Imitations of Eternity

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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(My earlier blog posts about ‘Eternity’ can be found here and here, and Will Coles’s work pops up here, here and here)

 

Vale Jeffrey Smart 26 July 1921 – 20 June 2013

'Bus terminus', Jeffrey Smart, 1973

‘Bus terminus’, Jeffrey Smart, 1973

Traffic marks occur frequently in Jeffrey Smart’s precisionist pictures of the built landscape, their sharp outlines and piercing colours marshalling into order the compositions of tarmacs, car-parks and autobahns that he was driven to paint. In his work, wrote Mark Ledbury, we see a celebration of the road marking as a painterly object.

With his depictions of hard-edged and perfect  roads signs on even and unblemished asphalt, Smart drew our attention to a property of the pavement that we might overlook if we only concentrated on the flaws in its pocked, patched and scarred surface. For the fact is that, prosaically functional though the pavement may be, it is an edifice of monumental proportions, stretching horizontally further than the eye can see and intruding on our everyday lives in ways that we barely acknowledge.

In an interview with journalist Janet Hawley, Smart once said that he was happy if the public was stimulated by his work, ‘and if they see Jeffrey Smart paintings everywhere in the urban landscape, it means I’ve helped educate their eyes, so I’ve done them a favour’.

Thank you, Jeffrey Smart.

'The rainbow', Jeffrey Smart, 1965

‘The rainbow’, Jeffrey Smart, 1965

Ledbury, Mark. 2011. Mute eloquence: the art of Jeffrey Smart. Sydney University Museum News (25): 12-14.

Hawley, Janet. 1989. Jeffrey Smart made simple. The Sydney Morning Herald (Good Weekend), 13 May 1989, 14-20.

© Megan Hicks 2013

Eternity revisited

I have talked about ‘Eternity’ before, so please excuse my return to the subject, which has been prompted by two quite different sightings this week.

Arthur Stace, ‘The Eternity Man’, stealthily chalked the word ‘Eternity’ on Sydney pavements from the 1930s to the 1960s. Even though Sydney is often accused of being a shallow and superficial city, Sydneysiders still perpetuate the memory of Stace’s one-word warning. Last Monday, for example, I found it chalked on the footpath in Pitt Street near Bridge Street, just round the corner from the Stock Exchange. It was written neatly but the handwriting did not approach Stace’s masterly copperplate.

'Eternity', Pitt Street, Sydney, 2013 (photo by meganix).

‘Eternity’, Pitt Street, Sydney, 2013 (photo by meganix).

If you believe in the afterlife, ‘Eternity’ is a powerful reminder to examine the deeds of your present life to ensure you will enter the kingdom of heaven. It was a sermon by evangelical Baptist, the Reverend John Ridley, that inspired the recently-converted Stace to embark on his footpath mission. “Where will you spend eternity?”, thundered the preacher.

But even for non-Christian Sydneysiders, ‘Eternity’ has resonance. Is it simply that they embrace the novelty of a home-grown eccentric who mysteriously but doggedly left his mark on city streets for over thirty years?

Or is there some deeper feeling involved? Does Stace’s message touch on an unspoken guilt about the kind of legacy Sydneysiders will leave?  In the very centre of the city is Sydney Harbour, so beautiful with its sparkling water and tree-lined coves, that is easy for people to be reminded how this place might have been before empire-building ambitions laid waste the bush and scattered its original inhabitants.

Perhaps I am wrong about this. Perhaps we should not look to cultural commentators like me, or historians, poets and artists, for an interpretation that explains the appeal of ‘Eternity’. Perhaps instead we should look to the manufacturers of facial tissues.

On Friday I lunched at a bowling club ‘bistro’ in Liverpool, a city some 40 km west of the centre of Sydney. Instead of paper serviettes there was a box of ‘Eternity’ brand tissues on each table. These are apparently manufactured in a Sydney suburb and the typography used for the name cannot be a coincidence. So for me it was particularly interesting to read the vacuous message on the box that was meant to complement the inspiring brand name: ‘Pursue in your dreams and anything is possible’.

'Eternity' tissues, 2013 (photo by meganix).

‘Eternity’ tissues, 2013 (photo by meganix).

 

The symbolism of pedestrian crossings

In built-up areas the pedestrian crossing is a familiar feature of the horizontal signscape. William Phelps Eno, sometimes known as the ‘father of traffic safety’ is credited with introducing the cross-walk to New York streets in the early 1900s. Once motorized vehicles became popular, something had to be done to protect pedestrians from reckless drivers.

Sydney was one of many cities that soon followed suit. As early as 1912 lines were painted on the road at busy Circular Quay to provide a safe crossing area.  Within a few years designated pedestrian crossings in the rest of the city were being marked out with metal studs or pairs of white lines. Designs for crossings have continued to change over the years.

A stopping line at the intersection of Market and Pitts Streets in Sydney, marked out with metal studs, 1929 (City of Sydney Archives photograph, SRC7806, file 034\034213).

A stopping line at the intersection of Market and Pitts Streets in Sydney, marked out with metal studs, 1929 (City of Sydney Archives photograph, SRC7806, file 034\034213).

