Here in sunny Sydney we do a lot of things right. We have beautiful parks and gardens, stunning beaches, great restaurants and some inspiring architecture.

But there is one area in which we get it oh-so-conspicuously wrong. Bad wrong. Tragic wrong. Sad, sad, sad wrong.

Public Art. Sydney is really good at making really bad public art.

I find myself currently in the process of designing a public art work1 and my philosophical musings have ranged far and wide in an effort not to commit some of the same atrocities I have witnessed around me. As a consequence, I have amassed a sizeable collection of these artistic clunkers and, well, I feel duty bound not to keep the hoard to myself.

So Cow-o-philes, here begins a series of posts about the bad public art of the Harbour City. A kind of Bad Public Art Guided Tour of Sydney, if you will.

There is so much of this stuff that it’s hard to know where to start, so let me begin by introducing you to one of my local tragedies: The Garbage Bins of Newtown.

Slug Bin

I can’t actually recall the date that the plain trash bins along King Street were first clad in these appalling – I don’t even know what to call them – sculptures? I walk past them every day and I still can’t tell you what I’m meant to be gleaning from these works.

Closer Bin Slugs

Are those things slugs? Dog turds? Flatworms? As near as I can make out, they appear to be making their way out of the top of the bin to conglomerate in a wormy mass near the bottom:

Even more slugs

Seriously: what process went on in the artist’s brain?

Garbage bins. Newtown. Hmmm. Lots of dogs in Newtown. Dog turds. Garbage. Slimy. Attracts slugs. And flatworms. Yeah, flatworms. People on their way to work early in the morning. See garbage bins every day. Bright morning sun. Sleepy commuters getting ready for the day. Dog turds. Flatworms. Slugs.

Attached to some of the bins are little plaques with scrawly handwriting:

Bin Writing

… but this writing does not explain the slugs. In fact, even a quick perusal confirms that it is the ravings of a complete lunatic (which does put us some way down the path to an explanation, I guess…).

Now, I really hesitate to speculate on how much it cost to make these things, because I know it is going to make me feel even more nauseous than the dog turd/flatworm/slug motif. But they can’t have been cheap – the slugs themselves appear to be cast in bronze and inlaid in stainless steel sheets. There are four panels on each bin. About ten bins (maybe more). Plus, presumably, the artist was paid something for these (I’m in two minds about this – on the one hand I really hope for their sake it was a LOT because let’s face it, it’s not something they’re ever going to put on their resumé. On the other hand, I suppose I helped pay for this out of my taxes).

So, I am left with these weighty questions:

How can anyone have thought this was a good idea? Does anyone actually like these? Or am I the only one who’s ever noticed? Does the person on the council who commissioned them ever catch the bus first thing in the morning?

Google Maps reference for King St, Newtown, Australia.

  1. I say ‘public’ but I should clarify – my aural artwork will appear where only the very wealthy will experience it, but it is in a space that by proper definition is public. Anyone can hear it, if they can afford it… []