Presenter: …specific qualities of infrastructure that relate to creative infrastructure, so supporting (exposed or open ended) things that wouldn’t normally relate to more standard infrastructure or a standardised understanding of infrastructure. But we think they lend themselves really well to infrastructure that supports creative practices and I think that’s why both your experiences are really relevant to this conversation. Creative infrastructure, what is it? Hi Arie, hi Molly. The great thing about this is we’re just annoying the bloody bejesus out of Arie and Molly in the office.
Presenter: We should make this conversation about Arie and Molly. Who’s got better hair?
Male 2: So introduce yourself, and then maybe Bree and Matt, and then away we go.
Presenter: It’s the 23rd March 2018 and we’re sitting at Testing Grounds. Within Testing Grounds we’re actually sitting at Community Precinct Coffee Shop. We’re having coffee. They sold out of pastries, so we don’t have any. I think I was promised pastries! Anyway! What are we here to talk about? Using the opportunity of Melbourne Design Week, a pyramid has been put here as a bit of a provocation. We thought it would be a great opportunity to bring both Bree Trevena and Matthew Jones from our advisory group – and also from interesting sectors within Victoria – to have a bit of a chat about the infrastructure here. An opportunity to then talk about infrastructure and creative infrastructure in other ways to maybe bring a bit more complexity to how creative infrastructure can work within a city. So Bree Trevena, would you like to introduce yourself?
Bree Trevena: Yes. I am Bree Trevena. I am Research Manager at ARUP for Site Research and Innovation. Prior to that, probably about a year ago, I was with Creative Victoria for a long period of time working on strategic infrastructure development; very much I suppose at the front end of how we start to shape and create and imagine new kinds of spaces for arts, culture and creative practice in urban, suburban and regional spaces, and environments. That’s me.
Presenter: Thank you. Matt Jones, hello.
Matt Jones: Hello. I am currently a freelance consultant …
Matt Jones: My LinkedIn profile refers to me – well, I refer to myself as a Place Activation Specialist which I think is a completely meaningless expression, but I’m still trying to find a sense of commercial identity.
Presenter: Let’s put it on a card there Matt – Place Maker.
Matt Jones: Maybe place maker. I reckon the common denominator of what I’ve done in my career through accident rather than design is to provoke, sometimes, worthwhile experiences in unconventional, predominantly public spaces. I started doing that in 2002 in Brighton in the UK for two different organisations, and for the last decade – pretty much until mid-January – I did that for Federation Square, overseeing their program of public events and activations of all different types. For the last two months I find myself again –more through accident than design – providing some degree of advisory and value-added services for predominantly local authorities who seem to be or have a self-perception of themselves being less along the path to actualising successful public place making approaches than the institutions that I have represented in the past. So I’m trading on that until they realise that they’re not as far back on the path as what they think they are.
Presenter: Just following on from that, could you describe an example of what you’re talking about?
Matt Jones: Of the kinds of people?
Presenter: The way you described the unconventional ideas of public spaces, but also what are you. Or how is that manifesting? What you’re doing?
Matt Jones: The big shift is, I guess, all my kind of formalised and institutionalised roles in life have had the privilege of occupying a more or less defined, finite, bounded space; or a place like this one is physically, at least. That’s the realm I’ve operated in. Now I find myself having conversations with people who are trying to make sense of public realms which aren’t as neatly or as pragmatically defined – neighbourhoods, streetscapes, and a community in South West Sydney that has a major Ramadan growth spurt, if you like, in that there’s a grass roots movement to coalesce around a festival. They wouldn’t define it as a festival, but it’s coalescing around a festival, and it’s attracting council-level attention from a regulatory and an operational sense. But also from value-adding, marketing, profiling, how do we make our little corner of Sydney differentiated from the various other corners of Sydney to make something happen? So the challenge that I am gravitating towards is moving beyond places that have easily discernible boundaries.
Presenter: Defined boundaries, yes. So they’re less sites and they’re more atmospheres maybe, almost temporary.
Matt Jones: Yes. Equally public in one way or another. I’m going to try and avoid my contributions to this discussion being just interminable definition debates, but for want of a better common denominator, it is all about public and I think that’s probably the most critical consideration for me. And, when we get to it, it’s probably the most critical common denominator of how I relate to any definition of infrastructure and/or amenity. It’s interesting to step beyond a ring-fenced venue or precinct towards broader conversations at the moment of much more porous public spaces that are grappling with what to do with their own sense of physicality, and their own digital manifestation as well. Digital place making is also something that I find myself moving towards.