For some people, pedestrian crossings represent order, civilization and safety. For others they represent repression and regimentation of people’s behaviour.

Fake pedestrian crossing, ‘Design saves lives’, an entrant in the Eye Saw exhibition in Omnibus Lane, Ultimo during Sydney Design Week, 2006 (photo by meganix).

Fanciful pedestrian crossing, ‘Design saves lives’, an entrant in the Eye Saw exhibition in Omnibus Lane, Ultimo during Sydney Design Week, 2006 (photo by meganix).

Some pedestrian crossings have achieved iconic status. The most famous is the crossing featured on the cover of the Beatle’s 1969 LP Abbey Road. Photographed by thousands of fans and tourists emulating the Fab Four crossing the road near their recording studio in single file, this ‘modest structure’ (to quote an official of English Heritage) has been given heritage listing for its ‘cultural and historical importance’.

The original photograph has been recently used in a pedestrian safety campaign in the Indian City of Calcutta.

Road safety poster using Ian Macmillan’s famous 1969 photograph, issued by the Kolkata [Calcutta] Traffic Police in February 2013.

Road safety poster using Ian Macmillan’s famous 1969 photograph, issued by the Kolkata [Calcutta] Traffic Police in February 2013.

And then there’s the Rainbow Crossing at Taylor Square in Sydney’s gay precinct of Darlinghurst. When it was removed by the State Government some people were glad, with one newspaper letter-writer declaring that ‘compulsory pieces of public infrastructure should not force upon pedestrians political views which contravene their religious or moral conscience’.

The disappeared Rainbow Crossing at Taylor Square and a notice about a rally for marriage equality, April 2013 (photo by meganix).

The disappeared Rainbow Crossing at Taylor Square and a notice about a rally for marriage equality, April 2013 (photo by meganix).

However such views were drowned out by the groundswell of outrage that manifested itself in the DIY Rainbow Crossing protest. It is significant that this is all going on at the same time as the parliament of Australia’s neighbour  New Zealand had done what no Australian government will do and legalised same-sex marriage.

A painted DIY Rainbow Crossing in Jones Street, Ultimo (Sydney), April 2013 (photo by meganix).

A painted DIY Rainbow Crossing in Jones Street, Ultimo (Sydney), April 2013 (photo by meganix).

Mind you, as Lawrence Gibbons in City News points out, having created a public relations coup with the DIY Rainbow Crossings, Lord Mayor Clover Moore is left with a dilemma. Under policies implemented during her nine-year tenure, any street art, graffiti or posters in the City of Sydney must be removed from any highly visible site within twenty four hours. Under this ruling, the council’s scrubbing machines should be out there right now removing the rainbows.

 

A colourful story

This is a story about vindictiveness and vindication. On the face of it, it’s about gay pride and support for the gay and lesbian (LGBTQI) community. But it’s also about me, me, me and my Pavement graffiti project.

It all started with a pedestrian crossing at Taylor Square on Oxford Street that the City of Sydney Council painted in rainbow colours for the 2013 Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in February-March. It was supposed to be temporary but Sydneysiders wanted it to stay.

Rainbow crossing, Taylor Square, Sydney, March 2013

Rainbow crossing, Taylor Square, Sydney, March 2013

The State Government declared it was a safety hazard and during the night on 10 April it sent in a crew to rip up the rainbow and repave the road. This is where the vindictiveness comes in. Many people saw this action as part of an ongoing campaign by  State Premier Barry O’Farrell to ‘Get Clover’ – Clover Moore, that is, the longstanding Lord Mayor of Sydney. Asphalt used as a political weapon. Here’s a newspaper report and video of the dastardly deed.

Rainbow crossing at Taylor Square replaced by grey asphalt, April 2013

Rainbow crossing at Taylor Square replaced by grey asphalt, April 2013

By the end of the week there were rainbow ribbons and flags flying around Taylor Square to mark the passing of the crossing.

Memorial rainbow ribbons, Taylor Square, 14 April 2013

Memorial rainbow ribbons, Taylor Square, 14 April 2013

But even more astounding, in protest against the Government’s action, a viral campaign to draw DIY rainbow crossings in chalk took off in Sydney, around Australia, and in other parts of the world.

DIY rainbow crossing, Forbes Street, just a few metres from Taylor Square, 14 April 2013

DIY rainbow crossing, Forbes Street, just a few metres from Taylor Square, 14 April 2013

Around where I live you can’t walk up the street without tripping over a rainbow.

Rainbow crossing outside Goulds Book Arcade, King Street, Newtown, 14 April 2013

Rainbow crossing outside Goulds Book Arcade, King Street, Newtown, 14 April 2013

And this is the vindication part. ‘Pavement graffiti’ may seem like an obscure and even unworthy subject on which to base a PhD and many people just don’t get it. But in the very week that I finish writing the thesis, along comes this hotly debated story to demonstrate that PAVEMENT MARKS MATTER. (It’s also left me wondering whether I should open up the thesis again and add an epilogue about rainbow crossings.)

 

There goes another parking space

How hotly motorists defend parking spaces as cities become more and more congested with cars. Loss of street parking is one of the major objections to the creation of cycle paths like the one in Bourke Street in Sydney’s inner city.

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Parking space lost for cycleway. One of a series of stencils applied to the pavement in June 2009, this one is outside the Bourke Street Bakery. Despite objections construction of the cycleway went ahead anyway. Photo: meganix.

So the citizens of the city of Leicester in the UK must have had mixed feelings when a team of archaeologists started digging up a council car park a year ago. How many parking spaces were lost in that exercise? But today’s exciting news is that the remains discovered have been positively identified as those of medieval king Richard III, seriously maligned in Shakespeare’s eponymous play, and the last king of England to die in battle.

The skeleton of Richard III, with its twisted spine, which was discovered at the Grey Friars excavation site in Leicester. Photo: University of Leicester/Reuters, accessed via the Sydney Morning Herald website.

The skeleton of Richard III, with its twisted spine, which was discovered at the Grey Friars excavation site in Leicester. Photo: University of Leicester/Reuters, accessed via the Sydney Morning Herald website.

Asphalt paving is like a tombstone, not only over the remains of the famous like King Richard, but over the bodies of ordinary folk and indigenous people whose life and death resting places were overtaken by the establishment and expansion of cities. It is something I talk about in my article City of epitaphs  in Culture Unbound 1: 453-467 (2009).

The unassuming council car park in Leicester where the monarch’s remains were found. Photo: Getty, accessed via the Sydney Morning Herald website.

The unassuming council car park in Leicester where the monarch’s remains were found. Photo: Getty, accessed via the Sydney Morning Herald website.

Christmas in Sydney Park

Sydney Park, December 2012

Sydney Park, December 2012.

It’s that time of year again – time to say thank you to all those people who have shown an interest in my pavement project. I hope your own projects, whatever they are, bring you satisfaction in the coming year.

Sydney Park in St Peters was formerly a brick pit and brickworks, then a garbage dump, and now it is an expansive park with great sky. Its footpaths have provided me with quite a few graffiti finds. So as my end-of-year gesture, here are a few relics from the archives.

Sydney Park, 2010.

Sydney Park, 2010.

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Sydney Park, 2010.

Princes Highway, St Peters, beside Sydney Park, 1999.

Sydney Park, 1999.

Sydney Park, 2000,

Sydney Park, 2000.

Best wishes to all from Megan.

Old Paris

Asphalt layers, Paris, 1899-1900, by Eugène Atget (From the website of the National Gallery of Art, Washington).

Yesterday a friend and I visited the exhibition Eugene Atget: Old Paris at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. As the small catalogue that comes with your ticket says, Atget relentlessly tracked down the vestiges of ‘Old Paris’ with his tripod-mounted camera. Between 1898 and 1927 he photographed everyday views of shopfronts, signs and street posters, courtyards, interiors, gardens, statues, docks and bridges. Many of these were destined for demolition but some still exist today.

Naturally I was just as interested in the surfaces of the streets as I was in the buildings that lined them, especially when Atget had captured them glistening with rain. Most of those in the photographs were cobbled, the narrow streets and laneways either sloping to drains in the centre, or cambered to kerb and guttering on either side. Not all of those with kerbs had sidewalks wide enough to walk along. In those times the whole width of the street was available to everyone – horse-drawn vehicles and handcarts, peddlers, bicyclists, strollers and shoppers. It was only with the advent of the motor car that pedestrians were irrevocably pushed to the side of the street.

For most of Atget’s career as a photographer, people appeared almost incidentally in his streetscapes. But in the early years he had often made people the subject of his pictures, recording disappearing trades and occupations. One of those early photographs shows  asphalt layers, or ‘bitumiers’, working on their hands and knees with hot asphalt and playing a part in the grand scheme to modernize the streets of Paris. You can read more about this photograph at Atget: The art of documentary photography on the website of the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

The exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales runs until 4 November 2012. The framed photographs in the exhibition are not enlarged but are prints that Atget made directly from his glass negatives, around 22 x 17 cm in size. My friend and I spent four hours scrutinizing and chatting about all of the images. We have compiled a suggested list of equipment that anyone contemplating a visit should take along.

Reading glasses (for close examination of the photographs)

A magnifying glass (ditto)

A map of Paris

A French dictionary (mainly to work out what kind of businesses all those signs were advertising and what the street vendors were selling)

A folding chair or, better still, a wheelchair that you and your companion can take turns in using

A stepladder (for looking at those photographs that are hung a little too high)

Hearts

I spotted this heart – or rather, cardioid shape – on a road in Glebe (Sydney) a week ago. As I drove towards it I thought it must be a very clever piece of hot rubber graffiti, but when I took a closer look I wasn’t too sure. It might be paint or some tarry substance.

Anyway because it’s Spring, the season for romance, I thought I’d go back through the archives and share a few more photographs of love-hearts tattooed on the pavement.

‘I (heart) U BEC’, near Temora in southern New South Wales (Australia).

‘SKR + BKR’, Stanmore (Sydney), 2008.

‘I (heart) you lots anb losts’, Enmore (Sydney), 2010.

A heart on the corner of one man’s Epicenter of Love in Fitzroy (Melbourne), 2011.