Tag Archives: Street Art

Banksy’s Favourite Criminologist

Going paintspotting with Alison Young around Melbourne suburbs of Brunswick and Parhran is like going for a walk with any other enthusiastic, informed observer of street art and graffiti. Walking around, looking down lanes, camera ready trying to see the splash of aerosol spray paint, the paste-up or, even, street art sculpture.

Except that Alison Young is not just another fan of Melbourne’s street art but the Professor of Criminology at the University of Melbourne and is Banksy’s “favourite criminologist in the world”. (And how many criminologists does Banksy know?)

Alison Young book

Alison Young’s Street Art, Public City – Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination is an academic book, full of citations and an extensive bibliography but don’t panic. The academic nature of this should not put off interested readers, as it is well written and does not require a background in criminology or sociology to understand. The book comfortable ranges in styles from the personal narrative to post-modern philosophy.

Street Art, Public City is not solely focused on the laws that prohibit street art and graffiti or the way that they are enforced. Although there is some old-school criminology in Chapter 5 where Young examines aspects of law enforcement: the appellate process on sentences for graffiti, the lack of distinction in the law between vandalism and graffiti and the political use of James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling’s much referred to “broken window” hypothesis. Young avoids technical language using “the legislated city” instead of ‘nomosphere’ to describe the intersection of law and urban space, while including such technical language in the footnotes.

Street Art, Public City presents a broad view of street art and the city, examining the way that we imagine the city, the issue of public and private space, the multiple uses and versions the city. This is informed by Young’s own exploration of street art in Melbourne, New York, Berlin, London and other cities and her many conversations with street artists. Previously Young, in collaboration with the artists, Ghostpatrol and Miso, wrote Street Studio – the place of street art in Melbourne (Thames & Hudson, 2010) that features interviews with Neils Oeltjen (aka Nails), Tom Civil, Tai Snaith, Ghostpatrol, Ash Keating, Al Stark, Miso, Twoone, Mic Porter, and the Everfresh Crew.

Street Art, Public City is focused on the situation that the art is presented, the affect on both the artist and the viewer. The focus on the situational aspect makes Young’s approach, including her explorations of cities, almost Situationalist especially considering her conclusion of learning to live with the paradoxes that street art generates. The actual street art is not really discussed in the same depth. That said the influence of the art galleries and the art market are examined in some detail.

After so many books on street art that are basically eye candy, picture books with more photographs than words it is a relief to actually read a book about street art. There are fifteen colour photos at the front and a few more black and white photos scattered in the book’s six chapters. Photographs of street art only tell part of the story as there are aspects of street art that cannot be captured in a photograph. Photographs cannot show the duration, very important with ephemeral street art, nor the motivation of the artist and the reaction of the public. Photographs do not explanation the situation and it is the public situation where street art is created and displayed. Street Art, Public City gives the reader more to consider about street art and the city than simply more images.

Alison Young, Street Art, Public City – Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination (Routledge, 2014)


MoreArt 2014

James Voller in Fragmented Patterns, uses the side of an industrial rubbish bin and a public toilet on Victoria Street in Coburg, as the support for photographs of the facades of suburban houses where the classical arch has become an architectural cliche. The sense of perspective given by these large scale prints distorts/transforms the surrounding environment. Is it a toilet block or the front of a small house?

James Voller, Fragmented Patterns

James Voller, Fragmented Patterns

A nineteenth century iron lamp post outside the Brunswick Town Hall is covered in gold leaf; Ria Green and Aliça Bryson Haynes, Everyday Monument. It made me question if I could remember the lamp post before this transformation.

Ria Green and Aliça Bryson Haynes, Everyday Monument

Ria Green and Aliça Bryson Haynes, Everyday Monument

Seeking to transform the way that people look at urban/industrial landscape of Coburg and Brunswick is the intention of the annual MoreArts exhibition of temporary public art. Not all of the art succeeds in this kind of transformation, some of it has just been plonked in a location.

Others suffer from other more complex urban problems, including tagging and stickers on the billboard style works of Benjamin Sheppard’s Crown in the Jewell and Chris Mether and Anthony Mecuri’s Bubbles. Not that this is a major problem in itself but it does highlight MoreArts ignoring the greater quantity, more permanent, but unofficial transformative art occupying the same area, the street art and graffiti.

Anthony Sawrey, No Tree or

Anthony Sawrey, No Tree (or do you see the street art?)

