Tag Archives: Sweet Streets

Stencil Festival to Sweet Streets

This is the insides story of the Melbourne Stencil Festival, at least the part that I know and I was involved 2008, 2009 and 2010 aka Sweet Streets. The history of the Stencil Festival is longer than my involvement; it goes back to 2004 when the first stencil art festival in the world is held in Melbourne.

Melbourne Stencil Festival 09 exhibition

Melbourne Stencil Festival 09 exhibition

Even now this story needs to be told to dispel any idea that it was being run by paid administers in an office with lots of sponsorship dollars. Melbourne might be a festival city with all kinds of spectacles completing of attention but this makes potential sponsors festival fatigued. Festivals are not recipes for economic success and we struggled to attracted sufficient corporate or government sponsorship.

Every year the stencil festival would gets an angry email about how the festival does not ‘represent’ the ‘real’ street art community. The real is a symbolic category; the festival never claimed to represent street art. The festival was never about being the poster child of street art, nor about owning the concept, the brand name of ‘real’ street art. It was about creating a bridge between the mainstream and the street art community, providing a forum and a festival for the art. Each year there has been workshops, employing artists to teach their stencil skills to children and adults. Art is an exclusive affair but the paradox of street art is that it is open to everyone on the street and is not the exclusive privilege for insiders.

I initially became involved in Melbourne Stencil Festival in 2008 as the volunteer coordinator and award judge (along with four others including Chor Boogie). I became involved because I thought that it might be a good opportunity to show some practical support and make some contacts in the street art scene. I took a Gonzo journalist approaches to reporting the MSF – a participant observer, in Malososki’s opinion is the best kind of anthropologist, and what is the difference between an art critic and anthropologist anyway?

2008 was an ambitiously international festival with Chor Boogie, A1, John Kolaczar, Pete Wollinger and other artists from around the world. I was not involved in the politics of the 2008 festival but I could see that JD Mitmann had a major conflict of interest with the festival as he also ran the gallery Famous When Dead where he showed and sold many of the artists. I doubt that JD Mitmann actually profited from this relationship but this was also a matter of perception; you could look at the relationship as symbiotic. The 2008 AGM was a very interesting affair; there was a mea culpa from the previous committee and, except for Adi, the newly elected committee was completely new.

I was then parachuted into an emergency committee in 2009 after Satta van Daal’s resignations. I didn’t see anything of Adi; the committee was no longer functioning. I became the festival’s secretary; being the secretary is not the most glamorous of jobs – lots of emails, typing minutes of meetings, finding meeting venues and other mundane or bureaucratic matters.

I quickly found that I’m not the only one that has been parachuted in to run the festival; there was also Phil Hall, Tessa Yea and Anna Briers. Phil Hall is an energetic, enthusiastic and experienced public arts worker who had work in Collingwood before. Tessa Yea and Anna Briers were then adventurous curatorial students from Melbourne University doing an internship at the festival.

I have yet to mention Coops, Paul Cooper of Arttruck was keeping the whole transition between 2008 and 2009 going. His advertising and design business had office space and computers that we could use along with chocolate cake and biscuits because photographing food produces some great left-overs. This was over when the relationships with Coops and the rest of the festival organisers cooled over poster design.

We found more volunteers, lots of them, all competent and eager to get the festival happening. Somehow it all came together. The new volunteers were all excellent, many of them were students doing work in curatorial studies and marketing, others were just random people like me interested in street art. MSF 09 was thrown together in three months mostly by email with only support from the City of Yarra and in-kind support from sponsors.

Boo & Tom Civil, Sweet Streets 2010

Boo & Tom Civil, Sweet Streets 2010

After managing to put together the festival in 2009 the team was ambitious to run another festival. There was an obvious need to re-brand and redefine the festival to include more than just stencil art. The initial focus on stencil art came at a time in Melbourne when stencil art was very popular and there were a lot of stencil art on the street. Since then street art in Melbourne has expanded, new techniques and ideas have come along (yarn bombing and street sculpture).

So the Melbourne Stencil Festival became “Sweet Streets – urban and street art festival.” The use of the term “urban and street art” was used to sidestep the debate about street art in the gallery.

The festival 2010 was bigger and better than all previous years – a real arts festival with a program of events, multiple exhibitions in several locations, but not the budget that went with that. On top of being secretary I was running the film night. The ancient Geeks had a word for it – ‘hubris’.

In the end the committee was exhausted and without a succession plan. This is the problem of running an annual festival, at the point where everyone on the committee was exhausted you should have been preparing for next year’s festival and finding sponsors. It was hard to keep volunteers motivated for a whole year preparing for the festival. I could go on about all the problems and forget the success of a street art festival running in Melbourne for seven years.

Does it still exist? Rumours that it will be revived occur from time to time over the years. Unfortunately attempts to revive the festival proved futile.

