International SketchCrawl (TM) #34, Sydney (preparation) – ANZAC War Memorial (4)

January 14, 2012

Edwards, Deborah. ‘This Vital Flesh’: The Sculpture of Rayner Hoff and his School. Art Gallery of NSW, 1999.

Recent questions arising from a look at Sydney’s ANZAC War Memorial in Hyde Park have been answered by this book. It is a series of essays covering Rayner Hoff as sculptor and his involvement in the ANZAC Memorial, written from a distinctinly post-modern perspective with a lot of attention to women and the body.

Q.1. Where does the philosophical and aesthetic concept for the Memorial originate, given it is so distant from Victorian Revivalism of the times? A. Bergsonian Vitalism lies at the heart of Hoff’s work. As a migrant from England and having served in WW1, Hoff saw Australia as a refuge from war, a place where  he could contribute to the aesthetic realisation of a new cultural identity. 

Q.2. How come women form an equal part with men in Rayner’s concept for the Memorial? A. Hoff’s Vitalism ensured an equality between men and women, both in the construction of the sculpture (Hoff’s female students at the East Sydney Technical College – now the National Art School, Darlinghurst) and in his sculptures for the Memorial (the prominence given to nurses and the impact on women of war).

Q.3. Where does the notion of a temple/shrine for the Memorial come from? A. Men in Sydney at the time wanted something functional, i.e. a very large RSL club, but Sydney women (who played a central role in fund-raising) wanted a shrine to both men and women. Men eventually got their suburban RSL clubs, while women got a temple/shrine which some would say today is relatively unvisited and forgotten in the heart of a Sydney park. Sydney women also got a memorial which represented women but not more than minimally.

Q.4. Is there a Commonwealth Bank connection? A. It’s obvious to anyone living in Sydney that a surprising number of Art Deco buildings were built for the Commonwealth Bank as suburban bank branches during the 1930s. It seems that there a Deputy Governor of the bank as trustee of the ANZAC Memorial Commission.  The CBA must have adopted the ‘new’ Art Deco architectural style as part of its marketing strategy, combining both modernism and strength.

Q.5. What about the sculptures condemned by Christian churches? A. As we know the Memorial is unfinished, given that Christians refused to accept sculptures portraying women and war. War was seen as the preserve of men only.

Q.6. What about the male nude in the sculpture, “Sacrifice”? A. This is the only WW1 war memorial featuring a sculpture of a naked male. It has been mis-read as an adolescent: it reflects however the fact that a vast number of AIF soldiers were single men under 25.  Note particularly the way the male’s head is supported by the open palm of the hand of the mother below the shield, as seen at ground level.

Q.7. What about the connection between the Memorial and the M. Barnard Eldershaw novel, “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”? A. This novel jointly written by Marjorie Barnard and Flora Eldershaw has to be in the Top 5 of any list for the GAN (Great Australian Novel). It is set in the future but recalls Sydney of the 1930s; the Memorial is described in terms of being an archaeological dig (pages 14-17). 

Q.8. What is the social context for Art Deco in Australia? A. Deep sectarian division between Catholics and Protestants; fear of the social degeneration brought by modernity; fear of the disruption of the family and traditional gender roles (breakup of the family unit with the return of damaged, ineffectual fathers from the war during which time women were active members of the workforce and the war over, relegated to the kitchen; fear of the loss of a characteristic Australian cultural based on egalitarianism and mateship (a product of war); intensification of the ideological conflict between capital and albour (the Bolshevik Revolution 1918, formation of the Fascist New Guard and the Popular Front against Fascism, both of which attracted many returned soliders (page 25 of the book). With a tweak here and there (multiculturalism and refugees, the glass ceiling for women, the global financial crisiis and the Occupy movement, contemporary industrial relations and productivity improvements), you’d have to say this is an apt description of Sydney in 2012!

References

M. Barnard Eldershaw, Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow. London, Virago, 1983. An edition restoring cuts made by wartime censors. 

www.artdecoworld.com – Central business district Art Deco bank buildings

http://artdecoheritage.blogspot.com – covers Sydney suburban Art Deco Commonwealth Bank buildings at Cronulla Street, Cronulla; 6 The Strand Croydon; 219 Victoria Rd Gladesville, 58 Spit Rd Spit Junction, 546 George St Sydney, 31 Hall St Bondi, 204 Victoria Rd Drummoyne, 6-8 Norton St Leichhardt, 259 Oxford St Paddington, 79-81 Pacific Hwy Roseville and 212 Homer St Earlwood. Other similar buildings exist at Princes Hwy Tempe and Sutherland.

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