Thursday 24 November 2011

Street Art à la Cockatoo

This week's guest post is from Julia Hilton, who recently visited the Outpost exhibition of street art in Sydney...

This inaugural exhibition of street art was being held on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour; an easy journey by ferry from Circular Quay for a $10.20 return ticket that included free entry.

Cockatoo Island had been used by the military since 1839. It was built by convicts as a prison and then developed into naval shipyards, which it remained until 1992. Surprisingly the government didn't sell it to developers, leading to its new life as an entertainment and exhibition centre.

As I entered via a very '40s government office archway the island revealed itself, shaped rather like a top hat. The sheer side cliffs at the centre of the island led the eye to a number of pleasant houses on its top, while the brim constituted the main dock and grassed areas.

I was immediately drawn to walls bearing massive paintings of Australian wildlife; murals made of cyclone fencing and coloured plastic cups; a bus in progress of being graffitied by two young men with spray cans; and large groups of children and adults getting down to a session of pavement decorating with chalks provided.

Walking on towards the dockside workshops, I passed a mythic temple-cum-teepee and a sinister hot air balloon whose evil face seemed to watch my progress. Each of the workshops housed a different type of art show, including work from projects such as the Project Ugly and May Lane Project, which aim to direct talented spray can artists to creating art experiences in urban environments.

It might seem paradoxical that you could host a street art exhibition off the street; but the cluster of sheds, workshops, warehouses, open spaces and even a couple of caves proved ideal for the purpose and concentrated the experience of these art forms.

My favourite part of the exhibition was the huge painted mural of Australian animals by a Belgian artist called ROA. They all seemed dead and this made for an uneasy reminder of how fragile our wildlife is. This painting was executed in black and white paint, stark and beautiful.

Then it was on to the Banksy exhibit in a double storey workshop which was once the machine-making shop. For those who have never seen a Banksy stencil art work - you actually probably have, down an alley or on a wall where you've come across an outline of a rat with a crown, or a policemen giving flowers to a child. This highly secretive UK street artist has become very collectable. There were 20 prints made from stencils by him, a great selection.

Some of the larger projects included a house painted with a lifelike skull on its front by Kid Zoom (an Oz artist working in New York) with three wrecked cars outside. Inside the back of the house you could watch an audio visual presentation of the wrecking procedure by the artist.

Nothing in the exhibition was without message and attitude. These could be very confronting and often quite obtuse; but street art is not for silent contemplation, it’s in your face and you can’t help but share it with those around you. I found myself discussing some of the works with complete strangers and feeling more connected to the works as a result.

There was so much to see that after three hours, visual indigestion and sore feet set in. So I made my way to an open-air bar and sat watching the chalk artists in action with a cold beer in my hand. Heaven!

The Outpost exhibition continues to 11 December 2011; more details at Julia Hilton recommends the Doc Rat comic strip by Jenner for your daily entertainment:

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