Chicken trail

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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?

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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?

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Three degrees of permanency

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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.

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).

 

Sadness

Me. Sad. Ded. Enmore Park, Enmore (Sydney), 2012.

Here is a graphic story published just recently in chalk on asphalt. I came across it one evening this week in Enmore Park outside the aquatic centre there.

The story is intense and personal. But who could have drawn it, and why here? At my place, our interpretation of the story has evolved the more we examine and discuss the words and pictures. I wonder what blog readers make of it.

Enmore Park, between the aquatic centre and the children’s playground, Enmore (Sydney), 2012.

Sgraffito

(Pedant alert – Vocabulary lesson ahead)

I noticed an article in the Sydney Morning Herald last week where the word ‘sgraffito’ was used – correctly – to describe ornate plaster work that has been uncovered during the restoration of Glebe Town Hall in Sydney: Peeling back the layers to reveal Glebe’s true history. Sgraffito is a centuries-old decorative technique used on ceramics and plaster walls. Apparently when Glebe Town Hall was built 130 years ago, artisans used this technique to carve a pattern in still-wet white plaster to selectively reveal the pink plaster below.

 

City of Sydney’s architecture design manager, Chris McBride, with the examples of sgraffito discovered at Glebe Town Hall. Photo: Ben Rushton (Sydney Morning Herald, 18 July 2012).

The word sgraffito (plural sgraffiti) comes from the Italian word graffiare, meaning ‘to cut or scratch in stone’. It seems to have been used in the English language in the 18th century to describe incised pottery, but by the 19th century the word graffito (plural graffiti) was being used to mean the kind of casual wall writing that had survived at archaeological sites in Italy (including Pompeii), Egypt and Syria, for example, or on churches and other public buildings in Europe from the Middle Ages.

Graffito/graffiti was not used in the English language to refer to contemporary inscriptions until later in the 19th century, but even so, in this sense it remained an infrequently-used term until the mid-20th century. Scholarly interest in the writing on toilet walls seems to have popularised the term in the 1960s and 1970s.

For my own project I have been trawling the digitised newspapers on the marvellous website Trove, looking for early examples of pavement graffiti in Australia. I have found plenty, but not by searching with the term ‘graffiti’. I had to use search terms like ‘pavement writing’ or ‘footpath writing’. Until the 1960s the word ‘graffiti’ does not appear in Australian newspapers except in occasional news items about archaeological discoveries. One of the earliest references to modern graffiti that I found was in a travel article in the Australian Women’s Weekly (!). Journeying through Hungary in 1969 the writer notes that she saw ‘modern graffiti slogans about American aggressors in Vietnam’ on a wall in one village.

By the way, the story goes that when George Lucas made the coming-of-age movie American Graffiti (released in 1973, set in 1962), Universal Pictures objected to the film’s title, not knowing what ‘American graffiti’ meant. Lucas is said to have been dismayed when some executives assumed he was making an Italian movie about feet. Although over 60 alternative titles were suggested, Lucas prevailed with his original choice.

 

‘Scratch the surface’, King Street South, Newtown (Sydney), 2010.

 

References:

David, Bruno, and Meredith Wilson. 2002. Spaces of resistance: graffiti and Indigenous place markings in the early European contact period of northern Australia. In Inscribed Landscapes: Marking and Making Place, edited by B. David and M. Wilson. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Fleming, Juliet. 2001. Graffiti and the writing arts of early modern England. Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press.

Reisner, Robert. 1971. Graffiti: two thousand years of wall writing. New York: Cowles Book Co., Inc.

‘American Graffiti’, Wikipedia, 23 July 2012.

