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Tag Archives: Alison Young

Civil @ Tinning Street

In “Tangled Love” Civil’s stick figure folk, a mix between Keith Haring and Matisse, form a gentle community as they sit, walk, dance and ride bicycles. They occupy a large wall in the laneway outside the gallery, Tinning Street presents but sit comfortably on the smaller supports within.

Tom Civil, Wavering Spirit (Tinning Street)

A decade ago I was interested in how street art and graffiti would be exhibited in art galleries. Moving from the street into the gallery is a matter of economics, conservation and, given the structure of the art world, inevitability. At the time stencil art dominated Melbourne’s street art scene so that meant that, aside from the gallery location, the other difference was support, outside walls or other materials.

However, sometimes that location on the street was very important to the art. I have seen many artists work fail to work in the gallery. The worst that I can remember was Urban Cake Lady’s exhibition at Rist; her art which looked enchanting on the street lost its magic inside the gallery.

Often this was because isolated in the gallery is different from being collaged onto the actual streetscape. Maybe they are missing the unexpected moment of discovery on the street, that Prof. Alison Young argues is the core of the street art experience, replaced with the totally expected experience of the exhibition. Sometimes the repetition of the artist’s single iconic image looks repetitious and boring in a gallery. Sometimes it is simply due to issues of scale. Certainly the white, anaesthetic room rarely helps the art look its best.

None of these appeared to be a problem in Tom Civil’s exhibition at Tinning Street presents. Dried botanical arrangements in old milk vats engraved by Civil decorate the gallery. His stick figures appear on a variety of supports: timbre lattice, ply, green corflute (corrugated plastic), doormats, wood and clear corrugated plastic which reminds the viewer of the variety of surfaces in the city. Aside from Civil’s familiar stick figures there are images created specifically for gallery exhibitions of animals from centipedes to chooks. Print making techniques extending from his early stencils on the street to linocut, drypoint etching, screen-prints and woodcuts. These printing techniques offer new material for the exhibition. Inside or outside of the gallery Civil’s images work.

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10 things I have learnt from my years of blogging

I am now into my tenth year of writing a blog about Melbourne’s visual arts. My first blog post on Black Mark, Melbourne Art and Culture Critic was on February 16, 2008. It was “Faster Faster Pussycat” about Phibs, Debs and other street artists painting a wall in Fitzroy. Now over a 1000 blog posts later this is what I have I learnt about blogging.

  1. Motivation The first thing I learnt was that writing a blog was motivation to do more in life; I was already going to many art exhibitions but now there was more motivative to go to places, meet people and do other fun things. Soon I started to get invitations to do more things and meet more people. Blogging changed my life; although it wasn’t actually the writing, nor the taking endless photos, or the posting online that really made the change.
  2. No Money You are not going to make money from advertising on your blog but there are a variety of other ways that you can use a blog professionally from promotion to networking. My friend, who I met through blogging, Prof. Alison Young used her blog Images to Live By, to introduce herself. Middle aged academics are not a typical part of the street art/graffiti scene but now Alison is “Banksy favourite criminologist”.
  3. Friends I have made many new friends through writing the blog and that has improved the quality of my life. One reason why I have made so many friends blogging is that I mostly write about what other people are doing.
  4. Enemies I learnt how to deal with hostile comments, trolls and other idiots. You can’t predict what will get people to write hostile comments it could be pigeons in Coburg but I never shied away from controversy, writing posts about the persecution of Bill Henson and Paul Yore. When I have hostile comments I always remember that the person writing them will forget about it after a day or two and, if they don’t, that I can always block them from making comments, but I’ve only had to do this once in ten years. Comments are no indication of anything, no comment does not mean a bad post. Out of 1,077 post I have only had 2,099 comments, half the comments are my own because I generally reply to all comments but I avoid feeding trolls.
  5. Focus My blog is focused on Melbourne’s visual arts but I do post about other things on it. Having a clear focus for a blog is important but it is a balance between a very narrow focus and ranging too far. With thirteen categories on my blog I’m not sure that I’ve got it right on my blog but it is a lesson I’ve learnt.
  6. People watching Vox pops can make a good local blog post. These don’t have to be direct quotes, but observations on how people are reacting. I like to watch how small children react at art exhibitions; are they engaged or bored? “Why does a tree need a sweater?” is an example of how one observation of an angry man made a successful blog post about yarn bombing.  Another local bloggers is the writer Jane Routley who writes about her day job in Station Stories, life as a Station Assistant.
  7. Book published You can get a book published from a writing a blog. In 2015 my first book, Sculpture of Melbourne, was published by Melbourne Books. I started writing and researching the book on my blog, before I started my blog I couldn’t have imagined writing a history of Melbourne’s public sculpture. I am now working on my second book about true art crimes in Melbourne.
  8. Stats I learnt from watching my stats the there was an interest in Melbourne’s public sculpture. What the public wants to read about art is different to what many arts writers want to write about. There are a lot of different kinds of feedback that you can get on blogs from comments to stats. Lots of stats, numbers of subscribers, views, repeat views… stats can be addictive. Here a few more stats in ten years I’ve had approximately 537,000 views from 155 countries around the world (still no views from Greenland, Cuba, Iran, South Sudan and various central African countries, you get the idea).
  9. Blogs can be works of art. My blog isn’t but the artist, Peter Tyndall’s blog was exhibited at the NGV in Melbourne Now exhibition in 2013 and there are other less notable examples.
  10. It is hard work On the plus side you are your own boss, your own editor and you make your own deadlines. Ignore the advice about blogging that you have to post regularly. Writing a blog may not be for everyone but it has worked for me and I will continue.

