Sunday, August 29, 2004

Neon forum says light up the Cross

Arts vision emerging for Kings Cross

The art of neon, and its history in Kings Cross, were displayed and expounded at a forum held yesterday afternoon in a small white art gallery in Roslyn Street.

About 40 people gathered to hear artists and advocates speak in a room lit by neon signs and sculptures, watching projected displays which included a history of neon -- using archival material supplied by Claude Neon -- and studies of public neon art from around the world.

The event is part of a wider local backlash from the Cross about Council's strict new signage regime which would effectively ban the use of neon in external signage. While Clover Moore has already responded by saving some of the more prominent signs (mostly belonging to strip clubs), businesses are alarmed at the tiny passive signage they will be limited to, and many residents dislike the uniform dullness that will result.

Two business associations are petitioning Council for a revision of the rules -- the Kings Cross Partnership and the newly formed Cross Business which represents shopfronts and smaller businesses.

Jo Holder, convenor of the forum, said in her talk that the first neon sign in Australia had been in Kings Cross. Her slide show featured the making of the famous Coke Sign at the top of William Street.

Artist/architect Peter McGregor, who designed the popular light installation in Llankelly Place, showed some of his successful projects including the neon street decorations erected in Chinatown for the Olympics. This, he said, came quickly to fruition because of pressure from the Olympics, unlike most public art projects which reach stage two or three and get buried by bureaucrats. (See link in headline)

A perfect example was the 'Tunnel of Love' work he had conceived for Springfield Plaza with South Sydney Council. It was to be a series of stepped square archways designed as a portal between residential streets and the strip. Using programmable LED light displays facing the strip, the predominantly pink light was to be suffused through steamlike clouds emerging from beneath the pavement.

McGregor said the project foundered after the first forced council amalgamation and the imposition of Frank Sartor's Gateway design which called for a road to be put through the Plaza. This retrograde idea was shouted down by local opposition but the art project remained on the shelf.

New plans for the Plaza are simply yet another unremarkable grey slab designed by Frank Sartor's pet team who also brought us the Cook+Phillip Park slab, fortunately rescued from universal disdain after its enthusiastic adoption by skateboarders. Many locals have called for public art in the Plaza but there have been no encouraging noises from council.

Yours truly spoke, putting an argument that turning out the lights would kill the Cross, and that the way to reinvigorate the place was to build on and improve what the Cross already is -- an entertainment, tourist and red-light Mecca.

I noted that three banks are leaving the strip for the more salubrious Macleay Street and it is clear that these and the new Woolworths were drawing the retail centre north. With 50 empty shops already in the Cross, killing its attraction to the thousands of visitors it receives each week would be madness, a rejection of the 'goodwill' that has built up over many decades. Like all cities, Sydney needed a red light/backpacker focus, so to turn out the lights in the Cross would only make Sydney duller, more uniform and less attractive to visitors.

The forum was chaired by Councillor Phillip Black who also heads Council's cultural committee. Mr Black, who is a heritage expert, took part enthusiastically in the forum and indeed was spotted two hours earlier in the Strip earnestly noting details of buildings, awnings and signage in the street.

Council has produced a heritage assessment of illuminated signage in the Cross which says that although few of the existing neon signs are early, 'the present signs continue the 'tradition' of illuminated advertising that has characterised the locality since... World War II.'

Other speakers included Anne Stephen from the Powerhouse Museum which is behind the preservation of the Golf House animated neon near Central and the giant AWA sign from the AWA tower. Both would end up on display in a warehouse at Castle Hill, a revelation not welcomed by the forum. Better to keep them in place, it was thought, or shown nearby.

The forum was hosted by The Cross Art and Books, in lower Roslyn Street opposite St Luke's Hospital. Neons, paintings and photographs will be on display there until the now weighty date of September 11.

by Michael Gormly

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fifty empty shops! How come there is not a word from our local member of parliament. When the Liverpool complex closed down last week the public and membersof parliament went nuts.

Clover never never talks about business. Why?