Tag Archives: tagging

Melbourne Now

Thirty-three years after that tumultuous turning point in Melbourne’s culture when Ron Robertson-Swann’s Vault (aka “The Yellow Peril”) was installed and then removed from the City Square. Melbourne Now is yellow; the exhibition’s logo is yellow, at the launch of the exhibition the Minister for the Arts, Heidi Victoria was dressed in yellow complete with yellow nail polish. Back in the 1980s Barry Humphries suggested that Melbourne should be called “the big Orange”, in reference to NYC moniker, “the big Apple”, but the orange trams are no longer on Melbourne’s streets. In Peter Tyndall blog post for 21/11/13 (reproduced in Melbourne Now) Tyndall suggests that Melbourne’s colour is black – that appeals to me (ha ha).

Thirty-three years ago it would have been impossible to have an exhibition of the quality and scale of Melbourne Now. There were not enough quality artists or gallery space in Melbourne then. Now Melbourne has become the city that Robertson-Swann’s sculpture anticipated, a city where the arts and design flourish.

Daniel Crooks, A garden of parallel paths, 2012 (still)

Daniel Crooks, A garden of parallel paths, 2012 (still)

Melbourne Now is huge exhibition covering 8000 square meters of gallery space in both of the NGV galleries, and extending out of the galleries into the sculpture garden at the back of the NGV International and onto Melbourne’s streets. It is all free and will occupy most of a day; it took me over three hours to just to get an impression of the exhibition. I’m sure that I must have missed something and I will happily to go back for another look.

The exhibition includes so much – painting, sculpture, drawing, art publications, design, architecture, fashion, music, and dance. I will try to focus on a just couple of aspects.

Parents take your children to this exhibition; later in life they might thank you for it when it is mentioned in Australian art history and there is plenty to keep kids engaged with this exhibition at the present. Children’s activities include making experimental music with The Donkey Tail Jr. on the mezzanine gallery of the NGV (St. Kilda Road) and adding silhouette bird stickers to the sky of Juan Ford’s huge work You, me and the flock. The Dewhurst Family supported both these features of the exhibition. Much of this exhibition is interactive; you can also make your own jewellery, design your own shoes out of cardboard or sketch in the beautiful room of taxidermy work by Julia DeVille (sketching materials: black paper, gold and silver pencils and boards provided).

Street art is a major part of Melbourne’s current art scene and the influence of street art, graffiti and tagging is clear in Melbourne Now. There is Ponch Hawkes photographs of tree tagging, Stieg Persson’s paintings, Reko Rennie’s paintings, Ash Keating’s video and Lush’s installation: Graffiti doesn’t belong in the gallery? It is typical of Lush to get his tag up everywhere. Daniel Crooks’ a great video installation A garden of parallel paths and a Rick Amor painting Mobile Call also present views of Melbourne’s graffiti covered laneways. The walls of Hosier Lane, with All Your Walls, are also part of Melbourne Now. (I will write about All Your Walls in a later blog post when the project is complete on Friday 29th of November.)

Some of the artists in Melbourne Now

Some of the artists in Melbourne Now

Finally with such a large collection of contemporary artists it is worth doing a bit of statistical examination: 56% of the artists are men, 44% are women and 11% identify as indigenous Australians. Indigenous Australians are well represented in the exhibition given that, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics “Victoria had the lowest proportion of people of indigenous origin at 0.6% of the total state population”. I only counted individually named artists and not groups. Compared to statistical break down of the artists to be included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial with only 32% women and 7.6% artists of African descent (see Hyperallergic “The Depressing Stats of the 2014 Whitney Biennial”) Melbourne Now is very balanced and representative.


Audacious Art

“I am for an art that does something other than sit on its ass in the museum. I am for an art that grows up not knowing it is art at all, an art given the chance of having a starting point of zero. I am for an art that embroils itself with the everyday crap & still comes out on top.”

- Claus Oldenberg “I Am For Art” 1961

Lush, Brunswick

Lush, Brunswick

The anarchic nature of street art and graffiti, the illegal work, questioning of the law is one of the main strength of street art. The audacity of street artists in climbing and trespassing is an aspect of street art that cannot be transferred to the art gallery.

The classic mythic avant-garde artist who lived and died in garrets have been replaced by the new professional artists in clean studios and promoted by curators and galleries. The artist has become an administrator, writing submissions, applications and project specifications. This is not an interesting story – it lacks romance and drama. The public wants art that has romance and drama that doesn’t sit coolly in an art gallery self-assured of its own immortal relevance.

