Flash Forward, a pandemic project from the city of Melbourne, has transformed ugly corners of the CBD into dazzling works of art.

Some of the commissioned works have become iconic, to the point that it’s hard to imagine the city without them. How could we ever return to the neutral emptiness of Parliament Station now that we have Drez’s scintillating work at Ulster Place? The concentric rectangles of spectral blues and magenta have connotations of Op Art or light installations by James Turrell. They ingeniously invite you to dive into the network of tunnels below.

The Evans Lane work for Puzle’s Flash Forward.Credit:Puzzle / City of Melbourne

All of these artists have a keen eye for design – dead stretches of modernist walls were instantly monumentalized by inventive chromatic abstractions.

But similar things can be achieved with image-making, as with GETNUP’s illusionist blocks and faux brick at McIlwraith Place. The empress of artificial rhythm bricks is George Goodnow, whose fractured strings lessons at Tattersalls Lane will make you dizzy if you study them for too long.

These artists avoided the pitfall of simply tattooing a large wall with a pattern. Instead, they took over all of the available space to create a resonant visual architecture in counterpoint to the existing architecture.

The same logic applies to media other than painting. For example, Jarra Karalinar Steel adorned the top of a building in Goldie Place with a neon sign that read: “You are in the countryside”. This strong First Peoples sentiment is all the more powerful in embracing the corporate language of branding, affirming ownership of expensive urban real estate.

Yandell Walton’s countdown has an equally unnerving effect in Platypus Alley. The display tells us the time remaining until 2030, by which time temperatures are expected to have risen by a catastrophic amount.

But not all artists work with paint or neon. Some interesting experiments treat the aisle as if it were a gallery, where exterior light boxes allow photography to flourish in an environment that would otherwise be hostile to it. Jessica Schwientek’s presentation of aisle images is excellent; and so on with the amusing illustrated paintings of Ruofan Lei in Smythe Lane.

Many works have a striking relationship with their site. I like the edge of the wall sticking out into Corrs Lane, which Sarah CrowEST marked with arrows and capital letters: “Close to the edge”. His work in Hughs Alley is equally witty; and in fact the humor is a big part of the project. Bootleg Comics’ work at Crown Place is funny in an absurd vein. Playing back the images might keep you busy longer than you imagine dragging through a dead end.

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With black humour, Bacondrum takes you to a morbid work with skulls on the terminal wall of Kirks Lane. It reads “Impasse”.

Many moods and social conditions are represented. I enjoyed Prue Stevenson’s talk on autism at Little William Street. It’s the kind of assertive thing you rarely come across in a gallery.

Find a guide to Flash Forward artwork at flash-fwd.com

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Christopher S. Washington