If the words ‘street art’ make you think of the almost illegible scrawl spray-canned in black on the sides of scout halls and school canteens – then I regret to advise you are sadly misinformed. I have it on good authority that this form of graffiti, known as ‘tagging’, is considered by street artists as tantamount to dogs marking their territory.
Fortunately, the Outpost Project exhibition at Cockatoo Island presents an opportunity to educate oneself. Featuring artists with such enigmatic names as Makatron and Stabs, Outpost is a carnivalesque adventure into a totally aesthetic, political, in-your-face subculture and art movement. The style often contains elements of graffiti art, pop art, surrealism and cartoon but also lovingly appropriates and satirizes almost everything that came before it.
Anyone who has dipped their toe into the street art pond will at least be familiar with the notorious Banksy, a number of whose pieces are exhibited as part of the private Oi You Collection. Although only a small part of the whole exhibition, it is extensive and should not be missed – not least because it contains some achingly sexy pieces by David Choe.
Apart from providing respite from the searing heat outside, the tunnel that traverses the island also contains some of the best pieces. It moves from the voluptuous hypercoloured femmes by Deb to the explosive pop culture parodies of Ben Frost and then serene and surreal Max Berry.
The exhibition gives the feeling that art has descended upon the island rather than having been curated and positioned there. This is partly because of the nature of a space like Cockatoo Island which, in recent times, finds itself being constantly reimagined. It’s also because as I wander around I find myself asking, “Is that part of the exhibition? Or was it always there? Or has someone come along for the show and left their mark?”. The whole place has an air of collaboration – coming together to create art, and spectacle, and discover the unexpected.
The large courtyard area near the entrance has buckets of chalk laid out so visitors can contributeto the communal art piece underfoot. In one of the rooms, clothes pegs hang from a network of strings above, and to them are attached cards with quotes, notes and drawings, train tickets and other miscellany that people have left behind. And inside a little hut a lovely man invites me to do a drawing “just for fun” which, unbeknownst to me, is broadcast to a passing audience. Hilarious, postmodern shenanigans ensue.
The Outpost exhibition should be enjoyed by street art amateurs and aficionados alike. It’s about the plebs and the powerful. It’s about rebelling against something, no matter how small the transgression. It’s about the visual and the visceral. It’s about the spaces we live in. In short: it really is for everyone.
When: 4 November – 11 December 2011
Where: Cockatoo Island
Cost: Free entry with Ferry ticket (if travelling by public
transport, consider a MyMulti Day Pass to avoid ferry ticket queues)
Getting there: Ferries depart from Circular Quay