ALL FOR ART
Chloe Watson investigates an anonymous sign writer
Driving along Alison Road at 9.45 on a Friday morning, my partner spotted something out of the window and immediately slowed the car to a halt. Propped on the seat at the bus shelter was a square cushion, beige with blue circles, across which a simple text was written in block-lettered white out. Without a second thought I tumbled out of the passenger seat and hurried across a single lane of traffic, thankfully empty, to the prized object. Returning with it to our beat-up Mazda I couldn’t suppress the victorious grin that was spreading across my face, and hugged this street thing to my chest like a long-lost teddy-bear. Now, many of you may be wondering why someone would go out of their way to pick up an object that might well have supported the head of a stranger without a home the night before. What’s more, this seemingly abandoned object was a sign, advertising another soon to be abandoned object. I didn’t need a leather sofa, or a sofa bed for that matter. I was after the thing in itself – the slightly dishevelled cushion covered in white writing. But, you may ask, how would the writer of the sign feel about a stranger coming along and picking up this public notice that they had carefully created, and appropriating it into their private collection?
The purpose of this piece of writing is, in part, to work out an answer to these questions and others like it: What is this object? Why is it so alluring to me? Was it acceptable for me to snatch it out of its context, to take it for my own? How could we understand it alongside such highfalutin terms as fetish and value, collectability and commerce, author and artist? In such a way, I want to look at my collecting fervour as an example of a kind of cult within a particular subsection, let us call it tribe, of Sydney’s art world.1 In Redfern, Alexandria and Waterloo I have come across many other such object-signs, deposited in different places around the neighbourhoods – folders, bags, chairs, stools, even a toilet seat - usually on footpaths or propped against the walls of unsuspecting buildings, themselves often scrawled with graffiti or adorned with graphic art. These objects could easily go unnoticed amidst the other discarded items commonly found on the streets in such urban environments; the refuse of an everexpanding consumer society. That said, there is something about them that catches the eye. Maybe it’s to do with the familiarity engendered by 1 You might also be wondering why I am writing about an artist who is not represented by a dealer, whose works can be found and not bought, in a publication that is explicitly concerned with the Sydney commercial gallery scene. I guess I am trying to tease out the kinds of relationships we have with objects (and objets d’art in particular), relationships that are also potentially formed with pieces found in commercial galleries across Sydney.
Published on Dec 13, 2012