18 October 2021

Discover the NewActon precinct's public art trail

| Jeremy Jones
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Precinct map of NewActon

The NewActon precinct has a range of cafes and artworks to explore on a walk. Image: Trevor Dickinson.

Art walks in Canberra are usually limited to festival offerings and the National Gallery of Australia’s beautiful sculpture garden, but the NewActon precinct is offering a public art trail around restaurants and cafes that are open for walkers to enjoy along the way.

Did you know the sculpture of the fat, bald grey man at the entrance to NewActon is called Modern Man? He wasn’t loved by modern men when he arrived, and apparently more women thought it was a good piece of art – “It’s reflective of those who don’t like it” some people cheekily said.

Grab a coffee or a full picnic from Monster Kitchen and Bar, Mocan & Green Grout, ILY or Rebel Rebel, and check out the artworks many people overlook when visiting NewActon.

Robin Blau’s Time Thief stands in the NewActon Pavilion Green Spine and depicts a crow ‘pinching’ the time. The crow descends on its nest above the old heritage clock with wings outstretched and talons extended as if he’s about to snatch the clock.

Crows are both charmingly intelligent and sneaky,” explains Robin. “This sculpture’s association with the theft of time, with the attempt to ‘grab and hold onto time’ or to ‘seize the moment’ is part of many ancient mythologies.”

The Nishi Grand Stair was created by March Studios and is made from recycled boards and brass poles. The stairs regularly play host to wedding photos and have been the backdrop to many arts events in the precinct such as ‘Art, Not Apart’, movie festivals’ opening night ceremonies and wine markets.

The recycled boards and poles are reclaimed from a dismantled house and a demolished basketball court. No two pieces of wood are the same, which creates a unique range of cuts from the polished and unpolished to the painted and unpainted.

In the biggest public tender of the NewActon art collection, New York artist Steven Siegel was selected to install two major works around Nishi. Carbon is a series of tentacles of carbon – shredded recycled tyres – spewing out of the greenest commercial building of its time.

According to David Caffery, the NewActon precinct’s cultural coordinator, one of the artworks has a funny, very Canberran story.

“It is hovering over the entrance of the then Department of Climate Change to remind our country’s climate policy makers of the scale of their task – that we must think differently if the country is to stop wasting our planet,” he says.

“Even Nishi, with its six-star green energy rating, uses great amounts of carbon. The artist and developer wanted to see Nishi’s environmental innovations become minor compared to future developments. Then Tony Abbot shredded the Department of Climate Change and proudly installed the Department of Industry in Nishi.

“The irony was lost on them. It was a classic case of local culture butting heads with national policy.”

Nearby, Paper is made of two years’ worth of collected The Canberra Times newspapers. With no glue and no preservation techniques, it is just stacks of daily papers we all thought were harmless waste. Paper is a smaller version of giant cliffs of the same stacks in forests in Europe, some of which have lasted more than 20 years in wet, natural forests. Plants grow into and around this unique statement on time and waste.

Now back to Tim Kyle’s Modern Man. It stands at the corner of many pathways, roads and a bridge. The artist says this is a figurative representation of a man at a juncture.

“A man is lost, on the verge of going forward but as yet uncertain as to which way,” says Tim. “The sculpture’s location reflects his psychological state.”

And we can’t escape his body image – no wonder some of the blokes in NewActon were stirred up.

What do you think is the best public artwork in Canberra?

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