Read my reports from the front line as an embedded blogger:

MSF 2008

Opening Night 

Conversations with John Koleszar and Russel Hosze

Melbourne & Graffiti (reflections on talks given at MSF 2008)

MSF 2009

Opening Night

Underground 

Sweet Streets 2010

Sweet Streets 

Award Exhibition

Urban Intervention @ YSG

Street Art Politics Forum

Week 1    

Week 2 

Black Mark at Sweet Streets auction.

Black Mark at Sweet Streets auction.


Street Art in Melbourne 2010

At the end of the decade street art has become mainstream with “Space Invaders”, a major exhibition at the Australian National Gallery Canberra; the exhibition was even featured on ABC Kids TV. This doesn’t mean that street art is over, except for people who were only into it for a snobbish feeling of underground exclusivity; street art will continue, more walls will become available (outside and inside art galleries) and more people will participate. The street will still operate as a temporary autonomous zone for artists who want to show an image to the public.

Kangaroo/Koala augmented soft toy in lane.

Melbourne street art is now moving in some strange directions: street sculpture, yarn bombing and guerrilla gardening are now all in evidence on the streets. This may, in part, be due to a few more women engaging in the once male dominated street art scene. It may also be that people are more aware of street art as an option for exhibiting their own creative ideas.

Hanging garden in lane.

In 2010 the Melbourne Stencil Festival transformed itself into a real street and urban art festival – Sweet Streets. For 6 years the festival was little more than an exhibition with a few other events – this year there were several exhibitions and more events than I can remember. Following this success I decided that it would be my last year on the committee; after being involved with the festival for three years it is time for me to do something different.

Part of the Amnesty Int. wall painted during Sweet Streets

It was a bad year for Banksy stencil rats in Melbourne – Melbourne City Council buffed the one in Hosier Lane and another one was stolen from the South Melbourne home of artist and underwear designer Mitch Dowd. A few of Banksy’s rats do survive in Melbourne, there are a few along Brunswick St. Fitzroy. Brunswick St was a Banksy rat run spray mission. The paint around these stencils is old and faded – the shops have been careful not to paint over these rats. The steady attrition of Banksy’s work in Melbourne is not surprising as he sprayed the stencils in 2003.

A surviving now threatened Banksy rat in Fitzroy


Yarn Bombing

Maddy Costa in The Guardian reports on more yarn bombing in London. Her article, “Knit and purl your own installation” advances the argument that yarn bombing takes knitting from craft into art. The surrealist artist Dorathea Tanning already made the move from craft to art installation in her late career knitted fabric installations. Her partially knitted installation in the Pompidou Centre is a truly surreal vision of people being absorbed into the fabric.

Yarn bombing knitted butterfly in Brunswick

I have seen the odd piece of yarn bombing on the streets of Brunswick and Fitzroy in the last year. In order to learn more about Melbourne’s yarn bombing I have been exchanging emails with Yarn Wrap. I saw here shopping trolley at the Sweet Streets exhibition at the Yarra Sculpture Gallery. After the exhibition she ‘gifted’ the shopping trolley to Knit and Purl in Dandendong whose owner, Freda loves yarn bombing.

On the streets Yarn Wrap tags ugly objects urban objects, like the sign poles, with colorful wool. She comes from a family of crafters and creators and has knitted all her life. Then two years ago she saw an American documentary by Fathye Levine called Handmade Nation which shows lots of indie craft makers. She was “blown away by the Knitta crews and the footage of them tagging poles in the middle of the night. I had seen there work on the net and started to create my own pieces and did a few tags around Melbourne.”

Yarn bombing occurs at irregular intervals in Melbourne’s street art scene often connected to festivals like Sweet Streets or the Big West Festival.  Sweet Streets wanted to have more yarn bombing in the festival – many festivals want to have yarn bombing, it must be the most media and local government friendly forms of street art to have hit the streets. There isn’t a crew (or should that be “knitting circle”) of yarn bombers in Melbourne. Yarn Wrap and I both want to know where are yarn bombers in Melbourne.


Street Art Politics Forum

I did get to the Sweet Streets artist’s forum at 1000 Pound Bend on Saturday 23 October. The forum focused on “the challenges and politics surrounding being a Street artist and working on and off the streets.” (Festival website) The panel featured Kirsty Furniss (from KA’a), Tom Civil, Junky Projects, Haha, and Boo. The forum was organized by Boo (who is on the festival committee) and facilitated by Mickie Skelton, a circus performer who did an excellent job in introducing the artists, keeping the questions coming from the audience and the discussion moving.

Street art is not exclusively political but there is a political dimension to claiming a space, the personal empowerment of not being locked out and DIY. The decision to be arrested for a political empowers the individual to take dramatic actions like painting “No War” on the Sydney Opera House roof.

There was a small discussion by the Newcastle artists – Junky Projects, Civil and Boo about the differences between Newcastle and Melbourne’s approach to graffiti. Newcastle is fighting a loosing war on graffiti – “Dig a hole and throw money in it.” Junky Projects. All of the artists are currently living in Melbourne because it is more tolerant than Newcastle of graffiti.

All of the artists in the forum were interested in the political issues of street art but not all were political activists unless HaHa’s offer to fill USB sticks with conspiracy theory videos counts as activism. Junky Projects is not a political activist but his propaganda by deed of creating art from recycling junk bring attention to the politics of consumption and waste. The other three artists in the forum Tom Civil, Kristy and Boo have all used street art in political activism. Culture jammin’ was the entry into street art for both Kirsty and Boo.

It was a rambling discussion Tom Civil pointed out early anarchists propaganda techniques that have been taken up by street artists, including paste-ups. He has recently published a new edition of “How to Make Trouble and Influence People.”

Boo talked about her use of cognitive dissidence in her art to make people think. But even the way that she puts up her work on the street has some cognitive dissidence – Boo puts her work up with a tube of liquid nails on the way home from doing the shopping.

The discussion moved on to what is the future of Melbourne’s street art? “Brunswick” Junky Projects said it in one word. Junky Projects also pointed out that there is less hip-hop graffiti and more graffiti from other subcultures like, punks and metal. There are punk street artists with names like Snotrag, Neckface and the Looser Crew making ugly pieces.

Other predictions for the future were more proscriptive. Civil wants bigger street art, whole building size, but deeper subjects rather than the current shallow content. He is looking forward to more mature street art and hoping for break from the American aesthetic that has dominated street art. Boo is hoping for a less masculine street art, not just more women involved but less machismo in the street art produced. Boo noted that there were more women artists participating in this year’s festival.

(See my entry on Political Street Art)

 


Sweet Streets – Week 2

Sweet Streets is all over now for another year. Week 2 was the final week of the Sweet Streets, a festival of urban and street art; not that my work as secretary is done, there is still the AGM to organize and clean up of the venues to complete. I also have to finish putting my notes from the festival’s artist’s forum together into a coherent blog entry.

I was feeling a bit burnt out from all the festivals, not just Sweet Streets but also the Melbourne Festival, the Fringe Festival and life. There is so much packed into Melbourne’s calendar in October, the only time available after the football season and before the end of year silly season. So I took a walk in the spring sunshine around the Fitzroy portion of the artist’s trail. I hadn’t thought about the therapeutic value of this walk until I was contacted by an Occupational Therapist at the Alfred, who wanted to take a group of clients on the walk. Walking is very good exercise and having a reason to be observant on a walk also feels good. I was vaguely hoping that I might meet up with Judy Baxt who was going to be working on her yarn bombing part of the trail and to talk about yarn bombing with her. I must catch up with her another time.

Yarn bombing along the art trail in Fitzroy by Thomas Chung

I didn’t make it to the opening of the Collingwood Underground part of the festival. Sweet Streets (and the Melbourne Stencil Festival in previous years) is one of the few arts festivals to actually produce art and not just present it. The artists in the festival collaborate to produce works that are auctioned off at the end of the festival. The Collingwood Underground, a disused carpark, provides the space for the collaboration and interaction between the participating artists, as well as, workshops for the public. Some of the work in the underground was documented on a video by one of the artists, Danny.

Junky Projects

I’m not the only one who is worn out. The unofficial star of the festival has been Daniel (aka Junky Projects). He has been everywhere – running workshops, drinking at openings, talking at the forum, and wearing a variety of outrageous sunglasses and clothes. Look at a set of photos of the festival and there he is larger than life. There have been rumours on the street that Junky Projects is a female heroin addict. They are not true – he is a large man with red hair and beard. However, he was too sick with a cold to be the auctioneer for the annual charity auction at the end of the festival, so Phil Hall, the artistic director, stepped in to fill the gap.

Are they selling the walls now?

Phil Hall conducting Sweet Streets auction

The objective of the charity auction was to “raise money for the future of Sweet Streets as well as the Collingwood Housing Estate Arts Community, and Anglicare Victoria – our chosen charities” (quoting the festival website). Most of it will be put towards paying for this year’s festival, but that is the future of Sweet Streets.

For those of you interested in the fiscal value of street art, the auction raised over $10,000 (up from $6,000 last year). The highest prices were: an Obey (A/P artist’s proof print) $300, large Civil/Boo collaboration $450, HaHa canvas $410 and a large Debs $800.  (For those making comparisons in US$ the AUS$ is basically at parity with the US$ this weekend, a fraction less).


Spud Rokk

Graff Hunters are fun series of online videos about graffiti. The presenter and lead Graff Hunter is Spud Rokk. In his sunglasses, hat and single glove Spud Rokk is exploring and hunting through the urban wilderness for graffiti. He is like an urban version of Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter and other the wild wilderness-men TV presenters. But he is a graffiti art critic.

Spud Rokk - image courtesy of Graff Hunters

Spud Rokk - image courtesy of Graff Hunters

Spud is a high-energy presenter; he runs down streets, climbs walls and leaps over storm water drains in a single bound. His cameraman struggles to keep up with him. Spud is always excited by the art that he discovers on the street and the excitement is contagious to the audience. His commentary is also high-energy and well informed about street artists and graffiti technique. His style of criticism is mostly about pointing out the quality in the graffiti piece. His hands and body still dance as he explains the movement and composition of graffiti pieces. Watching a Graff Hunters video is an education in the elements that make up a good piece of graffiti.

Spud is sometimes joined on his graffiti hunting Australia wide expedition by his sidekick Juzzo, sometime Spud interviews artists, but mostly he has a dialogue with the cameraman. He swears a lot more than any TV presenter (certainly more than any art presenter) but that is the street and the advantage of presenting his videos are online.

Spud Rokk - image courtesy of Graff Hunters

In reality Spud Rokk is a character created by Spencer; the blue eyes behind the trademark sunglasses. There are lots of fictional comic presenters from Norman Gunston to Ali G; these clowns are no less artificial than many glossy TV presenters but are perhaps more honest about their fictions. Spencer says that by the fictional VJ, Max Headroom inspired him to uses scratch j-j-j-j-jumps in his videos. In real life Spencer is just as full of energy, he laughs more and swears a lot less. He is motivated by his love of art and his passion energizes and motivates him. Spencer told me has done about 30 Graff Hunters videos but only some are currently on the website – he puts them up and if they don’t get good hits then he takes them down.

Spencer started off as a b-boy and break-dancing; then he saw the writing on the wall and became interested in graffiti. His old catalogue of hip-hop music has now becomes the soundtrack for the videos. He started making videos about Melbourne’s graffiti in the mid-90s and then started editing in the 2000. In 2000 he produced documentary for indi hip-hop group Curse ov Dialect who he also collaborated with musically. Editing the videos became easier after he won an ABC mini-documentary competition that lead to Graff Hunters being sponsored by NMG in Footscray. He is also working with Oriel Guthrie making a feature length documentary about Melbourne’s graffiti scene: Hello My Name Is…. Spencer plans on expanding his range of videos with Spud Rokk exploring cooking, bicycles and others passions.

I’m glad to have met Spencer as he really inspired to do more with the Sweet Streets festival film night that I ran this year that featured both an episode of Graff Hunters and the preview of Hello My Name Is…. The episode of Graff Hunters warmed up the capacity house and got them laughing – see for yourself.


Urban Intervention @ YSG

Urban Intervention: a street sculpture exhibition and art trail opened on Friday night at the Yarra Sculpture Gallery, part of the Sweet Streets festival. (I must declare that I am the festival’s secretary, a volunteer position but it does give me a bias in my reports.)

Opening "Urban Intervention" @ Yarra Sculpture Gallery

People don’t often ask what is the future of street art? Very few people are asking this question because street art is ephemeral and it is perceived as fashionable fad (although the fad has lasted some 30+ years). The whig history of art dismisses street art as a fad because it doesn’t fit with art history’s idea of progress. But there is a lot of progress in street art scene: street sculpture and yarn bombing.  There are other aspects that are not easily packaged like culture jamming and site specific installations.

There are a lot of impressive elements to this exhibition; a whole painted ute was parked in the gallery, a shopping cart covered in knitting and an installation of light, smells and sounds. There was street sculpture from Mic Porter, Nick Ilton, Will Coles and Junky Projects. The Melbourne Light Painters exhibited photographs and the objects that emit light (sparklers, toys swords and other things). Van Rudd exhibited a work protesting Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Phonenix brings Banksy’s “The Little Diver” from Cocker Alley in Melbourne back from its destruction with a paste-up that was recreated and documented in the exhibition.

Nick Ilton's "Suggestion Box" and suggestions

Importantly for a street art exhibition the exhibition is not limited to the gallery there is an associated art trail where the artists from the exhibition have work in context with an online collaborative map. I haven’t walked the trail yet but I have looked at it online – the detail in this Google map is fantastic. It is important for this to exist in both the virtual and actual versions because so much of street art scene exists online, as well as, the streets.

I was disappointed that there wasn’t any guerrilla gardening in the exhibition, maybe I will find some on the art trail. I must do that when the weather improves.

Curated by Anna Briers and Kelly Madigan this is an important exhibition about under-represented trends in street art: “site specific installation, culture jamming, underground light painting, yarn bombing…” It also sets new benchmarks in quality in exhibiting street art.


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