Tag Archives: CDH

Flame, Remember My Name

I was going to comment that this year in street art had a bit dull… the same old same old stuff on the streets, no innovations or developments like yarn bombing or street sculpture. But then along came Doyle with his Empty Nursery Blue in Rutledge Lane. And the division between the technical and the conceptual elements in street art was brought into even sharper contrast with CDH’s article “The Commodification of Street Art” in the September issue of Art Monthly Australia and E.L.K.’s reply “The mouse that sunk the boat” on Invurt

Mask sticker, 2009

Mask sticker, 2009

I am used the word “technical” in the last paragraph to describe the work of artists with the technical skill of stencil cutting, aerosol spray skills, etc. in contrast to the conceptual, thinking of and executing an idea. I am using ‘conceptual’ in the way that Galenson uses it, to refer to conceptual break through from collage to video art, and not to exclusively refer to works of conceptual art; David W. Galenson contrasts modern and contemporary conceptual and experimental artists in his book Conceptual Revolutions in Twentieth-Century Art (Cambridge University Press, 2009, New York). I’ve used the word ‘technical’, rather than ‘experimental’ because there aren’t that many experimental artists, in Galenson’s terms, on Melbourne’s streets, most are content to become technically proficient, although Slicer, Reka, Conrad Bizjak and others might count as experimental.

Aside from the conceptual versus the technical there is a contrast in the ideological purity of CDH’s position opposed to the pragmatic concerns of E.L.K. The utopian ambitions of the politics of conceptual artists have often caused them to cry: “sell out” (in various ways, like all the “expulsions” from the official Surrealist movement). This usually been countered with accusations of lack of talent or technique but this doesn’t address the real differences between the two radically different approaches to art. The conceptual artist is not interested in the technique but the politics or philosophy of artistic progress and likewise the technical artist pragmatic has little time or interest in philosophy or politics.

Specifically in reply to CDH’s article I would argue that street art back is not held back or corrupted by its commodification because that was happening since the beginning of street art; Fab 5 Freddy was exhibiting in galleries in 1979, it is part of the street art system. Nor is being distorted when graffiti goes mainstream that was also happening since the beginning, appearing in pop music videos like Blondie’s “Rapture” (1981) and the 1983 PBS documentary, Style Wars, for example.

In Glenn Adamson and Jane Pavitt’s introductory essay “Postmodernism: Style and Subversion” the authors examine Alvin Toffler’s mainstream absorption model where “the potential disruptive energies of the subculture are controlled, and the hegemony of mass culture is continually reasserted” and provide a counter example, hip hop, where “the process of mediation and commoditization were factored in all along”. (Postmodernism: Style and Subversion, ed. Glenn Adamson and Jane Pavitt, V&A Publisher, 2011, p.53) To put it bluntly not all subcultures have the same relationship to mass culture as hippies or punks.

Finally, I have no aesthetic or political opinion on the matter for without conceptual artists there will be little or no innovations or developments in street art but without the technical artists there wouldn’t be as large an audience or the interest. What I think is holding Melbourne’s street art back is the conservative traditionalists in street art and graffiti that believe that they can enforce their various definitions; in this respect they have a similar attitude to their traditional opponents, the police, railway security and city councillors.

Adnate & Slicer "Nothing Lasts Forever" Brunswick Station, 2012

Adnate & Slicer “Nothing Lasts Forever” Brunswick Station, 2012


Worst of Fed Square

“Paparazzi Dogs” was specially commissioned and made for Federation Square. It was intended as a backdrop for more selfies (photos of yourself). “Visitors can go there to take their own photos with the paparazzi, allowing them to become their own celebrity.” (Gillie and Marc’s website.) Do tourists really measure their enjoyment of a place in photos? Is a photo opportunity the best function for a public sculpture?

