- UQ Art Museum, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Qld, 9 April – 5 June 2011
- RMIT Gallery, RMIT University, Melbourne, Vic., 1 September – 5 November 2011
- Western Plains Cultural Centre, Dubbo, NSW, 18 November 2011 – 18 March 2012
Drawn entirely from the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, the first Australian institution to have collected this type of work, Space invaders: australian . street . stencils . posters . paste-ups . zines . stickers surveys the past 10 years of Australian street art. Featuring 150 works by over 40 Australian artists, this exhibition celebrates the energy of street-based creativity and recognises street stencils, posters, paste-ups, zines and stickers as comprising a recent chapter in the development of Australian prints and drawings..
Space invaders looks at artists and their iconic street-based works at the point of their transition from the ephemeral to the collectable and from the street to the gallery.
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An initial wave: connecting crews
While modern hip-hop inspired graffiti reached Australia in the early 1980s, Australian street art is a relatively recent phenomenon. The transition of many practitioners from graffiti styles to street art experimentation is often still strongly rooted in graffiti culture. Many artists hold fast to the established codes of conduct and rules of the game that define the graffiti culture at its purist core: skill in placement, originality of style and degree of risk associated with the creative act.
However, by diversifying a freestyle spray-can practice with sprayed stencils, screenprinting techniques and hand-drawn paste-ups, Melbourne’s infamous Everfresh crew and Perth-based artist Yok show their skill in transitioning between the internally coded, abstracted writing of graffiti and the mass-communication motivations of street artists.
Neo-Pop: a culture of sampling and appropriation
Out of the Australian street stencil craze, an Australian Neo-Pop culture of sampling and appropriation materialised. Space invaders presents Ned Kelly, Yoda, science-fiction monsters, subhumans and robots, the screaming face of Marion Crane in Hitchcock’s Psycho, media celebrities and cultural icons such as Diana and Charles as the subject matter for a generation of street artists who, over the past decade, have enthusiastically embraced television, computer games, films and animation as primary subjects.
These artists have harnessed the disseminating power of the internet, digital photography and quick-copy scanners and printers in their pursuit of new forms of figuration.
Politics and commercial counter-attacks
A major strength of Australian street art is its ability to mix pop-culture imagery with political messages. From hard-hitting protest to political satire, clever combinations of sarcasm, mockery and parody, the means to mix art, politics and the street press is now in the hands of a new generation of Australian artists. Vexta comments on the highly politicised topic of immigration, artist-activist Azlan takes up his spray can in a hard-hitting approach to terrorism and the socially minded Civil encourages people to act together to force political change.
Street art veteran Marcsta and the driven Mini Graff arm themselves with the weapons of irony and humour in the creation of iconic ad-busting prints and stickers that serve as scathing commercial counter attacks on the large multi-national corporations who dare assume ownership of Australian public space.
The return of the hand
Space invaders also explores a paradox that has emerged in Australian street art in which an early flirtation with new technology has given way to a sentimentality for the traditional and the handmade. Artists such as Anthony Lister, Al Stark, Nails, Twoone, Ghostpatrol and Miso have led the way in the recent embrace of labour-intensive and traditional modes of art making, including detailed papercut pieces, ink drawings, etchings, linocuts and collage installations. Australian street artists are crossing from the streets to the gallery with new and inventive expressions of street-inspired creativity.
While numerous approaches and diverse creative philosophies make up the Australian street art scene in 2010, the true and central constant has been the do-it-yourself ethos. Space invaders takes a close look at street art and the many ways that artists are getting up, getting out there and getting seen.
Jaklyn Babington, Assistant Curator, International Prints, Drawings and Illustrated Books, and curator of Space invaders
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