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Brisbane's Concrete Jungle: Eco-Art and the Cityscape


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When you think Brisbane, your mind probably strays to images of skyscrapers and Steve Irwin. Street art? Maybe not so much. But what you might dismiss as just another metropolitan hub has more to its art scene than first meets the eye.

Credit: RudyBalasko

Whilst tourists might flock to the rainforests for a true jungle experience, Brisbane offers a more urban alternative. It takes a 'concrete jungle' to heart in its uniquely eco-friendly approach to site-specific projects, often reusing or upcycling materials to rework them into a fresh piece. Concealed in ordinary streets hang metal nuts spilling their contents onto the ground, casting skyscrapers as trees and concrete as the forest floor.

Walk Brisbane, a walking tour company founded and run by local people, offers immersive tours around the city, delving into bars, coffee shops, and historical sites. Best of all, you get a native insight into the swirl of the city from someone who really knows the ins and outs of the area. I was lucky enough to go on an amalgamation of their Art & Design tour and their Laneways Cafe Tour, which combined tastings at hidden gem coffeehouses and an exploration of Brisbane’s artistic highlights.

‘Steam’ by Donna Marcus is a great example of green eco-art. Our tour guide Lee-Ann told us that Marcus repurposed a set of spherical fountains which fell into disuse during drought season into intricate metal spheres, placed wherever a set of marbles rolled on a map of the city.

Brisbane City Council also commissioned a set of scrap metal kangaroos on Brisbane’s benches and street corners. Local artist Christopher Trotter designed ‘City Roos’, which can be found lounging about on George Street. The sculptures are where various Australian industries intersect, using discarded material from a range of arts and professions to critique the notion of ‘making do’. They’re a great indicator that you’re actually in Australia even before you get out into the wilds to meet the real things.

City Roos // Credit: Jess Philips 

Street art in Brisbane also gets to the crux of one of Australia’s most pressing socio-cultural issues. A rendering of the iconic image featuring Aboriginal rights activist Gary Foley can be found on Burnett Lane, holding a sign which reads PARDON ME FOR BEING BORN INTO A NATION OF RACISTS, with the last word ironically cut off.

Credit: Jess Philips 

Close by, guerrilla artist Mace Robertson has placed a tiny red door - number 45a - in an unsuspecting brick wall. This confused a lot of residents, who took to Reddit to query the door’s origins before Robertson revealed himself.

Perhaps even more puzzling, though, are a mysterious set of plastic fists protruding from brick walls around Brisbane. We came across two of these, each with the number 27 emblazoned across the knuckles. I’m still no closer to answers on how they came about or who put them there - but maybe that’s part of the charm.

If you’re looking for more art highlights around the city, don’t underestimate the Queensland Art Gallery & Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA). The gallery showcases the best in Queensland’s modern art, and when I visited, was playing host to Patricia Piccinini’s ‘Curious Affection’, a series of installations using real human hair and synthetic skin to create an aura of eerie vulnerability.

One of the standout pieces from the exhibition for me has to be ‘The Welcome Guest’, in which a young girl greets a strange, taloned creature on a bed like a playmate. Something about the openness of her expression speaks volumes about youth and prejudice - or the lack thereof.

 Credit: Jess Philips 

Before entering the exhibition hall, a small, furred creature in a glass case sat beside a hairless version of the same. Visitors were encouraged to touch and stroke the hairless creature, hitting home the idea that interaction with others makes us uniquely vulnerable, just like the poor thing in the box.

Brisbane’s cultural scene is definitely not to be missed, and is best experienced with an expert. Walk Brisbane’s tours start at $60 (approx. £30), and entrance to the QAGOMA is free.

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