Alison Young & Melbourne’s Street Art

One of the unique features of Melbourne street art scene is the involvement of “Banksy’s favourite criminologist”, Professor Alison Young.

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CDH, portrait of Alison Young (Image courtesy of CDH)

Every city with a thriving street art scene has street art collectors, like Andrew King and Sandra Powell, or a blogger equivalent to Dean Sunshine (Land of Sunshine) or Facter (Invurt), or a photographer like David Russell, documenting the scene.

A tall, middle age Scottish woman with blond bob, Alison Young does not look like the typical fan of graffiti and street art. I first encountered her at a graffiti forum in an art gallery, probably the way that many people do. Speaking at venues from the National Gallery of Victoria to delivering the keynote lecture at a conference, Philosophy of Street Art: Art in and of the Street at Pratt Institute and New York University in 2016.

Subsequently I subscribed to her blog, Images to Live By and, would then run into her at various graffiti and street art events around Melbourne. Writing her blog was both a way of introducing herself to the street art community as a sympathetic observer and  also a way of introducing her thoughts to the same community.

Young has been researching graffiti since 1996. Central to Young’s examination of street art and graffiti is that our response is shaped by the way that we encounter with them. That initial moment where we are assessing what we are seeing based on how we think about where we are because the location is central to graffiti and street art.

Young has written four books on the subject: Judging the Image (2005), Street/ Studio (2010) with Ghostpatrol, Miso, and Timba, Street Art, Public City. Law Crime and the Urban Imagination (2014) for which she was awarded the Penny Pether Award 2015 and, most recently, Street Art World (2016). Not that it is possible to tell where her research ends and the fan of street art begins, complete with a tattoo by Miso.

Alison Young is not the only academic studying street art in Melbourne. There are other academics who are studying street art and graffiti however most are post-graduates and not a Professor of Criminology at Melbourne University. Young’s academic seniority that allows her to be influential in both the street art and academic worlds.

There is an account of Young’s involvement with the City of Melbourne’s graffiti policy in Chapter 6 of her book in Street Art, Public City – Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination (Routledge, 2014). But Young’s influenced Melbourne’s street art in more ways that advising and being ignored on the city’s graffiti policy or the odd appearance as an expert witness in court. Simply by being at live sprays, talking to artists, exploring cities, writing a blog, can have a subtle but important influence. Her sympathetic but sharp and insightful mind is part of the conversation, the discourse of Melbourne’s street art. For example, there is an article about her interactions with Kaff-iene in Articulation, the University of Melbourne Arts Faculty blog.  In this way her contribution becomes embedded in the local scene.

See also my review of Young’s Street Art, Public City. Law Crime and the Urban Imagination.


Train Lines and Graffiti

I was intrigued when I saw a couple of these notes from the train, travelling past them at speed I couldn’t be sure of what I read. I knew that there were probably more and so I rode my bicycle along the Upfield bike track to photograph as many as I could find in Brunswick.

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The more of these messages that I saw the less interested I became. Soon it wasn’t as interesting as some of the graffiti and street art that I was seeing.

What is it? Why is it there? It wasn’t graffiti because there was no tag and the stencilled letters had no calligraphic quality. It had no obvious appeal or charm so it wasn’t street art. Therefore it had to be contemporary art, or, maybe post-graffiti, if there is a difference.

Why it was there became obvious when I saw the MoreArt 2016 program. Train Lines is the creation of interdisciplinary artist writer and director, Marcia Ferguson is the artistic director of the Big West Festival. Ferguson intended Train Lines to be a poem based in interviews about the use of the Upfield line as mortuary transport to Fawkner Cemetery. Again you would have to have read the MoreArt’s program to know any of that.

It reminds me that in all its years MoreArts has never come to terms with exhibiting in the same areas as graffiti and street art. Existing in their own conceptual bubbles, each competes for attention without acknowledging the existence of the other. There are so many groups competing to use areas along the Upfield train line, see my blog post from earlier this year.

