Tag Archives: art documentary

Melbourne Street Docos

“I’ve just seen something around that corner!” says the Spud Rokk before running down the block with the cameraman running after him to discover a fresh piece of graffiti. The Graff Hunters is the most high-energy arts presenter that I’d ever seen. (See my review of The Graff Hunters and you must see The Graff Hunters on YouTube because not enough people have.)

Spud Rokk - image courtesy of Graff Hunters

Spud Rokk – image courtesy of Graff Hunters

I must note some bias because I have been involved with some of these documentary makers. Organizing the film night at Sweet Streets 2010 put me in contact with Spud Rokk (aka Spencer Davids) who turned out to be living only a few blocks away. He was making another documentary, that at the time was called “My Name Is…” – later it was renamed “Writer’s Bench” (2011). (See my review of Writer’s Bench)

At one time it seemed to me that everyone was making a documentary about Melbourne street art. Making documentaries about graffiti and street art was a natural part of the movement; documentaries, music clips and films had spread contemporary graffiti to Melbourne. “At first the only information on the genre consisted of a documentary film on Bronx street life Style Wars, the glossy art book Subway Art by Henry Chalfant & Martha Cooper, and a B-grade feature movie Beat Street.” (Christopher Heathcote “Discovering Graffiti”
Art Monthly Australia, September 2000 – see Melbourne Graffiti)

There have been a few documentaries shown on the ABC TV’s Artscape. February 2009, featured Tony Wyzenbeek’s Paper Cuts the art of Miso & Ghostpatrol (see my review). And in September 2012 two episodes of Jacob Oberman’s Subtopia about Doyle and the Blender crew (see my review). Not Quite Art (2007) looked at Melbourne’s street art and DIY culture. And the ABC twice showed Rash (2005) by Nicholas Hansen.

Hansen’s Rash covered Melbourne street art from 2002 to 2005 and interviewed some of the artists at the centre of it. It won the Best Feature Documentary award at the Film Critics Circle of Australia awards in 2005.

Melbourne Ink, (2009) was made by Julien Sena and Romain Levrault, two young filmmakers from Reunion Island with a lot of assistance and advice from Coops at Arttruck (see my review).

Jamie Howarth’s 70K (2006) was a documentary about graffitists, including Renks, a member of the 70K crew, that was refused classification (censored) by the OFLC (Office of Film and Literature Classification).

Cutback by Rachel Bentley was filmed between 2011 and 2014 in Melbourne, Sydney, Berlin, NYC and London. It focuses on the mainstream reception of Australian street art and features many of the usual suspects from Melbourne’s street art scene: Makatron, Rone, HaHa, Vexta, Beastman and Phibs.

There is probably someone in Melbourne right now desperately trying to edit together another documentary on Melbourne’s street art. A lot of them never get finished.

Looking across the oceans there is fund raising activity going on for more street art and graffiti documentaries. If you want to see more street art documentaries then there are ways that you can make it happen. Dscreet’s film “Dots” is being funded by the sales of a set including art (the prints), a co-producer credit and percentage in the film. (Has he finished it yet?) There is, Dregs, a New Zealand street art documentary that is currently fund-raising. And “White Walls Say Nothing”, a documentary about the walls of Buenos Aires that has launched a Kickstarter campaign.


Doyle’s Subtopia

I am acquainted with Doyle – he is a “friend” on Facebook (whatever that means). “Just call me Doyle,” he said when I first met him in 2008 and he was indispensable in organizing the Melbourne Stencil Festival but for two years – he didn’t know my name and was calling me “punk”. I didn’t care; Doyle calls everyone “punk”. A man about Melbourne’s art world, Doyle is the initiator and director of Dark Horse Experiment (formerly Michael Koro Galleries) and Blender studios in the building behind it, Melbourne Street tours and the Napier Crew. I’ve seen a couple of exhibitions of Doyles paintings, they are good paintings, combining fine art and street art techniques. (See my 2009 blog entry about Doyle’s paintings.)

Doyle – suburban house stencil – Fitzroy

When Doyle told me that he was going to be the subject of a reality TV I felt that this was typical the way that the world was going. (Would the ABC really sink so low? Yes, easily, I thought.) I saw the documentary crew following him around at an exhibition opening at Blender and rough cuts on his computer. It didn’t sound like a good idea,  – Doyle as a representative artist in a reality TV show sounded like a horrible idea. (I could think of worse, like Kevin Rudd curating the Australia’s pavilion at the Venice Biannual, but I had to put my imagination into gear, whereas, Doyle is all too real.) He comes across as a wide boy, a bit dodgy, always talking in self-obsessed but engaging manner  – “we are going to open a gallery and sell all this shit to big end of town.”

