The Weekend Australian - Review - - Front Page - Kitty Hauser

Richard Good­win, Mo­bius Sea (1986), on per­ma­nent dis­play in the Do­main, Syd­ney

IT’S both un­miss­able and ne­glected, this big white con­crete ob­ject that stands to one side of the Art Gallery of NSW in Syd­ney. Passers-by have to walk across an ex­panse of grass to dis­cover its name, Mo­bius Sea, and its cre­ator, Richard Good­win.

What looks from a dis­tance like the sod­den lumps and ro­coco folds of a toi­let roll that has fallen into the bath turn out on closer in­spec­tion to be hu­man fig­ures, writhing in a great mass around the sculp­ture’s sur­face. It’s as though they are trapped be­neath a vis­cous sur­face from which they can­not break free. Like a frag­ment of a sur­re­al­ist Trajan’s Col­umn, the thing could be a mon­u­ment to an ob­scure bat­tle, but the ti­tle (which refers, pre­sum­ably, to the twisted cylin­der known as the Mo­bius strip) is hardly il­lu­mi­nat­ing. Its pom­pos­ity is at odds with its rather tucked­away po­si­tion; but that, as it turns out, is ex­pli­ca­ble.

Mo­bius Sea was Good­win’s first pub­lic sculp­ture. It was the win­ner of the Royal Blind So­ci­ety Sculp­ture Award, and was paid for by James Hardie In­dus­tries and the Vis­ual Arts Board. But it was not made for this spot in the Do­main. It was made for a site on Mac­quarie Street out­side the Syd­ney Con­ser­va­to­rium of Mu­sic; its shape and size de­lib­er­ately echo the Con­ser­va­to­rium’s tur­rets, and its height was de­ter­mined by the plinth of the nearby statue of Ed­ward VII.

Mo­bius Sea re­mained on Mac­quarie Street for less than two years af­ter it was un­veiled by the NSW pre­mier in May 1986. Fol­low­ing re­marks by Leo Schofield in his col­umn in The Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald, de­scrib­ing the sculp­ture as ‘‘ an eye­sore like a bro­ken bron­tosaurus tooth’’ and call­ing for it to be moved, the Depart­ment of Pub­lic Works re­solved to re­lo­cate Mo­bius Sea to an al­ter­na­tive site. This went against the artist’s wishes, as the sculp­ture — which he con­sid­ered his best to date — had been made specif­i­cally for the site. Com­par­isons were made with the fa­mous re­moval of Vault (the so-called ‘‘ Yel­low Peril’’ sculp­ture) from Mel­bourne’s City Square in 1980.

Some con­fu­sion seems to have arisen from the ex­tent to which the piece was in­tended specif­i­cally for the blind. Schofield had never seen any blind per­son touch it, he wrote, and if they did want to, they would have to risk life and limb, like ev­ery­one else cross­ing Mac­quarie Street, to get to it. The thing re­ally ought to be put some­where more ac­ces­si­ble to the blind, and mer­ci­fully less vis­i­ble to ev­ery­one else. This may have been lit­tle more than the light-hearted quip of a man paid to be amus­ing, but it was ap­par­ently a view with which then NSW pub­lic works min­is­ter Lau­rie Br­ere­ton agreed.

Good­win ob­jected; the piece was not meant specif­i­cally for the blind, but for ev­ery­one. Much of its sur­face was out of reach, in any case.

Good­win was — and is — a more in­ter­est­ing ar­chi­tect and artist than Mo­bius Sea, in ei­ther place, im­me­di­ately sug­gests. In the 1970s and 80s his work in­cluded per­for­mance, soft sculp­ture and film, as well as cos­tumes for Mad Max Be­yond Thun­derdome. More re­cently, Good­win has ex­panded into ar­chi­tec­ture, de­sign­ing ‘‘ par­a­sitic’’ ad­di­tions to ex­ist­ing build­ings. Mo­bius Sea, with its use of old clothes and sense of uncanny pres­ence, surely makes more sense in the con­text of Good­win’s ca­reer than it does as a stand­alone piece of pub­lic art that is both highly vis­i­ble and strangely ob­scure. Re­fig­ur­ing Dystopia: The Art of Richard Good­win 1991-2012, Bathurst Re­gional Art Gallery, NSW, un­til Jan­uary 26.

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