Ferguson’s Train Lines has the quality of what Alison Young what calls “streetness”: “a quality whose importance derives partly from the fact that the street does not provide passers-by with details of authorship that we take for granted in a gallery.” (Young, Street Art World, 2016 p.35) However, Train Lines is not street art.

Many histories of street art and graffiti ignore that contemporary art also exists outside of the art gallery and often in the street alongside street art and graffiti. From land art to happenings contemporary artists were creating art outside of the gallery.

An early example is Christo blocking a small street in Paris with oil drums, Wall of Oil Barrels – Iron Curtain on June 27, 1962. It was a protest against the Berlin Wall that had been built the year before. If you look carefully at Jean-Dominique Lajoux photograph of Iron Curtain you can see that the street that Christo and Jeanne-Claude used has graffiti on its walls.

“Streetness” or urban locations for contemporary art is it a difference of competing ideas and intentions rather than one of style?


The Fox and the Many Cities

On my way to Fitzroy one night, I saw confused a fox looking out over the back fence of Parliament at all the traffic on MacArthur Street. I understood why the fox looked confused it was just after a daylight saving started and the fox had not adjusted its clock.

guerilla territory - baby guerilla

Wandering the city, the feeling of knowing the city, the sense of familiarity leads to ideas of possession. It is not my city, I am aware that I share it. There are many cities within the city, the urban foxes and all the other animals in the urban environment live in a different city. Different inhabitants have different paths through the city and different uses for the spaces in it.

As Alison Young in her book Street Art, Public City points out that there are multiple cities: the tangible, the “kaleidoscope of images, which jointly and singly communicate the identity of the space as ‘urban’” (p.41), the city as site of cultural production and the legal architecture. “Legal architecture produces a certain conceptualisation of urban space: the ‘legislated city” as space in which a particular kind of experience is encapsulated and produced through the regulation of space, temporalities and behaviours. Within the legislated city, citizens experiences are framed by discourses of cartography, planning, criminal law, municipal regulations and civility. The legislated city has mappability, it has aspirational qualities expressed through social policies, statutes, local laws and strategic plans.” (p.41)

There are of course gaps in the map of legislated city; temporary autonomous zones as described by Hakim Bay The Temporary Autonomous Zone, from large areas like Christiania in Copenhagen to smaller anarchic areas. The CCTV, the police and the state cannot control all the areas. And there are always gaps in timing of the patrol, time for the urban foxes and other unofficial inhabitants.

A modern city requires an after hours city whatever the business hours. The after hours city reminds us that there are different forms of life. The Waiter’s Restaurant in Meyers Place, started as a place for Italian waiters and other hospitality workers to have somewhere to eat after hours.

At the end of nineteenth centuryMelbourne had trams running up St. Kilda Road twenty-four hours a day. There are plans for a return to twenty-four hour public transport after a century of limited hours.

For the inhabitants the city, including the fox, their city is made of routes, hubs, landmarks and other esoteric and eccentric features. Esoteric features are known only to the insiders, vinyl record fans will have a mental map of the stores that still stock them and what routes to take to get there.

Platform Degraves St Underpass

Routes are paths that are common to a number of people but it only takes as few as 15 people to make a recognisable path.  I find myself falling into familiar routes around the city and forgetting that the artist run space, Platform is no more and there is just empty vitrines in the Degraves Street underpass to Flinders Street Station.  When I started blogging I would often write about the exhibitions at Platform and I have neglected to note the end of this unusual artist run space.

The fox listened politely to my advice about the dangers of cross the road at this time and changing it clock for daylight saving. It then retreated behind the fence and disappeared from my view.


Banksy’s Favourite Criminologist

Going paintspotting with Alison Young around Melbourne suburbs of Brunswick and Parhran is like going for a walk with any other enthusiastic, informed observer of street art and graffiti. Walking around, looking down lanes, camera ready trying to see the splash of aerosol spray paint, the paste-up or, even, street art sculpture.

Except that Alison Young is not just another fan of Melbourne’s street art but the Professor of Criminology at the University of Melbourne and is Banksy’s “favourite criminologist in the world”. (And how many criminologists does Banksy know?)

Alison Young book

Alison Young’s Street Art, Public City – Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination is an academic book, full of citations and an extensive bibliography but don’t panic. The academic nature of this should not put off interested readers, as it is well written and does not require a background in criminology or sociology to understand. The book comfortable ranges in styles from the personal narrative to post-modern philosophy.

