R.I.P. Dick Nose

If you live in inner-city Melbourne, you’ll have grown accustomed over the last few years to seeing ‘Dick Nose’ or ‘DN’. These words and initials have been written repetitively, obsessively, on walls, door frames, tram stops, bins – any and every urban surface. Sometimes dozens or even hundreds would appear over the course of a night’s bombing.

A couple of weeks ago, the walls of Fitzroy were covered with the words ‘R.I.P. Dick Nose’, to mark the death of an individual who has, over the last few years, made such an impact on the surfaces of the city.

No doubt many did not appreciate his work. No doubt it’s possible to criticise the aesthetic of his tagging as lacking any skill, driven instead by the bomber’s desire for quantity over quality, acreage over calligraphy. No doubt many were irritated by his repeated writing on house walls and fences, causing residents who might not be fans of graffiti bombing to spend many hours painting out his work. Irrespective of such criticisms, Dick Nose was a distinctive part of inner-city Melbourne, marking the surfaces of the city in his own way: not a ‘pretty’ or easy to like part of ‘street art’, but a significant one nonetheless, and his death is a sad conclusion to one form of urban intervention.

Shout outs….

There’s a tradition among artists and graffiti writers of giving shout outs to other artists who are friends, crew members, or just people you admire – sometimes by listing their names along side a piece you have made, sometimes by incorporating references to their work into your own, sometimes by painting a tribute to them….

Although I’m posting this in January 2012, I actually wrote it in September last year, after spending several hours walking around the San Lorenzo area of Rome, with Alice Pasquini, a Roman artist who has been extremely active recently – you can see her work in Paris, Rome, Melbourne, London, to name just a few of the cities she has visited.

Alice was kind enough to walk around San Lorenzo with me, and to drive me to Ostiense to see a piece by Sten + Lex, and then to Trastevere where I would spend the rest of the day. Her generosity prompted me to write this post to say a huge ‘thank you’ to her, for hours of great company and conversation.

And it got me thinking about how, in this world of street art, people can be so generous with their time, their willingness meet up and to chat. For the last four years I’ve been researching the ways in which street art has emerged as a distinctive cultural practice in the last decade or so, and much of that research has involved talking with people about their involvement in street art, their passion for it, and their views of its history and its potential. I wanted, instead of writing a ‘best of 2011′ type post, to take the opportunity to thank people who have helped me with my research, by sharing their own love of street art, and thus helping me to think through the issues I’m interested in. From 2012 till 2015 I’ll be working on a new project (still to do with street art, but different issues) and writing up the research I’ve carried out over the last several years, so this seemed like a good moment to pause and thank everyone who helped me in so many different ways.

So this post is about giving shout outs to the great people I have met over the last several years. Some people have spent hours walking with me around a city, admiring its illicit artworks. Others have put me in touch with interesting people to talk to. Many people have given up their time to be interviewed, in person or by email. What follows is not a complete list, because I have a few more interviews to carry out, but as of January 10th 2012 I owe thanks to the following people, in many different ways.

In Melbourne: CDH, Tom Civil, Nick Ilton, Kaff-eine, Ghostpatrol, Meggs, Miso, Rone, Shinobi, Sparcs, The Doctor, Vexta.

In London or elsewhere in the UK: Acoris Andipa of Andipa Gallery, Cedar Lewisohn, Clare Long and friends (for much fun in Grottaglie), Deadly Knitshade of Knit the City, Dscreet of Burning Candy, Eine, Fiona and Paul from Elms Lesters Painting Rooms, Dora Dewsbury and Tristan Manco of Pictures on Walls, Pure Evil, Remi/Rough, Mike Snelle of Black Rat Projects, Mark Rigney, Slinkachu, Tony Taglianetti and Bryce Péricard of Brick Lane Gallery, RJ of Vandalog, Nick Walker, Angela Wright.

In New York, and elsewhere in the US: Garrison Buxton of Ad Hoc Art, Jaime Rojo and Steven Harrington of Brooklyn Street Art, Cake, Elbow-Toe, Jon Fekner, Ali and Ad of Factory Fresh, Ellis Gallagher, Logan Hicks, Russell Howze of Stencil Archive, Anthony Lister, Luna Park, Mare139, Momo, Jeff Newman, José Parlá, Marc and Sara Schiller of Wooster Collective, Jordan Seiler, Swoon, Hrag Vartanian, Peat Wollaeger.

