Space Invaders: Australian street. Stencils. Posters. Paste-ups. Zines. Stickers.
University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane, 9 April – 5 June 2011
Walking the streets of Brisbane we might catch a glimpse of a face staring back at us from the quiet corner of a building, an identity tagged on the side of a train, or an unusual and creative sticker, faded and peeling. But how often do we actually stop or even slow down to appreciate these forms of creativity? Space Invaders encourages this response and explores the controversial relationship between street art and the gallery.
Street art’s place in mainstream galleries has been a hot topic of debate within both gallery and street art circles. The clash of the spontaneous, illegal nature of street art with the carefully curated gallery space has caused some street artists and art critics to shy away from the acceptance of street art in galleries.
It is obvious that the curators of Space Invaders were consciously aware of the issues of street-to-gallery cross-over, resulting in the use of interesting methods to negotiate a smooth transition. Upon entering the gallery space I was met with a paper-based figurative work by Yok, which was hung up high on the corner of a wall positioned above a door. This unconventional placing of the work resonates with the way in which street art has no rules for placement, and often surprises the viewer in places they wouldn’t expect to see it. This method of placement continued throughout the exhibition with artworks such as Prism’s(red shoes) taking its place a couple of inches from the floor, and an arrangement of works by Meek, Civil and Sim positioned around a window, creating a relationship between the artwork and its environment.
The aspect of Space Invaders that perhaps captured this relationship most effectively was the stickers scattered throughout the gallery space. Almost two months after the exhibition’s opening, some of the stickers had began peeling; reflecting the ephemeral and tactile qualities of street art. These qualities of many of the artworks in the exhibition were suspended by their frames and glass coverings. This created an interesting effect where the ephemeral materials, such as cardboard, sketchbook pages and paste ups, testified to the temporality of the street while their glass framing testified to a preserved moment in the history of Australian street art.
Though the frames and glass covering the artworks caused them to lose some of their tactile street qualities, they show the transition of street art from ephemeral to collectable. This transition can be seen as a result of the development and experimentation of different street art practices such as painting, printing, drawing, stencilling and creating zines. Space Invaders is the first exhibition from a major gallery to collect and document these emerging art forms in Australia, and though it is controversial; the importance of this exhibition in the preservation of a moment in the history of Australian art cannot be underestimated.
Ruth Dunn is a journalism/arts student majoring in art history at the University of Queensland.