Street haunting in winter, writes Virginia Woolf, is the greatest of adventures. In the early evening she rambles, her eyes “gliding smoothly on the surface” of things and noticing, for example, that “here under the lamps are floating islands of pale light”.*
One of the loveliest qualities of the pavement is the way it reflects the glow from lights in the street at gloomy times of the day, especially when it is wet. Clarice Beckett captures these reflections in her subtle paintings of Melbourne scenes, like Wet evening c.1927 and Taxi rank c.1931.
A single tail light or traffic light can form a wavering pillar submerged in the depths beneath the surface of the street.
Rainy morning, West Pender Street, Vancouver, November 2009
*Street haunting: a London adventure, first published in 1942 and reproduced in The art of the personal essay, Anchor Books, 1995.
Liberty Street, Enmore
Rows of triangular marks have just been planted on roads in the Inner West. I had to do a bit of research to find out that they are Dragon’s Teeth. To date no fully armed warriors have sprung from the asphalt.
The lexicon of official road signs continues to grow. The rollout of this latest addition apparently began in mid-2009, when the RTA’s press release was dutifully rendered as a news story in the Sydney Morning Herald. These triangular markings are meant to indicate to motorists that they are entering a 40 kmh school zone.
The indignant Mr Peter Olsen, on his School Zone Santa.Com blog, reckons that “the Government has completely lost the plot on school zones. Static markings, including the proposed new ‘dragon’s teeth’ achieve nothing because they do not distinguish between school zone hours and non-school zone hours”, whereas if the school zone instead has flashing lights during the relevant hours “drivers are instantly reminded and can slow down, but then of course the Government can no longer collect speeding fine revenue from them”.
Note to apostrophe pedants: Dragon’s Teeth is the official New South Wales Government term for these road marks (see Technical Direction TD 2009 SR02). There is only one dragon involved. It is a particular toothy dragon.
If they won’t let you Reclaim the Streets any more, then Reclaim the Lanes instead. It’s a bit sad really. The RTL party on 13 February was small but kind of fun anyway, even if everyone was funnelled into just one lane not far from the starting point. There were balloons, bikes, and budgie smugglers. When it became apparent that the procession had come to a halt people started sloping off to the bottlo in Enmore Road for supplies. The music from wheelie bin sound systems was great. And someone stuck up their photographs of the Reclaim the Streets events in Newtown from 1999 and 2000 to remind everyone what it used to be like.
The back lanes of Enmore and Newtown are best known for their wall art, but there is stuff on the ground as well, mostly the signatures of artists who have done the wall pieces. I took photographs of RTL participants partying on the remnants of old pavement graffiti.
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.
Bourke Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
Survey marks on the paving are like an irruption from beneath, disfiguring the surface with a disturbing reminder of what is going on below. The city’s skin blemishes are spreading.
Bourke Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
This January, edutainment was used by Waverley Council in an effort to prevent smokers from butting their cigarettes on the beach without resorting to fining them. As part of the campaign a chalk artist was contracted to draw pictures with messages on the promenade at Bondi Beach, complementing the official ‘No smoking on beach’ pavement signs. You can see one of these large yellow stencils in the background of this photograph.
Three days later, after a battering by weather and feet, the chalk artwork was looking a little the worse for wear but it had already done its job, attracting coverage in newspapers like the Sydney Morning Herald, and probably also being passed around on social networks via tourist cameras and mobile phones.
In an article recently published, I talk about the way in which old-fashioned street art is used by advertisers as a starting point to disseminate their messages across a wide spectrum of new media.
Hicks, M. 2009. Horizontal billboards. Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies 23 (6):765-780.
Guest spotter Anne Fry takes a walk around Woden, Australian Capital Territory, in her lunch hour
The street art is on the sides of an open stormwater drain that runs through the centre of Woden in the ACT. It is not discouraged by the Local Government for it beautifies what would be an ordinary part of town. I don’t know a lot about who created the graffiti but I was interested to see that there were ‘rules’. The conversation about these rules, written on the bed of the drain, is very heated.
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.
To my regular readers and to those just passing by – many thanks for your interest, your comments, your emails, your tip-offs and your photos.
Best wishes for the year ahead and may you continue to enjoy finding surprises on the pavement.
To-day’s photograph was taken this time last year in Belmont Road, Mosman, NSW.
Today’s guest spotter is Richard Blair, a local history fossicker.
Recently uncovered by Marrickville Council during street plumbing activity under two Camphor Laurel trees on the eastern side of upper Metropolitan Road, Enmore, Sydney, are what appear to be sandstone cobblestones.
One expert opinion suggests these stones may have been part of a carriageway as they are in such a deliberate order. That would mean they may be linked with Enmore House which formerly stood on this site until demolition in the 1880s. However, one might expect a cobblestone carriageway to have been made from a stone more durable than sandstone, such as granite or bluestone.
Other views suggest the sandstone course may have been associated either with some early civil works project or may have been laid in conjunction with the arrangement of street tree planting.
These photos were taken in September 2009. The sandstone courses were still uncovered in November, but by December 2009 they had been (presumably) covered over with soil.