Gilles and Marc, Paparazzi Dogs, 2013, photo by CDH

Gillie and Marc, Paparazzi Dogs, 2013, photo by CDH

The street artist CDH subverted “Paparazzi Dogs” by replacing the plaque with his own notice using the same layout and font as the official Federation Square notices. (See his website under reviews.) CDH’s notice read:

“The sculpture equivalent of ‘dogs playing poker’, the work is symbolic of the culturally vapid public art commissioned by Melbourne’s civic institutions. / The dog/human mutations in suits reference the base and deficient character of a bureaucracy as a system of selecting art. / The cameras pointing outward invite the viewer to go into Melbourne’s laneways in search of the authentic and organic street art culture that the city is internationally renowned for.”

Instead of committing to a single image for Federation Square it keeps on changing with temporary sculpture. Instead of committing to a single public sculpture when tastes will change in another decade or two Federation Square has decided to have a series of temporary sculpture exhibitions. Now this might be a good strategy and some of these sculptures have been good, like Theo Jansen’s “Strandbeest” in 2012, but recently the sculptures have been kitsch, like Gillie and Marc’s “Paparazzi Dogs” or Xu Hongfei’s “Chubby Women” sculptures.

Xu Hongfei series of fat women sculptures is currently in Federation Square. Xu Hongfei is the president of the Guangzhou Academy of Sculpture and the Chinese government sponsors his sculpture tour of Australia. His “Chubby Woman” series was exhibited earlier this year in Sydney and at the National Art Museum of China. In this case the bureaucracy of selecting sculpture for Federation Square has gone for diplomacy over taste.

As Xu Hongfei said about his sculptures on Radio Australia: “Many people enjoy this type of artwork very much, it’s very direct, not very deep nor complicated.” (Girish Sawlani, “Chinese sculptor brings ‘Chubby women’ exhibition to Australia”, Radio Australia 16/7/2013)

Deep and complicated do not preclude being enjoyable to many people. Theo Jansen’s walking machines was fascinating to all ages. And Jansen’s work can lead to deep and complicated thinking about kinetic art, engineering, wind power and biology as well as being enjoyable aesthetic experience. Xu Hongfei’s work leads to nothing but more selfies, BBW sculpture porn and filling Federation Square.

Kitsch functions as a cultural gap-filler, ersatzes culture filling the spaces instead of work that might lead to thought. In filling the gap it excludes better work.

 


Sexy Girls, Girls, Girls

Yes, lots of young, beautiful, sexy girls with big round tits all over Melbourne.

Sofles & Deb in Hosier Lane. Photo by Kevin Anslow

Sofles & Deb in Hosier Lane. Photo by Kevin Anslow

Photo by Kevin Anslow.

Photo by Kevin Anslow.

Photo by Kevin Anslow.

Photo by Kevin Anslow.

Kevin Anslow, who created the Melbourne Street Art 86 site, sent me these photographs of the paste up dialogue attached to Sofles and Deb’s new piece on Hosier Lane. (Thankyou Kevin.)

“Hey babe does it worry you that exaggerated, big titted girls like us are saturating street art iconography these days?” the speech balloon puts these words in the mouth of Sofles girl.

And Deb’s girl replies “No silly. From Rone to Adnate to Herakut, empty portraits of young girls with big eyes are the best way to make it commercially. Think anime or porn culture or fashion photography; this is about rehashing the most palatable mainstream motif. It’s not about finding beauty in new ways, it’s about reconstructing beauty in the most standard and insipid way. So girlfriend, stop trying to use your brain and just look pretty. Tee-hee.”

The speech balloon dialogue caps Sofles and Deb in the best possible way because it improves the work and opens up an interaction that wouldn’t be allowed in art galleries. The paste-ups are a wonderful piece of Situationalist provocation detouring and subverting the cartoon images. The dialogue is not puritanical; I enjoy porn and fashion photography but I wouldn’t want to look at them all day (I hate anime but this involves a reaction caused by an over-exposure to anime). Like me the dialogue is worried about “saturating” with over-exposure and not about the images themselves. It is calling for more progressive street art and attacking the conservatism of commercial art (the old school tattoo, comic book and fantasy art the influences street art). It is also a challenge to think about the issues of gender and commercial art.