Male 2: There’s something you said about … it’s interesting that notion of infrastructure [unclear] and whether they are the same or what layers on top of infrastructure bring [unclear]. If they are the same or if they can be seen as a softening of infrastructure perhaps to provide …
Presenter: The toilet at the end of the pipe, to use a very boring infrastructure analogy.
Matt Jones: Absolutely, yes.
Presenter: I think in this context we are narrowing the focus a bit to, I guess, infrastructure that supports creative practice, given all sorts of experiences.
Male 2: Shall we talk about how that came about?
Presenter: Yes, definitely.
Bree Trevena: And then I’ll disagree with Matt’s definition of infrastructure and get involved in a long-term terminal debate about terminology.
Presenter: Public is another really interesting term that we could riff off as well. So I guess – just for the fact that this is a recording as opposed to a visual – Testing Grounds is predominantly defined by a pretty strict back-steel grid that’s really designed to enable creative practice in as many diverse ways as possible. So the idea that this is the sort of the bare bones, and then what gets added to or clicked on, framed. How this thing then operates is very much defined by the creative activity that’s operating on any given day. So although it’s very physical and it sits on the site with quite a presence, it’s very much intended to be in the background of whatever else is going on. So I think that’s probably something. That’s why we call this infrastructure and not architecture, and I think that’s a definition that we grapple with quite a lot. But we’re very interested in something that supports and enables and frames space, which I think is really interesting going back to what you were saying before Matt. So much of what this grid actually does – which has been really wonderful to learn about – is the fact that it actually frames activity. So you don’t have people floating in space, so to speak. It’s quite a large site, but it actually frames things and it provides some sense of not safety or security, but some sense of framing really of whatever is going on. So back in the bad old days this was very much a panic – as Bree would be very familiar with – and there was a lack of that sort of definition of different spaces within the site. So it was very difficult to have multiple things going on on this site at any one time. But it’s interesting that this infrastructure holds multiple themes simultaneously.
Male 2: When we’re talking about making infrastructure manifest by visual representation …
Presenter: Because it’s super duper!
Male 2: … it does actually show the enabled process – especially with the live practice – of all those connection details.
Presenter: The fact that someone can see a bolt and know how to connect to that, or see a power point and know how to connect to that without asking permission or without feeling they’re approaching something that they shouldn’t. So that for me comes into the idea of public. These things – although we are definitely not a public site – are public and we are encouraging a public engagement with it.
Bree Trevena: There’s also a manifestation on this site of the kinds of labour maintenance practices that go into making infrastructure operate that we don’t typically see. So not having any back of house or any of those kinds of things means that those kinds of components are exposed in a way that they often aren’t, or in ways that they might be carefully hidden from view. I think this idea of infrastructure for me is very much around what is connecting and what is mediating. To my mind, infrastructure is buildings. But it’s also pipes, wires, regulatory frameworks, protocols, all of these kinds of things. I suppose the kind of scaffolding upon which everything else operates. That’s is the skeleton that everything hangs from.
Matt Jones: Do you include any connotation or any portion of design in the intersection of design and infrastructure? I accept everything that you Millie just said about this space and the difference between architecture and infrastructure, but to me this is still a very heavily and particularly designed space which I’m sure loads considerations in one direction rather than another direction.
Bree Trevena: I’ll take your question in terms of a general consideration of infrastructure rather than this particular site. I think infrastructure is often both designed and unintentionally designed, so you often set in place path dependencies etc, like the internet, which is basically an infrastructure for passing messages and communications. And there are protocols and biases that are built into it from day one because someone has designed it. Then it often goes off in directions and makes connections that you weren’t necessarily expecting. So I think in that context infrastructure is both designed and perhaps unplanned in a lot of ways that come together. I think spaces where they have highly specialised uses – something like the National Gallery or Fed Square – the infrastructure has been calibrated and thought of very carefully in terms of how digital and physical all work together. There are plenty of other infrastructures in the city where people communicate, encounter each other etc, that are again quite unplanned and go off into their own networks. In terms of this site, I would agree with you. There’s a very clear design program for it, even the intention that it is not architecture. It is infrastructure that we are going to make visible and evident; these kinds of things are a very clear design decision. It actually makes me think of things like the Pompidou Centre which is heavily designed and considered, but has all its mechanical services etc. on the outside for both practical reasons and also for reasons of making a statement around the kind of work practices and things that actually go into creating these dual-like buildings that we often consider to be quite rarefied. It shows their inner workings and puts their inside out to an extent. So yes, I think that design plays a heavy role, particularly in a site like this.
