The enclosed photographs of Melbourne are shot on a Canon Canonet 28 35mm film camera and post-produced using a desktop computer and Samsung Galaxy S4. The Canonet that I purchased from a Queenscliff thrift-shop in 2016 is a 1972 release, sharing its birthday with one of the most reproduced images in human history, The Blue Marble. This photograph of the earth was taken by the team of Apollo 17 who were the sixth and last humans to walk on the moon.
From stained glass windows to the radio, to the television screen, to wireless communication, to the smart phone, the spectacle of images has maintained its revelatory and religious character. It is The Blue Marble that inspired the Whole Earth Catalogue and a rediscovery of the planet we inhabit.
Hallmarked as the precursor to GOOGLE, The Whole Earth Catalogue’s slogan, “access to tools”, is still the technocratic ideology of today. These are symptoms and agents of the information age, a new industry that does not produce matter but produces light, does not produce new worlds but rediscovers old ones.1
The centenary stamp of 1934 is an example of this ahistorical rediscovery of the world – the Aborigine is in awe of the city as though he has returned to it, an expression of wonder at a civilization that is both from the future and from the past. There are absurdities in the expression of this Aborigine having ‘stumbled upon’ Melbourne. European occupation and terraforming could not escape the gaze of any Victorian Aborigine and any subtle changes to it were deeply perceived. More to the point: This experience of the discovery of a new world is an acutely European one and requires a suspension of disbelief made only possible by the psychosocial condition of the tourist. The notion that Aborigines could have an ahistorical and sublime experience of an urban image is misguided.
Today’s street corner reveals the city as though rediscovered in spite of never having left it. Melbourne has a history of returning to itself again and again.
1. “The American cinema became the major site for trade in dematerialisation, a new industrial market which no longer produced matter but light, as the luminosity of those vast stained-glass windows of old was suddenly concentrated into the screen.”Page 41 Paul Virilio, 2009. War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception (Radical Thinkers). Edition. Verso.
2. Swanston and Elizabeth streets are parallel. The speculation that there exists a corner between the two implies that the streets were supposed to meet. The generation of an adjacent internalised streetscape between the two is the city attempting to force a corner into being. This ‘corner’ extrudes laterally through the grid.
Stopping is rude. Loitering causes public nervousness. The idler in suspect, in this case Subject Ii, stands on the corner of Swanston and Elizabeth Street.2 The entire central city population has emerged from their daytime storage place. For the street crowd there is an undocumented agreement to meet and eat between the hours of twelve and two. The crowd moves in a rhythm of side glances, stand-offs and improvised shuffles. Innocent until proven motionless.
Is this the same self-propelling upright motion that distinguished homo-erectus from its hunched-back cousin?
Staring into screens, carried through balmy incubators, up and down levels by motorised boxes and flowing staircases?
“Biological analogy has had a startling revival based on economics. The urban lot or dwelling-place, in this model, functions as the cell; things like the port, the banking district, the industrial plant and the suburb are organs or specialized tissues; and capital, whether in monetary or built form, is the energy that flows through urban systems.”3
Mortified, Ii looks for a shop window in panic, checks pants pockets and points a finger all at once. The crowd lurches forward, tight shirts for stiff pectorals, high heels and horse hooves clip clop on pavement, humans shout over the injured tram, tram screeches in reply, street performers perform benign treats in a Christmas grimace. They glare at Ii suspiciously. They glare at each other suspiciously.
In Melbourne the political and cultural institutions are its fringe organs, capital is the energy that drives the system and shopping its heart. The pedestrian (Subject: Ii), prophesied by Sidney Myer, has become the enzyme that has catalysed Melbourne’s new economic body – an industry of images.
3. Spiro Kostof, 1993. The City Shaped: Urban Patterns and Meanings Through History. Reprint Edition. Bulfinch. Page 52.
That one can infinitely rediscover their own city through images has its origins in mercantile urbanism.
Melbourne has always been a city of commerce. The convict history of Port Phillip is limited to a failed penal colony in present-day Sorrento, the area was otherwise settled for commercial purposes. The Hoddle grid is the first urbanisation program of land division and speculative value, serving as a proto-neoliberal market place for the free flow of capital and growth of the commercial. Australia is a corporate takeover of tectonic proportions and Sidney Myer propelled Melbourne to become the world’s most ‘liveable’ reflection.
Ii has crossed one street, or two? King, William, Queen, Elizabeth - parallel lines of Royal ancestry with no possibility of consummating their longing with an intersection.