Carla Gottgens Baggage, is a series of old suitcases supporting photographs of scenes from Gottgens life recreated in miniature models. Along with Gottgens Baggage at the Coburg Railway Station bike shed there was a little sign to indicate that it is an art installation in case the increasingly paranoid and insane people, who are increasingly treated as reasonable, sane and normal, might think it is a bomb. (“If you see something say something” – I see fear mongering and encouraging violence, paranoia and war crimes. What do you see?) At this point the attempt at a transformative experience is diminished.

Carla Gottgens, Baggage

Carla Gottgens, Baggage

Moreart has a badly designed guide, available online in PDF format, that needed to be rotated multiple times in order to read it. It has been a great irritation to use; I assume that it makes sense only if you know what it is meant to mean and have it printed out in hardcopy. So why bother putting it online in that state?


Artistic Laneways

Walking around the city on a Saturday gallery crawl I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to walk down a couple of Melbourne’s more artistic laneways: Union Lane and Pesgrave Place.

Union Lane

A group of guys spray painting along the length of Union Lane, as usual there was also someone documenting it with photographs but one of the artists was videoing himself with a small camera strapped to his head. An artist eye view of painting a piece, Picasso would have loved that technology.

It was J.D. Mittmann and Amanda King who organised the first legal painting in Union Lane back in 2008 as part of the city’s Graffiti Mentoring Project. Somewhere on its walls under years of aerosol paint there are works by Phibs, Deb, Rhen, Taj, Ha Ha and many other artists. Union Lane is currently managed/curated by Signal as part of its street art mentoring project.

Union Lane is a lot narrower than Hosier Lane, it is now just a gap connecting the Bourke Street Mall to Little Collins Street; it is more about graffiti and less about street art but there were a couple of new Junky Projects, now colourfully spray painted with stencil tags.

Presgrave Place

Presgrave Place is the opposite of Union Lane a location for odd street art rather than graffiti, the op-shop frames glued to the wall are still there but most no longer have their old prints in them. There is an old paste-up by Happy of a dead Pinnochio hung with noose made from his long nose and a new Junky Projects.

Junky Projects Presgrave Place

In Presgrave Place there is also Melbourne’s smallest art gallery, Trink Tank, a small glass vitrine outside Bar Americano. Nicholas Smith was exhibiting “Notes on Live Night Parrot Sightings in North-western Queensland” with a model of the last authenticated sighting, a dead parrot (Pezoporus Occidentalis) found on the side of the road.

Nicholas Smith


Scandal Shock!

“… as a protest against the niggardly funding of the fine arts in this hick State and against the clumsy unimaginative stupidity of the administration and distribution of that funding.” Australian Cultural Terrorists claim of responsibility for the theft of Pablo Picasso’s Weeping Woman from the NGV in 1986.

Melbourne love an art scandal. This is assisted by having some top rate scandals, for example, the unsolved theft of the Weeping Woman. Although sometimes these scandals seem to be borrowed from US culture wars, as in the case of the vandalism of Andre Serrano’s Piss Christ in 1997.

Art scandals have been ruined careers and lives, some of them were crimes and art has been destroyed. Melbourne never gave Vault a fair go. Juan Davila sighs at yet another repetition of the cry of ‘obscenity!’ Some of the unfortunate victims of these scandals and some naive realists might be thinking: “what has this got to do with art?” but this discourse is part of what defines art.

In the wake of an art scandal, even people who have not been to an art gallery in decades will express an opinion. The media is full of the story and more comments and from the informed comments to the mad ignorant rants it is this discourse that, in part, defines art. The year of debate about Ron Robertson-Swann’s modernist sculpture Vault in 1980, although driven by local city council politics, inspired the next generation artists to think hard about art and express their ideas not just in their art but in public forums.

This love of art scandals has created its own artists, CDH and Van Rudd for example, who create their own mass media interactive art works by provoking police, politicians or the public. These artists and their art are well known, although not exactly popular. Creating a scandal that goes viral is not the easiest thing to do and not every attempt succeeds in being both a scandal and art.

It has also helped create the environment that fostered Melbourne’s street art and graffiti scene by giving their contentious and audacious actions a wider public eager to discuss them and collect them.

These accidental and deliberate scandals are interesting because they expose the cracks in the facade of our culture and deep divisions in the airbrushed idea of a united society. These scandals raises more questions than they answers prompting further thought, action and creation.


Stencil Festival to Sweet Streets

This is the insides story of the Melbourne Stencil Festival, at least the part that I know and I was involved 2008, 2009 and 2010 aka Sweet Streets. The history of the Stencil Festival is longer than my involvement; it goes back to 2004 when the first stencil art festival in the world is held in Melbourne.

