Tag Archives: pranks

Strange Streets Indeed

Guerrilla gardening, urban interventions, performance graffiti: many of these wild and freaky ideas that are only now being realized on the street have been around since the Yippies and Mail Art in the 1960s, probably even earlier. Maybe these ideas have been floating around in an idealistic haze of the adolescent Dadaists a hundred years ago. And finally the praxis is possible for these strange utopic ideas; they are practical. These ideas never really worked before because of the limits of communications; underground magazines were underground. Only Fluxus had the celebrity names and the cheap communications, courtesy of the US military mail; until the internet came along, again, courtesy of the US military. Not to get all internet utopian about it but the impact can’t be ignored, see my post about “Street Art and the Internet”.

Nick Iltons "Suggestion Box" 2010 with peace sign

And if it didn’t start in the 1960s it happened soon after. Liz Christ and the Green Guerrilla group in NYC started guerrilla gardening and “seed bombing” in 1973. This was just a year after the first graffiti exhibition in NYC by the United Graffiti Artist group. (Maybe street art should be called “guerrilla decorating”.) The Wikipedia entry on “urban interventions” cites The Diggers theatre of San Francisco and the Dutch Provo movement as precursors. The Digger’s Free Store on Page Street, San Francisco, had a sidewall covered in frames called “Free Frame of Reference” The Dutch Provo movement were notorious for their happenings and white propaganda.

Amongst the many stranger street art activities currently in Melbourne there is Bados Earthling who calls his work “performance graffiti”. His character, a man from the future allows him to comment with confusion about the kind of activities that humans are currently engaged in. As Bados explains: “I’m like a child seeing something for the first time, with a million questions.” (See Invurt’s inteview with Bados.) Bados Earthling’s speech balloon blackboard creates a visual communication that the audience can participate and interact with.

Bados Earthling @ BSG Sweet Streets 2010

There are lots of these ideas floating around the collective consciousness like the spores of mushrooms just waiting for exactly the right conditions to germinate and fruit. “The question of ancestry in culture is spurious. Every new manifestation in culture rewrites the past, changes old maudits into new heroes…” Greil Marcus wrote in Lipstick Traces (p.21) and like Marcus I’m looking at the traces, the tiny amount that remains indicating the former presence of a thing. This is just an outline. It is an attempt to find or hunt down something.

And there are still stranger ideas that I have yet to trace amongst the drivel that various people from the 60s wrote (re-reading parts of Richard Neville’s Playpower has not been enlightening). What traces can we find in the past that explains present street art? And what new and strange will we next see on the street?


Political Junkies

“The trouble with Nixon is that he’s a serious politics junkie. He’s totally hooked and like any other junkie, he’s a bummer to have around, especially as President.” Hunter S. Thompson

The 2010 Australian federal election campaign is boring. Even the scandals, leaks, debate, stunts, party back fighting are obvious and insignificant – who cares? If this is the best that Australia can do in discussing the important issues then Australia has a major problem.

Van Rudd’s election campaign as art is a very technical exercise; there is nothing utopian, idealistic or humorous about it. Van Rudd is a serious political junkie, steeped in Marxism, even though he is rejecting “the careerist path into the parliamentary system”. The campaign will all be documented as part of his fine art Masters research at the University of Melbourne.

“The significance of this project will be its contribution to the ongoing art world debate regarding the conflation of art and life. Its innovation lies in its direct relationship to the reality of Australian and global politics, while demonstrating that art is on par with every aspect of living.” Van Rudd emailed me.

Making art on a par, an equivalent with every aspect of living is boring. Trying to make every aspect of living on a par with art is interesting, utopian and creative, even though it might not always work. Van Rudd has set the benchmark for art to be on par with life, too low. To be fair to Van Rudd a lot of contemporary art is dull and boring, on a par with the dullest parts of everyday life, but that is no reason to continue this trend.

I thought that covering Van Rudd’s campaign would add some interest to the federal election but his campaign is one of the dullest. Van Rudd’s campaign might be more interesting and effective if it were a prank like the Chaser’s Yes We Canberra on ABC. The Chaser is full of pranks, fun and humor but Van Rudd’s campaign isn’t a prank. You can do both. The Australian Sex Party’s campaign is serious, confronting serious issues like the Internet filter with sensible policies and ending the tax-exempt status for religions.  But they aren’t political junkies and Alexander Gutman (aka: Austen Tayshus whose comedy record, Australiana went to Number 1 in 1983) is their candidate for Warringah. Is there any difference between a serious campaign election and a prank?

Even the serious media is can’t keep a straight face in the election/joke. “Gillard and Abbott go gangbusters over gas-filled shark darts” (Mark Davis The Age July 29 2010) That will put more fear and loathing into the election campaign. I’m trying to bid for a gas filled shark dart now on Ebay at $495US. I’m on a political junk high and I’m channeling Hunter S. Thompson, the great geek of political journalism everywhere. Hell, I might as well – I was going to cover Van Rudd’s campaign as art but he has been dodging my questions. And I’m failing to understand why Van Rudd’s Marxism is focused on consciousness raising when according to Marx the material world needs to change before people’s minds. If running for office is “direct action”, as well as, art, it might simply be a political junkie trying to get another fix.

