The year in asphalt

All around the world the pavement has a symbolic role as well as a functional one so that, for example, during natural disasters or mass acts of civil disobedience broken asphalt is often invoked in words or pictures to depict the havoc created. Similarly, news services and bloggers publish images of pavement stains to represent the unpublishable and they scan pavement graffiti to capture the feelings of ‘the person in the street’.

Here, then, is a chronological catalogue of major news events of 2011 as told via the medium of the pavement. None of the images in this blog post is mine. I wasn’t there; I was too busy hunched over in my computer corner getting on with the Pavement Graffiti project.

 Queensland floods

“One of the few silver linings to the devastating Queensland floods could be an eventual stimulus to the economy as major repair work begins … It is still a matter of some conjecture as to which individual companies might profit. One likely candidate is Boral, which has market-leading positions in asphalt and other material for road.” (The Age, Melbourne)

 Cyclone Yasi in Queensland

Cyclone Yasi“That stretch of asphalt you see there, buried under the remains of the beach? That’s the Bruce Highway, the main (and virtually only) road to communities up the coast, and the main tourist town of Cairns. It will be a long time before Queensland has recovered from this.” (Must Use Bigger Elephants blog; ABC News, Australia)

 Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan

“Workers told how the earthquake ripped through the plant, immediately knocking out the main power. A ghastly boom was heard in the suppression chamber of reactor 4, said Kenji Tada, who was there at the time. Cracks started ripping in the asphalt and the sides of the building. They fled before the tsunami arrived and did its worst.” (The Telegraph, UK)

 Christchurch earthquake

“This is the closest I have seen to skating in post-apocalyptic world, which is my fantasy.” (Skateboarding magazine.com)

 Osama bin Laden killed

“Days after Osama bin Laden’s demise, America’s burning concern—the most urgent outstanding question, at least according to Google search trends—had nothing to do with al Qaeda, terrorism, or torture. No, the death of the world’s most-wanted man has the country thinking about something else entirely: how to get buff. ‘Navy SEAL training’ followed closely by ‘Navy SEAL workout’ were the only bin Laden-related search terms in the Top 10 … SEAL training is the most ferocious workout in the free world … The best are eventually tapped for the elite Seal Team Six—the squad that got bin Laden … On the ‘grinder’, a black asphalt courtyard, would-be SEALs spend hours doing mass calisthenics. In the pool, they are ‘drown-proofed’ by swimming with bound arms and legs. On the shore, they experience ‘surf torture’ …” (The Daily Beast, USA)

 Cadel Evans wins the Tour de France

“ ‘Relief, for sure,’ says Cadel Evans’s mum, describing what is was like to watch her son on TV during the early hours of Sunday finally set himself up to become the first Australian to win cycling’s Tour de France.” (The Australian; Herald Sun)

 Explosion and massacre in Norway

“Blood smears the pavement, as a victim is treated outside government buildings in the centre of Oslo, Friday July 22, 2010, following an explosion that tore open several buildings including the prime minister’s office, shattering windows and covering the street with documents.” (WHAS11.com; AP photo)

 Riots in England

“After the rioting every night this week, the news headlines told a bleak story of communities under attack. But hours later locals wearing wellies and washing up gloves were reclaiming the streets with brooms, bin bags and dustpans … The main problem was broken glass from shopfronts … The hardest thing was cleaning up the remains of burnt-out cars … A community is forged on shared values. So, it’s understandable that local residents are keen to mobilise for a clean up, says Tony Cassidy, a psychologist at the University of Ulster … the immediate urge is to remove the damage that resembles an ‘ugly stain’ on their neighbourhood.” (BBC News Magazine)

Royal wedding

“To encourage more Australians to visit the UK British street artist Joe Hill has created dazzling 3D image showing the iconic Royal Wedding of Princess Catherine and Prince William. The bird’s eye view of Prince William and Princess Catherine’s nuptials can actually be seen on a Sydney pavement.” (Prince William Wedding News blog)

 Steve Jobs dies

“Ahmed Shafai, of Palo Alto, writes ‘Steve, you made our lives easier’ on the pavement outside the Jobs home in Palo Alto, California” (BBC News World)

 Occupy Wall Street

“In a tense showdown above the East River, the police arrested more than 700 demonstrators from the Occupy Wall Street protests who took to the roadway as they tried to cross the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday afternoon. The police said it was the marchers’ choice that led to the enforcement action. ‘Protesters who used the Brooklyn Bridge walkway were not arrested,’ Paul J. Browne, the chief spokesman for the New York Police Department, said. ‘Those who took over the Brooklyn-bound roadway, and impeded vehicle traffic, were arrested’. But many protesters said they believed the police had tricked them …” (New York Times)

