Welcome to this section on street art and culture jamming.
In the introduction below I briefly outline how – and to some extent why – I became interested in these linked topics. Over time I’ll put up a sample of the thousands of images that I’ve collected over the last couple of decades. Many are from Melbourne, the heartland of street art in Australia. But for some years now wherever I’m travelling I’m on the lookout for witty, incisive and eye-catching work. It’s always a delight to turn a corner somewhere and to be surprised by something new and unexpected. In many cases there’s more to these works than may first appear. The more you see the more you know there is to see (and understand). Moreover, as time has gone by street art has evolved from its somewhat humble origins and continues to spin off a variety of new and renewed art forms, some of which are highlighted here.
Culture jamming and street art are worth watching for their own sake and also for their wider implications. My own journey into this fascinating area began in the early 1990s when I was briefly involved with a working group on ‘graffiti’ convened by the then Mayor of Hawthorn. I met a number of interesting people, none more so than youth worker Noel Buchanan. He knew the streets and the culture. It was through him that I began to discover what street art was all about. At the time the focus was very much on minimising tagging and other unsightly expressions of youthful angst. This was long before street art became an art form in its own right and Melbourne became world famous for the quality and range of its leading practitioners. The article is therefore very much an expression of its time and place. It was published in the June 1993 issue of The Melburnian: Read article…
Views from the Edge: An Introduction to Culture Jamming and Street Art (To open click here)
Appreciating and Attributing Street Art (To open click here)
What do these images have in common?
Rotting newsprint promos on a wall of letterboxes stuffed with unsought commercial garbage. A 10-metre poster spruiking the offer of shares in a coal transport systems that for several weeks was thrust into the consciousness of every passing driver. A well-endowed brunette staring from the modified boot cover of a taxi. Two youngsters lounging on the rear of a coach in jeans and little else. They are part of a sustained and historically unprecedented symbolic assault with multiple hidden impacts.
They permeate the social life world of everyone. Strangely, they attract little overt attention but may end up costing the Earth. To many, and at face value, they often appear innocuous but there’s reason to believe that collectively they – and more importantly the worldview behind them – are among the forces that are driving civilisation towards dangerous ‘overshoot and collapse’ futures.
High power commercial advertising has become normalised in our time but it evokes Tony Fry’s suggestive concept of ‘de-futuring.’ Such practices may still be deemed ‘legal’ but it is ever more perverse to see them as legitimate. From Vance Packard’s The Waste Makers to Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, a distinct genre has arisen that tracks the development, and questions the legitimacy, of a ‘growthist’ worldview that’s promoted ‘bigger, better, faster, further away and more’ (Lewis Mumford’s term) to the point where other options have been eclipsed. Fortunately, however, not everyone has been rendered voiceless and passive. There’s a persistent current of activism, comment and critique that takes many forms and at times uses the street as its platform. Here’s a sample.
First an image from a disused advertising billboard in a railway cutting adjacent to Chapel Street, Melbourne. It’s a few years old now but I’ve seldom come across a more concise and powerful statement than these few words that go right to the heart of the matter:
Advertising poisons space. Money conceals the terror. Desire as engineered. Your mind is a battlefield.
A couple of visual equivalents by Mini Graff were on show at Cockatoo Island, Sydney Harbour, during the December 2011 Outpost street art exhibition. They use corporate styles and off-takes of some of their logos to subvert the originals.
Sometimes all it takes to achieve a different effect to that which was originally intended is to make a tiny change. This was achieved here with a couple of images of stereotypically fashionable young women showing off a winter collection of clothes. A couple of staring eyes were pasted over the originals, giving the ads a weird and distancing feel.
BUGAUP is the name of an Australian group that made its point by altering and subverting billboard ads. A couple of people involved in the organisation entered the panel shown here in the Outpost exhibition, along with a brief explanation.
Finally here are a couple of collages that use contrasting images to comment on different aspects of commercially dominated modernity. The first uses an exquisite painting by Rubens to call attention to the ‘cult of thinness’ that’s constantly promoted nowadays, especially to women.
In the second I placed this image of a ‘bar code baby’ from an old magazine cover literally centre stage in our local shopping mall. It highlights the ideologically driven practice of market segmentation right down to very young age groups. Such practices allow commercial heavy-hitters to regard our kids not as persons to be respected but as future consumers to be ‘messaged’ and manipulated for their own ends.
Take home themes are many but could include: Call messages of unsustainable practices as you see them. Don’t stay passive in the face of the never-ending assault – fight back. Question and take back public space from regressive corporate uses. Have your own say – but do your homework, do it respectfully and with due care for all concerned.
Images from Melbourne in the late 1980s
These images may bring back memories for some. They’ve all been re-scanned from film negatives and show a little of the diversity of work at that time. The second image makes the connection between street art and hip hop culture explicit. Hugh Dunit was a well-known and elusive character who left many tokens of his activities around the city. There were also some fine murals, such as the one here on ‘Intimidating Nature’ and some powerful images of personal agency through the spray can.