Then I heard that the director, Jacob Oberman was exposing Doyle’s idea of an artist who wants a reality TV show about him, I felt relieved. I was felt more relieved when I found out it was a two-part half-hour documentary. And after seeing the first part tonight on the ABC’s Artscape I was glad that there is a documentary that accurately captures the scene. The meat on the bone of the documentary is the art and the artists at Blender studios; the parts about Doyle and Pia Suksodsai’s relationship are a bit of a distraction and as shallow as suburbia.

Maybe Doyle still believes that it is a reality TV show; Doyle claimed on Facebook that it is “an art work in the medium of television by Adrian Doyle” and that it is “created by Adrian Doyle, Jacob Oberman, Piya Suksodsai,
Renegade Films, and ABC”.

“You’re making a documentary; we’re making a reality TV show.” Doyle says to the camera. I know which one I’d prefer to watch. (For those of you who want the reality TV version since the filming of the documentary Doyle has become engaged to Pia Suksodsai.)

Graffiti Makes Great History

Oriel Guthrie and Spencer Davids’s Writers Bench: The Evolution of Melbourne Graffiti and Street Art Culture 1980 – 2011 tells a social history of Melbourne graffiti in a neutral, balanced and insightful manner. In telling the history its answers the question of how Melbourne arrived at this current state of flourishing diversity in graffiti and street art. It is a story that progresses from crude beginnings to the current sophistication and inclusion in art galleries.

The documentary’s title, Writer’s Bench, comes from the congregation of graff writers on the benches at Richmond Railway Station. Graffiti and street art are mass art movements; there are hundreds of artists in Melbourne alone. There are so many artists that to pick favourites is just an exercise of personal taste. And the documentary interviews so many of the artists involved in Melbourne’s graffiti scene. There are so many people interviewed in this documentary that their numbers swelled ACMI’s largest cinema to near capacity for the premier.

The documentary is not just interviews. There are extensive images of Melbourne in the 1980s from the archives of news and artists. There are no trite moments of documentary film making with artists walking around or long panning shots; when there is music there are plenty of relevant images to go with it.

Writer’s Bench neatly edits the many interviews and images to tell a social and art history in three clear chapters: the Sharpies tags and political slogans, the hip-hop graffiti and finally the stencils and street art. Each chapter has a beginning and end that leads on to the next; how hip hop replaced the gang culture with aerosol art and music, how the impact of age, the police and heroin addictions on hip hop generation opened the space for the stencils and street artists.

Many art histories highlight certain artists as stars. In doing this they ignore so many other artists or suggest that they were either helping or hindering the success of the star. Writers Bench does not do this – the artists are presented as people involved in the history and not aesthetic masters. Writers Bench looks at an evolution that responds to the urban environment and not the development of the current style. It does not glorify the artists – it discusses the problems along with the achievements. You can make your own aesthetic and other judgements; Writers Bench documents the history.

For reasons of full disclosure I’m proud to call the co-producer, source, soundtrack and more, Spencer David my friend.

Sweet Streets

This is not the insides story of the Melbourne Stencil Festival 2009, I haven’t got time for that, not with the Sweet Streets festival about to start. But briefly, after the entire previous committee resigned and imploded the Melbourne Stencil Festival 2009 was run by a small emergency committee that included Phil Hall, Tessa Yee, Anna Briers and myself.  We put the festival together in three months with almost no budget and only in-kind support from sponsors. It needs to be said to dispel any idea that it was being run by paid administers in an office with lots of sponsorship dollars. After managing to put together a festival last year the new committee became even more ambitious for the 2010 festival.

This year the festival is called Sweet Streets and it is bigger and better than in previous years. It is now a real arts festival with a program of events and multiple exhibitions with multiple curators in several locations in Melbourne, Fitzroy, Collingwood and Abbotsford.

There was an obvious need to re-brand and redefine the Melbourne Stencil Festival this year to include more than just stencil art. The festival’s initial focus on stencil art came in 2004 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 like yarn bombing and street sculpture. So the Melbourne Stencil Festival became Sweet Streets – a festival of urban & street art. The use of the subtitle “urban & street art” was used to sidestep the debate about street art in the gallery (see my entry about this debate).

Fortunately this year we have had a lot longer to plan and more than just an emergency committee and a few volunteers to help put it together – we had a few more volunteers. And we could do with a few more. We still don’t have an office and we still don’t have any sponsorship dollars, just generous in kind support.

My role as the secretary for the festival is not the most glamorous of jobs – lots of emails, typing minutes of meetings, organizing meetings, finding meeting venues and other mundane or bureaucratic matters. On a more interesting note I have been organizing a night of short films at the festival hub, 1000 Pound Bend, 361 Ltl. Londsdale St. on Thursday 14th October. There have been so many documentaries made or are currently being about Melbourne’s street art scene. My selection of films is aimed at showing the diversity of approaches and voices.

Melbourne Stencil Festival Inc. presents

Sweet Streets – A festival of urban + street styles

8th to the 24th October 2010

Follow the Sweet Streets festival on Facebook.