Presenter: I think the Pompidou Centre is a really great example of that, and in many ways I find it really interesting to think about that because …
Matt Jones: Pyramid deconstruction.
Bree Trevena: Assembly and disassembly.
Matt Jones: Yes.
Presenter: The Pompidou in many ways puts its infrastructure on the front and uses the infrastructure as a façade and as an attitude. I think that’s really interesting and, for us – although this is a very prominent way of sort of filling a space in an economical way here – we think about this as infrastructure that sits at the back of whatever is going on. I think that’s quite interesting with the Pompidou, in that you have to walk through that façade, you have to pass through it in order to get to the meat of the space. As an attitude for us, this has always intended to be the sort of backdrop of things, so it’s interesting. The other thing on that in terms of attitudes, especially with the architecture, you talk about highly specialised things. The way in which maybe architecture holds an aesthetic or a style; so a building represents an idea or represents a style. I think what we were really trying to do here, just to conclude with talking about Testing Grounds a little bit, is actually – more than anything – holding a set of ideas about operation. So on this site – what Bree said before about no back of house – there are operational characteristics to this site. The fact that we are seeing Ari and Trent moving things around as we’re sitting here. All this stuff is intentionally exposed, whereas in an architectural context it’s either the façade like the Pompidou or it’s hidden out the back. I think there’s a really nice relationship we have here to the back of house of the Arts Centre. So we are exposing that aspect of this site through the infrastructure, whereas we are constantly interfacing with the Arts Centre’s back of house which you never dare pass through if you’re a member of the public or if you’re visiting the Arts Centre. So it’s just interesting the way in which this structure also holds a set of attitudes, and I think it can do that because it’s framed as infrastructure, not architecture.
Matt Jones: One response to that – a response based on jealousy I think – may be relative to my old workplace because it’s really interesting that you talk like that, in a way that’s celebrating what it is and what’s exposed and actually integrating that into the overall impact that the place has on whoever happens to be here. We never resolved that, we never got to the point of that in relation to public activation. The most prosaic example I can give of that is community festivals, things that require the erection of temporary infrastructure, whether it’s marquees, stages or whatever. That stuff would always get built in public, tested in public, operated in public obviously and then disassembled in public. In here parts of that journey are equivalent. There’s no backstage or anything, and that’s cool. I don’t think me or my former colleagues ever really nailed the right note of celebration of that in that space, either aesthetically or pragmatically. Again – really prosaically – if you’re erecting a bunch of marquees for a Saturday festival, that decimates the use of the public space for the Friday beforehand, right? Friday’s a heavily used day, and there really is nothing philosophically attractive or pragmatically useful with creative commissions where plant machinery goes backwards and forwards with bits of piping sometimes. Seeing the transparency of an artist’s process play out is wonderful but, mostly in a mixed-use precinct, we never really got to the equivalent point of celebrating the consequences of the transparency of our infrastructure.
Presenter: The everydayness of the transformation.
Bree Trevena: The site that you’re talking about, though, is a very high profile site that has a number of competing focuses and agendas that are operating in it. So I think there’s some real challenges in meeting that kind of celebration.
Matt Jones: Yes. There are ways to talk it up and there are ways, as I often do or did, to revel in the contestability, the use of it and the visual anarchy that’s there sometimes. I tell you what, to a given visitor – and they are the main focus always – underpinning any conversation of infrastructure or programming is the visitor, the public. What does that actually mean to them? What does that mean to somebody who’s uninformed coming into your space? Does it add up to something meaningfully intentional that they can digest and then agree with or disagree with? Or is it just chaos?
Presenter: A similar example would be construction sites within a city. So if you think about the kind of days in a year that you’re involved in a bump-in or a bump-out at Fed Square, it’s also the percentage of land in a city that’s taken up by construction. I actually find the public are very accommodating. It’s almost like they’re black spots on people’s vision. People seem to see past it or frame it out of their travel photographs. It’s interesting. I think the public are quite forgiving to this stuff in a way.
Bree Trevena: With the Metro you can continuously see people looking through the windows that they’ve put up where you can look down into the earth that you don’t normally see. You can see all these workings, you can see the clay. It’s really interesting in coding these new manifestations, people are very excited sometimes to see the inner workings of how things are.
Matt Jones: It’s in the specific example of the City Square site which has been designed to maximise visibility of what’s going on; and the other is infrastructure. The mitigator is artwork they’ve put up on it. My understanding is there’s a possibility for a heightened degree of digital place making on that hoarding and other hoardings yet to come in this city, which is an interesting extension of that. But it seems like the two solutions or the two work-arounds in construction – especially in a heavily construction focused city like Melbourne – are letting people in to look at it and simultaneously trying to disguise it with another purpose – billboard art or LED or whatever it has to be.
Bree Trevena: I think there are probably two things here. One is, again, that kind of celebration of making, and how we make cities and spaces and how transport infrastructure has come together. And I think there’s an honesty about that when the disruption is there anyway. It’s something that people are fascinated with. In terms of the billboards etc, there’s also another way to frame that, which is an uncommon opportunity to put something in that space that you otherwise wouldn’t have. So to some extent, why not put art where you can’t normally have art and then allow it to go, and it will move around the city as transport goes? It’s very hard to distract from a bloody great hole in the ground of that size and scale, but it can be an opportunity to include some of this kind of creative practice in art in these infrastructures and start to knit that together. I think of it very much as Melbourne celebrates itself as a creative city, that I needn’t go to the NGB to see that – although I can. I should be able to see it in the street.
Matt Jones: I guess in a way – and I’m going out on a limb here – Melbourne seems … and this side is certainly particularly on manifestation … perhaps one of the reasons why there was a political culture to incubate the development and invest in something like this is that Melbourne has – at least for a couple of decades – very, very publicly celebrated infrastructure. What popped into my mind as a precursor to what you’re saying Bree about construction sites, is laneway culture in Melbourne. You take the ultimate back of house, of serviceability to our infrastructure and make that the primary tourist attraction of this town. Everything else seems to have emanated from that. Another point – I hope this conversation isn’t littered with it too much – another point of jealousy for me from my former work experience was over the near decade I was there was watching – and I’m not going to quantify it – but visually, when I first was at Fed Square in 2008, 2009, 2010, we were the go-to destination for the hero photo op, that gradually bled over to Hosier Lane and the density of the attraction then relative to the eminent public space in front of you was very confronting in a way.
Presenter: I think this city does like blurring the limits of inside/outside. There’s blurred space. It’s almost like you often don’t get to see the infrastructure. I actually think sometimes it’s hidden, but sometimes we just pass over it, as you say we have our blind spot. There’s something interesting and transgressive about being able to see it and have it in the open. I think in terms of something like this site, it lets you grapple with some really interesting questions around public spaces, creative spaces. How we actually start to use that and what is encoded in the physicality of this site; and what it says about trying to consider how we might do these things slightly differently. What kinds of things do we want from our public spaces? Do we actually want things that are totally planned? Do we want some space for actual messiness and something unplanned? And is there value in being able to see the labour and consideration that goes into that?
Male 2: One thing I wanted to maybe mention – and maybe bring this back around to the ways of celebrating those back-of-house moments or setting the scene for a performance or event – is the hosting or the care-taking kind of maintenance staff that actually operate on a site like this. The considerations where there was a very considered approach in that both Arie and Trent, who work on the site on a day-to-day basis and do the majority of those shifts changes, they’re also able to speak to the program or project, not only cables and leads and sweeping the site. They’re also creating programs and writing communications documents. They have a depth of knowledge of the site. When it comes to the simple act of giving directions for coming through the site, not only can they point in a direction, but we were really quite taken by their roles as people on site who would be able to perform multiple tasks. This becomes quite critical when you get to scale. It would be interesting to find out whether it’s possible once you scale up.
Bree Trevena: Which is interesting. I suppose this is what I was thinking about in terms of the Fed Square site; that at that scale and with the amount of activity that occurs on that site, it becomes something that can be quite challenging to celebrate because there are so many other things being celebrated and focused on in that site. I think it can be quite difficult. And baked into the DNA of this site were a lot of conversations early on around – it’s a bit glib – the art of public service and the art of caring for maintenance. In a way the site is very performative. A lot of discussions we had in the early days about creating this site harked back to things like maintenance art. So to some extent it is very much embedded in this site, in the philosophy of this site in a way that can be quite difficult to scale up. And there is something quite performative about how much of this is on display and watching people go about their work. It’s not an incidental comment on how we care for public land and the value of doing that; the nobility of doing that and of people who are engaged in labour and maintenance about public spaces. So I think that while it might be something that we can feel some envy for, it’s also something that is a critical point of this space, in a way that there are a series of other agendas that are being served there.
Matt Jones: Yes, a series of other agendas. The scalability point stands to reason.
Bree Trevena: Because I would argue if you were trying to set up for as many people as you might get at Fed Square, you would start to worry.
Presenter: We’ve got 650 at 3 o’clock today!
Bree Trevena: Sweep that pyramid Arie!
Matt Jones: I’ll give a quick response to that. But ask a question in reply about the constituent users of your space maybe in that, in my experience, a lot of your core staff – a lot of the staff as the landlords approximate Arie or Trent’s investments in multi-faceted functionality in a site. That also manifested in the number of proprietors of the individual businesses in Fed Square, but by and large the staff of the various tenants – no. Never really to any meaningful quantity did it trickle down to a waiter of a bar serving an ambassadorial function for the whole site. It is more unlikely than likely that if you were to head across to Fed Square right now and ask a random security guard – he’d probably be a social labourer or a given member of a team in one of the 40 tenancies – what was happening in the other 39, they’d be able to or even probably give you basic way-finding directions. So obviously the scale is here and that, at the core, it does function like that. But the concentric circles of vested interests, not so much. I wonder how your experiences have been, because yes, it’s a small site, but you’ve had quite the volume of usage which means you’ve got a lot of stakeholders who have had even for short periods of time a stake in the infrastructure, a stake in the place. I wonder how much agency you find has transferred to them.
Bree Trevena: I think one thing that happens here is that the attitudes that we were talking about before within the physical infrastructure carry through to the operations. Like the way we write an operations manual, and also the way we write the programming and the call for expressions of interest. So they are the same attitudes – and I think it’s a scale thing – they are able to transfer from physical to programmatic to operational; and I think that’s the thing that doesn’t scale up when you, say, go to a staff of 400 people. How do you actually instil an attitude within an operation of a site? I think that’s the trick. Thinking about infrastructure as not necessarily a physical thing but actually as a thing that has, maybe, something that provides a baseline support for any number of outcomes. I think it’s interesting to think about it from a … the infrastructure here of the program, for instance the fact that it’s a rolling and open-ended expression of interest; the expression-of-interest application form is part of the infrastructure here and the attitude that carries through it is that it never closes, it’s always open. So I think it’s able to carry through and affect those who use it quite directly for those reasons.
Male 2: And very much the licence that’s given to those stakeholders, and that they’re given quite a decent amount of agency. They can climb up. Safety is in place. The size of the site allows for close observation and at the same time it allows for the people to use it. Artists and the like actively manipulate a change and open and close it as they like.
Presenter: That goes to the fact that we’re temporary which I think is a nice way to start talking about policy and particularly, for instance, Creative Victoria’s sector. We are temporary, so we don’t necessarily have a legacy that we’re trying to preserve. I think that’s something that has given everyone, and us, a lot of freedom to give people agency who use the site. Because if that doesn’t kind of work, there’s not much reputation on the line. We’re always going to close anyway. So I guess that’s really interesting, yes, to think more about infrastructure from a policy point of view, maybe, and that’s sort of the back of house of producing policy. In particular I’m thinking of a creative state, where there is actually a lot on the line and there is a lot that, as infrastructure, is doing that maybe isn’t exposed and isn’t open-ended in terms of those qualities that we’re talking about. But at the same time it’s still creative infrastructure.
