Tag Archives: pranksters

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?

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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