This is the second part of my examination of Van Rudd’s federal election campaign as art. See the 1st part: Van Rudd vs Julia Gillard. And for more art related election junk read Marcus Westbury (The Age August 9, 2010) on the arts vote in the seat of Melbourne.

Street Art Railway Notes

Pranksters struck at one of Melbourne’s train stations again. This time they altered a ticket machine’s instructions to dispense university degrees. The alterations used stickers of the same color and typeface, cut to fit over the existing information, it was so subtle that staff at the station didn’t notice them until informed by a confused customer. (Thanks to Jane for the photos.)

Lench's blockbuster since buffed

Being an appreciative observer of street art along the Upfield train line I have to comment on Lench KSA (Kickin Some Arse). His revival of the blockbuster style advertises his name clearly – what more can I say about a trademark and instant fame apart from technically analyzing the fonts that he uses. Actually there is more Lench is an active aerosol writer with other styles than his visible blockbuster pieces.

Anonymous pranks and instant fame are two extremes in street art. What is more important the idea or the identity? Or is it to make the neglected urban areas more beautiful? Graffiti is part of the urban system; like the fungi that live on rotting wood and have brightly colored fruiting bodies, orange shelf fungus, small blue parasols and others, aerosol graffiti converts neglected areas into works of art.  And on the subject of neglected areas, a major area of neglect in Melbourne is the public transport system.

Graffiti writers have mixed feelings about the transport network, they love the lines and rolling stock like train-spotters, the writers see train carriages and nearby walls as their canvases. The railways also bring the public to their art, or the other way around. Yet attacking the train system is a major motivation in Melbourne graffiti, as it is in other cities. The rail operators see the graffiti writers as their natural enemy. And, consequently, as in many cities the train operators and their thugs (also known as “authorized officers”) are seen as the enemy by graffiti writers – but in Melbourne the general public sympathize with this view.

All of Melbourne, especially the graffiti crews have been relieved not to have Connex running the train system even though the new train operators, Metro haven’t improved things. Hatred of Melbourne’s train system is so popular that it has its own Facebook page. I hate Connex/Metro, with 16,947 members when I looked. There are more examples of culture jamming the Connex system in the photo section of this Facebook group.

Cue some hobo railroad music:

“Oh, I don’t like a railroad man/ for a railroad man will kill you if he can/ and drink up your blood like wine.” Bascam Lamar Lunsford, “I wish I was a Mole In the Ground” (1929)

Pranksters & Stencil Art History

There are so many histories of stencil and street art but they all contain gaps. I hope this entry fills in one of those gaps; the prankster element.

The Church of the SubGenius has some responsibility in the stencil art phenomena amongst the pranksters of the world. In The Book of the SubGenius (McGraw-Hill, 1983) they advocated making stencils in order to spread the image of Bob. A cartoon illustration showed how to make stencils with cardboard, a #11 X-acto knife, a wall and “pigment transported in aerosol form by gaseous agent under tremendous pressure”. I presume that SubGeniuses were doing these stencils some years before the publication of their book, making them some of the oldest street stencil artists.

I’m sure that there must have been some stencil artist working on the street with an aerosol can before the SubGeniuses. They have been forgotten because of the anonymous nature of the prank and a lack of contemporary awareness of street art.

Pranksters will do crazy things for the fun of it, to make people think, to show off, or because they are simply not permitted. The trickster is an archetypal figure, the second creator who reshapes the world into its current form. Now, in this crazy mixed-up world with its huge population there are now more pranksters than ever before and they are better organised than ever before. The Church of the SubGenius was just one of many deliberately crazy organizations that have been springing up in cities around the world since the Dadaists in Zurich.

These prankster organizations are mostly made up of artists, writers, musicians and people who are living their lives as if it were art. They are also political in an anarchic, subversive and polemic style employing pranks, like stencil art, as non-violent propaganda by the deed. This subversive content of street art cannot be authorized, as it exists in response to claims of authority, and it cannot be repressed, as the nature of Monkey is irrepressible.

“We are Making the change By our ACTS not OUR Words.” A1one Kolahstudio / Tehran, 22/1/09 

Meanwhile, back in Melbourne, in AC/DC Lane, some prankster/s have thrown a large number of plastic buckets tied together over one of the lines that runs across the lane.

Buckets in AC/DC lane

Buckets in AC/DC lane

And another prankster has expressed his sardonic wit in Fitzroy roller painted the message of the media: “Wall”. Not all pranksters have as grand or expansive a vision as the SubGeniuses but the motivation is the same.

"Wall" in Fitzroy

"Wall" in Fitzroy

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