The Festive Season is upon us and, in response, the blizzard of pavement markings in Sydney’s central business district has taken on an appropriately merry appearance, with designs based on traditional Christmas colours.
A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald about ‘Sydney street scribbles’ goes some way to translating what these symbols indicate about the pipes and cables buried beneath the pavement. However, here is my alternative translation of the photograph above, taken on the corner of George and Bathurst Streets.
It is a double manhole or service cover, cleverly decorated to represent a Gingerbread House covered in snowy frosting. There are fairy lights draped on the roof and hanging by the window and front door. The chimney, in the shape of a Christmas stocking, also has fairy lights. These are focussed on a point in the sky (E9-1) which may be interpreted either as the star in the EAST, or the route Santa’s sleigh will take on Christmas EVE.
The ELVES who live in the manhole gingerbread house have festooned it with codified greetings to Sydneysiders as they go about their daily work. E1, for example, stands for EXPRESSIONS of cheer to each and every one of you; E4 means EVERY good wish for the New Year. F10 is an interesting one. It reads FORGIVE us for any tension or stress we may have caused by making such an unholy mess of Sydney’s bluestone footpaths.
The 1950-60s television courtroom drama, Perry Mason, is said to have been the first detective show to feature either a tape or a chalk outline to mark the spot where a murder victim’s body had been found. The body outline made its first appearance in the episode ‘The case of the perjured parrot’. The writer of the show, Erle Stanley Gardner, had actually used this idea much earlier in the book, ‘Double or quits, which he wrote in 1941 under the pen name A.A.Fair (see Perry Mason TV series).
Ever since then the body outline has not only been used regularly in murder stories and television shows, but it is very often adaptively reused in illustrations alluding to all sorts of crime and fatality. It is a symbol — based on a fiction — that is continually modified, re-invented and re-purposed. We recognise it in newspaper cartoons, TV commercials and political protests and we understand what is meant.
In New York I came across two instances of the symbolic body outline, both associated with the New York Public Library. The first was in an exhibition, Why we fight: remembering AIDS activism, which recently opened at the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue. One of the exhibits was this poster from the library’s archives. It was produced in 1988 by ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), a deliberately confrontational organisation that was formed to challenge government inaction over AIDS.
The other body outline was on one of the plaques along the section of 41st Street known as Library Way. These sidewalk plaques carry inspirational quotes about reading, writing, and literature. The one I photographed reads:
… a great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it. William Styron (1935 – ), Writers at Work.
To me, the illustration seems very odd. The reader of the book looks, not exhausted, but dead (presumably in a hiatus between two of those ‘several lives’).
On 42nd Street, near the New York Public Library, I spotted fresh chalk notices. Of course I had to photograph them even though I didn’t get a chance to read them properly because it was the evening rush hour and the sidewalks were crowded with people on their way home from work.
Then I noticed there were more police about than usual and suddenly I realised there was a protest march coming down the avenue, timed to disrupt the maximum number of people. Marchers were confined to the sidewalk and were accompanied by a phalanx of police motor cycles in the kerbside traffic lane. It was quite a sight.
The issue was the ‘Robin Hood Tax’ or, more properly, a Financial Speculation (or Transaction) Tax. Supporters of such a tax maintain it is a way to raise funds to meet human needs, like protecting public services, tackling poverty and dealing with climate change. The date was 17 September, the two-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street.
It was good to see a strong showing from Occupy Wall Street. The previous weekend a small group claiming to be Occupy Wall Street was occupying space amongst all the weekend goings-on in Union Square. Their presence was not very impressive.
Tunnels are favourite locations for graffiti, not only tags and ‘writing’ but also creative — though unofficial – public artworks. The ephemeral nature of these makes them more interesting than the durable commissioned murals that are sometimes painted or tiled on tunnel walls. However charming or sophisticated the official works might be, they can become boring for people who pass that way day after day.
In Antwerp there is a pedestrian tunnel underneath the railway line between Centraal Station and Berchem. It has several artworks painted, pasted or projected on the walls, floor and even the ceiling.
Naturally I like the zebra crossing, given my interest in the symbolism of crosswalks. Perhaps, given the amount of bicycle and even motorcycle traffic in the tunnel, the artist had in mind that pedestrians needed assistance to cross safely from one side to the other, should they wish to do so. Or perhaps the artist wanted to encourage people to go against the flow, although going against the flow in this case would only bring you up against a brick wall.
My thanks to Duncan, a fellow participant at the Visual Methods Seminar at the University of Antwerp, for finding this pedestrian crossing for me. Thanks also to Alan for demonstrating the use of the crossing for the photo.
Apart from the Scallop Shell Trail for pilgrims I found another, less permanent trail on the footpaths of Antwerp. On Molenberg Straat these stencilled chickens and arrows led … where?