Melbourne Stencil Festival 09 exhibition

Melbourne Stencil Festival 09 exhibition

Even now this story needs to be told to dispel any idea that it was being run by paid administers in an office with lots of sponsorship dollars. Melbourne might be a festival city with all kinds of spectacles completing of attention but this makes potential sponsors festival fatigued. Festivals are not recipes for economic success and we struggled to attracted sufficient corporate or government sponsorship.

Every year the stencil festival would gets an angry email about how the festival does not ‘represent’ the ‘real’ street art community. The real is a symbolic category; the festival never claimed to represent street art. The festival was never about being the poster child of street art, nor about owning the concept, the brand name of ‘real’ street art. It was about creating a bridge between the mainstream and the street art community, providing a forum and a festival for the art. Each year there has been workshops, employing artists to teach their stencil skills to children and adults. Art is an exclusive affair but the paradox of street art is that it is open to everyone on the street and is not the exclusive privilege for insiders.

I initially became involved in Melbourne Stencil Festival in 2008 as the volunteer coordinator and award judge (along with four others including Chor Boogie). I became involved because I thought that it might be a good opportunity to show some practical support and make some contacts in the street art scene. I took a Gonzo journalist approaches to reporting the MSF – a participant observer, in Malososki’s opinion is the best kind of anthropologist, and what is the difference between an art critic and anthropologist anyway?

2008 was an ambitiously international festival with Chor Boogie, A1, John Kolaczar, Pete Wollinger and other artists from around the world. I was not involved in the politics of the 2008 festival but I could see that JD Mitmann had a major conflict of interest with the festival as he also ran the gallery Famous When Dead where he showed and sold many of the artists. I doubt that JD Mitmann actually profited from this relationship but this was also a matter of perception; you could look at the relationship as symbiotic. The 2008 AGM was a very interesting affair; there was a mea culpa from the previous committee and, except for Adi, the newly elected committee was completely new.

I was then parachuted into an emergency committee in 2009 after Satta van Daal’s resignations. I didn’t see anything of Adi; the committee was no longer functioning. I became the festival’s secretary; being the secretary is not the most glamorous of jobs – lots of emails, typing minutes of meetings, finding meeting venues and other mundane or bureaucratic matters.

I quickly found that I’m not the only one that has been parachuted in to run the festival; there was also Phil Hall, Tessa Yea and Anna Briers. Phil Hall is an energetic, enthusiastic and experienced public arts worker who had work in Collingwood before. Tessa Yea and Anna Briers were then adventurous curatorial students from Melbourne University doing an internship at the festival.

I have yet to mention Coops, Paul Cooper of Arttruck was keeping the whole transition between 2008 and 2009 going. His advertising and design business had office space and computers that we could use along with chocolate cake and biscuits because photographing food produces some great left-overs. This was over when the relationships with Coops and the rest of the festival organisers cooled over poster design.

We found more volunteers, lots of them, all competent and eager to get the festival happening. Somehow it all came together. The new volunteers were all excellent, many of them were students doing work in curatorial studies and marketing, others were just random people like me interested in street art. MSF 09 was thrown together in three months mostly by email with only support from the City of Yarra and in-kind support from sponsors.

Boo & Tom Civil, Sweet Streets 2010

Boo & Tom Civil, Sweet Streets 2010

After managing to put together the festival in 2009 the team was ambitious to run another festival. There was an obvious need to re-brand and redefine the festival to include more than just stencil art. The initial focus on stencil art came at a time in Melbourne when stencil art was very popular and there were a lot of stencil art on the street. Since then street art in Melbourne has expanded, new techniques and ideas have come along (yarn bombing and street sculpture).

So the Melbourne Stencil Festival became “Sweet Streets – urban and street art festival.” The use of the term “urban and street art” was used to sidestep the debate about street art in the gallery.

The festival 2010 was bigger and better than all previous years – a real arts festival with a program of events, multiple exhibitions in several locations, but not the budget that went with that. On top of being secretary I was running the film night. The ancient Geeks had a word for it – ‘hubris’.

In the end the committee was exhausted and without a succession plan. This is the problem of running an annual festival, at the point where everyone on the committee was exhausted you should have been preparing for next year’s festival and finding sponsors. It was hard to keep volunteers motivated for a whole year preparing for the festival. I could go on about all the problems and forget the success of a street art festival running in Melbourne for seven years.

Does it still exist? Rumours that it will be revived occur from time to time over the years. Unfortunately attempts to revive the festival proved futile.

