The much anticipated launch of the Temple of Boom, a playful reimagining of the Parthenon erected in the garden of Victoria’s National Gallery, took place on Monday 21 November in true Melbourne fashion, under the sun, rain and hail, all alternating every five minutes.
The project, designed by Melbourne-based architects Adam Newman and Kelvin Tsang, is the seventh iteration of the NGV’s Architecture Commission and is set to host cultural, political, artistic gatherings as well as music events of all kinds.
“We run a competition every year for the NGV Architecture Commission, it’s an open-ended national competition through which we are looking for thought provoking works of temporary architecture. Things that can start a conversation with the community,” Ewan McEoin, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art, Design and Architecture at the NGV told Neos Kosmos.
Without hesitation, Adam Newman said that if he could be “a fly on the wall of any one building on the planet” to witness how events affecting the history of humanity unfolded through the history of known civilisation he would undoubtedly choose the Parthenon.
A SYMBOL OF REBIRTH AND COMMUNITY
Beyond being a monument of artistic perfection, the Parthenon is loaded with symbolism, holds significant meaning when it comes to politics and geopolitics to this day, Newman feels.
When the competition was announced, during lockdown, the importance of rebuilding the community and our faith in humanity was at the forefront of Newman and Tsang’s minds.
Feeling the world collapsing around them, building something that symbolised unity, freedom and perseverance was paramount. The Parthenon was without a doubt the perfect example, having been restored, ruin upon ruin, to still stand proud and be admired and respected as a symbol of civilisation, bringing people together to create and evolve.
“We were looking for a place for engagement, reflection, somewhere to play, to rest. It was very, very flexible,” McEoin told Neos Kosmos. “Adam and Kelvin entered with this scheme that they developed online during lockdown as a site for gathering as a community, street art oriented so it will be accessible and relatable to everyone, and a site for live music … enter boombox, hence the name, Temple of Boom.”
The architect duo got shortlisted from almost 80 entries, reworked a final pitch and won. Since the announcement, they have been expanding on the idea and have been joined by Toby Banador from Just Another Agency. Benador, who curates the artwork, creates urban art projects and was invited to the team as Adam and Kelvin’s proposition was to make it a site for street, urban art, and “bring in colour”.
IN LIVING COLOUR
While some may think that a colourful Parthenon is “a weird sight” Benador explains that the original monument was colourful, and constantly updated.
Phidias – the then known world’s most celebrated sculptor created the Parthenon to be vibrant, a feast of colour, depicting the gods in all their imagined glory, but also humans as descendants of those gods, resembling them in reverence and vitality. Phidias depicted moments of daily life, the arts, war, philosophy in colour. According to ancient historian Pausanias he sculpted a huge statue of Athena Parthenos inside the Parthenon covered in gold and ivory. The statues had their clothing, hair and skin painted, their eyes coloured with enamel, their accessories often being real jewellery. Scenes would be added as events that changed the course of history unfolded.
“There are things that have resonance, that are iconic and reside deeply within us, that are embedded in people culture,” Benador noted.
“The Parthenon has a unifying element which makes you realise how the great legacy that these people two-and-a-half thousand years ago created, is still relevant today. Thinking about the Parthenon and the way that the stone was used as a chronicle, constantly meant that carvings and paintings were being placed on the original structure to note what was happening in society at the time as talismans as prayers. That’s what we’ve really tried to do here, as well as make a statement on our society, Melbourne and also touch on what is currently happening in the world today,” they explained.
How Temple of Boom will “behave” over the months it is meant to stay in place is not set in stone. Its journey from the first pitch for the competition to the moment of the first reveal has been unexpected and exciting, rewarding and promising.
Incorporating the essence of the Parthenon’s importance as one of the most seminal works of architecture still existing today, is not an easy feat for McEoin who oversaw the NGV’s efforts to collate the engineering, the street art, the music, the logistics and a team that has a message to convey.
The first three artists whose work is featured on the Temple of Boom which is roughly 1/3 of the original monument’s size, are David Lee Pereira, Drez, and Manda Lane.
“We will have more installments and invite more artists to create. In January we will have one more reveal and we plan to add more art next year. It has been an absolute honour to be included in this project and bring the artists together,” Benador, speaking to Neos Kosmos said.
“We are trying to make it representative of Melbourne and its multifaceted, multicultural identity. In a way it feels sacred, to restore faith in our community with a unifying symbolism. The Parthenon holds to honour free thinking, expression, democracy, respect towards each other and hope that no matter how many times we fall we can still stand proud and tall; timeless like the monument on the Acropolis.”
IN HONOUR OF DEMOCRACY AND HELLENISM
All the parties involved in the reiteration of the Parthenon through the Temple of Boom feel honoured to be able to reimagine an archetype of civilisation and culture, in a city as multicultural as Melbourne.
“Our respect and appreciation towards such a symbol as the Parthenon is paramount. For the world of architecture and humanity, Parthenon has, what I call cultural diffusion. We find its influence throughout times in other cultures,” McEoin said about the monument which has cast its creative shadow across different timeframes and places.
A thought provoking archetype of democracy throughout the ages with its reference evident in parliament and other civic buildings around the world, neoclassical architecture, and in post modernism expression.
“For us it is an act of cultural appreciation, and quite normal to draw on the path known as a reference in an architectural context, and to represent it in the grounds of Australia’s leading art gallery is definitely seen as a mark of respect for that original structure.”
The Senior Curator of Contemporary Art, Design and Architecture at the NGV stresses that the feelings of the Greek Australian community of Melbourne and the Hellenic identity have been taken into consideration from the inception of the project and will continue to act as a catalyst throughout the evolution of the Temple of Boom. Acknowledging that some members of the Greek community have been hesitant, as this symbol is deeply ingrained in their identity, McEoin is confident the final outcome will not only appease but satisfy them.
“I’m Irish and if someone decided to build a famous Irish building on the grounds of the NGV I would be interested and honoured, but I just can’t think of an Irish building famous enough,” McEoin said highlighting the level of quality and sophistication invested in the construction.
“Maybe we will see a Pyramid next or Stonehenge… How important the Parthenon remains symbolically and culturally, historically, has encouraged us to make sure that there is information available on the actual monument, that we do programming in that we tell the story of the Parthenon as a living building.”
Indeed, the NGV is coming together with the Hellenic Museum to organise panels and events about the historical context of the Parthenon. Music events and theatrical readings from ancient Greek plays are being scheduled while a group of actors is pitching ideas to perform in the space, bringing more of the Hellenic culture and identity to the NGV for it to be shared with the wider community. An example that will be repeated, as an expression of appreciation towards other prevalent cultures in Melbourne.
SETTING THE TONE FOR FUTURE VOICES
“In the next round of artists we will have First Nations artists, Greek artists… we are looking at a very broad list to represent the diverse in all its expressions. Representation is key,” Benador said.
“Given the times we are in, to me it is important to draw on the fact that the building, the Parthenon, was partially destroyed during war, and we currently have a significant war playing out in Europe today and buildings are being destroyed and cultural heritage is being destroyed,” McEoin argued.
But, like the Parthenon, the values behind the material things endure through time, they can be restored. We can look back and draw strength and wisdom to carve a new future.
Both Benador and McEoin agree that the site created in the NGV’s garden is an open space, where everyone is welcome and every voice deserves to be heard.
“It’s a free civic space. Some people will find it uplifting, some will find it meditative, some will question it. It’s a space by the people for the people, it belongs to the community and that’s the thrill of it. We have set the intention and we are all excited to see what The Temple of Boom will become a symbol of.”