Sidney Myer in his retail experiments in Bendigo “had seen how much costumers enjoyed having goods spread on the counter to see and touch, a far cry from the traditional form of retailing where customers would sit on a stool waiting for the goods to be brought out of boxes for them to examine on request.”4 He transplanted this model to Bourke Street where he established an emporium in 1914.
"As business gained patronage, Myer offered more of his innovative sales techniques to city customers. He ensured that one day each week would be known as sale day. Soon customers were assured that should they journey into the city to shop at Myers it would be well worth their efforts. Myer bargain days were talked of way beyond the city boundaries and more and more avid customers rushed to take advantage of them.”5
These tactile sales techniques developed in the Bendigo store were implemented at the urban scale: the Myer Christmas window and the internalised urban environments contained the unimaginable, the exotic and the everyday.
The effect of Myer’s simulated city would be known as the Golden Mile, a walk through the arcades, laneways and historic streets of Melbourne, merging commerce with culture in a powerful experience of identity.
“The Myer business offered far more than the exchange of goods for cash or credit. Sidney Myer had always planned that shopping at this store would provide an enjoyable experience regardless of the occurrence of any purchase of goods. Women came to Myer for the day. They had their hair done at Myer Salon, their nails manicured, dined in the luxurious sixth floor dining hall, perhaps picking up a book from the Myer library afterwards and booking a celebration for their children... youngsters grew up with happy memories of their time spent in the Emporium that in later years would become their store.”6
4. Stella M. Barber, 2008. Your store Myer: the story of Australia’s leading department store. Focus.
The sheer size, amenity and cultural impact of Myer’s empire meant that it functioned as both an economic and cultural engine of the wider city, leveraging the magic combination of access and choice, he was a pioneer in discount economics and urban technologies. He introduced the first motorised escalator into the internalised streetscapes and revealed pedestrianization as a means of producing and increasing the flow of capital.
‘The Myers’ would eventually develop a pre-fabricated housing model as a response to the post-war housing shortage, build the first suburban discount department store in Chadstone, have specialty fashion retailers, fast food outlets and other ventures in land development, travel, finance and film production.
Sidney Myer’s philanthropic endeavours were pivotal in advancing Melbourne’s cultural institutions, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra was financially rescued, local fashion designers and artists supported through its retail and fashion catwalk, and the Sidney Myer Music Bowl was established for public concerts. These formalised institutions are the cultural transactions that allowed Myer’s economic freedom to become the beating heart of the city. Any breakdowns in the body are due to inefficiencies in the contract or sweaty legislators getting in the way of investment.
In the throes of depression, September 1930, The Age reported this rare address given by Myer:
“Free circulation of money is as essential to the well-being of the community as good circulation of blood is to the health of the human system…. If you can afford to paint your house or your front gate, do it now; if you can afford to put on extra men to put your garden in order, do it now; if you are able to furnish your homes, to buy new clothes, or to undertake any fresh enterprise, do it now…. The Myer Emporium will do its utmost to make shopping easy by lowering prices…. I would express again (with all sincerity and earnestness) my emphatic opinion that the only thing that can lift Australia out of her present difficulties and save her industries from disaster is a personal determination on the part of every individual man and woman in the community to share cheerfully (even at the cost of personal sacrifice) in the readjustments which are absolutely necessary today.”7
The call for a pedestrian ‘return to normality’ is our city’s greatest defence against catastrophe; economic, military or existential. The same plea was made by George W. Bush just two weeks after the tragedy of 9/11, “Go down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.”8 Tony Blair echoed similar statements following the attack on the USA asking “people to go shopping and take holidays to prevent the economy going into recession…”9
When citizens are exposed to a constant media stream of catastrophic images the street maintains a determined flow of pedestrian passivity. Movement postpones disagreement. The best resistance is to demonstrate the absence of conflict. The image of stability, stability.
8. washingtonpost.com. 2016. washingtonpost.com.[ONLINE] Available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/nation/specials/attacked/transcripts/bush_092701.html. [Accessed 30 December 2016].
9. George Jones, Political Editor and Michael Smith. 2016. Britain needs you to shop, says Blair - Telegraph. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1357871/Britain-needs-you-to-shop-says-Blair.html. [Accessed 30 December 2016].
Melbourne’s cultural and economic progress is cultivated by a combination of commerce, historical tropes, technocratic solutions, pedestrian determination and narrative consistency.
The current formula, the ‘Walking Plan’ of 2014-2017, is part of what the Melbourne City Council have labelled the new ‘Knowledge City’. It outlines what The City of Melbourne calls the ‘walking economy’ - an interconnected network of knowledge and capital.