Bree Trevena: Yes. Speaking personally now, I keep thinking about this term ‘creative infrastructure’ because there is infrastructure for creative use, however we determine that to be. But there is also creative use of infrastructure, and in terms of something like Creative State, you see this decisive policy move. In Victoria we moved from Arts Victoria to Creative Victoria, it moves from the Department of Premier and Cabinets to the long acronym, DEDJTR, the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources. I can only say it quickly as one word, I cannot do it slowly, but after a year I would forget. I think there is this fascinating moment which reminds me of Loren Ballance writing about infrastructure. She talks about infrastructure for troubling times, and she says that when infrastructure needs repair or maintenance or replacement, that is the best time to actually tinker with it. Because that’s when you can actually make a change to it, you can change the platform, not that they are necessarily in that space but it’s in a transitional space moving from one model that was very prominent from the 70s –which was very much around funding and administrating – to one that a little more combines funding and administration with brokering, facilitation and producing spatial context and urban context in a way that it hasn’t in the past. Inherent in the Creative State policy – I think it’s a four-year policy with a number of very tight actions – is that this is a transitional time and that we will spend this time considering and looking at how all of the different infrastructures. This includes how we engage with our public, many publics; how we engage with the sector, how people have conversations about this including quite a significant digital and physical engagement with people to talk about what their views were, what they would like to see, what they would not like to see. There are spaces and a site like this is, to some extent, a bit of a physical embodiment of this kind of transitional time. Having these conversations about: can we do infrastructure differently? Can we build differently? Can we create the space differently? Where can we find and carve out the spaces where we can experiment and allow it to be a little bit more flexible, and how can we have those conversations with a broader group of people than perhaps we’ve had in the past? I think the policy architecture is a really interesting one and an incredibly challenging one; it has physical manifestations including this, including things like the Creative State engagement process which is now a digital archive, which is this extraordinary space where many people have been able to have this discussion digitally and physically. So there is kind of physical manifestation that comes from that. Sorry Matt, you were going to say?
Matt Jones: I was going to follow on and ask you a question about your role in the nascent development. I’m sorry if this is picking terminology but the difference or the contrast between being informed by the temporary and the open-ended – how much of that was a consideration here with regard to that because, when I think of open-ended, I think more of a Fed Square. There is no cut-off date but it’s open-ended in the sense that the use might well change and change fundamentally, as indeed it is going to change fundamentally with the level of capital redevelopment and site use. So it’s open-ended. The end of Mark I is coming and it will come with that Apple store – which isn’t a loaded comment about Apple, but it is. It is a statement of fact, things will change. Temporary is ostensibly what you’ve had here. There’s this end date but the end date does keep shifting and getting pushed back a bit, so in a way the formality here is temporary but really it has been more open-ended.
Presenter: I think it’s also about uncertain futures. We have uncertainty around the future of the site, the program. And we also have uncertainty around what’s to be learnt from this. It’s not a physical open endedness, it’s more about …
Matt Jones: Quite.
Bree Trevena: When I think about Fed Square, I think of it less as open-ended and more as open edges, like there’s this kind of core of what it is physically and conceptually and philosophically. And then there is space that moves around the edges of that and things come in and come out and there is this kind of flow. This site – I guess in terms of temporariness – the initial incarnation of this site was an agreement for six months, and it was working. People were enjoying it and there were no plans, and then there was this extension. But then certainly this incarnation is not temporary in the same way, but I think certainly something that – again I don’t know if this was a government view or just my view – I was quite interested in what is this luminal space. It’s ‘not a pop-up’, it’s not there for 50 or 100 years. Can we build a bit more flexibly for practice and explore what it might look like for three to five years? This may be absolutely in no way suitable after that or we might need to pivot after two years and say OK, it didn’t really work, we haven’t spent … It can be changed. It’s not so special.
Matt Jones: That timeframe that you articulate, that is quite pioneering. There aren’t really many contexts that I’m aware of that get to play with a three to five year outlook.
Bree Trevena: Strangely it’s quite a hard concept to explain. It’s difficult to not start thinking longevity after that period of time, and how do you plan three to five years ahead? So, you’re right. There are very few spaces that have that, so there aren’t very many prototypes of it. But when I think about changing modes of practice, modes of audience engagement, the amount of land that is available for potentially that period of time, but not necessarily longer, or might have a slightly uncertain future, I wonder if there are different modes and models that we can take from something like this that is not about popping up, popping down. And not necessarily having a bigger impact. Can you have a meaningful impact for a period of time and then move out? And can this then move to other sites and can you let it go? This is also another interesting question.
Matt Jones: Very much so.