Street art collector Andrew King sums this up: “What I really like is when people go up on the side of buildings, weird dangerous places. They’re literally risking their lives just for their art. You’ve got to admire it. They’re not going to sell it or get anything out of it, except the kudos that they get from their mates and their crew and other writers.” (The Bureau Magazine, v.1 no.2 p.11)

I could go on to write about climbing and writing high up in the heavens but I’m going to look elsewhere.

Jetso & Pezzer, Fitzroy

Jetso & Pezzer, Fitzroy

The audacity of street and graff artists is something that is admired about street artists but they can also royal pains in the ass in annoyance, persistence and lack of respect. Lush and the team of Jetso and Pezzer currently Melbourne’s most audacious royal pains in the ass are. (Not that I mean this in a bad way – my wife’s favourite song is Wire’s “I am the Fly” and she love’s Lush’s cats, so I’m guessing that this is one of the reasons she loves me. And not, that they are the only street and graff artists in Melbourne who are annoying pains.) If one of the purposes of art is to make you think then art that is annoying is a logical move.

Jetso & Pezzer

Jetso & Pezzer

Jetso and Pezzer tag everywhere they can get. Lush is a cheeky fellow.

Lush, Brunswick

Lush, Brunswick

I also like this quote from Bombing Science interview with Lush.

BS: What’s your sign?

Lush: I’m under the sign of the black mark.


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.)


Private Public

People complain, “Taggers vandalized my fence”.

“Really?!” I think to reply. “They came onto your property and scribble stuff on the inside of your fence, that’s outrageous.”

I’m then informed that the taggers wrote on the outside public side of the fence or wall. Not your side of the wall then? You wouldn’t complain if your neighbour wrote on their side of the wall between your two properties but you want to claim ownership of the public wall. You want to impose your beige or mission brown identity and taste on the public but object when others do it.

Public space in the city is an illusion. As far as the state is concerned it is the public and consequently public spaces organized like private space. In Melbourne public transport infrastructure is fenced off allowing buildings to go derelict rather than to allow any other use of it. Every defined border of public space, the walls and fences, is theoretically either privately owned or under the control of some government authority. Then there are private spaces posing as public space, like the shopping malls and pubs (short for public house). There is petty parochial nature in Melbourne with the proverbial dog in a manger attitude of ‘I was here first’ is matched by the territoriality of some graffiti crews.

Public and private are not natural states they are created by a culture and therefore can change or be in a state of flux. Changes in the public and the private become an issue for a culture to discuss – private or public communications on Facebook, how much of your body you can uncover in public and the contrary how much of your face do you have to show in public.

What exactly the public is an even more complex political issue. Do you mean the sum total of all the individuals, including all the taggers, the psychos and the others that you might want to exclude, or just the mob majority? Or do you mean the mean average, the beige, neutral public, Baudrillard’s silent majorities the great force of inertia? Or a ghostly public that is altogether imaginary, theoretical and ideal, that is a cover for politicians and executives that essentially owns it and treats it as their private space.

Upfield line wall – Brunswick

In part this post is a comment CDH’s article “Street Artists Aren’t Vandals”, that expands on the ideas in his Trojan Petition, because the issues are greater than just permission. A lot of new concrete walls went up along the Upfield train line in Brunswick, these walls haven’t been neglected but they are magnificent public walls for graffing. Street art, squatting and the Occupy Movement challenge and examine the sacred concept of ownership. The ownership on this city that was originally owned by the aboriginal peoples of the area has to be examined in a practical and civic way. Real and substantial damages should be the measure of a crime as opposed to transgressions on the sanctity of ownership.

We all share this city. We see it, hear it, feel it and smell it everyday. Tom Civil has spoken about “how street art and graffiti create community, mark space and act as a human-scaled anarchic form of urban architecture.” A piece of graffiti in a good location where nobody can be bothered buffing or a legal piece on the side of a house can last for ten or more years. It becomes part of the neighbourhood’s identity, in what is often a featureless uniform urban environment.

Street art explores the border of areas of the city, the areas of marginal interest, the laneways and alleys, the littoral zones of the walls that divide the city into sections. It challenges the ideas of public space.


Modern Art & Tagging

‘Tag’, used as a noun means a name on the street; as a verb it means to write a tag.

It is a basic human right to have a name. And names are in part poetry, as well as, part magic. There hasn’t been enough written about the artistic and poetics of tags – Psalm first impressed me for the poetry of the word chosen, both in the biblical references, as well as, the two sets of constants bracketing a single vowel.

Think about those big blockbuster exhibitions at the NGV where the artist’s signature is enlarged as a logo, think about all the brand names on t-shirts, trucker caps, etc. that are part of the contemporary world. Think about all this and you find it is not surprising that people want to tag everywhere.

Considering the artistic value of a tag, as calligraphy, as a combination of letters, as the cool status that the name implies.

