The grim utilitarian flavour of the City Loop will not be repeated in Melbourne’s new Metro Tunnel. The five new stations – Town Hall, Anzac, State Library, Arden and Parkville – will be inspired spaces, both functionally and artistically, thanks to permanent legacy works that speak to the city’s history, its future and its people on the move.
Due to be completed in 2025, the Metro Tunnel is one of the most significant urban transport upgrades the city has ever seen. So far, the work to make it a reality has uncovered intriguing (and sometimes disturbing) archaeological finds, caused traffic chaos and made an eyesore out of numerous city landmarks.
But as the project edges into its last few years, some more aesthetic aspects of its final look have been announced. The five artists charged with creating the large-scale, permanent artworks that will adorn each of the new underground stations were revealed last week.
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Hailing from as far afield as Egypt and Mexico, as well as Australia, the artists were selected via invitation or expressions of interest and assigned the task of making the commuter experience not just a schlep, but also a chance to be surrounded by soothing, spectacular artworks on an epic scale.
Piccinini told The Age, though, that for this project she will be stepping away from such otherworldly imaginings. Instead, she hopes her work will offer a respite for the passengers most likely to use the station: healthcare workers, their patients and university students.
The vibrant mosaic she has planned will be a scene of a fertile spring bloom that she’s referred to as a “colour field”. She intends for the work not to ask too much of those that encounter it – but it will offer them a revitalising backdrop as they go about their commute.
It’s a hope shared by Raafat Ishak, the Egyptian-born, Melbourne-based head of painting at the University of Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts. He was chosen to create a work for Anzac Station, which will service St Kilda Road. Ishak says his huge 2D artwork, that will span more than 60 metres, is not designed to “arrest you in any way whatsoever or challenge you to address any conundrum … it’s more just about [providing a backdrop to] being a human, carrying a past into a future.”
This sits somewhat at odds, he says, with the typical purpose of art. “To be humble and subtle and not too demanding is easier said than done – but it’s an interesting thing to try and do,” he tells Broadsheet.
The painting that will be entombed behind a glass wall is “a collection of images that have been sewn together to address the history of St Kilda Road and all the various institutions that have [resided] and continue to reside on it.”
Ishak says his work is intended to represent the stories and events that have occurred in this neighbourhood over the last century, and is designed to be passed by fleetingly, not taken in as a whole work – “perhaps just in the periphery as you worry about what’s for dinner.”
“People are busy – we think we live in a present, we think we stop, but we don’t,” he says, adding that he hopes the piece will blend into our graphic memory of the city.
Ishak says the colour palette used has been directly inspired by the work of John Brack, known for his classic rendering of Melbourne’s rush hour in the 1955 painting, Collins St., 5pm. Ishak says he’s “humbled and honestly a little bit embarrassed” about being chosen to contribute such a lasting artwork to the city. “I mean, they’re talking about this staying in place for up to 100 years, I just don’t even know what to say – it’s such an amazing opportunity.”
At North Melbourne’s Arden Station, which by 2029 will provide a direct link to Melbourne Airport, the artwork commission was handed to Abdul Abdullah, a multi-disciplinary Australian artist whose work focuses on the experience of othering. Describing himself as an “outsider among other outsiders with a post-9/11 mindset”, Abdullah's work has been considered politically contentious; he has said he considers himself an “artist working in the peripheries of a peripheral city, in a peripheral country, orbiting a world on the brink.”
At State Library Station, Danie Mellor will draw on his Indigenous and Anglo-Australian heritage to consider the country’s colonial past and its legacies today. Mellor has said his work “engages with multiple perspectives that are critically and philosophically embedded in the way we respond to natural ecologies.”
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, a Mexican-Canadian multimedia artist known for works that combine architecture, technology and public participation, will create a work for the cavernous archways of Town Hall Station.
The award-winning artist, whose works are held by the likes of MONA and the NGV, has an extensive track record in creating public art installations. His past works have used robotic lights, digital fountains, computerised surveillance, media walls, and telematic networks to create what he calls "anti-monuments for alien agency".
As yet, no renderings or teasers for the colossal pieces have been released, but Ishak tells Broadsheet his designs are just months away from being finalised and sent to the fabricators.
The five legacy works will be accompanied in the spaces by a breathtakingly ambitious work by Yorta Yorta/Wamba Wamba/Mutti Mutti/Boonwurrung artist Maree Clarke who was commissioned in 2020 to create a single work, that spans all five new stations. Clarke has said the artwork will embrace the five clans of the Kulin nation and she hopes it will give commuters a connection to Country through artistic depictions of the landscape, including forest, desert and water.