Bree Trevena: Because ‘what is temporary’ often people become quite attached to and, as I said, some permanency. This is not my idea, I stole it from Barnaby Bennett’s thing. He made this interesting point when he was talking about cycles of temporality that we don’t say permanent architecture or permanent infrastructure, we just say ‘there’. But we do characterise temporary, and temporary we do think of as this kind of short term. It’s interesting when you take this slightly longer view. Can that longer view give you space and time and capacity to explore a few different things and kind of push the edges? And if this didn’t work, you’d try something else.
Presenter: It allows risk as well. That maybe it allows a risk-taking attitude because you call it temporary. It de-risks the kind of pressure that it has if it’s not called temporary.
[Male 2 off mic]
Bree Trevena: Yes. This kind of interface architecture is really interesting in the concept of a period of transition and a period of transition at a city scale or at a policy scale. It can be very quick, but more often it is a longer period of time; and so it’s an interesting space to be able to hold these questions. You don’t necessarily have all the answers, but it gives you a place to hold them in a way and to start thinking about what it might mean if you were to … including things like – very prosaic things – would it be a lot cheaper or would it not? Would it, in fact … had you put the same amount of cash into great infrastructure, you’d have to take it down. So you could have put something up that was quite expensive. So testing all these ideas I think around temporariness that temporary is quick, cheap, easy, no risk. Is it really? Sometimes, sometimes not. So this gives you a space also to test those things and how much do you actually need to put into a site like this and is it worth it for the people who are involved? Is it worth it for whoever is the kind of owner of that site and what do people get out of that for that longer period of time? Having sites like this I think lets us explore and flex around those questions, and that we probably don’t have very many spaces to think about them otherwise.
Matt Jones: No, but I think it’s interesting how it begins in a broader sense, broader than just the creative sector. I think this begins to seep into people’s thinking more culturally. By sheer coincidence I was at a breakfast the other day and was sitting next to a fellow who works for Infrastructure Victoria. What I took away, what he was sharing with me was how that entity which is responsible for so much validation of infrastructure and legacy that may outlast all of us in one way or another, or not. They are inflicting that organisation with much more of a medium-horizon culture of thinking. Part of that is the exponential rate of technological development. Part of that is because of the apparently perpetual cycle of one-term governments and the politicisation of major projects in this state, but obviously well beyond this state as well. There might not be any examples of this type of site being manifested on the ground yet, but I feel it’s coming and it’s probably coming in a whole range of different sectors and in a whole range of different manifestations. If folks like that are talking about it and are not focused on, just delivering advice to ensure that infrastructure x is sustainable for 30 or 50 or 100 years. If they’re building that flexibility into the heart of the DNA of what they’re recommending, then I think that says something pretty profound in terms of a cultural shift of thinking.
Presenter: We are moving away from this binary of ‘it’s temporary’ or ‘it’s there forever’. ‘Temporary’ and ‘there forever’ is what, the building life? You’d be lucky to get 50 years. It’s a bit of a grandfather’s axe by the time you’ve replaced every component.
Matt Jones: Maybe we are, but I think the rhetoric of it has become more … the very fact that the phrase ‘disruption’ is now a cliché, perpetual disruption means that maybe … of course we’ve always been in transition. Maybe the pace is speeding up, but it’s so much more a part of populous discourse now than I think it has ever been.
Bree Trevena: To drag it back to something very pragmatic and this site. There is a transition in that this site was not being used for something. There’s a huge amount of work going on in this area from the City of Melbourne, University of Melbourne, State Government. There was a kind of clear ‘yes we are in this spot and we would like to get to this spot and we’re going to work out how to do that’. There are also very actualised transitions in terms of those government changes that we were talking about earlier. So I think while we’re always evolving and we’re always in transition, there are some very clear points.
Male 2: Very much. You need to be able to define those and see new policy, departments and institutions, look at those and clearly define …
Bree Trevena: I think it’s probably rare. This project is probably quite unusual in its being able to have some very kind of distinct punctuation marks. This site happened, there was a new government department created in Creative Victoria. This site was a response to a lot of the conversations that were starting to happen for this new policy development. So I think you can do a correlation with this particular site in a way that’s quite concretised. It’s a very concrete manifestation of a lot of those conversations, including a shift from the initial Testing Grounds model to something that now has a tagline of creative practice moving from Arts Victoria to Creative Victoria. There are a number of similar ideas. I think for me personally it was very interesting how many comments in the public engagement process involved space and what we should do with space and how creative practice and arts engaged with space in the public realm. What should we do with heritage? All of these kinds of conversations have always been there, but certainly not central in a policy context. And this site – I suppose, just happens in a certain way, a certain way through intent and a certain way through a confluence of things – talks to a lot of those questions. Also what does it mean to have an arts precinct, and what do we want in an arts precinct, and what does that mean to us, and can we think about community in collective cities in a slightly different way by taking something like a somewhat branded arts district and actually inserting some additional kinds of creative practice and arts practice and audiences and participation in those kinds of processes? So I think this kind of transitional period is very visible and front of mind for this particular site.
