Archive for the ‘Melbourne’ Tag

Old times, new times….

This site doesn’t normally do announcements about upcoming shows, as you will know if you have visited it before. But sometimes I like to put up information about a show that promises great things or is by artists who are really significant in the scene. Here’s some info about a show that starts May 16th that will deliver or both fronts.

If, like me, you have been following the graffiti and street art scenes in Melbourne for a long time, you will be thrilled to hear about an upcoming exhibition that celebrates the history and longevity of some of Melbourne’s most significant artists of the last decade – Ha-Ha, Sync and DLux. These were the names that helped to put Melbourne on the global map of significant street art centres. All three are still in the art game, and it’s fantastic that there is a show celebrating both the old times, and the new times, for these artists – and for Melbourne’s art.

Now & Then Flyer v4 lo res

And now….. Melbourne Now

This weekend sees the opening of Melbourne Now at the National Gallery of Victoria, perhaps one of the most significant initiatives by an Australian museum in many years, in that it showcases hundreds of works made by artists associated with Melbourne (living here, working here, born here, or representing some idea of Melbourne in their work…). Here’s the website:

The show is significant for its scale: hundreds of works selected by thirty curators, situated in over 8000 square metres of exhibition space spread across the two sites of the NGV and with a number of off-site locations in the city. It’s significant also for its broad-ranging interpretation of ‘creative Melbourne’, bringing in to the gallery spaces an impressive range of art practitioners. By this I mean not just a diversity of artists (sculptors, print-makers, video artists and many more), but also architects, designers and performers (the exhibition includes elements such as dance – perhaps a first in any Australian museum).

The exhibition also continues the NGV’s refreshing willingness to categorise street art as a valid and interesting art form. In July of this year, the NGV hosted ‘Suburban’, a solo show of new work by Ian Strange, also known as graffiti writer Kid Zoom, and has also temporarily exhibited work by Melbourne contemporary artist Miso, known for her many years of working in the street as well as in galleries. Such initiatives have been impressively open-minded for a major museum, but it would have been easy for the gallery to have left street art out of Melbourne Now. Instead, the exhibition includes two artists well-known for their work in public space. Ash Keating, who came to public attention in 2004 when he painted the hoarding over the Mockridge Fountain in City Square using a paint-filled fire extinguisher, is represented through two works: one is the stunning video work, ‘West Park Proposition’ which shows, on three screens, his transformation of a blank concrete wall into an artwork that blends harmoniously with its outer Melbourne setting. The other will be located on a billboard hung on the outer wall of the NGV itself, and Ash will paint the billboard on Friday 22 November, prior to the exhibition’s opening on 23 November. So the gallery makes itself into a wall that can be draped with artwork being created before the eyes of the public – a gesture that seems to represent in a really positive way some of the fundamental ideas underlying street art.

IMG_9567

Some more of those ideas can be found in the work of Lush, the other ‘urban artist'(to use the gallery’s term) included in the show. Lush has created an installation that fills half of a small room, and comes with its own dumpster and piles of litter:

'Graffiti doesn't belong in a gallery?' by Lush

‘Graffiti doesn’t belong in a gallery?’ by Lush

It’s worth spending time reading the dozens of stickers and sheets of paper that cover the surfaces of the installation, with shout-outs to Peezr, Sofles and Jetso included as well. If you follow the blog Vandalog, you will have come across contributions by Lush, and you can find many more in the NGV’s installation:

Detail. 'Graffiti doesn't belong in a gallery?'

Detail. ‘Graffiti doesn’t belong in a gallery?’

I walk down Brunswick Street every few days, since I live nearby, and there’s a shopfront and doorway entirely covered with Lush stickers. I love it that this installation is almost the same as that shopfront in the streetscape. Both Lush’s installation and the exhibition curators are thus posing a question to us: ‘graffiti doesn’t belong in a gallery?’. There’s no right answer to that question, but it’s worth thinking through….

Finally, the other way in which the NGV is building its reputation for supporting street art, is through its endorsement of All Your Walls, a community-organised re-paint of Hosier Lane, and Rutledge Lane, located opposite one of the NGV sites. The exhibition catalogue for Melbourne Now lists Hosier Lane as one of the locations for the exhibition beyond the main gallery sites. A decade ago – or even five years ago – it would not have been possible to have imagined a major museum associating its name with a site known for illicit art. (And although some museums, such as the National Gallery of Australia and the Tate Modern among others have had exhibitions showcasing street art and graffiti, this is a little different. First of all, Ash Keating and Lush are included within the line-up of exhibiting artists on the same terms as any sculptor, fine artist, architect or designer. Their art practices are =regarded as being just as valid as any of the more conventionally respectable ones. And in sponsoring All Your Walls, the gallery is acknowledging that Melbourne’s art exists within the cityscape as much as in the galleries and studios of the city. It’s a gesture that says clearly that street art is part of Melbourne – part of Melbourne now.

Proposed new Graffiti Management Policy in the City of Yarra, Melbourne

Not much blogging in the last few months – apologies, but I have been working on my (academic) book about street art…

Anyway, I’m back in order to let readers know about the proposed new Graffiti Management Policy in the City of Yarra, in Melbourne. This area includes Fitzroy, Collingwood, and Richmond, home to some of the most interesting street art, and a long time favourite location for many writers and artists to put up work. Graffiti here is part of the municipality’s character – many live in this area (as I do) because it brings vitality and interest to the streets.

Yarra has always had a pretty progressive approach to graffiti management – their last policy took a ‘whole-of-community’ approach, that is, they acknowledged it was important to talk to artists as well as those who ring up asking for graffiti to be removed, and they have sponsored lots of art events and interventions.

However, a new approach is being developed.

On Tuesday this week, I attended a briefing session on the City of Yarra’s proposed new approach to graffiti. They have hired a consulting firm, Capire Consulting, to develop the policy, which is apparently with Council at the moment, although not yet finalised. The briefing session was introduced by a representative from the Dept of Justice Community Crime Prevention dept, who framed the issue of graffiti as one of (il)legality and criminality, and discussed the various ‘graffiti grants’ available from her dept – such grants are in fact for organisations to remove/prevent graffiti. So the whole issue of uncommissioned art was clearly set up as a problem to be eradicated, reduced and controlled, and the proposed policy very much takes that line too.

The key points:

Requests for graffiti removal from private property in the City of Yarra increased from 2500 in 2010-2011 to over 4000 in 2011-12. This figure appears to indicate ratepayer dislike of graffiti. (More significantly, it indicates a significant increase in the graffiti removal expenditure for Yarra.) Is there increased ratepayer dislike of graffiti? Not necessarily – the figures indicate only those who dislike it enough to want it removed; they don’t speak to the proportion of residents/traders who either don’t mind it or actually like it. However, vocal minorities of ‘concerned citizens’ or simply those who ring up council like this are usually the constituents who influence policy-making. (I also think that 4000 requests in a large municipality still isn’t a very large number… )

The Report is called ‘Off the Wall’ which indicates the flavour of the approach taken by the consultants.

The policy: influenced by the Dept of Justice framework for graffiti management which emphasises its criminality (ie they use the Graffiti Prevention Act 2007 definition to frame graffiti as a crime unless done with permit or with consent). The policy recommends an approach equally divided between prevention, removal and enforcement. Any kind of ‘engagement’ with the arts community has been downgraded. ‘Youth programs’ and ‘working with artists’ appear as an aspect of prevention. Both of these would direct artists/writers towards legal murals. Examples were shown in a talk by the DoJ speaker of good mural projects – old-fashioned 80s-style ‘civic’ murals.

So: prevention includes: legal walls, permit systems, youth programs, crime prevention through environmental design, maintaining a database of permitted works so that works without permission can be targeted for removal. Removal: rapid removal policies, prioritised removal policy, kits for residents. Enforcement: ‘partnerships with police’, and the maintenance of a database that could be given to police for ‘enforcement purposes’.

In the ‘guiding principles’ for the report, the consultants listed: criteria to determine ‘good’ and ‘bad’ graffiti . This was explained in the session – ‘bad’ is tagging, works done without permission; ‘good’ is work done with permission.

The policy is claimed to be based on consultation, context, comparison with other municipalities, and academic literature.

But: No evidence that the academic literature had any effect on the policy that is promote (it can’t have, otherwise the policy would be differently worded, recognizing that some form of active and meaningful engagement is essential in order to avoid antagonising the community of people doing graffiti and street art).

Further: little consultation. The consultants spoke to a number of people working for other councils, and to some individuals (including an academic and an artist, who felt that their views weren’t taken into account in the report). No public/community consultation. Surely Yarra should consult before adopting such a policy? [Addendum: I’m told that there are plans for more extensive consultation: let’s hope it happens.]

Further: comparison with other municipalities. This is important in that one graffiti management policy can often have displacement effects into another municipality, so it’s good for Yarra to speak to Darebin and Melbourne and others nearby. However, the consultants also drew on advice from councils such as Stonnington and Knox, where the local community is extremely different from the one in Yarra.

Context: there was no recognition of the specific context that we find in Yarra, where we have streets like Brunswick St or Smith Street, in which graffiti and street art play very significant parts of the aesthetic and economic vitality of the area ie become key parts of an area’s character (there’s research on urban character by Kim Dovey and colleagues in the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Melbourne, looking at Fitzroy and other suburbs, in which graffiti is mentioned by residents as an important part of the area’s character).

Apparently the report is with council, and I imagine there is a small window in which people could make their views know to Yarra (or perhaps with a phonecall/email to any local MPs). Let people know what the policy involves.

It’s important that we indicate to Yarra that people locally and in the arts community generally are left out of such a policy if it is adopted, and that there may be negative consequences for the area’s vitality if it is adopted.

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’.

The League of Resonance

Every city has areas that have acquired the reputation for being a ‘trouble spot’. Sometimes this comes about through an increase in the numbers of crimes occurring, or perhaps it’s the result of bad road design so that an intersection becomes an accident black spot. Sometimes it’s because an area isn’t terribly lovely to look at: perhaps the architecture is uninspiring or dull, or perhaps the area gets filled with unlovely things like litter, debris, waste bins, and the like. Perhaps it’s an area that people tend to walk through without seeming to engage with the space – most cities have area which lead into major transport hubs, with crowds flowing in and out of train stations, around tram or bus stops, down major roads, and so on.

And sometimes you get an area that combines all of the above. When that happens, the site is often seen as a real ‘problem’ area.

One of these problem sites exists in the centre of Melbourne: an area covering a couple of blocks around the intersection of Flinders Street and Elizabeth Street. The City of Melbourne is canvassing opinion about the area, from residents, traders, commuters and so on, and one might expect that a council would simply carry out a letter box survey and then have a few committee meetings with relevant stakeholders to work out what should be done.

Well, all of that may well be going on, but what’s exciting is that the City of Melbourne has also chosen to make one of its Arts and Participation Programs engage with this area. The result is an urban intervention that certainly has the potential to generate interesting information for the council’s deliberations, but which also constitutes urban art in itself.

The City of Melbourne commissioned a group of artists, led by Jason Maling, Sarah Rodigari and Jess Olivieri, in order to find ‘an alternative method for Council to engage with the city night experience and explore diverse experiences and views. The artistic outcomes aim to provide a counterpoint to late night culture, and is designed to activate the space with positivity, romance and humour and to create a softer alternative to an area that is quickly gaining a reputation for the inverse’. The result is an arts project called the League of Resonance.

The League describes its activities as follows:

[We] seek out the intangible and barely perceptible. We detect vibrations that form the backdrop to the mythical narrative of daily life. We situate ourselves in places of intrigue, we listen, we talk, we connect and we hum. In collecting and combining the resonance of individuals: their stories, perceptions and rituals, we unravel the backdrop to this myth. Together we create a new sound. This sound is The League of Resonance.

So what does this all mean? I met two of the League’s founder members, Jason and Jess, and went on a ‘date’ with them to discover the work of the League and to share stories with them about this particular segment of urban space.

We met outside the photo booth at Flinders Street station, on the south side of the intersection of Flinders and Elizabeth Streets. Jason and Less explained how the project aimed to take seriously the idea of an area having a ‘bad vibe’ and their desire to investigate all the components of this area’s vibe, to discover where its current vibrations come from. These investigations have been historical, aesthetic, architectural, sociological and ethnographic: they have uncovered information about the precinct’s origins, the buildings that used to be there and have been demolished. They have walked and walked around the area, in different weathers and at different times of the day, trying to pay attention to everything. They have documented the businesses in the area, and have spoken with commuters, residents, the local council, Victoria Police, employees and employers, punters, and students. They have photographed the area and its buildings, and have created a dossier of information about individuals who meet with them and agree to join the League. (League members also receive membership cards.) They produce an occasional newsletter setting out tiny snippets of information and ideas about the area, and have developed a program of ‘good works’, from suggestions by interviewees as to what actions would help people in the area. These have included holding the hand of very drunk people, and assisting people to cross the road at this traffic accident black spot.

Much of these activities and ideas are inspired by the conversations generated when League founders meet with individuals on a ‘date’: which means having a cup of tea or coffee in one of the precinct’s cafés, and walking around the streets and laneways of the area, sharing stories. On my ‘date’ with Jason and Jess, I learned about the tram stop that is being used as an informal shoe exchange (people seem to leave unwanted pairs of shoes in the tram stop which are then used by the homeless) and the embankment that overflows with rats at night.

On a walk that involved many moments of delight, there were two highlights for me. The first involved a panorama. Several floors up, we gazed at what initially looked like a spread of unremarkable modern office buildings. But as Jess and Jason pointed out details of the buildings and told stories about each, the buildings revealed themselves in their singularity: a tall narrow building topped by a private swimming pool, an opulent bank, a backpackers’ hostel, a building used as a depository for pornographic magazines and books. Knowing even these small details about the buildings started to attach histories and emotion to these spaces, making me realise that even the most bland and anonymous buildings are always the products of specific desires and functions, some of which conflict with each other, and all of which participate in the resonance of a neighbourhood.

The other moment of great pleasure involved not a panorama, with its necessary sweep and grandeur, but two tiny details, easy to overlook. As we sheltered in a laneway while it rained, I noticed cigarette butts – not that unusual, since office workers regularly use laneways for smoke breaks. But here’s what struck me:

Two butts are inserted into a tiny space in the wall; others are carefully lined up on a narrow shelf. Granted, they are cigarette butts and thus not terribly lovely to look at, and of course they are environmentally problematic in many ways: they are litter, and you could say that they should be in a bin. But something about their placement arrested me: they hadn’t just been dropped and stamped out on the ground. Instead, they had been inserted or balanced in unexpected places, almost in ways that responded aesthetically to their surroundings.

A few minutes after seeing these butts, the League took me to see another unexpected moment of ad hoc art. In another laneway, this one heavily used by smokers from two nearby office buildings, there is a lot of construction work going on, with hoardings tacked on to the laneway walls. Smokers stand, wreathed in a grey cloud, in gloomy silence between these hoardings. Cigarette butts abound here, of course, and many are just dropped on the ground as one would predict. But take a look at this (apologies for the dodgy quality of these images; they were taken in haste in the rain):

It is a line of chewing gum wads, placed along a ledge on one of the wooden hoardings. It is litter too, of course, just as the carefully placed cigarette butts are. But, like them, its placement indicates something in addition to standard littering. The gradually increasing line of variously coloured balls of gum has become a visual punctuation against the bland beige wood of the hoarding. It may not be sanitary, it may not be complicated; maybe the gum wads should indeed be in a bin. But I couldn’t help taking pleasure in the fact that someone (or several people) made the small aesthetic judgment to line them up rather than drop them randomly on the ground. It’s a small instance of aesthetic intervention in urban space, but a valuable one. And I’m grateful to the League of Resonance for sharing it with me on a date that made me pay attention to the intricacies of an area that could easily be dismissed as valueless, and for dedicating their time and energies over these several weeks to the project of understanding what makes a neighbourhood resonate, vibrate and hum.

Swoon at Metro Gallery

Last night was the official opening of Swoon’s show, Thekla, at Metro Gallery in Melbourne.

It would be an understatement to say that this event drew the crowds.

The gallery was packed. It was actually quite hard to view the artworks properly under those conditions, and so I’ll be returning another day for a better look.

The show uses every inch of the gallery’s available floor space, and in addition re-shapes the gallery rooms (by adding painted and graffiti-ed steps here and there) and transforms its textures, by cladding its white walls with paper and cardboard. The artworks are sometimes affixed to these transformed walls; at other times they stand upright on the floor, angling out from the walls so that the exhibition has a pleasingly multi-dimensional feel. Apparently it took the best part of two weeks to install this show, and the efforts were well worth it – the space looks incredible.

Some of the works I had seen before, on the streets or in other galleries. Even so, they are given a freshness by virtue of their inclusion here in a coherent large-scale show, which allows all of Swoon’s great strengths as an artist to be displayed: the sense of storytelling, the vividness of the characterisation of her subjects, the many different skills used in making the artworks, and the way that a gallery space is taken over by the artworks and converted, temporarily, into something else – some other space.

Photo by Sean Irving, Metro Gallery

The works are so incredibly detailed:

Photo by Sean Irving, Metro Gallery

It’s worth mentioning that Metro Gallery is based in Armadale, an area of Melbourne which is – you could say – not well known for its street art. Certainly, the crowd last night contained a large percentage of the very well-heeled and very well-off. And no doubt many of those present would have been well pleased by the speech given by the guest invited to launch the show, the Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu.

Baillieu’s speech seemed to have been written by someone who knew nothing about (a) street art (b) Swoon and (c) Swoon’s art. You would think that at some point yesterday afternoon when the speechwriter sat down with a piece of paper to sketch out a few talking points for Baillieu it might have been noticed that they were woefully under-informed. Apparently not. Baillieu talked at length, managing to embarass himself and much of the audience, who were cringing as he said incoherent things like ‘You’re Swoon, I’m swim, this is swell’. The best you can say about it is that after a time, the speech ended. Shockingly bad.

And enough dwelling on the ignorance of Liberal politics, let’s look at some more images of Swoon’s beautiful works:

Photo by Sean Irving, Metro Gallery

Thekla is on until 5 March. ‘Worth seeing’ is an understatement.

Small acts, amazing effects.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I tend not to do announcements about upcoming shows, figuring that there are plenty of other blogs and sites that do a sterling job in that respect.

But every now and then shows come along which either seem so unmissable or they involve work by artists whom I really respect or admire.

Coming up at Metro gallery in Melbourne is an exhibition that falls into both these categories. Metro is hosting Swoon’s first solo exhibition in Australia.

I’ve written about Swoon’s work before on this blog: you can read that post here. I’ve long been an admirer of her art: it is diverse but coherent, it moves beyond street and gallery with apparently effortless ease, and it has evolved in fascinating ways so that as well as adding artworks to buildings and other parts of the built environment, Swoon has in recent years been creating new built environments herself.

Sometimes these have been elaborate structures designed to float on rivers and seas, such as the rafts which sailed the Adriatic into Venice, to gatecrash the Biennale. At other times, they are specifically designed buildings, intensely site-specific works which also have all the functionality of a building – they are made for particular purposes, such as the Konbit Shelter in Haiti. In relation to this latter project, Swoon has working with architects and urban designers as part of a group seeking to assist in the reconstruction of Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake there. (You can read more about that project here.)

To get more of a sense of Swoon’s work, it’s worth doing a couple of things. First of all, have a look at a recent post on the excellent blog Brooklyn Street Art, which describes a studio visit with Swoon and has lots of great photos of her at work. Then, check out YouTube. Have a look at this:

Only three minutes long, but it gives a great sense of both of Swoon’s art and her energy and enthusiasm…

And then, check this one out:

This is a TED talk given by Swoon in Brooklyn recently, in which she talks at greater length about her work. Totally inspiring and, again, such infectious enthusiasm.

I was fortunate enough to meet Swoon last April in New York, and it really was one of the highlights of my time researching in this area. We spoke at length about the transformative potential of art and about the nature of relationships between people (and art) in public space, in neighbourhoods, in derelict spaces, on water, and in buildings.

in November 2010, Swoon created a site-specific installation for the exhibition Small Acts of Resistance at Black Rat Projects in London. The exhibition was designed around the work of several artists whose work combines ‘the artist’s aesthetic vision and the activist’s world changing ambition’. In Swoon’s work we see this combination at its most effective. The acts of a street artist may be relatively small, but their effects – well, their effects go far beyond the limits of any one paste-up or sculpture. Maybe art like this can change the way you see or the way you think.

Go and see the show. It’s on from today until 5th March 2011, Metro Gallery, 1214 High Street, Armadale.

‘Be free': but not for long….

I recently posted here about a number of artworks around Fitzroy and Clifton Hill featuring a figure throwing playing cards into the air, accompanied by the text ‘be free’.

As part of that post, I included a photograph of a very fresh looking ‘Be free’ artwork, at the entrance to an underpass in Clifton Hill, and on the day that I photographed it, the council graffiti removal van was parked nearby: I commented that I hoped it was not there to paint over this artwork.

Well, it wasn’t, not that day at least.

‘Be free’ stayed at the entrance to the overpass, and attracted some tagging, which then attracted some commentary of its own:

Photo by Lorraine.

I’m indebted to Lorraine, a reader of this blog, who sent me this photograph, commenting to me in the email, ‘Not erased as you feared but tagged. It somehow works.’

Indeed, the placement of the tag somehow connects with the image, even though it covers over many of those gorgeous playing cards. One passerby felt perhaps that the tag did not work well with ‘Be free’, and wrote bluntly ‘this tag is brainless’ next to it – so that the site became a series of layers of significations.

But not for long. Lorraine emailed me this today, having taken it three days ago. Opening the email and viewing the photograph was a strange experience for me, because I had already walked past the underpass this morning, to find this:

Blankness. Fresh paint, no doubt applied by an assiduous graffiti removal van.

Was it the presence of the tag and the subsequent commentary on the tag that attracted the attention of the graffiti removalists? Or were the artwork’s days numbered, as testified by the presence of the graffiti removal van two weeks ago – perhaps it was just working its way around the locality and was always going to paint over ‘Be free’, no matter whether it was tagged or not.

I can’t help but feel sad for its disappearance. It fitted the site so perfectly. It must have made many people smile – those playing cards! Magnificent composition. I hope that more are being affixed to a wall somewhere very soon.

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