Street Art, Public City is not solely focused on the laws that prohibit street art and graffiti or the way that they are enforced. Although there is some old-school criminology in Chapter 5 where Young examines aspects of law enforcement: the appellate process on sentences for graffiti, the lack of distinction in the law between vandalism and graffiti and the political use of James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling’s much referred to “broken window” hypothesis. Young avoids technical language using “the legislated city” instead of ‘nomosphere’ to describe the intersection of law and urban space, while including such technical language in the footnotes.

Street Art, Public City presents a broad view of street art and the city, examining the way that we imagine the city, the issue of public and private space, the multiple uses and versions the city. This is informed by Young’s own exploration of street art in Melbourne, New York, Berlin, London and other cities and her many conversations with street artists. Previously Young, in collaboration with the artists, Ghostpatrol and Miso, wrote Street Studio – the place of street art in Melbourne (Thames & Hudson, 2010) that features interviews with Neils Oeltjen (aka Nails), Tom Civil, Tai Snaith, Ghostpatrol, Ash Keating, Al Stark, Miso, Twoone, Mic Porter, and the Everfresh Crew.

Street Art, Public City is focused on the situation that the art is presented, the affect on both the artist and the viewer. The focus on the situational aspect makes Young’s approach, including her explorations of cities, almost Situationalist especially considering her conclusion of learning to live with the paradoxes that street art generates. The actual street art is not really discussed in the same depth. That said the influence of the art galleries and the art market are examined in some detail.

After so many books on street art that are basically eye candy, picture books with more photographs than words it is a relief to actually read a book about street art. There are fifteen colour photos at the front and a few more black and white photos scattered in the book’s six chapters. Photographs of street art only tell part of the story as there are aspects of street art that cannot be captured in a photograph. Photographs cannot show the duration, very important with ephemeral street art, nor the motivation of the artist and the reaction of the public. Photographs do not explanation the situation and it is the public situation where street art is created and displayed. Street Art, Public City gives the reader more to consider about street art and the city than simply more images.

Alison Young, Street Art, Public City – Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination (Routledge, 2014)


Street Art Big Time

Five years is a long time, especially with the internet and especially with a new art movement. Five years ago when I started this blog I dreamed of a time when street art would be in major galleries, now it is. There are currently two exhibitions at the NGV of what could be broadly called street art. Robin Rhode “The Call of the Walls” at the NGV International and Ian Strange (aka Kid Zoom) “Suburban” at the NGV Atrium.

On Friday afternoon Professor Alison Young gave a floor-talk at “The Call of the Walls”. Prof. Young spoke about street art moving from fringe to mainstream; the influence of commercial galleries, auction houses, the internet, street art tours and major museums. For some sages this might spell the end of street art, it is certainly the end of fringe phase but that doesn’t mean that all the energy and development has gone.

Robin Rhode “The Call of the Walls” occupies two spaces, the children’s room where parents with children were encouraged to draw on the wall. Robin Rhode’s photographs have the quality of break-dance in stop motion. Rhode positions himself in his photographs, influenced by the British body artists of the 1970s who saw the body as another media for sculpture (and spawned the international art phenomena of Gilbert and George).

Although most of the exhibition is photographs and Rhode’s videos use stop motion, which is essentially still photographs, moving images are the code to Rhode’s work. Rhode had a circular collage image titled “Zootrope” in case it wasn’t clear.

Robin Rhodes is from South Africa so there are some comments on the racial divide but he handles this with the same playful manner as in his other work. He does not have a graffiti, tagging, street background. He could have worked in a studio but he chose the street and the street aesthetic of painting or drawing on walls and playing with the urban environment is there in his work.

The opening of Ian Strange’s “Suburban” on Friday night was a big event; hundreds of people from Melbourne’s street art and art scenes having a look, drink and talk. It was an example of the interests and influences cross-pollinating in the NGV’s space: Prof. Young was talking to Rone, HaHa told me he was planning to go Blender’s opening after and I said hello to street art collectors Sandra Powell and Andrew King.

Ian Strange (aka Kid Zoom) is a former Perth based (now New York based) street artist. In this exhibition he has gone up in scale painting whole houses or setting them on fire. It is the complete transformation of a landscape, like Christo but in this case the landscape is the familiar suburban world of detached houses with gardens. All documented in high quality videos and photographs, weeks of work behind each image. The videos have the power and beauty of the potlatch of a Hollywood film where there is a massive explosion in slow motion that destroys everything. And all these houses waiting for demolition that Strange used reminded me of the housing bubble in the USA one of the causes of the current economic crisis.

Now that street art is in the major art galleries and museums there is a new energy and the promise of new types of works in the future. Both exhibitions use photography and video to document urban interventions, although Strange also brought big cut out bits of the houses along with him. And both Robin Rhode and Ian Strange’s exhibitions are an ample demonstration of this new energy and new pushing the envelop of street art that an art gallery like the NGV can bring.


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