Looking for the vocabulary to write about street art illustration work like Rone, Sofles and Deb, I turned to Japanese art and find bijinga (beautiful-girl picture). I was happy to find the word for there is little else to these bijinga pictures except for a beautiful girl. They are just, in the words of the speech balloon, “rehashing the most palatable mainstream motif” with different themes and in different styles. As art these bijinga pictures are simply eye candy and the artists who create them will enjoy ephemeral fame.

But what are the consequences of this abundance of images of wide-eyed buxom girls? Will people become bored with them and cause an opposite reaction in images?  Will girls follow their example?

P.S. Later the speech balloons were revealed to be the work of Melbourne street artist CDH, see his webpage for more about it.


Street art salvage

CDH is seeking to connect with street art collectors, advocates and artists to salvage culturally important street art from demolition sites.

In my capacity facilitating street art, I see the birth of a lot of art. But I also bear witness to the end of art; works lost in a cloud of dust when a derelict building is demolished. Sometimes amongst the rubble and industrial detritus, I find street art salvage: works painted on a roller door, a wooden hoarding or a sheet metal fence. Although assigned to a pile of garbage, many of these works may have value as cultural artefacts. Without the perspective of historical hindsight, it’s often difficult to recognise the difference. In a sense, this derelict street art might be more valuable than its gallery counterpart because this is authentic street art. So the question becomes, should we try to save these works?

Adnate work in Richmond at a building scheduled to be redeveloped into apartments

Adnate work in Richmond at a building scheduled to be redeveloped into apartments

Unlike the controversial ‘Out of Context’ Banksy exhibition at Miami Art Basal, these works haven’t been pillaged from their original spatial context to be exhibited in a gallery. These works are already on their way to the tip. So the choice isn’t between the gallery vs the original environmental context intended by the artist. It’s a choice between a gallery and gone forever. So on first inspection it seems obvious that we should save the works. Ultimately I believe it is worth salvaging this street art, and I am seeking to connect with collectors, advocates and other artists to this end. But it is worth recognising that the issue is considerably more complex than it may appear upon superficial consideration.

'Out of Context' Banksy exhibition at Miami Art Basel

‘Out of Context’ Banksy exhibition at Miami Art Basel

Most importantly, salvaged street art can’t resurface in the secondary art market. There is the obvious practical issue that it would mean gallery exhibiting street artists would effectively be competing with themselves; it would discourage artists from painting on the street. But there’s another moral issue; the works on the street belong to the community. The wall the art is painted on might belong to a private building owner but the thin layer of paint that makes up the artwork is the property of the public. Taking a salvaged work and selling it for profit is akin to selling stolen goods. It’s more appropriate to regard people who hold salvaged street art as the custodians of a cultural artefact, until it can be re-exhibited for the general public.

It’s often argued that a key point of demarcation between street art and gallery art is ephemerality. Gallery art is perceived to have attained an immutable status through perpetual restoration, while street art is at the mercy of the environment, council cleaners and the community. The knowledge that street art is in perpetual jeopardy shapes our appreciation of it. Many people reading this article will have felt the pang of seeing a beloved street artwork suddenly gone one day. The legions of street art photographers are in part motivated by a shared angst that the works are transient and without record will be lost forever. Creating a system to preserve some of these works immediately changes this context. Yes, an artwork may still suddenly disappear tomorrow, but it may also be absorbed into a preservation collection. This changes the lenses through which we view and experience the art, by changing a key contextual element. This perpetually shifting contextual landscape has been synonymous with street art since its inception. What began as an outsider subcultural movement has been progressively recuperated into the mainstream. The politically conservative Lord Mayor of Melbourne has shifted from a zero tolerance stance on graffiti (as opposition leader of the state) to describing himself as ‘delighted’ with the city’s street art. Many street artists have moved into the commercial art system where possible. So it seems the outsider status of street art is even more fleeting than the art itself. Preserving works is part of this natural evolution, so it’s not incongruent with the direction of the movement.

