How temporary artworks change the way we see the world

A free outdoor art gallery has transformed the streets of Werribee City Centre, temporarily changing the way locals perceive and interact with their city.

For several years, the temporary public art program RED CENTRE has transformed Werribee City Centre into a free outdoor art gallery, using artistic imagination to change the way people perceive familiar streets and locations.

‘It’s a subtle yet visually overt way to program outside of traditional Christmas activations and decorations,’ Wyndham City Council Arts & Culture Team Leader Tegan Lang said.

‘And what is especially exciting about this program, because the works are temporary, it allows us to be more ambitious and experimental than when we’re working in the permanent commissioning realm.’

As in previous years, a range of local artists and others from across Melbourne, including Atong Atem, Ash Keating, Ceardai Demelza, Buff Diss and Jessica Jane, have been commissioned to create ephemeral new artworks for RED CENTRE across a range of media, from painting and photography to street art and light-based installations.

Each work is connected, however subtly, by visually referencing the colour red, Lang explained.

‘For the artists that we work with, their brief is quite broad. The overall component that ties everything together is the colour red, so whether that is done in a bold way or a subtle way, there is some connection to that colour that creates connection through palette in the public space,’ she told ArtsHub.

Gravity System Response, Ash Keating, 2020, image by wani.

Not only do the artworks bring a freshness to familiar streets for City of Wyndham residents; their seasonal placement also serves to encourage visitors to Werribee City Centre, helping stimulate the local economy after months of lockdown-enforced closure. And in this COVID-safe era of social distancing, the outdoor nature of RED CENTRE is especially appealing, Lang added.

‘This year particularly, given COVID, RED CENTRE has a resonance and an importance that is possibly unique. The commissioning sites for this program have been quiet and unused for much of this year.’

Also unique are the vivid, imaginative and sometimes even controversial works created for RED CENTRE, with Ash Keating’s work, Gravity System Response – created using paint-filled fire extinguishers, using the Wyndham Cultural Centre’s café wing as his canvas – generating particular debate this year.

Lang is encouraged to see such conversations taking place. ‘In terms of public art, it ruptures, it challenges, it creates points of connection and civic pride. It can also encourage a huge amount of debate. Particularly at the moment, the conversation that’s happening with Ash’s work is very much around that challenging of the perception of “what is art?” The community is having very rigorous discussions around that question, and from my perspective, those conversations are hard to navigate in the world that we live in, but I’m always grateful that they’re happening,’ she explained.

The role of art in activating public space and in building confidence in exploring urban environments after the pandemic is a query that the program explores. Given that the Wyndham Cultural Centre’s café has been closed since the start of COVID-19, Keating’s vivid and dynamic intervention has given the empty building a new lease of life.

‘The whole café annex has been his canvas for the work. He’s chosen this great colour palette of red ochres, fluros and white, and created the work in the early hours of a Sunday morning. It sits right on the corner of Wedge and Watton Streets in Werribee and looks pretty phenomenal. Visually, it’s a huge intersection into people’s lives. It is a real standout piece and while discussion about it has somewhat ebbed now, it did create a huge amount of discussion,’’ Lang explained.

‘At the conclusion of RED CENTRE, these temporary works will disappear, with the facades returning to their original state.’

Towards, Atong Atem, 2020 image by wani

Other works commissioned and created for RED CENTRE include Atong Atem’s Towards, a digital collage of photography and dried, scanned flowers which responds to the ‘Great Pause’ of 2020 by evoking a sense of forward movement and momentum; and Indigo Rourke’s Heart Hands, a visual thank you to Melburnians for their collective effort in slowing the spread of the Coronavirus by enduring a punishingly long lockdown.

‘Sometimes public art is a challenge to people’s perceptions of their sense of their own place and experience in the community, the program is big, bold and beautiful and after months of seeing our public spaces unused, abandoned and  also perceived with a sense of danger when intersecting in them, we are delighted that this program is up.  It encourages us to think about how we respond to change and difference,’ Lang said.

‘An emergence of colour and new experiences in our community is something that we should always encourage; something that we should always claim as humans trying to be kind to each other.’

In addition to this program, Wyndham City has created a new projection event called BLINK running from 10 – 20 Dec at Werribee Park.  

Learn more about RED CENTRE. Artworks are on show until 18 January 2021.

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on Three Triple R FM, and serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management. Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Living Legend in 2017. In 2020 he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize. Most recently, Richard was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Green Room Awards Association in June 2021. Follow him on Twitter: @richardthewatts