From artwork that appears on the walls mysteriously through the night...to a love of paste ups layered over the imperfections of red brick...Megan Spencer's enthusiasm for the energy of Chancery Lane and its artwork is compelling. This is the expanded version of the Q&A used for my Bendigo Magazine contribution. You can read the article and original blog post here. Megan (journalist/radio presenter/film maker) was the owner and curator of El Gordo cafe & it's gallery space. Since this was written, the cafe has changed hands...but Megan assures us that new owners Mike & Sara are equally passionated about continuing El Gordo's involvement in the lane way art.
Can you explain how the concept of Ground Level and the partnership between El Gordo, the council and LaTrobe works with regards to the art that appears on the walls of Chancery Lane?
The `Ground Level' paste up gallery in Chancery Lane really came about from a serendipitous, informal connection which was all about good timing. In 2011, the Council was in the process of inviting La Trobe University students to contribute paste up work to the Hargreaves Street end of Chancery Lane. The council had previously commissioned a large scale paste up `Paper Wall' by Carly Preston (near The Dispensary) and saw potential for more public involvement. At the same time we were looking at various ways of getting local artists involved in paste ups at the wall in front of El Gordo at the Pall Mall end as a feature of the cafe.
Prior to El Gordo opening, several quite amazing large scale illustrative works by a local artist known as ‘Twig’ had ‘mysteriously’ (!) gone up in the middle of the lane way (in front of Robe). So there certainly was already that kind of culture beginning to leave its mark.
When we met up to discuss it all, we decided that it would serve the ‘beautification’ of these various areas of Chancery Lane if it all came under one heading. I thought ‘Ground Level’ was a name that really suited the project, but it’s quite a loose concept too, that can evolve and grow organically on it’s own. All of the shopkeepers in Chancery Lane were supportive of it, and have previously contributed in their own individual ways.
We’ve also held events at El Gordo such as ‘paste up’ parties and had people offer to contribute ad hoc as well, with artists as diverse as locals Kelly Robson, Nick Jack, Chris Kennett, Dale Harris and Chloe Neath, to profile Melbourne-based artists such as (c)alm and Mini Graff. And we (El Gordo) love to make a bit of a noise about it! It’s an exciting process to be a part of and to help continue facilitate.
In the end, regarding Ground Level, and this open air ‘gallery’, we’ve found that that the spirit of contributing to something bigger than just the work often radiates out – to both artists and to the community who views the work. It’s quite a different way to view art – there’s no ‘ownership’ as such – it belongs to everyone, in the best possible way.
I've read in social media about how artwork appears on the wall overnight…is their a submission process or is it more organic and `just happens'? Possibly a combination of both?
Both! Maree Tonkin (City of Greater Bendigo) keeps the educational ball rolling by including different schools on the car park wall end – sometimes that overlaps with El Gordo too. Other artists just come and ‘contribute’ their work to the laneway – and it always fits in. El Gordo's part of the wall is more ‘curated’ – which just means I need to see that it fits in with whatever is already there.. But there have been randoms go up without a hitch. It just has a life of its own.
Like any fledgling project with lots of promise, I think [the Ground Level concept] was a good way of galvanising the laneway into one cohesive space which has infinite possibilities on offer. To encourage people to come down and be a part of it, whether they be artist or art viewer!
How often does the artwork change? Do pieces get removed or is it more of a layering (or even weathering) process?
The weather does change the work over time (part of its appeal), such as fading, but we also keep them as well looked after as possible. (God bless craft and wallpaper glue!) Nothing’s been covered up and touch wood we haven’t lost any yet to rain!
Tell me about the involvement of school groups and Bendigo Tourism...
La Trobe Uni as mentioned previously, BSSC and Crusoe College have all been involved. It’s really wonderful with the school kids, especially if they’re doing it for the very first time. They go from being shy and bored (“oh no, a boring school excursion!”), to very excited and enthusiastic. This is largely because they actively contribute and are listened to; they are entirely responsible for the decisions they make with their images; and love the fact that they can paste it up in an open space which can be seen by anyone! They have the best time and it also breaks down the ‘formality’ of art, and also that it’s only a rarified activity for a select few. The term ‘Ground Level’ means it’s very democratic...potentially open to anyone with a good idea and who enjoys creativity.
Bendigo Tourism has kind of taken ownership of it all too – they love bringing members of the media and industry down to Chancery Lane and giving them a tour of it all. It ticks a whole lot of boxes for them – the paste up work on the walls is an interesting added attraction to the CBD, and they have been very strong supporters which is great for the storeholders in Chancery Lane and the artists whose work is there for all to see.
It just looks good!! Red bricks are kind of the perfect way to see work mounted, with all their history, and imperfections and vibrancy – forget austere white walls! :)
Tell me about Kelly Robson & her involvement...
Kelly has been an incredible supporter; a true quiet achiever. She generously donates her time to a whole lot of creative endeavours around the community. We encourage her to contribute any time she wants! She’s also fantastic as she tailors her work to fit specific themes, contexts and ideas. We commissioned her to do a Grace Kelly paste up when the exhibition was on; it’s very poetic. We try and support her in exchange, and have invited her to give talks about her work as well. I’m a big fan of hers! She’s patient, learns from everything and everyone she comes into contact with (it’s all there in her art and blog), and a rarity: she’s extremely community minded (all these qualities are part of paste up culture too, I hasten to add). And I think once she really spreads her artistic wings, there will be no stopping her. (For more about Kelly, you can read my Q&A with her here.)
What are your thoughts about the future of lane way culture in Bendigo?
Go big! More please! Keep it at ground level!
What's your favourite thing about Bendigo in winter?
When the sun peeks through the grey clouds and reminds me of why I moved here in the first place: infinite physical space.
Thanks for being part of my Q&A Megan! We will miss you and Oliver in your sweet little lane way space, but look forward to getting to know Mike & Sara and their plans for the cafe :)