In Paris: L’Atlas, Alexone, Blék le Rat, C215, Jean Faucheur, Thierry Froger, Adeline Jeudy, Patrice Lerouge, Samantha Longhi, Miss.Tic, Leanne Sacramone, Yz.

In Berlin: El Bocho, DcideNow, Disturbanity, Brad Downey, Emess at ATM Gallery, Ollie of Hatch Sticker Museum, Just, Ingo of Klub 7, Johann Lanzenauer of Circleculture, Jaybo Monk, Adrian Nabi, Pisa73, Aisha Ronniger, Tower, The Wa.

In Rome and elsewhere in Italy: Alice Pasquini, Luca Borriello, Christian Ruggiero, Angelo Milano (of the FAME Festival in Grottaglie).

In Amsterdam: Claudius, Erris of Graphic Surgery, Laser 3.14, Chaz of The London Police, Morko, Zedz.

A big shout out to all of you. Many thanks. You are all amazing.

Outpost!

I’m in Sydney, visiting Outpost: Art From the Streets, a street art festival being held on Cockatoo Island (I’ll be participating in a forum on The Politics of Street Art, along with Tom Civil, Mini Graff, and fellow academic Kurt Iveson, who writes the blog Cities and Citizenship).

Outpost, if you can believe the advertising, is the largest festival of street art to date in the southern hemisphere. It’s located on Cockatoo Island, in Sydney Harbour, and certainly this setting is one of the factors that make it a compelling experience. The island is the largest in Sydney’s gorgeous harbour, and has been a prison, a school, a jail, and a shipyard – its most recent incarnation prior to being abandoned as a kind of monument to a bygone age, with empty warehouses, rusting equipment and gigantic cranes dotted about. You can read about the island’s past and recent uses here.

It’s a clever choice as a location for a street art festival. The warehouses, factories, and alleyways provide an urban backdrop for the display of street artworks; street artists have often been drawn to abandoned buildings as sites in which to make art, although the resulting artworks are not easily viewed by members of the public. And in Australia, such locations have a specific history in the world of street art: during the early 2000s in Melbourne, the famous ‘Empty’ shows would take over abandoned or derelict buildings for the creation and temporary display of art.

Although Outpost draws on this rich history, it is, of course, is a world away from it in that it has corporate sponsorship, a merchandising outlet (for souvenir T shirts and caps), a couple of laid-back bars selling pizza and beer, and a well-organised staff who assist visitors in getting their bearings on the island, handing out maps and answering questions about the artists, and who oversee the queues waiting for ferries back to Circular Quay. To that extent, Outpost is definitely a product of a certain ‘mainstreaming’ of street art – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; but visitors should go to see it aware that what’s been created is a somewhat sanitised and domesticated version of what street art can be.

Having said that, Outpost still makes for an extremely interesting and exciting event, and I would say if you can get to Sydney during November, or if you already live here, it’s a must-see.

So what’s there to be seen? Well dozens of artworks and installations, for one thing, many using the buildings and the geography of the island in really satisfying and innovative ways: Vexta’s enormous winged figure; Roa’s monochrome animals; the Everfresh piece mocking anti-graffiti laws; Lister’s giant inflatables painted with his now-signature faces and super-heroes; some cuprocking high above the bluff rising from the centre of the island; artworks lining a long tunnel through the bluff (evoking the tunnels and drains that so many artists have painted over the years, whether that be Melbourne’s Cave Clan or the artists in the Underbelly project in New York City).

Have a look:

One disappointing thing I was struck by is that many artists have been given hoardings to paint on, which are then displayed around the island. There’s a lot of uniformity to the size of these hoardings and in the way they are displayed, and I found myself wishing that there had been a tad more ingenuity in thinking through the question of how artists could display their abilities.

What else? Inside some of the buildings are various exhibits. One displays works from two private collections of street art, which means that you can see examples of work on canvas or print editions by Faile, Adam Neate, Antony Micallef, Swoon, Dolk, Lucy MacClauchlan and, of course, Banksy. There are over two dozen works by Banksy on display, and there’s an undeniable pleasure in seeing them, even though – or perhaps because – they are so well-known….

Other exhibit areas include Pastemodernism 3, a vast collection of examples of paste-ups, curated by Ben Frost:

It’s also nice to see a number of artists being given a lot of space in which to display their (very different work). Junky Projects, for example, has created some very large found-object sculpture:

And there’s a wonderful work by Tom Civil, ‘Let the Lightning Flash and the Thunder Roll’ showcasing his distinctive combination of political sensibility, political engagement, calligraphy, and composition:

But for me, the highlight of a day which had many pleasures was the piece by Kid Zoom. Inside one of the massive abandoned buildings on the island can be found ‘Home’, a work with several components, the most obvious of which is the large model of the house in which Kid Zoom grew up:

If you enter the building at the back, as I did, then you can immediately see that the rear of the house is open. Inside a video plays on a loop, displaying another element of the work, described as ‘the destruction of three Holden Commodores’. On a screen, we see a figure, in slow motion, approach three cars, all parked in a line, and meticulously lay waste to them in various ways: one is set spectacularly on fire; a mallet is used to smash their windscreens, side mirrors are kicked off. (Some of it reminded me of Shaun Gladwell’s amazing works ‘Storm Sequence’ and Stereo Sequences.) A soundtrack accompanies the film, combining industrial noise with slow repeated musical notes. The effect is mesmerising, overwhelming: when the film ended, several audience members who had been watching audibly exhaled…

And then, when the film ended, I walked around to the front of the house to discover that the three Holden cars are parked outside it, end-to-end, just as they appear in the film:

And then you realise that the film was made inside that same building, which brings the violence just watched on the screen into the building itself, and puts you in the position of being a witness to that destruction twice over: once on the screen, and then again as you stand next to the burned out shells of the cars.

It’s an incredibly powerful work, and it utilises the space brilliantly, both in its making and in its display. If there was nothing but Kid Zoom’s ‘Home’ on display at Outpost, it would be worth making the trip to Cockatoo Island for it alone; as it is, it’s the high point of an exhibition that, for good and ill, showcases many of the defining characteristics of the street art world today: its collectability; its proximity to advertising; its proximity to ‘vandalism'; its political nature; its too-often repeated visual tropes but also its sheer, undeniable aesthetic joys.

Here yesterday, gone today….

One of my favourite artists, JR, was in New York some time ago, and pasted up some images from the ‘Lakota, Dakota Nation’ project that is part of Inside Out, the global, participatory enterprise launched by JR after winning the TED prize last year. I’m a big fan of JR’s work and have recently been writing about it in my academic work, so it’s always a pleasure to see his images on display in a city.

I was staying in SoHo during my recent trip to New York and walked past these two images every day:

Hugely striking, not just for their close-up intimacy, as characterises all of JR’s work, but also, especially in the second of those two pieces, for their placement. For that face to run on its side along the top of the building was a counter-intuitive decision that works really well.

In addition to those two locations, JR’s work was also on the best-known spot in Manhattan: the wall at the corner of East Houston Street and Bowery:

This image works really well in this setting: the black and white photography stands out against the urban background, the shape of the section of face that is featured seems to fit the space of the wall particularly well.

It was lucky that I photographed it when I did, because unbeknownst to me that wall was about to be transformed. Within two days, JR was gone and Faile were putting up a very different image, involving stand-out colouration, images from pop culture, fragments of text, and collaged figures, as has become their signature. The wall at East Houston and Bowery works so well because its size, shape and location next to the plain white wall of a building mean that large-scale portraits such as JR’s work beautifully, but also busy, flattened, pop images like Faile’s also seem to draw energy from the location.

When I went by to see it, Faile were putting the finishing touches to it, and there were many happy passers-by like myself taking photographs, including the legend herself, Martha Cooper.

Occupy Wall Street – an essay in images

I’m in New York for a conference on law and the image, so this afternoon I went to see the Occupy Wall Street protest that has been happening there for a number of weeks now. As most people will know, Occupy Wall Street actually occupies Zuccotti Park, which is close to Wall Street, and is a conglomeration of disparate protests, protesters, issues and aims, loosely united under the banner slogan ‘We are the 99%’. Many of the issues being raised and protested there are to do with corporate greed, fraud, exploitation, and so on, but many are also protesting about issues such as campaign financing, the dispossession of native Americans, the stop and frisk laws that allow police officers to search individuals based on stereotyping rather than on evidence-based grounds, and many more.

Many others have written about Occupy Wall Street, and the various related protests occurring around the globe, including in Melbourne. For a sample, check out an excellent essay by McKenzie Wark; today’s Guardian article about the arrest of Naomi Klein at a related protest; and the We Are The 99% tumblr site.

Instead of adding a lot more words to what has already been written, I thought I would put together some of the photos that I took today, to try to convey a sense of the protest and the place it is taking place in. To situate it, you have to imagine a small city park, no grass, just concrete, with some floral beds and a lot of trees. The park constitutes a small open space in the midst of some of New York’s most corporate and most solid skyscrapers. (To add a further, uncanny, dimension to the protest’s location, the park is diagonally across an intersection from the World Trade Center site, where the 9/11 memorial is, and where new skyscrapers to replace the lost Twin Towers are being busily constructed.)

This little park is filled with people: protesters, journalists, photographers, tourists, visitors. Around the park’s perimeter, police officers lean against barriers, monitoring the protest, and stepping up at frequent intervals to instruct people taking photographs or speaking with protesters to ‘move along’ and ‘clear the sidewalk’ (no doubt this is part of the claimed right to control the sidewalk that Naomi Klein adverts to in her account of her arrest).

Here, then, is a glimpse into Occupy Wall Street, as it took place on the afternoon of 20 October 2001.

What will happen at Zuccotti Park? How long will the protest last? No-one knows the answer to these questions, and they are probably the wrong ones to ask. What’s more important is that the protest is happening now, and that fact, each and every day that it is there, creates a politics in public space and demands a response. The lines of police outside the park, the rows of police vehicles in the streets, and the well-documented behaviour of the ‘white-shirted’ officers in their arrests indicate that the repression of the protest will be brought about some day (perhaps assisted by the weather, as the seasons shift from summer into autumn and winter). But even if that happens, Occupy Wall Street will have shown itself to be a formidable political peformance.

Fame, part 2….

Some more images from the 75 artworks in the town for Fame 2011 in Grottaglie, Italy…

Amazing stuff…

FAME Festival 2011….

It’s been a long time between posts, thanks to the three academic articles I have been writing, and there are other posts I need to put up, but I wanted to post some images from the FAME Festival 2011 in Grottaglie, in Puglia, southern Italy. This is the fourth year running that Angelo Milano has put on Fame, bringing a host of fantastic artists to this tiny town to paint the walls and create artworks for exhibition here. The festival has two components – a gallery exhibition, and a series of walls dotted around the town, which you can walk to with the aid of a map created by Angelo. There are 75 sites in total now, many new for this year, but there are also a good deal of old works from previous years still adorning the walls.

The official opening of the festival is tonight,but I went to last night’s preview in the gallery and took these shots:

And I spent several hours walking around town today, checking out these fantastic works:

I did not even scratch the surface – there are dozens still to see. But that’s for tomorrow: tonight is the official opening party. And here’s a thank you to Angelo for making all this happen.

From street to gallery and back again…

Instead of making it to opening nights, recently I’ve been lucky if I’ve made it to the last day of an exhibition…. Today I finally got to see Rone’s solo show, L’Inconnue de la Rue, at Backwoods Gallery in Collingwood, Melbourne.

Rone has been a really important figure in the Melbourne street art scene for a long time now. His collaborative work with Meggs and as part of Everfresh has contributed enormously to the streetscapes around Fitzroy and Collingwood. So it’s great to see him having a solo show (and a hugely successful one at that, with all works sold even before opening night). You can find pictures from the opening night hereand read more about the show on the Everfresh site here.

To coincide with the show, Rone put up some street pieces at one of his favourite sites, just off Brunswick Street (and I know some other local bloggers have been complaining recently that many artists don’t put up street work except when they have a show on – so that the street works function as a kind of advertising for the show – but I don’t think anyone could ever seriously lay that charge at the feet of any of the Everfresh members):

These new street works have a bit of a Warhol-ish feel to them, and seem to me to work in this space in a really satisfying way. I had imagined that the gallery pieces would be very similar to these, and they are, in some ways, but Rone has worked the gallery images to a new level of complexity:

The images are constructed through multiple layers of printed posters, which Rone has then ripped and torn back. The images have depth, just as walls on the street build up layers of posters, flyers, stickers and so on:

They also made me think of how sometimes street artworks are torn by cleaning crews, or by acquisitive fans, trying to take a work from public space for themselves. Like this remnant of a Swoon paste-up, forlornly clinging to a wall, the main body of the artwork torn down:

Just as a fragment of Swoon’s subject gazes out from the wall, so do the women in Rone’s images gaze out from the layers of ripped posters – the textures and experiences of the street transported into the gallery.

New worlds

Some of the best art transports you out of the world you live in and into somewhere new. Sometimes that sense of transportation arises from an encounter with the vertiginous sublime that resides in an artwork of great beauty; sometimes it arises from a sense of submergence in the artwork as you gaze at it. And sometimes an artwork literally seems to offer an entry into another world, by depicting credible or coherent glimpses into somewhere else – glimpses that make visual sense, and that invite you to step into a hitherto hidden space.

I often get this sense from the artworks of Ghostpatrol.* His sketches, paintings and installations are populated with strange, wonderful creatures (such as animals whose limbs are operated by children hidden inside them) and are located in places that may or may not be part of this world or the world of fairy tales and myths.

Ghostpatrol’s skill in creating these otherwordly spaces and characters was on display recently in a solo show at Backwoods Gallery in Melbourne, ‘If We Are Going, Then Let’s Go’.

The images evoked illustrations from long lost children’s books, sometimes inflected with slightly disturbing touches, as in the figures composed of tiny fir trees, so that the works don’t veer into cuteness but retain an uncanny edge.

As with all Ghostpatrol’s shows, the gallery space itself became incorporated into the exhibition. Almost all of the works were displayed on one wall at the end of the gallery, with cushions laid out in front of them.

They could be viewed at a distance, or from up close, but to approach them, the spectator had to crouch and walk through a fragile tunnel created from black filaments extending, web-like, from the walls and the ceiling to the floor, at times only semi-visible against the black-painted gallery walls. The effect was a concentration of the gaze upon the artworks and a heightening of the sense for the spectator that in viewing these artworks one passes from the world of the everyday into another space and time. You can see shots from the opening night, along with some images of individual works, here.

And for me, some of the long lost children’s stories that were evoked by these images are the Moomin stories by Tove Jansson. Two large images were placed outside of the display of small artworks on the single gallery wall, hanging instead at the room’s entryway. These works represent a new direction for Ghostpatrol: they are much larger than the majority of his works and utilise brightly coloured dots of paint (in possible homage to pointillism or to Aboriginal dot painting). One of these features a figure that reminded me of Snufkin, in the Moomin stories: the character who lives in a tent, who hates fences and boundaries, smokes a pipe, and plays the harmonica. Here is Snufkin, as drawn in Tove jansson’s novels:

Image courtesy of bluefat.com

And here is the artwork that brought back memories of Snufkin for me:

As a child, I loved the idea of Snufkin, and it was a delight to be reminded of him through the images displayed in this show. It’s also great to see the expansion of Ghostpatrol’s techniques, as represented in these large paintings, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this path takes his work.

*Full disclosure: I co-wrote a book in 2010 called Street/Studio with Ghostpatrol, Miso and Timba Smits.

The city-as-light

Over the years that I have been writing about street art, I’ve come across the work of many different artists. Out of all of these, the work of Miso is always there among my very favourites. (Full disclosure: along with Ghostpatrol and Timba Smits, Miso and I co-wrote a book about street art in Melbourne.) As regular readers of this blog will know, I’ve written about Miso’s work a number of times here, and her recent show, Les Lumières, demonstrates that she continues to be one of the most interesting artists in Melbourne (and indeed on the international scene).

Miso is well known for her beautifully placed, delicately drawn paste-ups on city walls, such as this:

But both Les Lumières and a previous solo show, Tschusse!, are evidence of her increasing interest in engaging with the shape and form of the city itself, by raising questions about how we experience it, about who owns it, and about how cities look and feel and are developed.

Les Lumières transformed the gallery space of No Vacancy at Federation Square into a vision of an urban space inflected by pockets of calm, of a city lit by white neon light, and composed of spaces oscillating between the functional and the beautiful. Gorgeously drawn works were present, of course, but also doorways, pieces of wood, and a range of objects, implements and plants that evoke the city and some of the possible things we do in urban space (such as move through it, make gardens in it, go out drinking in it, live in it…). It was a show that seemed influenced by travel (in that Miso has in the last couple of years been to the Ukraine, Japan, London and New York) but also by a lot of reading and thinking: the result was a show that invited us as spectators to look, think, and perhaps even to read…

The show finished several weeks ago, so apologies in that you are not able to go and have a look. But Miso’s website has some photos of the works, here, and if you are interested in reading about new ways thinking city spaces, have a look at the website of This Is Not A Gateway, which promotes ‘knowledge and agitation from emerging urbanists’.

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