Photographers in Hosier Lane

Photographers in Hosier Lane

Salvaging street art may contravene the wishes of the artist. Some street artists reluctantly accept ephemerality as a reality of the medium but some artists intend for their work to be transient. Ultimately many artists may prefer for their work to go to the tip, rather than see it preserved in a warehouse or a gallery. Although an artist’s consent is desirable, should it be a necessary prerequisite for preserving an artwork? On his death bed, Franz Kafka asked his friend Max Brod to destroy all his unpublished manuscripts. Brod ignored this request and published many of Kafka’s most important works posthumously. The writing was important and so the interests of broader society outweighed the preference of the artist. During the construction of the Aswan Dam in the 1960s in Egypt, 22 ancient monuments risked being flooded. The monuments were relocated, although as religious sites it’s unlikely the original builders would have consented; imagine if the temple on the mount needed to be moved. The monuments were historically significant to us, so we acted in society’s benefit regardless. Ultimately street art is for everyone, not just the artist or the building owner. It belongs to the community so the primary directives are those in the interest of the community; the preferences of the artist are secondary, although they’re contextually important to record.

Gustav Metzger 'Acid Action Painting' 1961

Gustav Metzger ‘Acid Action Painting’ 1961

The exception is when the ephemerality is integral to the meaning of the work (not just the artist’s preference). Gustav Metzger’s Auto Destructive Art requires self-destruction to realise the meaning written into the work. To attempt to preserve ‘acid action painting, 1961’ midway through the corrosion of the work would ironically be the destruction of the art; it would become meaningless. But street art is typically quite different from the auto destructive art of Metzger. Metzger built the self-destruction of the work innately into the art. Street art is about relinquishing control of the art and handing it over to the cultural chaos of urban space. This usually causes the destruction of the art because society has diverse agendas; although 99 people might leave a work untouched, it only takes one to cap it. But if an artist relinquishes art to external forces, with a loose expectation that this will cause erasure of the work, they have to equally accept that external agents may preserve it. Unless the work requires ephemerality as an artistic imperative, it’s difficult to argue that an artists’ preference for transience should be honoured above society’s enrichment through sharing the art. As an artist, on a personal level it galls me that collectors could salvage my works from the street without my consent but from reasoned principles, I find it difficult to argue against.

Immolating portrait of Yukio Mishima by CDH

Immolating portrait of Yukio Mishima by CDH

So I seek to build a network of artists, advocates and collectors to salvage street artworks, with these ideas in mind. But what do you think? Is it right to salvage works imminently destined for destruction and if so, what principles should guide our actions?

If you’re interested in offering tips on works available for salvage or if you want tips on works available for salvage, please contact me at cdh.street.art@gmail.com and join our network.


Art & Advertising

Walking along Hosier Lane with the street artist, CDH who was half-heartedly tearing off the advertising posters. CDH was talking about making Hosier Lane an advertising free space (a worth while ambition). CDH wants to distinguish between art and advertising but I’m not sure that such a distinction can be made because the nexus between art and advertising means that there is no necessary feature to create a clear distinction. CDH and I have been discussing an article from The Atlantic Cities about Los Angels attempt to restrict mural adverting (“The Convoluted Path to Ending Los Angeles’s Mural Ban” by Nate Berg, March 22, 2012).

Advertising for the play "Optimism", 2009

Advertising for the play “Optimism”, 2009

I have written about the relationship between street art and advertising in an earlier post. Aside from the propaganda element of advertising that has always been important in art and thinking only about avant-garde visual art and mass-market advertising it is clear that there is an increasing relationship in the 20th Century.

The use of advertising material in the visual arts started with collages by the Dadaists and Kurt Schwitters. Was the word “Dada” taken from an advertisement for Dada brand shampoo rather than from the mythic random dictionary search? Almost anticipating Pop Art, Charles Sheeler’s “I Saw The Figure 5 in Gold” from 1928 used the bright colours and images of American cigarette packaging. American cigarette advertising was the start of modern advertising. In 1949 Raymond Hains and Jacques de la Mahé Villeglé used layers of torn advertising posters in a process they called “décollage”. In the 1960s many Pop artists used advertising material, Roy Lichtenstein used images from magazine advertising as the subject for his art although Andy Warhol concentrated on packaging design rather than advertising. In the 1980s many artists influenced by Pop Art used advertising material, most notably Jeff Koons and Barbara Kruger. Koons reproduced magazine advertising and made magazine advertising for himself that were printed in art magazines. Koons marketed himself as a brand. Kruger uses the same visual techniques as advertising in her art.

Advertising has had a close relationship with the visual arts; not surprising since both the artists working in the advertising art department and artists not working in adverting have the same art education. In 1888 Pears Soap first used John Everett Millais painting “Bubbles” 1886 as advertising; Pears was another early innovator in mass market adverting. Also created in the 1880s Toulouse Lautrec’s posters advertising cabaret acts have now entered the art cannon (currently on exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia). Since then advertising has used notable artists to create images for advertising, like Absolut Vodka (see their art collection) or to endorse products, Dali and Lavin chocolate in 1968 (see the video).

Given the increasingly close relationship between avant-garde arts and advertising it is likely that advanced art in the future will have more references to advertising. For more on this subject read Joan Gibbons Art and Advertising (I.B. Tauris, 2005).


Painting in the Public Eye

The Impressionists were the first artists to be seen painting in public, the new development of oil paint in tubes made that possible. Although the Impressionists worked quickly watching them paint was never a spectator activity – like watching paint dry.

When Hans Namuth filmed Jackson Pollock painting in 1951 in a carefully staged sequence it ended badly. After the filming both Pollock and Namuth were drinking and then started fighting over who was a “phoney”. Was it phoney (inauthentic in someway) for Pollock to preform for the camera? Do photographs of art change the art, already altering our perception of the art before we see it?

In 1950, just a year before Namuth filmed Pollock, Belgian filmmaker Paul Haesaerts filmed Picasso’s painting on glass. Picasso was unconcerned about the camera and self-confident, he had many successful dealings with many photographers including David Dougalas Ducan, Edward Quinn and René Burri.

I was thinking about this as I watched Melbourne Street artists Conrad, Calm, Heesco, Sinnsykshit, Klara and others painting in a Fitzroy laneway off Leicester Street on Monday 3rd of December. It was an interesting afternoon; drivers found themselves in an unofficial pedestrian zone with shopping carts full of bags of paint, Phoenix using recycling bins as a studio table for cutting out paste-ups and cameras pointing everywhere. An approaching cyclists breaks to avoid getting in a shot before being waved through. For more photos of the event see StreetsmArt and Land of Sunshine.

Media watching street art Fitzroy

“Here’s all the other side.” Dean Sunshine says as spots Lorraine, Jacob Oberman, David Russell, Alison Young and myself, the regular street art media crowd of photographers, bloggers and documentary filmmakers. All independents like myself (I don’t know why none of the local mainstream media don’t report on street art) except for a French TV crew from Canel+ there on the day. We are the other side, not as in opponents but the other side to artistic communications, the recorders, reporters and critics, and literally the other side of the laneway.

There were so many video cameras and still cameras recording the event on Monday that sometimes there were more many cameras than artists painting. There is usually someone photographing or videoing a street artist painting, cameras are ubiquitous now, but this time the number of cameras made me really think about them. I had to ask myself did the act of filming change the art?

Some of the cameras were doing time lapses of the artists at work, there were other people conducting interviews, the French TV crew were interviewing CDH and trying to get him to join in with Yarn Corner and yarn bomb a bicycle. Street art does present some different challenges for photographers. Due to its illegality street artists are reluctant to show their faces and the image of street artists seen from behind bending over to paint in low-slung jeans is not attractive one. The yarn bombers don’t face problems with the law and are happy to show their faces.

Of course, all these cameras was going to have some effect on the art just as not watching or recording the artist at work is going to have some effect. But did the cameras make the painting inauthentic and phoney in someway or has the perception and our awareness of the media changed since the 1950s?

Street art needs the cameras to record the image to combat the political spin. After Canel+ broadcasts the piece CDH plans to contact Tourism Victoria, the State Government and municipal councils to say: “We just made a 10 min ad for Melbourne viewed by several million French people. Where’s the support?”

P.S. The video of the French TV crew can be seen on YouTube.

Canel+ interviews CDH

Canel+ interviews CDH


Off The Wall

On Tuesday the 23rd of October I went to Off The Wall – Graffiti Management Forum at Fitzroy Town Hall. The City of Yarra employed Capire Consulting Group to review their graffiti management. Most of the people at the forum were from various city councils around Melbourne but there also were a few other interested people, including street artists, CDH and Makatron.

The review was focused on prevention and removal of graffiti. There was no idea about what the implementation of a graffiti management policy would actually look like on the street. The review did not have a cost benefit analysis; the cost of the current graffiti management policy compared to the financial benefits to City of Yarra in terms of visitor numbers or businesses that are based on graffiti scene.

The review appeared to be based on a naïve belief held by many people in local government that a distinction can be made between good and bad graffiti, between street art and tagging. This distinction is a faith-based policy that ignored so many facts: tagging has been around for millennia, there is no way to stop tagging, even if you have a police state equivalent to Nazi occupied Europe (see my post on WWII Graffiti) as the chances of being caught are so remote that a tagger would have to be persistent, pervasive or simply unlucky to be caught tagging. Tagging is a kind of visual urban noise, complaining about it in the inner city is like complaining about the noise of the traffic or light pollution. It is not a serious issue, there are no health and safety issues regarding tagging, unlike other urban problems like feral pigeons and fly tipping. (See my post on Coooburg)

Apart from studied ignorance (faith) there is no basis for the distinction between street art and tagging – I have asked Capire Consulting for the bibliography of their review but I have not had any response yet. Co-incidentally the following day I was sent a copy of The Bureau Magazine (thanks to its editor, Matt Derody) I will now quote from the start of the very first article that I read (even a non-systematic approach to the literature quickly quashes the distinction).

“There is no doubt that Australian society suffers a peculiar form of bipolar disorder when it comes to graffiti and street art. Rabidly opposed on the one hand and warmly encouraged on the other. It’s easy and comfortable to deploy timeworn distinctions that allow us to interpret the paradox and get on with our revulsion/appreciation agendas. The most popular is an aesthetic assessment of the art/vandalism in question. An ‘artistic piece of street art is fine (legal or illegal), a tag is ugly and blight on society. However, graffers think that tags, throw ups, burners, pieces and murals as parts of a whole – you can’t have one without the other.” (Andrew Imrie, “Graff vs Street Art…Neither or Both?” The Bureau Magazine Sept. 2012)

After the presentation CDH asked how the government can make a positive contribution to street art and reiterated points that he made in his Trojan Petition about neglected walls indicating tacit consent to being painted.

Makatron (in the red hoodie) conducts a tour of Fitzroy graffiti

Finally, after the forum Makatron lead a small tour of Fitzroy’s graffiti scene. Before he started the tour Makatron acknowledge the traditional aboriginal owners of the land –a subtle point about the hypocrisy of Australian governments demanding respect of property rights on stolen land.

In other local council news Melbourne’s Mayor Robert Doyle has made the installation of CCTV cameras in Hosier/Rutledge Lane part of his election platform against the advice of residents, the community and all the evidence. (See my posts CCTV or not CCTV Act 1 and 2.)


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