The intersection of two backstreets in Newtown is a smeary mess of white paint, but walk around it and you will find the right angle to decipher the name â€˜Mariaâ€™. Close by, â€˜Jenâ€™ has written her name more neatly. What inspired Maria and Jen to leave their autographs here? Probably a tin of white paint found discarded nearby. There is no sign of the paint can now, but Â the offending â€˜paintbrushesâ€™ are still on display â€“ branches nicked from a shrub in someoneâ€™s garden, defiantly attached to a light pole on the corner.
On the last day of the Royal Geographical Society Annual Conference in London, a group of delegates went on a field trip to study â€˜urban subversionsâ€™. They watched parkour practitioners on the South Bank, skateboard tyros in the Undercroft, and graffiti artists in the Leake Street Tunnel at Waterloo. In the tunnel they were obliged by me to take note of what was on the ground as well as on the walls.
Thanks to organisers Oli and Brad, this was all very interesting, but Iâ€™m afraid my eye was drawn away to rather ordinary chalk marks that had almost certainly been left by hash house harriers. Iâ€™ve mentioned this urban version of cross country running before. Recreational runners may not be exactly subversive but they do extend the range of uses of streets and public spaces. And as they pound through the city in the early hours of the morning they leave pale traces of their passing in the form of chalk arrows and symbols.
Exhibition Road in London is a mess. In a busy cultural precinct, it runs past the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the Imperial College, and links South Kensington Station with the Royal Albert Hall and Kensington Gardens. But right now, from one end to the other, there are barricades, wire fences, earth moving equipment, temporary traffic lights and improvised pedestrian crossings.
Itâ€™s all part of a big experiment, with Exhibition Road planned to become the first shared-space street in London. Apparently the local residents are not happy with the scheme, presumably because they are less interested in accessibility for cultural tourists and more interested in parking spaces and easy access to and from the area for their very flash motor cars.
According to information posters hung from the wire barriers, the street will have â€œa kerb free single surfaceâ€ and â€œvisual and tactile lines distinguishing pedestrian areas from those used by vehiclesâ€. Just this week workers have begun to pave some areas of the street with artificial cobblestones, forming geometric patterns in a range of designer greys. Road users will have to learn to read these patterns. When the work is all finished the paving will have become the instructions for its own use.
On a wintry day in Orange (mid-western New South Wales) my graffiti-sensing camera picked up the ghost of a boastful hoon, faintly discernable through the sheen on the wet asphalt in the council car park. Street dawg 94 seems to be making a reappearance after being painted over years ago. Â
The dawgâ€™s inscription is autobiographical. He has written himself into the landscape of Orange. I wonder if he revisits the site to remind himself of what he used to be?
How did workers know where to install street furniture before the invention of the downward squirting spraycan? Can you remember when pavements were not dotted with instructions for the placement of bus seats, pram ramps, traffic signs, trenches and power poles?
London-based place hacker, Bradley L. Garrett sent this photo of promise and fulfilment. Congratulations to Brad for his geometrically artistic patience in waiting for the precise alignment of the shadow.
I am showing off these photographs today simply because I love the texture of worn pavement signs.
The wall art in May Lane is often in the news. This time itâ€™s on page three of the Sydney Morning Herald because there is going to be a national tour of panels from this laneway in St Peters, setting off in October. It all started about five years ago with Tuli Balog encouraging graffiti writers to do pieces on the wall of his picture-framing factory. Kurt Iveson has written about it in his book Publics and the city (Blackwell Publishing, 2007).
But the graffiti on the pavement in May Lane is never mentioned. Walk up and down the lane, though, and you will find all sorts of deliberate and accidental art decorating the gutters, along with the signatures of people whose wall pieces have long since been covered over.
POSTSCRIPTÂ – Since I wrote this post, May Lane has become the subject of discussion at Marrickville Council (not for the first time). Here’s a report by an onlooker of theÂ discussion at the meeting on 9 November 2010. It’s on the Saving Our Trees website,Â although I don’t quite get the connection.
This inscription has me baffled. Godot, the graffiti-spotting cabbie, saw it first and posted on his Flickr site. Itâ€™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 â€“ or advertising?
(Eco Cycle, by the way, is the brand name of an electic-powered bicycle that has a â€œrechargeable lithium battery and electric motor which cuts in when you flake outâ€).
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?
See, there were these armed robbers being chased by police, and they ran a red light and crashed into another car, and two people were trapped in the wreckage. And the robbers, see, they jumped out of their stolen car, and â€¦ well, if you canâ€™t read all this off the yellow marks sprayed by police on Princes Highway at Arncliffe, then youâ€™d better look it up in the paper.
Pavement graffiti is not confined to the city. A drive further afield always turns up something good. I was heading to Sandon Point, north of Wollongong, to look for protest graffiti on the ground associated with localsâ€™ action to prevent development of the site. But on the way, at the top of Bulli Pass right where cars veer off the main highway at 100 kph to take the twisting descent down the pass, I found declarations of love: DALE 4 SHELL and UM 4 JODEE.