 Muamar Gaddafi is overthrown and killed

“In Benghazi, on the main square where it all started, they were slaughtering camels in celebration … And in the cafes, people were watching TV pictures – more graphic than any shown in Britain – of a bloodied Gaddafi dragged along and beaten, feebly protesting, before a gun was put to his head. The picture then cut to the dead ex-leader being rolled onto the pavement, blood pooling from the back of his skull.” (The Telegraph, UK)

 Protests in Egypt continue

“Fresh clashes erupted in Cairo between police and protesters demanding the end of military rule … A pitched battle between hardcore protesters and armed riot police has been going for five days straight. The fight turned a few-block radius of downtown Cairo into a virtual war zone. Police and protesters formed ever-shifting battle lines delineated by torched-out car skeletons and blackened sheets of corrugated metal, along a street littered with broken bottles and chunks of asphalt.” (Global Post)

 Leveson Inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal

“Sheryl Gascoigne, the ex-wife of former England footballer Paul Gascoigne, is now giving evidence to the inquiry … Gascoigne says journalists who followed her ‘hoped I would give birth on the pavement’ … She is speaking about the effect of the media pursuit had on her family. She says it was especially tough on her children, who often could not go out and play.” (The Huffington Post, UK)

 Conference on Global Warming, Durban

As the year neared its close this conference gave commentators the opportunity to trot out a collection of familiar pavement metaphors.

 “Perhaps it was Yogi Berra, the great baseball player, who best summed up the results of the latest fraught round of climate talks … ‘When you come to a fork in the road,’ he said, ‘take it.’ For the past two years, ever since the disappointing Copenhagen climate summit, the 194 negotiating nations have stood indecisively at just such a junction. In one direction leads a steep and rugged pathway to a global agreement – legally binding on developed and developing countries alike – to cut emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. In the other lies a gentler and more beguiling roadway, paved with voluntary measures and good intentions, which looks like leading to an ultimately hellish climate.” (The Telegraph, UK)

“Durban Platform Paves Way for Global Climate Treaty by 2015 … By the end of the meeting, the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action was agreed to by 190 nations …  In addition to a roadmap for a more comprehensive climate treaty, the EU and nine other nations also pledged to take new emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol …” (Carbon Capitalist)

 Occupy Wall Street movement continues

“Yep…  Occupy pavement…  Works for me…  What a lost cause…  I have news for these idiots:  Wall Street never missed a step.  And they were up there in their glass towers looking down and laughing.  Absolutely wasted effort on the part of these street people…” (Burton Blog)

Not a good note to end on, I’m sorry. But to all my readers, thank you for your support and encouragement. I hope the coming year is a fulfilling one for you.

Megan

Tree replaced

I am still thinking about why it is that some graffitists choose to write on the ground rather than on a wall or some other vertical surface. And that means I’m still thinking about graffiti that is site specific – where the message is relevant to that particular piece of pavement.

Here is a sad little piece of correction fluid graffiti. Gigantic Hills Fig trees are progressively being removed from this street in Enmore. Their roots break up the paving and are apparently playing havoc with people’s walls and sewer pipes. Perhaps they were an inappropriate choice for a street tree. But the street is looking bare without them and some of the residents – as well as all sorts of birds – are going to miss them. The loss of one of the trees is recorded in this tiny, signed epitaph: Tree replaced by cement! T.T.  10

There is more discussion and photographs of this tree and other trees in the same street on the Saving Our Trees website.

Cemetery

On the outskirts of the city proper, the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise is apparently the most visited cemetery in Paris. Amongst its crowded terraces of new and old graves lie the remains of many notable people. At the office visitors can help themselves to a free map of ‘sépultures parmi les plus demandées’ (some of the most asked-for graves).

Even though there are many examples of pavement graffiti in the gritty streets of the surrounding 20th arrondisement I did not find any in the cemetery itself. Nevertheless there is still much to interest the pavement and/or graffiti aficionado here, not least of which was a heavy duty manhole cover whose cast-iron pattern resembled the cobblestone pathway in which it was set.

Père-Lachaise Cemetery

Jim Morrison’s grave was not hard to find, with its gathering of sightseers paying homage behind a metal crowd barrier and a guard keeping a watchful eye on their behaviour. A nearby tree was covered in graffiti, some of it scraped into the trunk and roots, some of it written on the bark in felt-tipped pen.

Jim Morrison’s grave: the barrier, the guard, the tourists, the tree (the grave itself is out of sight in this picture)

On the other hand, the grave of artist Modigliani was more difficult to find, set back several rows from the intersection of two avenues in a Jewish part of the cemetery. Amedeo Modigliani’s art is characterised by beautiful figures with elongated faces and bodies. He was the archetypal bohemian, his dissolute way of life leading to an early death in 1920 at the age of 35.