“These connections generate knowledge which circulates through both formal and informal links, and from this knowledge income is generated. Much of this knowledge transfer takes place face to face and is often the result of a walking trip within the central city.
This is why dense city centres are so important to the economic prosperity of cities and nations.The large number of people located in close proximity to each other allows ideas to be quickly generated, refined into knowledge and put to work solving problems.”10
The Knowledge City conflates the medium with the message. Information delivered by pedestrian labor is used to solve ‘problems’, on the other hand transactional pedestrian movement defers local conflict. Passivity suspends solutions in a hubbub of activity.
Information in the Knowledge City is transferred, not generated, and pedestrianization is the efficiency of the transaction; tap the card, make the phone call, arrive on time, find the venue.
With the opening of St. Collins Lane, the latest CBD luxury shopping mall, a network of streets has been superseded by a one kilometre passage between Flinders Street Station and Melbourne Central that is almost entirely internal. To walk this pedestrian artery is to remove street corners, the problems of place and the passage of time. Navigation is conducted by material palates; angular laneways mythologise the historically orthogonal ones, the lavish Block Arcade is repeated in mirrored ceilings that reflect the passenger, moving up and down, sideways, and inversely, maintaining forward momentum, always.
The point of destination extrudes across the grid, into Central station and out of the city. Nobody returns to any particular place. In this shapeless territory, one wonders where one has been.
What effect does this internalised world have on its exterior, the [real] urban environment?
Swanston and Elizabeth streets function as gutters for pedestrian overflow, an overflow both of bodies and of desire.
The south end of Elizabeth street has been diagnosed as being in dire need of pedestrianization. “Traders fear aggressive beggars picking fights with pedestrians on one of Melbourne’s busiest streets are jeopardising our reputation as the world’s most liveable city.”11 A redevelopment program has been outlined by the council as a CBD priority, “Lord Mayor Robert Doyle has branded the intersection of Elizabeth and Flinders streets, which is a major entry point to the city, a shameful 'ugly duckling'… Councillors will next week consider a report proposing to ban southbound cars on Elizabeth St between Flinders Lane and Flinders St… The plan would also allow for the creation of a landscaped pedestrian precinct in what is a notoriously sleazy area, frequented by beggars and people sleeping rough.”12
10. Participate Melbourne :: Walking Plan. 2016. Participate Melbourne :: Walking Plan. [ONLINE] Available at: http://participate.melbourne.vic.gov.au/walkingplan. [Accessed 30 December 2016].
11. Herald Sun. 2016. Get tough call on aggressive beggars jeopardising Melbourne’s reputation. Herald Sun. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/get-tough-call-on-aggressivebeggars-jeopardising-melbournes-reputation/newsstory/d9792807e8287dd31138d7d36664a3d1. [Accessed 30 December 2016].
12. Herald Sun. 2016. Plan to Clean Up South End of Elizabeth St in Melbourne CBD. Herald Sun. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/plan-to-clean-up-southern-endof-elizabeth-st-in-melbourne-cbd/news-story/aaf38e8c590463ec6b6a9602c92bd233. [Accessed 30 December 2016].
Subject Ii is camouflaged in the crowd and pushed into a little eddy of work colleagues gathered for a tribal ceremony. The birthday lunch: a social gathering where people attempt to find things in common, like lining up all the cherries on a pokie machine.
The crowd waits for the green man/ non-gendered figure to replace the authoritarian and violent red one.
The birthday tribe shade the screens of their devices with a cupped hand, checking The Service 13 for updates. They look up to the sky as if to check the sun for the time.
To long for a romanticized past, of a time when the body was not an instrument, to return to some sort of reality and kick the rock, announcing, ‘I refute it thus’,is impossible.14 There is something darkly beautiful about a world ripped free from its ecological reality, a place of fiction, whose phenomenon are multiple and contradictory.
When narrative consistency is interrupted - the body engulfed by the screen, social norms malfunction, the limbs contort and fall from motion - long not for the past, but for a present already lost.
13. The Service is a social media system that facilitates public and private interaction and through which the citizens of the city receive their news media.
14. Dr. Samuel Johnson disproved Bishop Berkeley’s immaterialist philosophy by kicking a large stone and stating, “I refute it thus.” Alexander, Samuel (2000). “Dr. Johnson as a Philosopher”. In Slater, John. Collected works of Samuel Alexander. 4.Continuum International Publishing Group. Page 119.