Seven Metre Bar was part of the City of Sydney’s Laneways – By George! Hidden Networks project which attempted to make use of, and transform, some of the Central Business District’s under-utilised areas. Located at Underwood Street, a laneway near Circular Quay, Seven Metre Bar aimed to convert this usually abandoned site into a bustling social hub while also raising awareness with regard to Climate Change and rising sea levels. It comprised a bar, at which drinks were served from 4 pm to 11 pm three days a week, and an art installation created from cars, boats and other jettison. Raised seven metres above ground, the installation’s height signified the potential impact of Climate Change. For if the ice at the North and South Poles melts, the City’s sea levels will rise by 75 metres. At an increase of just eight metres, Underwood Street would be underwater. Using digital gaming technology, the artists also projected volatile weather scenarios onto the bar, the ferocity of which intensified as the bar patronage increased. Visitors saw and became affected by the projected scenarios and the consequences of their inaction. “At what point”, asked the creators of Seven Metre Bar, “do we raise or lower the bar?”
Aesthetic/Visual: The project, which comprised an installation, bar and digital projections, aimed to show how creative practice can alter our experience of public space and perceptions of Climate Change.
Innovation/Risk (Conceptual and Technical): To construct the multi-media project, the creators of Seven Metre Bar needed to collaborate and combine their respective trades—conceptual art, architecture and landscape design.
Education: The creators of Seven Metre Bar aimed to have an easily accessible and legible design that would prompt visitors to engage with the installation and its related concepts. “Education and communication on climate change,” they argued, “were core principles upon which the concept was built.”
Community Development: By running a pop-up bar and gallery space in Underwood Street, the project aimed to respond to the City of Sydney’s mission to enliven forgotten vehicular laneways.
Climate Change Adaptation and Waste Management: The creators of Seven Metre Bar aimed to stress the consequences of the general public’s inaction on Climate Change as a means of motivating behavioural change.
To stress the Seven Metre Bar’s theme of sustainability, its creators constructed the installation out of recycled junk collected from the City of Sydney Depot and several lakeside locations. Moreover, the bar staff served drinks in biodegradable plastic cocktail cups.
Regeneration and Improving Output: By installing a pop-up bar and art space in Underwood Street, the project aimed to regenerate an isolated part of the city.
OUTCOMES & IMPACTS
Aesthetic/Visual: At the completion of the Seven Metre Bar project, Steffen Lehmann—Curator and Creative Director of the Laneways – By George! project— proclaimed, “The simulation of extreme weather events and resulting flooding was beautifully executed and a provocative statement about inaction on climate change.”
Innovation/Risk (Conceptual and Technical): Following the completion of the project Steffen Lehmann also commented with regard to the collaboration between Goodwin, McGregor and Lowe: “The project is a very successful example of the ongoing collaboration of an interdisciplinary team involving an artist/architect, game programmer and landscape architect.” A particular conceptual and technical innovation of the project was its fusion of artistic practice and environmental theory. Its creators argue, “Landscape architecture has often been a silent bystander on urban issues and this project was a provocative attempt to temporarily engage with the artistic space and signal our environmental dilemma.”
Community Development: The project took on an innovative approach to community participation by choosing to engage its audience through a pop-up bar. Operated by Grasshopper—a local small business—the bar served cocktails with playful names such as Storm and Green House Punch, which augmented the project’s thematic engagement with Climate Change discourse.
Climate Change Adaptation and Waste Management: Users responded to the themes and discourse of sustainability by recycling and re-using their drinking jars.
Following the completion of the project and dismantling of the installation, all materials procured were recycled.
Regeneration and Improving Output: Beyond showing how art can regenerate cities, the project’s pop-up bar extended Grasshopper’s normal business operations: following the success of its participation in the Underwood Street project, Grasshopper initiated another pop-up bar in Parramatta in 2012 and continues to foster relationships with art projects.
Richard Goodwin, Russell Lowe and Adrian McGregor conceptualised Seven Metre Bar in response to the City of Sydney’s open call for the Laneways – By George! Hidden Networks project. The City, stated Lord Mayor Clover Moore, wanted projects that could “transform and explore the potential of City laneways with creative, innovative and inspiring high quality temporary artworks.” The City received more than 500 registrations and 68 submissions in response to its call out. Overall, eight projects were selected by curator and urban designer Dr Steffen Lehmann and the City’s Public Art Panel. Following their selection, each project went through the DA (Development Application) process, required of any project wanting to occupy or carry out work on the City’s land.
During its construction, the project faced several challenges. The artists installed the cars, boats and other large objects necessary to complete their project by using trucks, scissor lifts, and block and tackle. This put them at great personal risk, though no injuries occurred. Boats were stolen from the work during the early stages of installation. This highlighted the challenging social and physical conditions of the site, which only served to reinforce the value of the project and its regeneration of Underwood Street. Moreover, the project had to be built on a very low budget, which meant that its realisation was largely dependent on the generosity and perseverance of the artists.
IMPACTS OF ARTWORK PRODUCTION
(Based on interview with Richard Goodwin)
What consideration went in to the selection of materials? Was an effort made to source materials that were more sensitive to the environment?
The materials for this installation are true to the concept—i.e. waste—essentially old cars, boats, floats, road barriers, lifting straps, junk. All were recycled.
Was any effort made to measure the environmental impacts of the construction and maintenance of the work?
The work was completely constructed in waste materials, which were recycled again on completion. Some old boats even floated again.
Travel during the construction phase
As usual, with a meagre budget, we depended on fellow artists for trucks and materials—artists entertaining the public, at their own expense, is a very sustainable practice.
Was there any innovation in the use of materials or processes that were more environmentally friendly than the alternatives?
We put a lot of effort into the thought behind materials involved in the bar. Grasshopper, the license holders, came up with the idea to drink out of biodegradable plastic cocktail jars with lids, which could be re-used during the night by each punter.
Is the environmental footprint of the work in keeping with the aims and intent of the artwork?
Yes. The bar installation was about the future detritus of the global warming catastrophe and the message it brings. The bar materials and running procedures were very sustainable and still serve as an example for possible pop-up bars. Yet again art leads the way—but will the City follow?
“About.” The Grasshopper. http://thegrasshopper.com.au/about (accessed January 29, 2012).
Australian Institute of Landscape Architects. “Seven Metre Bar.” AILA Projects. http://www.aila.org.au/projects/nsw/7MetreBar/default.htm (accessed January 29, 2012).
Bochert, Christian (Associate Director, McGregor Coxall). Interview by author, January 29, 2013.
City of Sydney. “Projects to Transform Sydney Laneways, By George!” City of Sydney Media Centre. Media release, July 14, 2009. http://www.sydneymedia.com.au/html/3934-projects-to-transform-sydney-laneways-by-george.asp?orig=Home (accessed January 29, 2012).
Goodwin Richard. Interview by author, October 25, 2012.
Goodwin, Richard. Richard Goodwin: Sydney Based Artist/Architect. http://richard-goodwin.com (accessed January 29, 2013).
Lowe, Russell. “The Weather On Underwood Street.” UNSW TV. Short film. http://tv.unsw.edu.au/858D1A50-BEA2-11DE-93EF123139020041/ (accessed January 29, 2012).
Thomas, Nicole. “It’s Alive!” Monument: Innovation & Inspiration Now, entry posted October 2, 2009. http://blog.monumentmagazine.com.au/2009/10/its-alive.html (accessed January 29, 2012).