STEP INTO MELBOURNE CITY’S Hosier Lane, where street art and graffiti — some of it worthy, some of it not — are sanctioned and celebrated. Ebulliently vivd by day, the cobbled lane is occupied by tourists with long lenses; at dusk, young men and women step into the neon and shadows with spray cans and pots of paste; at night, cold street lights tinge the paints and ghastly-eyed creatures peer from the bricks.
Hosier Lane is ever-changing, its works painted over and over in a thick stratum of colour. Scann3d, a Melbourne-based 3D property visualisation company with an eye for art and heritage, have captured a moment in its evolution — in this street-view-like tour, time stands static as we wander. Step out with a click and explore.
She is large, looming over a row of shop backs. Yet she is not threatening or grotesque. Nor is she tawdry or gaudy. Washed onto the cream wall in shades of warm grey, her lips have no shine, her eyes no azure intensity. She is not what we expect from Rone. She has walked from the pages of a magazine, but shed its glossy, saturated colours. An underpainting; a study in stripping back. She is not heavy, laboured or layered; her form barely impinges on the surface of the building.
She does not announce herself immediately, brazenly calling out from the wall as her predecessors do. Leaves curl outwards from plaza trees to veil her eyes and the curious back rooms of old city buildings protrude before her. Upon one of these, a doorway on the first floor opens onto air. From behind it, she seems to wink.
She has melted into her wall, charming those who look up into her eye. She seems to exude the subtlety, worldliness and charm of the stretch of sophisticated city street she adorns – this is Collins Street’s ‘Paris End.’ She is autumnal and mellow, perhaps mournful, as she seems to gaze through the glassy office buildings into a distance beyond.
For anyone interested in the shifting, ephemeral face of city surfaces — as I am — the paste-up has particular resonance. Paste-ups are the epitome of ephemerality. Between pastings and as existing posters perish, paste-up sites come to resemble modern collages or a paper form of the archaeologist’s stratum; the suggestions of text and image become visible in part as the layers are torn away. To me, the stratum represents a temporally condensed equivalent of the overlays of paint and wallpaper in a period home which, if peeled back, reveal the evolving decorative tastes and economic standing of subsequent generations of the building’s occupants. Like layered advertising posters, the sanctioned cousin of the illegal paste-up, their content discloses the concerns of the urban inhabitants, concerns often as ephemeral as the posters themselves: commodities, events, political agendas, values, aesthetics.
Also like advertising, the images are infinitely reproducible: constructed in a studio and able to be rapidly wheat-pasted to any wall, paste-ups (like spray-painted stencils) enable the artist to bombard the city with a repeatable message or to transport a particular look to different urban centres. Yet the impact of different sites, different natural patterns, and of different public interactions and responses will imbue each image with a unique lifespan and patina of ageing.
The human process of layering the new upon the old and the natural processes of deterioration are a conscious interest for many street artists, who embrace the impermanency of their art form. In an exhibition in June 2011, titled L’inconnue de la rue (the unknown girl of the street), Rone created a series of works using torn billposters as canvases. The images on the posters themselves were created through a screen-printing process of layered paint colours. Multiple of these posters were pasted together, one to the other, as they would naturally be covered over in layers in the street. The artist then drew his fingers through the damp layers of thin paper, tearing and ripping into the surface, creating an instant, manufactured version of the weathering and disintegration that the posters would undergo while pasted on a public, outdoor wall. Continue reading
Street art’s power to invoke urban remembrance operates on dual levels: at the collective, artworks prompt the revelation of the city as accumulated,memory-laden residue; at the individual, many pieces have the potential to trigger recollection of personal city experiences and of personal pasts more broadly.
First, to examine street art’s role in collective memory. As popular awareness of the presence of street art increases, neglected city space comes under revision in the eyes of city dwellers. Graffiti and street art are almost always associated with neglected or forgotten space — abandoned structures, inaccessible or off-limits zones, secluded places, or interstitial spaces like train lines, fences, and walls.
In Melbourne, this enlivening of urban space has been most evident in the central city’s laneways, where much of Melbourne’s most sophisticated and most viewed street art is created. Originally rarely even noted on maps, these narrow alleys and lanes were built to service the greater streets of Melbourne’s 1830s grid; their concealed presence and public neglect (until tourists discovered them) has made them ideal places for artists to put up unsanctioned stickers, posters, stencils and pieces in privacy.1 Now, where once dwelled only rats and garbage cans, Melburnians sit at hole-in-the-wall bars, cafés and restaurants. It is no coincidence that changes to the licensing laws in the nineties were concurrent with the rise of stencil art in Melbourne.2 Along with unsanctioned street art, official public art programs — such as the Laneway Commissions — facilitate the development of the laneways.3 Under these influences, the once lost spaces of forgetfulness are reinvigorated and reaffirmed as lived spaces in which colourful graffiti art has become, for a segment of the population at least, a prized aesthetic; the laneways are now populated well into the night.
Alongside the rediscovery of forgotten urban spaces, it is also in the nature of all street art to reveal anew the very textures of the those spaces: walls, the basic but often unseen building block of the urban environment, become newly visible when painted or pasted upon, revealing the peculiarities etched into their façades by time. Urban dwellers cognisant of the city’s embellishment begin to walk the city in a different manner: their gaze becomes conditioned to seek textural detail, increasingly receptive to these physical landscapes of the past and of the past’s reworking. Continue reading