“Off The Grid: Invader and Melbourne Street Art in the early 2000s” is a small exhibition with a lot of depth at the City Gallery in the Melbourne Town Hall. Curator, writer and photographer Lachlan MacDowall discovers ingenious connections between the inventor of computers, Charles Babbage, the surveyor of Melbourne’s streets, William Hoddle, the game Space Invaders and Melbourne street art in the early 2000s.
The hub of these connections is the French artist Invader, who unites computer graphics with Melbourne’s grid of streets. His grid of tiles depicts aliens from the Space Invaders game. In 2002 Invader was in Melbourne, sticking his work around the city; a year before, Banksy visited in 2003. The grid and alien invasion also come together in Melbourne with the imperial occupation of the Kulin nation’s lands.
Invader’s work can still be seen on the streets, and the ceramic tiles have aged well. One of Invader’s pieces has ended up in the collection of the City of Melbourne due to it being salvaged from demolishing the part of the Melbourne Arts Centre next to Princes Bridge. Invader’s work can still be seen on the streets, and the ceramic tiles have aged well.
MacDowall also refers to local artists Crateman, Sunfigo, GoonHugs, and Andy Uprock, “… combining grids with everyday materials – milk crates, twine, plastic cups and stickers”. Pointing out that these art works “display their source code, inviting the viewer to copy and remake them.” An invitation many people took up, resulting in a diverse, dynamic and inventive street art scene.
This “open source ethic” of street art in the early 2000s has largely been replaced with closed-source proprietary techniques and locations of the muralists who obscure the grids of their enlargements. These do not invite the viewer to copy; the scale and techniques are too intimidating to try. This is intentional, for there are commercial opportunities that weren’t there for street artists in the early 2000s.
Although the exhibition is small, just one Invader piece, half-a-dozen photographs, a couple of documents, a video, and some wall text, the small booklet accompanying it is a little gem. There is an essay by MacDowall taking you deeper into the subject accompanied by more of his dramatic photographs of street art along with a map of Melbourne locations of Invader’s work. Unlike so many exhibition essays MacDowall’s Off The Grid was an engaging read (all the quotes in this post are from that essay).