IShe was one of Melbourne’s best urban legends, Like the tunnels under La Trobe University Or the Crown Casino with a secret mortuary: there was truly A preserved ballroom above Flinders Street Station, which hardly anyone has seen in decades? Until members of the public were allowed two years ago to do a show for Patricia Piccinini, not many believed it to be real; Even then, some still don’t quite know whether or not to believe it.
Street artist Tyrone Wright, better known as Ron, was one of them. “Just being in Melbourne, you hear rumors of a dance floor but you don’t really know if it’s there until you see the pictures,” he says. “I asked about if there was anything planned here and I was not told anything – it wasn’t a yes, but it wasn’t a no. Basically I didn’t stop bothering people until I was here.”
We stand in the middle of his new gallery, Time, at the legendary upper level of the station. It is another of his immersive installations that explore beauty and decadence, where his paintings of delicate female faces (all his regular collaborators and girlfriend Teresa Oman) are paired with furniture, sound, lights and music. It all comes together to create a weird and spooky space that you’ll never be sure if it’s real or not – just like the ballroom itself.
As we walk, there is a thick rumble of sound and the lights darken in a rapid rush of motion in the hallway, making me freeze in horror. “This is just the train,” Ronnie says sweetly.
Everything is in time—from an entire library complete with spiral staircases, to envelopes in the mailroom, sealed with fancy stationery company details—a fake. He used the space to place breadcrumbs for a story, which visitors could fill as they walked from room to room: a print set, a mailroom, and an office complete with an era-specific rug reprinted for display only.
“We intentionally poured a drink on it,” Ron says, pointing to a dark spot. “Because that’s a story in itself — it’s about finding the soul in an environment.”
Time is the biggest installation he’s ever done – and it’s something an artist has made Submerged parts of the Art Deco palaceturned Doomed house in art show that attracted thousands. Ron and his 120-person team, including longtime interior designer Carly Spooner, have been with Time for the past 18 months. Build an entire library from scratch, search the Facebook Marketplace for trinkets and oddities, and learn the ins and outs of fire safety regulations. They’ve been at the station’s upper levels since July.
The sheer level of detail means that you often can’t tell where the exhibition ends and the building begins. Take Room One: The Writing Pool. Search hard enough on the internet, says Ronnie, and you can find 14 old typewriters of the same model. The lamps and chairs are from IKEA, but they were made to look antique. The team couldn’t find enough desks that looked alike, so they were all designed and built using wood. Then scenic artists painted it to look like metal. Speakers were installed in each desk to play the score, while each lamp was connected individually to light up in time with piano tones.
“The number of people involved only to set up one office is ridiculous,” says Ron.
Sometimes the contrast between reality and storytelling comes back to the rules. “Do you see that part of the blue tarp?” He says pointing to the shabby junk on the wall. “I can’t remove that without writing to Heritage [Victoria]. “Random red sticker on the window frame?” “I can’t remove that either.”
Rone’s commercial murals are painted across walls, shelves, and chalkboards. He thinks the biggest delusion is that some people think he’s just a painter: “Here’s the easy part – painting is the shiny thing that draws people into. Lots of people come to my shows and they won’t realize it until years later everything they’ve seen in every room I’ve put there.”
Ron paints women’s faces specifically as an answer to the “aggressive masculinity” he saw while painting in the streets two decades ago: “I decided to do the opposite and felt this daring strength in something so fragile.”
These days, there are a lot of Ronnie impersonators on the streets, which is why he wants to make a head start on the rest of the details in Time. “It’s very safe, and it’s very easy to paint a street selfie,” he says. “I was getting a lot of offers from communities to come and paint a mural of things like that. And it was so much fun, but I realized I was doing the same thing in every city. I no longer feel like an artist.”
Much of what existed at the time was too large to fit in the narrow halls of the upper floors of the station. Instead, Ron and his team worked off-site in a warehouse, building and dismantling furniture, pianos, stairs, and even an entire library, before moving it all in pieces through the station. “The library has been brought down a few times,” Rooney says. “You can only have 300 kilograms of weight per square meter here, and the books weigh too much. So — ”he pulls a book off the shelf — “We made blank books.”
The show opens to the public on Fridays; It’s a testament to the fans’ love for Rone that Time tickets have already sold out for this year. Today, it was announced that the time will be extended until April 2023.
“It’s the biggest thing I’ve done so far. The routine was killing me – we had a Plan B because it was so bad,” he says. “But I would be upset if I couldn’t be here, it’s definitely on my bucket list. And the number of things I have to say no [to] For the past two years because I’ve been waiting for this! I’m so excited.”
The floor was shaking and the windows were shaking. A train leaves the station. But for a moment, I honestly can’t tell if he did something.