Artist brings her country to Melbourne’s Art Trams

The winning tram was designed by Hayley Millar-Baker.

By NATHAN JOHN

The seven designs for the 2018 Melbourne Art Trams will roll out on October 4 with Hayley Millar-Baker’s design in the lead.

 The Gunditjmara artist, who specialises in photographic imagery, has designed a tram that will launch the Art Trams, which also include works by local artists including a  secondary school student.

Millar-Baker first became aware of the Melbourne Art Trams in 2016, after seeing Kamilaroi artist Reko Rennie’s “always was, always will be” design.

“When I saw that – and that refers to Always Was, Always Will Be Aboriginal Land – that just blew my mind and I thought he’s just killed it,” she said.

Reko Rennie’s “always was, always will be” tram in 2016.

Millar-Baker, who began her artistic training in painting, moved into photographic assemblage where she rebuilt pictures from archival images inherited from her grandfather.

“When I was looking through the images … there was a huge gap with culture,” she said.

“I guess that was a product of the time, that was the early ’60s.”

Millar-Baker said she was saddened her culture wasn’t visible to her mum and her sisters when they were growing up, and wanted to give the images a second life so they could experience it.

“That’s where I started storytelling, breathing new life into photographs and then it evolved from there.

“I talk a lot about inter-generational stories and experiences.”

Many existing trams are covered by advertisements.

Millar-Baker’s tram design contains 28 photographs and between 60 and 70 layers, a low figure compared with her other work.

“It’s my mother walking across our country with a few of our totems behind her following and some other fauna,” Millar-Baker said.

“The animals and her are walking in the way the tram pushes forward. For me it’s bringing my country, which is Gunditjmara, into Melbourne.

“The animals that I’ve used are totems from a lot of different mob, so it’ll be nice for people to see it and just feel comfortable.”

The other winning designs in the sixth year of the public art project are by Oslo Davis, Nick Howson, Stephen Baker, Oli Ruskidd, Troy Innocent and Year 9 student Valerie Tang.

For the first time, an eighth design will be a recreation of an original Transporting Art work  by the late expressionist painter David Larwill.

Larwill’s work was commissioned in 1986 as part of the United Nations International Year of Peace; for 2018, his W-Class tram will be photographed and adjusted to fit a modern tram design, then printed on adhesive vinyl and applied to the tram.

Melbourne illustrator Oslo Davis’s design celebrates swimming.

Oslo Davis was another winning entrant with his swimming-themed design.

“Living in the city can get intense at summertime and often we’re trying to find a way to get out of the heat and have a swim,” he said.

“I liked the idea of just seeing heads bobbing above the water or the arms and legs flowing and floating freely below.

“The length of the tram kind of suits that in a way, the cross-section of a swimming pool.”

Davis said it was significant that local artists were given public space that was usually taken up for commercial purposes.

“It’s so nice to live in a city that has the capacity to pay artists to make work that is just pure and simply for the enjoyment of the public for free.”

ArtsHub Performing Arts Editor Richard Watts agreed.

”It’s trying to give us an aesthetic experience, a short sharp break from the everyday to … present us with art when we’re least expecting it,” he said.

“I think it’s a delightful gift.”

The art trams will be showcased in Melbourne until early 2019.