Tag Archives: Nails

Paradigm Shift in Public Art

Walking around the city on Thursday I saw parts of the current Laneway Commission and parts of a previous Laneway Commission. And it reminded me of the words of Ruper Myer, the Chair of the National Gallery of Australia, at the opening of the “Space Invaders” exhibition art RMIT, when he said street art was creating “a paradigm shift in public art”.

Heffernan Lane with Evangelos Sakaris,“Word and Way”, 2001

detail of Evangelos Sakaris, “Word and Way”, 2001

The series of signs by artist-poet, Evangelos Sakaris,“Word and Way” is still up in Heffernan Lane from the first Laneway Commission in 2001. I’ve seen some street art blog that mistaken thought that the signs were part of a street art urban intervention, yes, it is street art but it was officially commissioned.

Reko Rennie’s “Neon Natives” 2011

Reko Rennie’s “Neon Natives” installation in Cocker Alley, a favourite location for Laneway Commissions. “Neon Natives” looks like advertising. The neon tubes and yellow and black zigzag background pattern are all familiar urban images. The background pattern made me want to look to see where the entrance to the multi-story carpark might be and then where all the animals might be.

public art project by Nails, Twoone and Al Stark

I also saw the Graffiti Wall, a public art project part of the “Space Invaders” exhibition at RMIT. The wall is by Nails, Twoone and Al Stark – I’m not sure if it is completed or partially complete (the weather has been very wet). It is opposite RMIT Gallery, in a laneway off Little LaTrobe Street.

The Laneways Commissions in the city and the more recent MoreArts Show along the Upfield train line are evidence of the paradigm shift in public art. This paradigm shift requires a shift in understanding what is public along with what is art. Hopefully this will be an improvement on the bronze statues of historic heroes or the modernist public sculptures of big pieces of metal or stone. The new paradigm for public art may have some problems in its transient and ephemeral nature. What will the city be left with when the temporary art has faded from memories? (I’m sure that it will be well documented – unlike some sculptures and some urban interventions in the past). Permanent public art can create an identity for a location whereas temporary public art can only subvert the identity of the place, like the fake road signs of Evangelos Sakaris’s “Word and Way” – although this work has survived a decade. What do you think about this new paradigm?


Vandals or Vanguards?

Who decides what the future will look like is always a political issue. Will it big business, big government or a network of creative individuals on the street?

As part of the “Space Invaders” exhibition at RMIT gallery there was a street art seminar, moderated by Jaklyn Babington, Assistant Curator of International Prints, Drawings and Illustrated Books at the NGA (National Gallery of Australia). It was a panel discussion featuring Luke Sinclair from the Sticky Institute and artists: Nails, Civil and Jumbo.

The discussion looked both back at the exhibition and forward to the future of street art. And from this naturally lead onto the politics of the street and the politics of underground art. All of the speakers emphasised the importance of networking to the scene. Most importantly there is the power of networking through the internet but there is also the networks of collaborating street artists and the networks of zine distributions.

Some hardcore street artists and others might wonder at the inclusion of zines in the exhibition and Luke Sinclair from Sticky Institute on the panel. The NGA sees their collection of “street art as a paper based, alternative print making and drawing”, curator, Jaklyn Babington explained. And zines, like street art, are definitely an alternative tradition in print making and drawing. Zines are part of the same d.i.y. culture as street art. They are an urban sculptural object, a handmade art version of the common magazine that you pick up and hold in your hands.

The exhibition is a retrospective of look at the NGA’s street art collection and any examination of the history will naturally lead on to politics. Civil looked back at the exhibition as street art from the Howard-era when there were mass protests against the Iraq war and the World Economic Forum. Looking back Sydney artist, Jumbo spoke about how he began experimenting on the street beyond the formula of aerosol graffiti. Nails was interested in the legitimisation of street art through the communication between street and art gallery. And the concern expressed by some parts of street art community that something was being taken away through the legitimisation. Luke Sinclair also talked about the politics of underground work, the responses from both the mainstream and the underground to being exhibited or included in a zine book, as in the case of Fanzine, by Thames and Hudson. (For more information than anyone could want about this controversy see the website.)

Civil spoke about the politics of street art as the “broad conversation off different voices” on the streets, of “the handmade gesture in the city”, “markers” and “memorials” in the street. The title of the seminar, “Vandals or Vanguards?” contrasts the ‘vandals’, the way that street artists are portrayed in the mass media, or the ‘vanguard’, the leading front line position. Nails said that the vanguard is frustrated with how slow the mainstream responds, that he has become middle-aged waiting for it to catch up. But like the other speakers Nails is hopeful about the future of street art, comparing it to the punk scene “that died and then became even more interesting.”

Civil, "Freedom" 2010


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