What started as a fun studio experiment in class to make prints with unusual items, became the basis of my 'site: studio' project. Ironically, that hour in the studio was also the last time we were allowed back onto campus for a month or so.
I had made some pro-vaccination art using masks, bandaids and a rubber eraser and I have since promulgated some of them around the studio now we have returned.
Inspired by a monoprint video by local artist Heather Shimmen, back at my home studio (aka dining table), Imogen and I had fun exploring effects with spraying eco-wash detergent, brushing and wiping into the ink.
I had noticed a lot of funny, cute and political COVID related messages around my neighbourhood and I wanted to contribute to this in an artistic way. Grounded in the project's themes of site and studio, and given we were now locked out of campus and locked down in a 5 km radius of home, this idea seemed completely appropriate to explore.
Suddenly though, on my walks, I began noticing a bunch of the new, more sinister messages around my area. They were misinformed and worried me. Below you can see that our local playground is closed, and there is a council worker having to put the swings out of reach because people have refused to comply with the Chief Health Order. The 'Let the Children Play' campaign stickered the neighbourhood. In the fine text you can see that is misinforms about COVID outdoor transmission.
More misinformation and conspiracy style stickers came up, this time more extreme.
I have recently been inspired by Banksy's Spraycation and wanted to explore responding to the anti-vax movement with playful pasteup interventions to the many misinformation stickers which were now popping up all over in my neighbourhood.
I drew inspiration from the many interesting pictures that illustrated the Skeptic Magazines I had been gifted in my street library.
I decided to make urban collage paste ups by cutting up, photocopying and using rice glue. I carried my materials on my daily walks, hidden in my canvas tote, and thoroughly enjoyed secretly sticking my ideas up around the park and streets.
These are just some of my examples. I must have done close to 50 interventions over the last few weeks.
The little paste ups weren't meant to be didactic and intended to create a public dialogue. I didn't want to rip down any of the stickers like I had been doing, I wanted to add to the discussion. Through spelling corrections, flying saucers and tin foil hats I poked fun and worked to discredit conspiracy believers. I did offend one believer as far as I know, but mostly I tried to play to the broader audience - asking them, on which side of the fence did they sit.
You can see that sometimes my paste ups were intervened with. They were sometimes torn down or covered with another extreme hoax sticker. Clearly the message was coming across loud and clear. Instead of being enraged, I looked forward to finding more stickers so I could respond to them. It felt like a game. I began to unhook my need to get angry through playful engagement.
We also used one of Imogen's monoprints to respond to the graffiti which popped up on one sign. I like the idea of incorporating children's art into the discussion. Given kids are vulnerable to COVID 19 because they can't get vaccinated, their voice is important to the debate. Having the discussion in the park, the domain of so many kids, was also interesting. Some kids saw us performing our paste up art together and it provoked great discourse around right and wrong ways to communicate your beliefs. Were we vandals, or were we ensuring that misinformation was not being left unanswered. Was some graffiti to be encouraged? You can see council wanted their sign untampered with in the end, but the texta 'stop vaccines' would have maybe stayed if we'd not done something about it.
Imogen didn't like the anti-Dan Andrew's graffiti that littered a neighbouring suburb - she was excellent at spotting it and intervening also.
I feel that in my local area I have currently one the public art / graffiti debate. Mostly my paste ups remain and the stickers have all been pulled down by other people.
I feel it is a healthy sign of a community that when misinformation creeps in, it is able to align to truth again. I also believe that artists have an important role in being communities truth tellers, and that through addressing important issues in creative ways - often with humour - we can alter the dialogue in a positive way.
I feel like my art project has been a relevant and fun launching pad to explore the matrix (as in, falling down the rabbit hole), gullibility, site and studio.
In the meantime, Victorian vaccinations will be at least 70% first dose by this Friday night, meaning that a few more freedoms will be allowed from this weekend - especially for those vaccinated. Over the course of this project, and after more than 240 days in lockdown with the aim of achieving zero cases, Victoria has shifted to a strategy of living with COVID in the safest way possible. For me, it has been a huge mental shift, culminating in an outbreak of 33+ people, mostly children, at a local community school in my suburb. Art at this time has been a grounding place for me to rage, play, explore and adjust in and through.
As a side note, and before I end this post., Hosier Lane is one of my favourite places in Melbourne. It is a living breathing street gallery, full of ever changing street art. Unlike so much tag style graffiti, most of it has a politically charged message. Whilst the monoprint I added to it isn't my most subtle piece, nor is it classically 'street', it was the first piece I did for this semester in the studio all these weeks ago. I was proud of it at the time. And it was a thrill to add to my favourite laneway recently. I even noticed a wall of incredible Alice in Wonderland characters there, which was quite serendipitous given it linked to the 'falling down the rabbit hole' element of my project.
Finally, this week also, my print class have been grant permitted student status, meaning we can now enter the studios again! Morale is high! Vaccinating is even more important now that things are beginning to open up again and our lives are becoming a new 'COVID normal'. Do us all a favour, and if you can - Just Vax!