Archive for the ‘Vexta’ Tag

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.

Space Invaders at the National Gallery of Australia

This is the first of two posts about the opening of the exhibition, Space Invaders, at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

Exhibition entrance, with work by Ghostpatrol

I’ve just returned from two days there, enjoying the opening festivities.

On Friday night there was a preview of the show prior to its October 30th opening, with a party in the museum’s Gandel Hall and forecourt. I’m told that hundreds of people bought tickets to come to the party (hopefully they also went to see the exhibition). Works from the show were projected on to the museum walls; here’s a selection of some of my favourites:

Anthony Lister

The Yok

Ghostpatrol

Meanwhile, upstairs in the Project Gallery, was the exhibition: a number of rooms containing a selection of the National Gallery of Australia’s large collection of street art (it has purchased over 350 works). The works are displayed with imagination and intelligence, organised according to themes such as ‘Neo-Pop’, ‘Connecting Crews’, ‘Politics and the Press’ and ‘The Return of the Hand’. There’s a display of zines (some of which you are able to read, as well as examine others in glass cases), and surfaces for stickering, with many of the visiting artists taking the opportunity to add their stickers to the display.

The works are displayed in a manner which evokes the street, clustering images together and dispersing others more randomly, with some exhibited high up on the wall and others placed at ground level. The evocation of the street isn’t tackily done, thankfully: it would have been easy for the museum to have strained after some embarassing sense of street credibility, but instead it has retained the look and feel of a gallery space at the same time as showing awareness of how the works would originally have been displayed on the streets.

Other events included artist signings for the show catalogue, the Everfresh Blackbook, and Street/ Studio, plus an artists’ talk, with the curator of the exhibition Jaklyn Babington putting questions to Vexta and Neils Oeltjen about their work in the show and their careers on and off the street.

One of Vexta’s best-known works, Welcome to Australia, is featured in the exhibition:

She and the curator talked about how this work was originally a site-specific piece produced for a show several years ago in a warehouse space in Melbourne. The work was destroyed after the show, and has been recreated on paper as a result of the NGA exhibition. This prompted an interesting discussion about how the exhibition functions as a sneak preview of a time capsule: many of the NGA works were made in the heyday of the stencil art boom in Melbourne in 2003-2004, and purchased soon after; since these works have long since been buffed, painted over, gone over, or faded permanently from the streets, the NGA collection represents a significant archive of works that otherwise would exist only in coffee table books and as digital photographs.

The conversation with Niels Oeltjen brought other issues to the fore as well, such as the politics of street art and its role in ‘city-building’. Neils’s work (like that of some others in the show, such as Miso, Meggs, Ghostpatrol and Lister) also points towards some of the more contemporary directions in street art, using drawing, painting, paper cut-outs, and collages to create work for the streets. Neils was invited to create a work specifically for the exhibition, a glorious confection of colour and shape:

Outside, in the museum forecourt, Everfresh spent the day painting a wall, while a happy crowd of friends, fellow artists and interested visitors sat around on the museum grass and watched:

Rone, Reka and Makatron at work on the wall

In order to acknowledge the importance of zine culture to street art, the museum had also given over its huge Gandel Hall to a zine fair for the whole of Saturday; plus, a short film made by artist Anthony Lister was also screening continuously at the entry to the gallery. The result was a nicely dispersed and variegated set of locations staged throughout the museum: the Project Gallery displaying the artworks, the Gandel Hall with its zine fair, the gift shop selling its catalogues, T shirts and books on street art, the Lister film on a continuous loop, and the outdoor live painting by Everfresh, meaning that visitors moved from inside to outside and back again, as if traversing from the outdoor spaces of the street into the more rarefied space of the gallery and back again…

To end this post, I’ll simply say that the show is well worth seeing. It’s on in Canberra until late February 2011, and will tour to other cities after that. And there’s a beautifully produced catalogue too (in the interests of complete disclosure, I should let you know that I wrote an essay for the catalogue – I was thrilled and honoured to be asked to do so). More about Space Invaders in a subsequent post…..

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 64 other followers