The artistic history of the tag along with the importance of the artist’s signature – is an important factor in contemporary art. Were Duchamp’s signatures essentially tags? He applied his signature to various objects, not only to his readymades, ordinary objects transformed into art. Duchamp also signed restaurant murals and other things joking about the transformative power of his signature.

And there is a connection between the tag on the street and the European avant-garde tradition. The connection is Brion Gysin.

“Gysin’s final work, completed less than a year before his death, was a ten-panel painting entitled Calligraffiti of Fire (1985), a reworking of an idea first tackled in a small accordion notebook from 1961, now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York… Indeed it is not difficult to interpret a work like Calligraffiti as an immense tag, a signature “across the sky,” in Burrough’s words…” (Laura Hoptman Brion Gysin – Dream Machine, Merrell, 2010, New York, p.65)

Calligraffiti is not an isolated work in Gysin’s art and was influential on Keith Haring. Gysin’s influence on the Keith Haring connects street art with the European avant-garde back to Surrealism. Laura Hoptman in Brion Gysin – Dream Machine argues that Gysin’s calligraphic art, although influenced by his experience with Japanese and Arabic script is simply his initials: ‘BG’ endlessly repeated.

So next time you consider a tag (in joy or anger) consider these words of Brion Gysin; “I may write only what I know in space: I am that I am.”

(For more about the relationship between graffiti and modern art read my post Modern Artists & Graffiti.)

Tags @ Project Melbourne Underground


Newspaper Wrecks City

Which is the bigger problem for Melbourne: tagging or the poor quality of reporting in the Herald Sun, one of Melbourne’s two metropolitan daily newspapers? “Space Invaders” at RMIT Galley has attracted negative media coverage before the exhibition even opened: “Government-sponsored graffiti art show angers campaigners” by Jessica Craven (Herald Sun September 01, 2011).

The Herald Sun is owned by the Murdoch media empire and has all the ethical standards associated with that organization. And yet has chosen to attack The Australian National Library and the National Gallery of Australia for collecting and archiving street art. The Herald Sun’s agenda is clear in their article: “The exhibition comes after the Herald Sun revealed the National Library had archived a Melbourne graffiti website glorifying illegal tagging for its social and cultural value.” The Australian National Library and the National Gallery of Australia, unlike News Corporation, have never been accused of any crimes, have never been accused of overt bias and are staffed by highly trained professionals.

The Herald Sun has no interest in the arts and closed down their entire arts section last year. However, the Herald Sun finds it profitable to generate anger and to create controversies where there are none. The ethical standards of Adelaide Now, who reprinted the article, appear hypocritical after publishing a comment that suggests that people go and vandalize the exhibition.

Jessica Craven, the reporter for the Herald Sun, does not regularly cover the arts. She is also known for being one of the two reporters to write about: “Oprah sparking controversy over golliwogs”. (See Crikey for the full details of that stupid piece of reporting by Jessica Craven)And the Independent Media Centre Australia has also accused Jessica Craven of “distorting the news to fuel racism”.

If the Herald Sun had a real arts reporter they might have written something better. The reporter could have attended the exhibition before writing about this important travelling exhibition from the National Gallery of Australia. The story ignores the local angle that the exhibition is a homecoming for the art Melbourne’s major street artists including: HaHa, Rone, James Dodd, Meek, Ghostpatrol, Miso and Civil. A competent reporter would have at least mentioned the range of art in this exhibition: the stencils, posters, paste-ups, zines, artist’s sketchbooks and stickers. Even discussed the themes in the exhibition: the politics, the ad-busting and the return of the hand.

A good reporter would have also included quotes from opening speeches from Rupert Myer, the Chair of National Gallery of Australia, who hoped that the exhibition would provide a safe place for public debate. I’m not that optimistic. The intellectual and cultural vandalism of the Herald Sun is a significant problem for Melbourne, making all the tagging in the city trivial in comparison. In attempting to generate controversies the newspaper creates problems rather than fairly reporting and informing the public.


Messages of Love

There was a time, before all this street art, when a significant amount of graffiti was private messages of love. Was carving a heart and initials on a tree tradition and did farmers complain about kids tagging their trees. Or was this only in the cartoons? (I don’t know as I’ve only once carved my name into a tree – in 1975 on a baobab tree that was covered in names by the highway in Mozambique.)

Now the personal messages of love are kind of rare although you can still see them around. It is not that there isn’t as much love around but the expression of it has changed.

In Europe the padlock is another kind of personal symbol of love that I have seen on the street. A padlock is attached to public railing and the padlock becomes a metaphor for the strength of the relationship.

I missed St. Valentine’s Day for this entry because I was thinking about my darling Catherine.


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