The Art of Laneways

The Art of Laneways

The redeveloped laneway is now an icon of ‘cool’ in contemporary culture. Read our observations of some interesting art installations that enliven the dreary lane.

Circles in the Round by Newell Harry

Click to view larger images

Despite previously negative connotations of the term ‘laneway’ in many post-industrial cities – perhaps dark, dirty and dangerous. The redeveloped laneway is now an icon of ‘cool’ in contemporary culture; since the turn of the century, laneway revitalisation projects have transformed laneways into attractions in many post-industrial cities.

Many revitalisation projects were initiated as an exploration of additional rental revenue streams for property developers. The approach was to sub-divide the properties facing the back lane, and to modify these new sub-divisions for small sites retail businesses. Some of early successes include Degraves Street, Centre Place, Hardware Lane and Flinders Lane all in Melbourne. As a result, this transformation of laneways has invigorated and re-introduced daily activity into previously neglected urban precincts.

In the recent years, this laneway revitalisation campaign has diversified into a new direction – contemporary art.  It has seen a trend in Sydney that many ‘deadly’ laneways have evolved into art spaces.

In Sydney, a series of annual programs for example the 2011 Laneway Art Program, in its fifth year, provides integral continuity of this laneway campaign. A variety of artists are commissioned to present temporary and permanent contemporary installations in laneways around the CBD. By example is Newell Harry’s Circles in the Round made of a series of tinted neon lights; the laneway is colourful and interesting during the evening and daytime. Sound may also brings new perspectives to the laneway, such as the installation Forgotten Song in Angle Place. The installation comprises of 120 floating birdcages above the lane and the recorded sound of extinct or threatened birds. In addition to a decorative presentation some projects are also functional, such as the seating elements made of Swiss spheres; transforming Bulletin Place into a social and lounge space.

The laneways artists have differentiated themselves from what may be perceived as ‘conventional’ public art; many laneway art works and installations are perhaps more experimental, expressive, disposable and political. Rather than being a primary focal element within the space; the intention appears to be to utilize the space a complete entity; that is, the artwork will lose its identity without the laneway. Although the initiative was to revitalize the laneways via art work, the laneway campaign has seen a boost to the influence of the contemporary art within a cultural urban landscape context.

Laneways may possibly be an incubational laboratory for contemporary art. With building facades often expressing the symbolic wealth and status of the building, with the main streets designed for such a purpose; and back lanes totally left for mundane daily functions – loading, parking, smoking, etc. – the design intent was minimum and utilitarian. Although should, laneways consistently be available as informal gallery spaces, no smooth white walls, air conditioning, controlled lighting, behavioural code and interpretative texts of explanation translated into multiple language adjacent to the work on display  – often the viewing audience may not comprehend the artist’s intention thoroughly. Laneway artwork does not need to be ‘serious’; they may simply invite thinking without being ‘filtered’ by a curator or their notes.

In some cases, laneway is utilised as dedicated art space.  Modern Art Oxford, one of the most important modern and contemporary art galleries in the UK, functions in the delivery yard of a former brewery in the heart of historic Oxford; dRMM was the architect of this renovation project. An art installation gallery of timber and polycarbonate was constructed in this 155 sqm yard space directly adjacent to the street, with the frontage entirely open to the street. A minimal though adequate security measure is the shutter door which is closed during the evening. The yard space hosts ongoing high quality art exhibitions, allowing for the introduction of fresh. contemporary artworks; whilst transforming the streetscape.

The Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) is one of the most important non-profit organisations in the city, for the development and presentation of contemporary art. The PICA is located within the Perth Culture Centre district, where a group of cultural facilities have been established; these include the State Library, the Western Australia Museum, and State Art Gallery. In comparison to our ‘history’, the art of our present seems not to have yet projected a strident voice.

Under the current Perth Cultural Centre revitalisation campaign, the undervalued public open space and forgotten laneways in this area, for example the James Street Lane may be open to a fresh interpretation; and might be the inauguration of a vibrant conversation between the past and the contemporary.

Here, there is no intention to arrive at an otherwise static conclusion on what should be a definitive appearance as regards these spaces; interpretation of the cultural space is dynamic and evolving. After-all how may an individual or a populace that may embrace many divergent cultural norms set about to provide a wholly embracing definition of ‘culture’?


Image Reference:


Circles in the Round: and

The Meeting Place: photo by Simon Wood

Forgotten Songs:


The 7 Meters Bar:


Oxford Modern Art Gallery:




No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.