Hard judgement

In an earlier guest blog, Bradley L. Garrett revealed his excitement upon discovering a pavement penis. Well, there’s a lot of them about.  These examples are in the inner Sydney suburb of Redfern, where encroaching trendiness has turned a closed-off street beside the railway line into an official bicycle route and a parking lot for cultural-industry workers and the newer type of resident.

Older established residents and their offspring may well feel resentful. I choose to believe that these alterations of official traffic signs express a local belief that the car parkers and cyclists are wankers.

Fell in love with a girl today

Camperdown Park, in inner western Sydney, is famous for the graffiti on the sandstone walls separating it from the St Stephens Church Cemetery. I have a book published in 1975 (Ellis & Turner, Australian Graffiti) with a black and white photo of graffiti messages in large lettering on this wall like ‘Love is a many gendered thing’ and ‘Is there life after marriage?’

These days the political and often witty statements have been joined by more up-to-date styles of graffiti like ‘balloon’ lettering and stencils. The graffiti has also crept onto the paths in the park. It soon gets obliterated by pedestrians and cyclists, but three years ago I happened to capture the faint remnants of this one, which seems to have been written by a person who was either very happy, or needed to make a statement, or both.

Clapham Common (Guest spot)

Today’s guest spotter is Bradley L. Garrett, a PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London, where he is studying Urban Exploration. Bradley’s own blog is here.

I have lived in Clapham, in South London, just across the street from Clapham Common (a huge park) for about eight months now and six months ago I bought a bicycle. This was a significant event because it meant that I no longer took the bus to Clapham Junction train station, I now rode my bike through the park every day instead in what I thought to be a small victory over mundanity.

The first time I encountered the little freehand graffiti penis was on one such ride. I was listening to an audio lecture by Arnold Weinstein about Baudelaire’s poem The Swan and here comes this phallus, standing erect in the road like a raucous troll, exacting some sort of fare I was sure. But how to pay it? Figuring all it wanted was some attention I photographed it and moved on.

For six months now I have encountered this masculine assemblage, swerving around it at the last second, sure that, like some form of voodoo charm, it would hurt somebody if I ran over it. Sometimes I would remember it before my encounter, anxious to see if it finally had aroused enough offence in the community to have it painted over. Every once and a while I would stop next to it, seemingly not of my own accord, and stare around, wondering what sort of thought or action it was meant to invoke, feeling like someone was watching and noting my confusion with pleasure. One biker stops, check.

It’s almost mathematical in is perfect pointedness. Even the fact that one testicle hangs slightly lower than the other seems to me to be anatomically correct. Thinking that after months of study, I had now understood its form, my analysis of the thing moved on to function more seriously. The phallus points straight down the asphalt path. My first inclination was, of course, to assume that it points the way to something. Perhaps it was the remnant of a petty birthday party joke, a Facebook tagline proclaiming “when you arrive in Clapham Common, follow the penis to Dave’s party.” Later, I began to wonder if the trajectory of the penis was subsidiary to its location. Could it be a meeting point of some sort?

This notion seemed to be reinforced by my mate Mike over drinks one night who proclaimed Clapham Common as a place where gay men go to “get bummed” which in America (where I come from) means to be depressed but here is some euphemism for anal sex. Could it be that this innocuous little sign I swerved around everyday was a meeting point for clandestine homosexual encounters at night? Perhaps one day, I thought to myself, I would conduct a 24-hour stakeout to satisfy my need to unravel this mystery.

Finally last week, wrapped up in sweaters, scarves and gloves, in some strange sociological crisis, I did indeed undertake such a weird experiment. What happened was this: just across from the white penile package, there is a park bench which, if you were to sit on it, positions you perfectly to observe the sign (or encounters with the sign). I sat there on a lazy Sunday, pretending to read a book so that I could view interaction with it. And what I saw disturbed me.

Time after time, whether confronted by pram pushing Mommies, solitary walkers or ambitious runners, no one noticed the phallus. They rolled over it, stepped on it and ran past it without even a glance. Thinking that maybe I had, in some sick vision, just imagined the damn thing, I walked over to it. Still there. And then what I saw gave me the shivers.

A second phallus, just up and to the left, barely visible, but there. Even worse, it was a different colour and facing a different direction! How could I have missed this before? Horribly disturbed by the new revelation, I walked home, sullen, curious as to what kind of ghastly person would sketch a pair of horrors like this, knowing the frustration their presence would invoke.

[Now that Bradley has pointed out this parkland penis in London, the Pavement Graffiti blog site will return to the subject of street wangs from time to time]

Islands of light

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.

Dragon teeth

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.

Reclaim the Lanes

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.

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.

Bondi butts

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.

Open argument (Guest spot)

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.