In metropolitan Melbourne, the place of public art is charged by the growth in the commissioning of such artworks by local government and private developers and the tension between densification and a continuing sprawl of this Suburban City (Frost, Dingle and La Trobe 1993). Suburban Cities are those ‘where capitals developed suburbs before their centres were built up” (Davison 2005). While the suburbs have been the subject of Australian art since the first suburban expansion in the late 19th century (McAuliffe 1996) very little art about the suburbs is situated in and about its public spaces. In Melbourne’s second period of sustained suburban expansion from 1947 to 1971 (Davison 2005), the introduction of three urban forms shifted the perception and spatial practice of suburban space. Based on car transport, the enclosed shopping centre became a de facto suburban city centre. Conceived to contain and mitigate urban sprawl, reserved non-urban areas known as Green Wedges spawned suburban bush parklands in the expanding outer suburbs. The freeway system as the transport solution to a doubling in the area of Metropolitan Melbourne became a way of comprehending the vast distances of the time and space through automobility (Cresswell & Merriman 2011).
Through the procurement and creation of art in the public spaces of these suburban forms, site specificity (ed. Suderberg 2000) and the appropriation of space (Lefebvre, 1974/1991) manifest temporary art as analogous to the use of these particular sites. This analogy reveals the network of suburban public spaces in the practice of everyday life (de Certeau 1980/2011) as being both the literal and functional site of art (ed. Suderberg 2000). Marc Augé (1995) defines the urban spaces for the rapid movement of goods and people, such as the shopping centre and the free/tollway system, as non-places. Ignacio Solà-Morales (1995) describes as terrain vague the vacant urban spaces that he argues offer an alternative to the productive logic of the city through their continuing abandonment. In this project and in the public spaces of the three suburban forms, these two concepts of non-place and terrain vague are shifted by both the sanctioned and the surreptitious appropriation and reappropriation of use through temporary and temporal artworks. These artworks augment the place of the shopping centre and the freeway and momentarily materialise Merriman’s (2004) concept of place created through the placement of infrastructure. In other sites these artworks demonstrate and maintain a distinctly suburban form of abandonment. Abandonment is found as much within the unusable landscape of a privatised tollway as in the unrestricted use of bush parkland at the suburban end of a Green Wedge. Duration and temporality become the subject and object of the artworks. Through repetition, return and the experience and image of nature within suburban space, temporary art makes evident and active the potential and presence of this condition. This PhD by project defines and demonstrates a process and a form of manifesting the latency of suburban public space through temporary art.