Tag Archives: street culture

2011, the Year of the Street

2011 was the year of the street. The revolutions in the Middle East, the Occupy movement across the USA (with a smaller local version) and other protests in Europe were all on the street. There are problems that have been building up, like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, left unresolved for my entire life while a very few became disproportionately wealthy. And in 2011 this had gone beyond the limit of what most people can accept.

As well as the protests, street art has entered a new phase; in Melbourne’s streets and laneways it continues to flourish and diversify. On the street the woolly growth of yarn bombing expanded and yarn bombing entered the public consciousness. This is remarkable because just a few years yarn bombing was an obscure and eccentric practice. In previous years I have looked at the growth of exhibitions by street artist in galleries. There was no point in continuing doing it this year because of the exponential growth in the number of exhibitions and galleries specializing in artists from the street art movement. There were a few major street art exhibitions: “Space Invaders” exhibition at RMIT Gallery and Everfresh and other crews in NGV’s Studio space. And the documentary Writers Bench by Oriel Morrison and Spence David provided a history of the last three decades of Melbourne graffiti (read my review). Thinking about all of this I realized that the nature of public art has changed fundamentally.

The street art and the protests are interconnected. Syrian school kids started the revolution by spray-painting a wall and when they were beaten and tortured there were demonstrations that have continued and expanded as the cycle repeated. During 2011 revolution in Tunisia as most of the population was on the streets local artists carried their paintings through the streets; it was the perfect place to exhibit them. Egyptians painting walls during the protests, anti-Gaddafi paste-ups around Misrata; it is about the right to express your views.

The metaphorical significance of the street is akin to the real world. Street culture is seen as a real/symbolic cultural source: “reality-fantasy-symbol. Reality may easily be regarded as the most fantastic category, as the most crudely symbolic category. Symbol may be the realist, most accessible etc. etc.” (Richard Meltzer, The Aesthetics of Rock, 1987, Da Capo Paperback, p.14 footnote 1). Control of the streets is a symbolic status for the legitimacy of any government, hence the need for violent responses to street protests or artists painting on walls (read my blog post about Controlling the Streets from earlier this year).

The question of the year was does symbolic/real control make a government legitimate or does legitimacy of a spring from democratic elections, respect for human rights and representing concerns of the population? And in 2011 the answer appeared on the streets.


Coburg 2010

“Coburg – it’s beautiful. Look around. It’s a great place to live.” The young man said leaning out of his black car as he drove slowly past me.

This is Coburg, not the city in Germany, but it’s namesake, Coburg, a suburb in the north of Melbourne, Australia. The sky was blue, the bottlebrush trees were in flower, covering the sidewalk in drifts of yellow stamin, but it is just a suburban street. He must be high on something but he is right.

“It great place” I replied and he drove on.

Coburg is a friendly area; people still talk to each other on the street. The northern suburbs have a great street culture because people use the street, people walk, people shop on the Sydney Rd., rather than the hyper-reality of shopping malls. The 19th century architecture of the longest shopping strip in Melbourne is part of the reason why Brunswick and Coburg has a good street culture.

When my Lebanese neighbour’s son got married I knew about it. Part of the festivities took place in the small front garden of their house. There was drumming, dancing, bride and groom held on people’s shoulders, ululation, car horns, rice thrown… a real wedding, not a hyper-real wedding at a wedding reception place where everything is perfectly contrived. Certainly the autumn weather wasn’t perfect but it didn’t rain on the festivities.

And the street culture is improving; in recent years there has been a marked increase in cafes on Sydney Rd., a greater variety of restaurants than the Turkish restaurants that Sydney Rd is famous.

Pentridge Prison, Coburg

Along with the prison a large amount of 19th and turn of the century buildings were constructed in Coburg. There is the oldest school building in Melbourne along with other old buildings around the old Pentridge Prison. There are also magnificent turn of the century mansions on The Grove and The Avenue. And there are pieces of heritage listed architecture scattered around Coburg’s streets one of my favourites is the American Cottage on the west side of Moreland station at 21 Station Street.

19th century school building on Sydney Rd. Coburg

The Moreland City council has a bold ambitious $1 billion plan, the Coburg Initiative, to remodel heart of the suburb. Lorna Edwards reported on Coburg’s “Extreme Makeover” in The Age (18/3/10). So far the only materialization of this plan has been the redevelopment of the front of the Coburg’s railway station, the redevelopment of the former Pentridge Prison and the construction of more medium and high-density housing. Every possible old building in the suburb is being converted into flats.

The new entrance and surround to the city bound entrance to Coburg’s 19th century, gothic revival train-station. It isn’t much just a few steps, paving stones and landscaping but the bicycle path is now safely separate from the train-station entrance. The new entrance replaces the bodged railings, paths, the over-grown shrubs and scraggly trees that formerly surrounded the station. However, the other side of the station is still a neglected gravel parking lot with a large open drain and no lighting.

I had a dream that I was returning home to my street in Coburg from a long journey. I found that my street has been grassed over and that my neighbours were playing cricket and having BBQs where there once was tarmac. The biggest problems in Coburg are the cars, the vast expanse of ugly parking lots that accommodates them and Melbourne’s poor public transport.


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