Read my reports from the front line as an embedded blogger:

MSF 2008

Opening Night 

Conversations with John Koleszar and Russel Hosze

Melbourne & Graffiti (reflections on talks given at MSF 2008)

MSF 2009

Opening Night

Underground 

Sweet Streets 2010

Sweet Streets 

Award Exhibition

Urban Intervention @ YSG

Street Art Politics Forum

Week 1    

Week 2 

Black Mark at Sweet Streets auction.

Black Mark at Sweet Streets auction.


Ten Great Street Installations

I have love street installations. I write about street art installation in my book on Melbourne’s public sculpture because street installations, although not officially sanctioned, are still seen by the public.

Junky Projects, All Your Walls, 2013 (2)

The new Junky Projects that is part of All Your Walls in Hosier Lane is the largest that I have yet seen on the streets, becoming more abstract in his compositions. It a Dadaists/Futurists.

Pop Cap, All Your Walls, 2013

The Lego men in also All Your Walls by Pop Cap.

Will Coles, Nothingness

Will Coles, Nothingness, does anyone notice if a pigeon dies?

psalm-rainb2

Photograph that Psalm sent to me, this urban Rainbow is some of some of his fine work. Showing that he can do installations and other street art.

psalm-drain2

Another photograph by Psalm of his work, Drain, its an old gag but worth doing well.

GT Sewell, Clown Serpent, 2013 (2 Blender Alley)

A great serpent clown by GT in Blender Lane.

Tea pot CBD

Yarn bombing referring back to the tea-cosy. Is yarn bombing trying to make the city more cosy?

Les Futo's spiral of lighters

A temporary installation; Les Futo’s great spiral of used lighters, presented at the Brunswick Festival in 2008.

Buckets in AC:DC lane

Can fling-up be art? In 2009 these buckets appeared in AC/DC Lane.

B1 Crucified, Brunswick

B1 Crucified in Brunswick in 2013. Is this a reference to cuts to the ABC?


Charlatans of the Art World

The accusation of charlatan is sometime levelled against some artists. Robert Hughes made this accusation to Jeff Koons. Koons replied to was to point out that if had put his talents to use in the business world he would have a bigger income.

Chelsea, NYC stickers, 2013

Chelsea, NYC, stickers, 2013

I smile sadly at the street artists who snigger about all the street art photographers, the artists who dislike collectors and the accusations of “toy” amongst the street artists. I understand the artists who hate critics, although I think that critics are misunderstood. For all of these people are all part of a system that creates and defines what art is.

Artists, collectors, curators, critics, gallery visitors, gallery directors have many different ambitions, drives and desires; one artist may have many different ambitions, drives and desires. The game of art, if it resembled any game, is like a role-playing game; in these games the players are not directly competing against each other but playing characters in a story.

I regularly play tabletop role-playing games and the players have a variety of ambitions within the game: the power player, the character actor, the storyteller and the puzzle solver are the typical variations. Like any game there people playing it for a variety of reasons from the social to personal. In the game of art there are artists and other people playing with all kinds of ambitions within and outside of art.

There is early episode in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, when Tom and Huck are playing at highwaymen and Huck complains about the futility of playing at gentlemen highway robbers.

“He (Tom) said if I warn’t so ignorant, but had read a book called ‘Don Quixote’, I would know without asking… So then I judged that all that stuff was only just one of Tom Sawyer’s lies. I reckoned he believed in all the A-rabs and the elephants, but for me I think different. It had all the marks of a Sunday school.”

Tom Sawyer’s self-conscious play demonstrated awareness of the rules of genre whether it is highwaymen or pirates. He makes the painting of his aunt’s fence into an event, although the event lacking any authentic emotional or artistic quality it is very profitable one for Tom. (Read more in my forth-coming book, Tom Sawyer, Art Entrepreneur. Syndicated chapter from the early years about Tom getting the local street artists to paint his Aunts fence for nothing, they even brought their own paint. But I digress.)

One can always have doubts about Tom Sawyer’s true intentions or have doubts about Duchamp – serious, joke or both? Tom Sawyer chooses to play at being pirates or highwaymen just as Duchamp chooses to play at making art. However whereas Tom Sawyer slavish follows the conventions of the genre, to Huck Finn’s great consternation, Duchamp incorporates jokes about them into his games. Jokes were about being aware of the conventions of the art gallery and the art world. Duchamp did not change the conventions of art galleries and the art world, the changes had already been made.

Isn’t a charlatan just the opposition’s view of a magician? (Are we talking stage magician or someone like Gandalf?) I am referring to Jed Perls’s new book Magicians and Charlatans.

DSC05944


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