I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

My Year with Bluestone: multidisciplinarity and street art

Yesterday was just one of those great days in an academic life. I read a chapter of a colleague's book manuscript and delighted at the flourishing of her prose style and the maturation of her critical voice. I revised a press release for CHE on this bluestone project (and expect to be bombarded, I tell you, with requests for interviews..... Any minute now....). I chatted with another colleague about a possible collaboration between our Centre for the History of Emotions and a local gallery. I had a performance appraisal meeting with another colleague and marvelled at the amount of work she has done in the art community. I had a delicious hot okonomiyake under the gorgeous enormous plane tree in the courtyard of the old graduate school, and I heard a terrific paper in the evening about plague regulations and community in seventeenth-century Scotland. I also read part of a book on medieval art and the representation of faces. I rode my bike to work and back without feeling too nervous; and I watched 4 Corners while my son cooked dinner for three friends.

But the real bluestone highlight was coffee this morning with Chris and Joe (keeping my usual first-name only policy here). Joe's out here from the US working on street art with the wonderful Alison, and Chris is both a lecturer in chemical engineering here and co-teaching a second year breadth subject on Street Art.

Here they are both are:

We met near the hoarding outside Arts West (where CHE lived till last November); and where there is a cunning piece of street art advertising the subject. We had a good discussion about the ethics and ironies of using street art to "advertise" anything in the corporatised university -- and whether the billboard needed the subject code.

Chris and I enjoyed explaining the mysteries of Melbourne's bluestone to Joe. Chris was particularly interesting on the question of Melbourne's bluestone identity, reminding me that the city's famous laneways were necessary in the absence of an underground sewage system. The laneways were used for ease of access for the collectors of 'nightsoil', so the intersecting cobbled lanes that provide Melbourne's distinctive secondary network are a powerful side-product, and a reminder, of human waste. Chris also thought —and I'm hoping he'll read this and correct me if I'm misinterpreting him — that the attraction of the laneways was the vista they provided on a changing city. From the lanes it's somehow easier to observe the changing uses of buildings, and the changing buildings themselves. 

Somewhere the National Trust describes the effect of bluestone cobbled laneways as "fine-grained". I rather like that: in the midst of higher and grander buildings, there is something human-scaled about these bluestone pitches: cut by hand, and worn by foot and hoof and wheel.

We also discussed the contested site on the corner of Nicholson and Princes St (more on that soon). I wondered how street artists might feel about bluestone as a painting surface: whether they might ignore it, or respect it, or avoid it. Unsurprisingly the answer was that it was difficult to paint on, because it is usually cut so unevenly.

One of the loveliest things about our meeting, though, was the realisation that Chris and I were both working in fields far from our first beginning. He's a chemical engineer; I'm a medieval literature scholar. And yet here we were in an Australian university setting comfortably talking about street art and urban history. Nothing not to like about that!

No comments: