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Civil Civilization

Imagine a lonely person who believes that they are the last person alive on earth walking through a modern city. The place could be anywhere in the world. The architecture is international modernism; glass walls and the Brutalist concrete constructions. The modern forms repeat endlessly down the empty streets. The city grid is all empty and quiet and perfectly undisturbed. It is a sterile environment where not even weeds grow.

The lonely person walks down empty streets desperately searching for signs of other life in the empty buildings. Then the person sees a fresh tag, spray-painted on a wall – a handmade sign. This in itself is a reason not to commit suicide. Then another tag – and following the trail of tags the lonely person comes to a huge painted sign. A clear indication of another living human, like Robinson Crusoe seeing Friday’s footprint on the beach.

The tag is an intentional human sign that says I exist.

Civil suggested this story in his talk at “Vandals or Vanguards?” that was part of the Space Invaders exhibition at RMIT (26/9/2011).

Civil’s early stencils really turned me on to street art. I always remember seeing his early stencils around Richmond but unfortunately I didn’t carry a digital camera in those days so I can’t show you any (I will always regret that). They were very political, a bowler hatted man in a suit with polite, civil slogans encouraging revolt. Then I saw his stick figures – I was slightly disappointed that he had changed style and I realized that I was already a fan. I was not that disappointed because the simple stick figures are like those simple figures of Keith Haring, or Henri Matisse in the Rosaire Chapel. They are perfect and beautiful figures in their pure simplicity. There is still a political message in these mass figures – they are a civil community. The community of figures interact in their individual ways, sitting talking with another figure, walking with their dog, riding their bicycle.

Some of these figures are done with stencils (as can be seen in this photo of Civil working at the first Croft Alley Project) but many are simply ‘throw-ups’ drawn freehand with a spray can. And when you see them you recognize that other humans exist.

Civil is a veteran of Melbourne’s street art scene with a particularly strong sense of community that came with that scene. A graduate of Monash University in Environmental Science rather than design or fine art, which, I think, gives his simple art a political focus. In other parts of his talk at “Vandals or Vanguards?” Civil spoke about the unresolved and still relevant protests of John Howard era against the Iraq war and World Economic Forum 2001. The disproportionate anger towards graffiti compared to the ugly aspects of urban development. And reclaiming public space from advertising; Civil pointed out that Sao Paulo, another city notable for its street art, has banned outdoor advertising.

Here are some more signs of civilization.

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About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

3 responses to “Civil Civilization

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