatised Victoria, was symbolically inaugurated with the construction of (what’s now known as) Etihad Stadium in 1996. Since then, the abandoned wharf and former underground rave hotbed has undergone a strange transformation.

Envisaged as a vibrant new destination for tourists and locals boasting waterfront dining, entertainment and prestige addresses, the reality resembles something more like the collective JG Ballardian dream of an urban planning committee.

Entirely inorganic, its contrived and generic boulevards feel empty and alien – showcases for soulless and over-planned monuments to the force of bureaucratic reason.

Which brings us to that enormous extraneous contraption that hangs in the distance behind North Melbourne station.

For five years now, the Southern Star Observation Wheel (aka ‘that huge Ferris wheel over by Costco’) has expanded, contracted and expanded in slow motion above Docklands. Beginning back in 2006, it was designed by Japanese firm Sanoyas Hishino Meisho and built by Hansen Yuncken for owners ING Real Estate. It cost around $100million, produced indifference upon its opening and utter bafflement when structural flaws forced its closure a month later.

Since then, the great wheel has been dismantled, redesigned and is set to complete reconstruction sometime later this year. As the character S.R. Hadden says in the film Contact “why build one when you can build two at twice the price?”

Now – humour me if you will – let’s take a short detour through art history.

Dada (a precursor to Surrealism) emerged as an art movement around 1916. In grossly simplified terms, its proponents sought to protest against the all-pervasive bourgeois rationalist/capitalist logic they believed caused the First World War. As German poet Hugo Ball saw it (author of the Dada Manifesto), “art is not an end in itself…but it is an opportunity for the true perception and criticism of the times we live in.”

They adopted subversive and often purposefully nonsensical and absurd techniques to make their point. A famous example is Marcel Duchamp, who chose and exhibited pre-manufactured objects such as a bottle rack or a urinal. With a signature or small message he declared these “readymades” art.

Well, I am hereby declaring the beginnings of a new Dada revivalist movement. It starts today with the opening of my brand new exhibition. I call it “Irrationalism” and it consists of just one piece: an enormous, half-built Ferris wheel I found at Docklands.

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