Melbourne INK

Last year I met Julien Sena and Romain Levrault, two documentary filmmakers from the Reunion Islands, shortly after they had arrived in Melbourne. They were here to make a documentary about Melbourne street art. I’ve been watching the DVD of the result – Melbourne INK. (Paul Cooper, of Art Truck Design who supported the making of the film, lent me the film thanks Coops). Melbourne INK is screening at ACMI on Saturday, (tickets are still availalable for the screening of Melbourne Ink this Saturday at 4pm).

There have been many documentaries about street art in the past and you have to wonder if another new documentary will contribute anything new. Filmmaking has, in part, defined street art, in the past packaging aerosol art with break-dancing and hip hop music. Melbourne INK is not like this, it lets the artists speak for themselves and it does have a point with a specific focus on Melbourne street art.

The film is book-ended by statements about the attraction of the city for street artists and by the end I felt it had explained these statements about Melbourne. The documentary intelligently edits interviews with artist to create a story in under half an hour. It explains why Melbourne is an important centre for street art, what happens when street artists move into the gallery and the confused/hypocritical response to street art by Melbourne City Council.

There are interviews with HaHa, Drew and Vexta from Blender Studios; Miso and Ghostpatrol at their studio, Mitten Fortress; Rone, Meggs, Reka and Phibs at Everfresh Studios. The gallery directors Andrew Chew of No Vacancy and Andy Mac of Until Never are included to explain some aspects especially the move off the streets and into galleries. The conversations are casual on the couch with HaHa and Drew or sitting at a table with Ghostpatrol and Miso as they tag-team interviews while working on their art. The filmmaker’s voice rarely appears in these interviews except in subtle the monosyllabic indications for the subject to expand on a point.

These interviews continue as voice-overs with shots of street art; the pace of the film is excellent. And there is plenty of excellent footage of art in laneways, along train lines and schoolgirls touring Hosier Lane. There is footage of Drew and HaHa doing aerosol and stencil work. Or the wonderful night sequences of the street artists at work in the street: there is Miso putting up a large paste-up. So that you are not always looking at an artist seated in some studio talking.

It is not idealizing Melbourne’s street art; the contradictions of street art’s illegality and the move into galleries are examined from a number of perspectives. Vexta, in particular, proves to be an insightful interview subject and it is great to hear Rone saying that he doesn’t like everything on the street.

Melbourne INK is a very attractive; starting with the opening title sequence where a wall is built up with paint from many artists to create the  title. There is cool soundtrack from The Cinematic Orchestra. But most importantly it is the most informative documentary, and better than any of the books or magazine articles, that I have seen on Melbourne’s street art. I hope that Julien Sena and Romain Levrault will make more documentaries; Melbourne INK would be a good model for a series of documentaries about street art cities.

Paper Cuts

Last night the ABC showed, in their Artscape timeslot, Tony Wyzenbeek’s Paper Cuts – the Art of Ghostpatrol and Miso. This 30-minute documentary concentrated on the street artists, Ghostpatrol and Miso, their art and attractive photography of the streets of Melbourne. Director Tony Wyzenbeek previously directed The Art of Bill Henson, (2003) and was a producer of Love is in the Air (2003) a six part documentary series on Australian popular music. In Paper Cuts, like his documentary on Bill Henson, Wyzenbeek concentrates on the artists and their art in a calm, meditative exploration.

The documentary does mention both the illegal nature and the economics of some of Ghostpatrol and Miso’s activities. However, it does not explore either of these subjects, as neither are normal topics for arts documentaries.

The ABC was more concerned with warning people about “language” than the issue of the documentary facilitating and promoting minor illegal activity. I don’t know if it would have helped Paper Cuts to include the views of any of the many politicians who support of the current draconian anti-graffiti legislation. But to avoid this issue distorts the background; just as a history of art in Australia in the 1950s that failed to note Menzies had banned the importation of modern art distorts the story by that very omission.

The subject of money was also hinted at but the documentary chose to focus on the gratuitous side of Ghostpatrol and Miso’s activities. This is unfortunate as the story of the how these two young professional artists make a living is different from the usual economic plan for artists and incorporates making free art for the community. Currently Ghostpatrol has two large furry creatures with child’s faces in the window display at fashion boutique, Meet Me At Mikes, 63 Brunswick St. Fitzroy. Ghostpatrol’s style translates well from the drawings to 3D fabric creations. In the display one of the creatures has a newspaper crown tied around his head; the hierarchy implied in this image is that of a game’s as the crown is an improvised affair. Window dressing is only one of Ghostpatrol’s diverse income streams that include illustration work, along with the traditional commissions and gallery sales. Street artists, unlike their contemporaries in artist-run-spaces, are not afraid of working in shop windows, along with the shop’s stock, whereas, their contemporaries in artist-run-spaces have a royal dislike for common commerce.

For more about Ghostpartol read an interview with him by blogger, Steve Gray.

%d bloggers like this: