Tag Archives: yarn bombing

Piano Piano

There are pianos everywhere in Melbourne from the City Square to the Palm Plaza in Dandenong. There are 24 pianos on Melbourne’s streets this January, most of them are in the CBD especially around the Arts Centre. All the pianos have been donated and then decorated by various artists and arts groups. They are part of Play Me, I’m Yours by British artist Luke Jerram. You can play on them any time that the small boys have stopped making big noises on them.

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I stop to look at the painted piano in the City Square and Yarn Corner’s yarn-bombing. The now annual yarn-bombing of the City Square looks great this year. A great deal of thought, knitting and crocheting has gone into it with the patterns and the co-ordinated colours are a real step up from last year.

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Luke Jerram has an very impressive CV with many diverse projects from his glass microbiology models to his interactive waterfall in Bristol. His Play Me, I’m Yours project has been installed in many cities around the world. (Have a look at his website.)

Play Me, I’m Yours, was made possible by the Betty Amsden Participation Program, a four year program of large scale “art for all” participation events. Betty Amsdem OAM is a major sponsor of the arts in Melbourne (as well as,  3MBS, the RSPCA and Guide Dogs Victoria) and a vocal advocate for philanthropy.

Ultimately both the pianos and the yarn-bombing are radical gestures that empower the community to create for themselves rather than simply being spectators in this event and festival driven city. It is something that the Revolutionary Dadaist Council of Berlin would have approved.

There has always been a piano for people to play on the mezzanine floor of the City Library where their exhibition space is located. I was looking at “A Celebration of Co-Mix: an exhibition of past entrants from the Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing Award Graphic Short Stories. (Comics have come along way in my life from the subject of moral panic to the Lord Mayor’s award.) As I was looking and reading the exhibition an old woman slowly moved her walker towards the piano. At first I thought that she was just looking for a place to sit down but then she started to play. I could hear why she had made the effort; for a woman who was barely able to walk she played with a smooth ageless grace.

I had less grace when I played some 8 bar blues on the piano in the Victoria Mall in Coburg. The upright piano sounds soft when played outdoors.


Urban Folk Art

Notes towards a history of graffiti….

Graffiti has been around for millennia; it has been recorded as far back as the Sumerians (1500 and 1800 BC). But in the last few decades of the last century it suddenly changed. One of the reasons for this change was developments in technology but spray paint cans and marker pens doesn’t explain all the changes and rapid growth of graffiti/street art. Lee Newman invented the felt-tipped marking pen in 1910 but it was not until the early 1960s that they were refined or common. Aerosol spray paint was invented in 1949 Edward Seymour in Sycamore, Illinois. Other reasons for the change in graffiti are best explained by a re-examination of folk art in an urban world.

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In trying to position street art in art history, it is not useful to understand it as the feral younger brother of pop art, as it is a kind of urban folk art. Folk art is often ignored in art history except when folk traditions and outsider artists influence modern and contemporary art.

Is it realistic for folk art in the urban context have to remain un-influenced by academic or fine art? Is it realistic for all folk art to remain the activity of amateurs? Is it realistic to expect that all folk art will be cosy, apolitical and conservative? Or is more realistic that urban folk art to attempt to actively engage in trying to change their world. Urban folk art is not outsider art; the artists are as well informed about art as they want to be. They have access to the same technology and materials as professionally trained artists. Due to this crossover of fine art ideas, materials and technology, urban folk art can be artistically progressive and even avant-garde.

Consider the single most important development in the visual arts in the last century – collage. Decoupage was a popular activity for upper and middle-class women in the late 19th Century. Commercially produced images for decoupage were available in the late 19th Century and these were cut and pasted on dressing and fire screens. It is a short step from decoupage to collage or photomontage. It should not be surprising that a young woman would make progressive artistic collages. That woman was the Berlin Dadaist artist Hannah Höch (1889 – 1978) whose photomontage and collage art used images from magazines.

Perhaps Dada should be considered, in part, as a radical urban folk art movement. Dada emerged from the home printing press movement of the 1890s (L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz, was an early home printing press enthusiast). Although there were trained artists in the Dadaists there many of Dadaists were neither trained as artists nor went on to a career as a professional artists like Richard Hulsenbeck was a medical student at the time he joined the Zurich Dadaists, he went on to practice psychiatry.

Stencils on back of a truck

Other urban folk art movements followed including Mail Art and punk. Mail Art movement worked with a folk art tradition of decorating envelopes, examples of which can be seen from throughout postal history. To this tradition the Mail Art added an artistic and a utopian intention that the future of art would not be high-end art objects but multiple edition art mailed to insiders. Punk took to the streets with bands using stencils and spray paint for publicity.

There are many folk art/craft elements in street art and graffiti from automotive spray painting to yarn bombing. The interior decorating craze for stencils in the 1990s lead into Melbourne’s street art stencils in 2000, it was a familiar craft technique. Street art and graffiti emerged as an urban folk art movement and due to the internet became the most international and visible urban folk art movement so far.

Yarn bombed bicycle Collingwood


Street Art Notes 5/13

Local Paintspotting -

Coburg piece

Coburg piece

Earlier this year I wrote about Coburg being a transition point between street art and graffiti.  As more legal walls become available in Coburg the quality writers push further north and pieces in Coburg continue to improve. But I’m surprised at both the pace and quality of the work. This great piece instantly evoked for me the unforgettable sound of Grace Slick singing “White Rabbit”… “When the men on the chess board get up and tell you where to go…”

Coburg house

Coburg house

Ghost Signs and Graffiti -

Good to see a legal piece in Brunswick preserving a ghost sign. I sent the photo to my friend and former LookSmart colleague, Stefan Schutt for excellent blog about ghost signs – Finding the Radio Book and he turned it into a post; A generational jostling for space on a Brunswick wall.

King Leonidas yarn bombed (photo courtesy of Lorraine Ellis.)

King Leonidas yarn bombed (photo courtesy of Lorraine Ellis.)

Yarn bombing public sculptures -

Socks for the little girl in Lorretta Quinn’s Within Three Worlds, a red knitted plume for King Leonidas in Sparta Place, a ruff for Dianna’s panther in Paul Juraszek. The Sun & the Moon in Malvern, Melbourne’s yarn bombers have been dressing up sculptures.

The tradition of dressing up public sculptures comes from the dressing up of religious statues. If religious practices can be in bad taste then it is in the worst possible taste. It is the infringement on the moral rights of the artist is annoying in a way that decorating a pole or bench is not. The artist never asked for the contribution of the yarn bomber.

On the other hand these are public sculptures and the public should interact with them provided that this does no damage. Street artists like, CDH and Will Coles both have done good interventions using public sculptures but they are always conscious of the moral and political issues involved in this intervention. This is a subtle difference like that between appropriation art and plagiarism. But I doubt that the yarn bombers thinking of anything other than adding their woollen touch and there is no evidence in what they produce that they are aware.


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


10 Things about Yarn Bombing

+ The public loves yarn bombing.

+ Community festivals love yarn bombing.

+ Craft stores love yarn bombing and support it – Spotlight was promoting yarn bombing groups via Facebook in December 2011.

+ The media love yarn bombing. (Are you starting to worry now?) After years of hating the male dominated graffiti the media view of yarn bombing is completely different. Is it just a gender issue?

+ Yarn bombing reaches the parts that other street art can’t touch. An aerosol artist wants a big wall, a stencil artist or wheat-paster wants a bit of wall but yarn bombers aren’t competing for wall space.

+ Yarn bombing can be seen as a sculptural textile work, using readymade and already installed poles in the street as the support for fabric sculptures, like a street version of the knitted sculptures of Dorathea Tanning or Eva Hesse Hang Up, 1966. Or it can be seen as craft.

+ Anarchic women knitting anywhere they like – it is the end of the civilization as we know it?!? (This instantly brings to mind scenes from the French Revolution of women knitting at the guillotine.) Now that women my age are yarn bombing civilization as we know it is coming to an end.

+ What is connection between yarn bombing and bicycles? Bicycle racks are yarn bombers favourite targets. If you don’t believe me see the post by Art Hunter of SA and Vetti Lives in Northcote’s Yarn Bomb Bicycle. Or is it like Twilight Taggers wrote on Facebook: “Just another thing to cover.”

+ Land of Sunshine, Yarn Bombing Brunswick and Part Two.

+ There is no commercial potential in yarn bombing. When it is off the street it is just more craft knitting.


2011, the Year of the Street

2011 was the year of the street. The revolutions in the Middle East, the Occupy movement across the USA (with a smaller local version) and other protests in Europe were all on the street. There are problems that have been building up, like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, left unresolved for my entire life while a very few became disproportionately wealthy. And in 2011 this had gone beyond the limit of what most people can accept.

As well as the protests, street art has entered a new phase; in Melbourne’s streets and laneways it continues to flourish and diversify. On the street the woolly growth of yarn bombing expanded and yarn bombing entered the public consciousness. This is remarkable because just a few years yarn bombing was an obscure and eccentric practice. In previous years I have looked at the growth of exhibitions by street artist in galleries. There was no point in continuing doing it this year because of the exponential growth in the number of exhibitions and galleries specializing in artists from the street art movement. There were a few major street art exhibitions: “Space Invaders” exhibition at RMIT Gallery and Everfresh and other crews in NGV’s Studio space. And the documentary Writers Bench by Oriel Morrison and Spence David provided a history of the last three decades of Melbourne graffiti (read my review). Thinking about all of this I realized that the nature of public art has changed fundamentally.

The street art and the protests are interconnected. Syrian school kids started the revolution by spray-painting a wall and when they were beaten and tortured there were demonstrations that have continued and expanded as the cycle repeated. During 2011 revolution in Tunisia as most of the population was on the streets local artists carried their paintings through the streets; it was the perfect place to exhibit them. Egyptians painting walls during the protests, anti-Gaddafi paste-ups around Misrata; it is about the right to express your views.

The metaphorical significance of the street is akin to the real world. Street culture is seen as a real/symbolic cultural source: “reality-fantasy-symbol. Reality may easily be regarded as the most fantastic category, as the most crudely symbolic category. Symbol may be the realist, most accessible etc. etc.” (Richard Meltzer, The Aesthetics of Rock, 1987, Da Capo Paperback, p.14 footnote 1). Control of the streets is a symbolic status for the legitimacy of any government, hence the need for violent responses to street protests or artists painting on walls (read my blog post about Controlling the Streets from earlier this year).

The question of the year was does symbolic/real control make a government legitimate or does legitimacy of a spring from democratic elections, respect for human rights and representing concerns of the population? And in 2011 the answer appeared on the streets.


Exploring Melbourne – Open House

There were many reasons to go into the city on Sunday: the Melbourne Open House 2011, yarn bombing in the Bourke St. mall, yum cha, shopping and the first sunny day in many weeks. I didn’t get to see all the 75 buildings open in the city. Some, like the Block Arcade, were booked out; others, like the Royal Melbourne Hospital Tunnels, had an hour wait until the next tour. I did see Origin’s Balcony Garden, the Athenaeum, the Plaza Ballroom and Melbourne Town Hall.

Origin’s Balcony Garden on Level 7, 271 Collins Street, is a contemporary roof top garden for the staff with a BBQ area as one of the main features. Designed by Jamie Durie and completed in 2009 it is elegant and informal with a lot of artificial turf over not only the balcony but also seats and the circular seating “cocoon”.

The Athenaeum Theatre and Library is an old cultural institution from the era of marvelous Melbourne. It was a time when people would know that Athena was the goddess of wisdom and civilization. The first feature film and the first ‘talkie’ in Melbourne were shown in the Athenaeum Theatre. In its long history has also been used as an art gallery mostly between 1943 and 1962. I remember it from the Melbourne Theatre Company’s productions in both the main theatre and studio space on the top floor. Between the theatre spaces there is private subscription library – in my imagination this had always been antique relic preserved from the 1900s but actually the library has kept up to date and full of popular titles and has 4 computers with internet access for the patrons.

Plaza Ballroom with visitors on Melbourne's Open House

Across the road from the Athenaeum, the Plaza Ballroom built by Frank Thring Snr. (father of Frank Thring, the actor). It is a rococo extravaganza of faux medieval with a tiled fountain and fake balconies. Overhead there is a huge hand-painted coffered reinforced concrete ceiling. It reminded me of the décor of the Forum Theatre and an old cinema in Brisbane but on a far larger scale.

After the theatrical aesthetic of the ballroom the classical styling and eclectic collection of the Melbourne Town Hall appeared more dubious. It has all the qualities of a wedding reception centre which it is used for. The council chambers are also used for the Melbourne comedy festival. Amongst the collection of portraits of former mayors and official gifts from other cities there is a Rick Amor painting of Melbourne laneways complete with graffiti and paste-ups (odd considering the City Council’s antipathy towards street art).

Twilight Taggers in the Bourke St. Mall

A visit to Melbourne’s CBD would not be complete without looking at some street art. There was a yarn-bombing project by Bali (see her blog the Twilight Taggers) and Yarn Corner going on in the Bourke St. Mall. A long colorful knitted and crocheted cover for a rail and its supports adorned with crocheted flowers. Yarn bombing is turning into a community art form, the family-friendly, council-friendly aspect of street art. And while in Chinatown for yum cha I walked up Croft Alley to see the current aerosol street art on its walls. Croft Alley was repainted in February 2011. (See my post about the earlier Croft Alley Project.)

Due to Sunday’s fine weather and the Melbourne Open House there were hundreds (maybe thousands) of people of all ages (kids getting their open house maps stamped at various locations) exploring the rarely seen Melbourne, the old Melbourne and the present Melbourne.


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