I think I might have found the answer on a sticker attached to a mooring bollard in another part of town. It is advertising ‘Ceci n.est past une galerie – a unique dinner concept’. Apparently this is a nomadic ’restaurant’ where a small number of people share a table to eat, converse and view artworks in a private studio or house. The stencilled chickens I saw must have led to one of these locations. But was it the current one?
In some of the streets and squares of Antwerp I have spotted what I thought were brass cockle shells fixed to the cobbles.
A colleague explained what they meant and I have since found out more about them. The scallop shell is the emblem of Compostela pilgrims. Scallop shells on the ground guide them on the various routes that take them to the Way of St James, which leads to Compostela in Spain where the remains of apostle Saint James are supposedly buried.
Pilgrims whose route to the Camino de Santiago de Compostela takes them through Antwerp can visit the main sights in this city by following the Scallop Shell Trail, which runs from Saint Jacob’s Church to Saint Julian’s Inn (Sint-Julianusherberg) where they can find overnight accommodation.
The University of Antwerp, where I have been taking part in a summer school is scattered over a number of buildings, new and old, in the narrow cobbled streets near the centre of Antwerp. It just so happens that the building where most of the classes were held is directly opposite Saint Jacob’s Church.
In my next blog post I will reveal another footpath trail in Antwerp.
I am writing this blog post from Antwerp in Belgium, where I am attending a Summer School in Visualising Urban Culture. Before I left Sydney I did a quick scout around some local streets, to catch up on any pavement graffiti I might have missed.
I found this body outline in a back street of Camperdown. A number of graffiti artists have utilized the walls of this closed-down factory building (now being renovated, presumably into desirable inner-city apartments). I don’t know why one of them turned their attention to the asphalt, but I like this chunky body on the road. It exemplifies my arrival in Antwerp. I hit the ground running and have been flat out ever since.
When I blogged about a chiselled, painted and Post-it noted survey mark recently, I invited Scott Taylor to comment and tell us more about survey marks. Scott is a surveyor who hosts the website Global Surveyors. This is what he had to say:
The red and white Post-it is actually called a Red and White!!! We aim our surveying instrument at the centre or join between the two colours, which we have positioned centrally over the survey mark.
There are many marks surveyors use, some placed in kerbs, rocks, trees, or buried under ground (hidden), and all on public record noted on a Deposited Plan.
Here are a couple of survey marks I happened to have on my phone. They are called Drill Hole and Wings. Like the blue mark in your photo, they are used for boundaries and are noted on a plan as being at a corner, or being a certain bearing and distance from a corner. They assist the surveyor to re-establish a boundary corner when that corner has disappeared or been destroyed.
We paint almost every mark we place. Surveyors have no particular colour. I use whatever is available and feel as though I’m a graffiti artist most of the time.
Here is a rock mark from the 1800s, before and after it’s been painted. It’s referred to as a Broad Arrow. For those interested in survey marks there is a great publication called Marking the landscape: a short history of survey marks in New South Wales.
Will Coles (aka Numb) is a guerrilla street artist who knows a thing or two about aphorisms. His casts of consumerism’s cast-offs often bear one-word invitations to think deeply about the shallowness of present-day culture. So perhaps it was inevitable that he would eventually appropriate Arthur Stace’s single-word sermon, ‘Eternity’.
Thanks to my loyal band of spotters, I was able to find and photograph several of Will’s ‘Eternity’ drink cans this weekend. They were stuck to the stanchions of Sydney’s now defunct monorail, a train that went from nowhere to nowhere and connected to nothing. The monorail closed down at the end of June after uglifying the streets of Sydney for 25 years. Most people would say good riddance but Will had apparently found it a great space for his mini-installations. As a farewell gesture he hit it hard with his works last week, and by the time I got down to Pitt Street many of them had been souvenired while others had been damaged, presumably in an attempt to remove them.
Will Coles is an artist who straddles both the gallery and the street scene. A more dignified example of his work is currently on show at the high end of town, in a window of the Optiver Building in Hunter Street.
Some time in the past this arrow-shaped survey mark has been chiselled into the concrete kerb of Regent Street, Redfern (Sydney). It will last as long as the kerb does. But to make it more visible it has been painted blue. Eventually the paint will be weathered away. Last week there was a man surveying the boundaries of a property that adjoins the pedestrian laneway off Regent Street. So that he could see where the survey mark was through his theodolite, he had stuck a red and white post-it note next to it. The post-it note was probably gone by the next day, blown away by the wind.
I have only presumed that’s what the post-it note was for. I don’t really understand survey marks. I wish I had thought to ask the surveyor about this one. But anyway, I have contacted Scott Taylor at the Global Surveyors website and invited him to comment on this Pavement Graffiti post. According to a blog post by Scott about ‘Interesting survey marks’, surveyors like him are magnetically attracted to survey marks in kerbs, roads and bridges, and drive their friends crazy saying, “Look, there’s a level datum”. Here at Pavement Graffiti we understand this level of fanaticism.