Presenter: And so thinking less about maybe physical infrastructure for a minute and just coming back to …
Bree Trevena: I have to go in ten minutes.
Presenter: I’m interested in the lessons that can be learnt from thinking about infrastructure in different ways – infrastructure, digital or non-physical infrastructure or infrastructure as written policy or infrastructure in different, an analogous relationship to I guess this infrastructure.
Male 2: Seeing as we have five minutes to go, shall we talk about projections into the future, like future creative, future infrastructure?
Presenter: Yes, exactly. Riffing off the transitional and things that aren’t … the move towards things that are not permanent, or the understanding that things are not permanent. For instance, thinking about this as a three to five year project and thinking Creative State as maybe a three to five year … an election cycle policy. So things that have maybe longer-term influences on the future that actually are transitional, so are not thought about as permanent. Infrastructures that aren’t thought about as permanent, that have a reach maybe into the future.
Male 2: I was thinking more … Are there, in the roles that both Matt and Bree have been working in for a decade thereabouts, do they see – maybe you’ve already talked to this a little – do you see there are some key things coming through that may be informative around infrastructure?
Matt Jones: I’ve got one short point. I think it’s going to be short. You all might vehemently disagree with me and fair enough. I perceive a gap, and I’m going to talk about Melbourne and, really glibly, I perceive a gap between certain segments of the arts creative centre and the tech entrepreneurial sector. I think there’s a slowly coming new era of digital infrastructure or digitally enabled infrastructure, by which I mean everything from public digital screens to internet of every style. It enables value to added services to create practice in public and all that stuff. I think there’s a gap, or there’s an opportunity between the small to medium scale talent base in the tech sector in Melbourne, and the small to medium scale broader practising creative sector in Melbourne. I know there are points of intertext in there and there are a lot of folk – I know this predominantly from hosting a lot of conferences through the venue management side of what I’ve done –who have talent and who have a common denominator of interest, especially in what you’ve defined as infrastructure as being supporting and open-ended, serving a nurturing facilitating function that isn’t defined by historical timeframes. I think there’s a gap between that and the level of digital innovation which is going on here. I think that the most successful examples of intersecting are, at the moment, in the commercial sector. I don’t think it has penetrated the arts, the creative sector as much as it can and hopefully will. Sorry, that’s half an answer, half a contention I guess.
Bree Trevena: I don’t disagree with you Matt. I normally like to, at least for an interesting conversation. I think there’s a gap. At the same time these conversations are increasingly being had and they are ends of a spectrum. There’s a kind of blurring in the middle, and the blurring is often the kind of interesting part and component of it. This site is interesting in terms of it having a digital archive, but it doesn’t necessarily engage particularly much in that space. I think it is a challenging contention to hold under the same umbrella practices that are commercially focused, that have deep creative input, and those that are less commercially focused. I don’t know what my point is here. I don’t think I have one.
Male 2: I think we’ll wrap it up.
Presenter: I don’t really know anything about the commercial sector so I’ve got no idea what to say. I’m like “Oh, what’s that”.
Matt Jones: Them, there.
Presenter: Them bastards with their advertising widgets. I have no idea, no.
Matt Jones: We’re quoting the Herald Sun, not the arts centre just for the record.
[Signing off call]
|Southbank Arts Precinct|| 2018
|Material Matters 1 – Brick|| 2018
|Memory Lane|| 2012
|Critical Mass|| 2018
|Floating Garden|| 2014
|Views from the Inside|| 2018
|Continuously Under Construction 2 – Hostile Infrastructure|| 2019
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We respectfully acknowledge elders – past, present and emerging. And we extend our deepest respects to all First Nations peoples. In the context of the work we do, we express gratitude for our shared connection through place, to the oldest continuing cultures on earth.
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