Words by Ella Shi
Photos by Kevin Hawkins
Melburnians tend to jump at the idea of any kind of cultural celebration, especially if it’s in honour of their glorious namesake. However, given its vague title, the Melbourne Now exhibition doesn’t seem to spark the same level of interest a prominent international exhibition does. Melburnians, particularly city dwellers, would most likely feel they already know what Melbourne is all about. But this exhibit encompasses far more than graffiti-covered laneways, quirky cafes and iconic landmarks such as Flinders St station. Spanning across two locations and featuring over a hundred artists, Melbourne Now provides an opportunity to feel a bit like a tourist in your own city. And the best part is it’s free!
The exhibition tells us that Melbourne is a city eager for the future. It’s a city that is more concerned with the abstract than the concrete, with a particular emphasis on social issues. Artworks address everything from culture, gender, and Aboriginal identity, to individual and community concerns. A visual project entitled ‘ZOOM’, curated by Ewan McEoin, is an example of this, giving an empirical analysis of Melbourne’s social landscape, alongside personal thoughts and values augmented from visitor surveys.
Though Melbourne Now accurately reflects a city where there are voices calling for change, the quirkiness of some displays can detract from their underlying message. However, the high level of interactivity can be seen as an attempt to encourage individual action. Its varied composition allows the visitor to take away from it what they would like to (quite literally in some cases) and those hunting for fun can definitely find it. Alternatively, if one chooses to focus on heavier social issues there are equally as many artworks to draw upon. Like the aspiration of its city, the exhibition relies on people engaging with it.
Those who consider it a bit tame and walk away slightly disappointed would do best to remember that it can only present what Melburnians have to offer. Melbourne Now does not attempt to orientate where we are heading but challenges what the future should hold. We should not only be involved but be inspired by it.