Bluestone symbols (Guest spot)

Melbourne footpath enthusiast Dimitrios Kianidis took the photographs for today’s post

I have found another person who likes to keep his camera pointing downwards – or at least, he has found me through the Pavement graffiti website. When Dimitrios Kianidis posted a comment on this site in 2011 he had already self-published a book called Footpath graffiti: Coburg & Brunswick. It contains nearly 400 photographs, mostly inscriptions in wet concrete. Leafing through them is like reading a funny little book of very short poems. Dimitrios wanted to capture the social commentary scratched in concrete. “Most are so-and-so loves so-and-so,” he tells me, “But there are other messages and drawings as well. My favourites are:  ‘The Aborigines own this land’, ‘Santo and the Corinthians’, ‘I love Harrison Ford’, ‘RIP Blair 2006’, ‘RIP Cliff’, and ‘Dan is average!’  to mention just a few.” There are only a few copies of his book, but one of them is in Brunswick Library if you’re interested in seeing it.

But Dimitrios’s latest discovery is, as he puts it, ‘a whole language of numbers, letters and symbols carved into bluestone pavers’. The purpose of these inscriptions remains a mystery, although Dimitrios suspects they indicate the location of underground utility pipes and junctions. Any suggestions from knowledgeable blog followers would be welcome.

The ‘EA’ is particularly striking. “It is my favourite because it’s unlike any other that I have found. It’s beautifully carved and takes up the width of the paver and is visible from a short distance even to the casual observer. It’s in Albert Street on the pavement beside my favourite church too, St Patrick’s Cathedral.”

Elephants on parade

Shared path, College Street at Whitlam Square, Sydney, 2011

 

The relationships between cyclists, motorists and pedestrians are fraught and while some people are pleased with the new cycle lanes and shared pathways being installed by the City of Sydney, others are not. So it’s nice to see that some people have managed to keep their sense of humour.  Congrats  to the anonymous stenciller for this embellishment of a sign on the corner of College and Liverpool Streets, and thanks to the good sports in the Cycling Strategy department at the City of Sydney for drawing it to my attention.

And while pondering the similarities (if any) between an elephant’s thick skin and the wrinkled greyness of the asphalt, I thought I’d dig out a couple more pavement pachyderms from my archives.

Elefant Traks music label, King Street, Newtown, 1999

Asphalt elephant, Queens Parade, Wolllongong, 2003

Foetus

Rue Ste Croix de la Bretonnerie

Sometimes it’s a case of ‘you had to be there’. In several streets where I have walked, mainly in the 1st to 4th arrondissements, there are these large paintings on the pavement of a foetus, sometimes in the womb. They are not stencils but the uniformity of the different renditions and their size suggests that the act of painting them involved a performance calibrated to the artist’s body measurements. I could speculate about what event, cause or band they were advertising, but really I don’t know. I suppose the meaning of this graffiti was understandable at the time when it was done.

The foetus in Rue des Halles is an example of ‘layering’, where one piece of pavement graffiti is laid over another – in this case the ‘official graffiti’ of a pedestrian crossing. The photograph also shows a pair of police on roller blades.

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Eco-cycle rapists

This inscription has me baffled. Godot, the graffiti-spotting cabbie, saw it first and posted on his Flickr site. It’s in Wilson Street, Darlington, near Eveleigh, and it reads Eco-cycle Rapists. The style of writing is accomplished and familiar but what does it mean? Who or what is it defaming – or advertising?

(Eco Cycle, by the way, is the brand name of an electic-powered bicycle that has a “rechargeable lithium battery and electric motor which cuts in when you flake out”).

Wilson Street was a popular inner western route to the city long before it was officially stamped as such with the large white bicycle stencils. Dozens of cyclists earnestly pedal over these words daily. Do they notice them?

Survey marks

Pitt Street, Sydney

Sydney-based designer Dan Hill has been looking at the pavement. He is interested in capturing everyday examples of how the city assesses invisible or hidden characteristics of its infrastructure and he writes about this in his blog post Sensing the immaterial-material city. You can see Dan’s photos here. They include shots of people who appear to be sensing the city and he calls these people – with their traffic cones and their fluorescent work jackets – sensors.

Frederick Street, Petersham

Along with their various probes and surveying instruments, an essential item of equipment for these people is the spray can.