At this site there was graffiti written on the gravestone itself, but just small inscriptions, most of them blurred by the weather and indecipherable – a tiny Modigliani-style face scratched into the stone, remnants of red writing, something in blue felt-tipped pen, another in white-out. I find it interesting that Modigliani still apparently engages young people – is it his art or his lifestyle?

The grave of Amedeo Modigliani and his lover Jeanne Hébuterne

Alison Gooch

Here is a photograph from the archives. I took it in October 1999, before I owned a digital camera and when sometimes I took only one shot of each pavement embellishment I spotted. How I regret that!

This solitary metal plaque is just a few centimetres long (compare its size with the blobs of chewing gum on the asphalt). It’s on the footpath outside a shop in King Street, Newtown, south of the railway station and opposite the high school. At least it used to be there, but it disappeared when the pavement was upgraded some years ago. A number of people have mentioned it to me when they hear I take photos of pavement inscriptions and most know that it commemorated a girl (or woman) who was killed by a car that mounted the footpath.

Recently I tried to find out a bit more of this story. In the Glebe and Inner City News of 19 June and 26 June 1996 I read that Newtown woman Alison Gooch was killed when hit by a car as she walked along the footpath at about 3 am on Sunday 16 June. The car then hit a power pole before plunging through the front of the Direct Image store at 361 King Street. A 25-year-old Bondi man was subsequently charged with dangerous driving causing death and driving under the influence.

In the register of funerals at St Stephens Church, Newtown, it is recorded that a service was held for Alison Joy Gooch of Station Street, Newtown, on 21 June 1996. Alison was 29 years old.

I don’t know who fixed the memorial plaque to the footpath.

Rest in peace (2)

Rest in Peace Ruben Hoddy

It’s a big old house divided into a warren of flatettes, in an increasingly desirable inner-west neighbourhood. The last low-rent place in a street where the house next door was the first to hit the one million dollar mark ten years ago. It has its share of excitement – the police, fire brigade or ambulance visit at least once a month, sirens screaming. There’s often shouting – in the house or on the street. There always seems to be rubbish piled out the front. Other people in the street mutter about how they wish ‘those people’ would go. But someone died there last month and someone cared enough to memorialise him on the footpath.

Rest in peace

Every now and then a memorial for someone who has died appears on the pavement. Usually there is a very good reason why the memorial has been written at that time on that particular spot on the ground.

Teenager Alex Wildman died in July 2008, his suicide and the inquest that followed attracting much media attention because of allegations of bullying at his high school near Lismore in northern NSW. Epitaphs for Alex appeared in ‘unofficial’ media, such as videos on YouTube and graffiti on footpaths. The graffiti was written around the Campbelltown area in south-western Sydney by Alex’s friends at Ingleburn High School, where he had been a pupil until his family moved to Lismore.

The painted RIP in the photograph appeared some months after much smaller messages for Alex were written in black texta along the edges of the same footpath on the western side of Macarthur Railway Station.

I have written about memorialization of the dead on the pavement in City of Epitaphs, an article recently published in the on-line journal Culture Unbound.

Hicks, M. 2009. City of epitaphs. Culture Unbound 1 (Article 26):453-467.

If you are like me, and enjoy discovering obituaries and other unexpected messages on the pavement, then I wish you a pleasurably doleful New Year.

Floral tribute

05coct04-cp1000215-newtownflowersI wonder how many people know the story behind the coloured flowers on the traffic island at Newtown Bridge? They were originally painted during a day-long Reclaim the Streets party in November 1999, but if that were the whole story they would have worn off long ago. In fact, these flowers were deliberately preserved by friends of Kathy Jones.

Kathy was an artist who worked with advocacy groups for disadvantaged people in the Newtown area. On the day of the Reclaim the Streets demo it was Kathy who organised the decoration of roadways, kerbs and traffic islands at the intersection of King Street and Enmore Road.  Just a few months later Kathy died. Her friends tied notices to the light poles to let local people know she had gone and coated this particular set of painted flowers with marine varnish. My photograph was taken in 2005 when regular applications of varnish had kept the bouquet fresh for six years. In 2009 the flowers, while still visible, are gradually fading away.

Body outlines

08pnov20-cp1050084-enmorebodies-blog

 A remnant of the playground or parking lot at what used to be Enmore Boys High School, now a fenced-off piece of waste ground. The scene of a massacre? No – probably somebody practising with ‘body outline’ shapes. But why? And why here?

The body outline is a crime fiction cliché. In real life police hardly ever draw around corpses but the image is used by everyone, from advertisers to political protestors, to signify some sort of violent death. There are more pavement bodies in an article I wrote for on-line journal Second Nature — ‘Outlines (Watch this space)’ 

Hicks, M. 2009. Outlines (Watch this space). Second Nature 1 (1):124 – 139.