Off The Grid: Invader and Melbourne street art in the early 2000s

REVIEWS

14 Sept 2022 until 15 Feb 2023

City Gallery, Melbourne Town Hall

An iconic tile mosaic secretly installed in Melbourne by legendary street artist Invader 20 years ago is the centrepiece of City Gallery’s latest exhibition, Off the Grid.

Cracked but intact, the tile mosaic was saved from the demolition hammer in 2018 when the Arts Centre Melbourne was undergoing major renovations.

Now, 20 years after it was first installed alongside 24 others, the mosaic is being reconsidered in a wider historical context, looking at its place in the long and rich history of Melbourne’s street art and the recurring motif of the grid.

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Invader’s work references the early video game, Space Invaders (1978). To fully understand the work, consideration needs to be given to the longer history of both computing and aerial warfare, which stretches back to the 19th century, along with the history of Melbourne itself.

Guest curator Lachlan MacDowell said Melbourne’s gridded streets mirror the grids of Invader’s work and Tomohiro Nishikado’s games.

‘’By placing his art in Melbourne, Invader activated a longer history that draws together Melbourne’s colonial streetscapes and the pixelated screens of digital culture – a reminder, via art and games, of the fused histories of technological experimentation, aerial warfare and frontier violence,” he said.

Examining street art from this period, Invader was not the only artist making work inspired by digital culture and the aesthetics of the grid. The exhibition displays photographs of five street artists from this period, which responded to the grid and the rise of digital technology. 

They include:

Cratemen, the milk-crate sculptures produced by an anonymous collective in inner Melbourne – exemplars of the high-concept, low-technology artwork and instantly recognisable

Renk and Carl with their single tag that covered all the outward facing windows in an abandoned building

Goon Hug’s sticker-covered tram stops, which sought totality on a different scale

Sydney artist Andy Uprock, who worked with disposable plastic cups arranging them in chain-link fences to produce complex patterns. 

Working across artmaking and academia over three decades, curator Lachlan MacDowall is a scholar of graffiti, street art and digital culture, best known for pioneering research methods that mix genres, images and data.

He has published widely on the history and aesthetics of graffiti, as well as on urban informality, public art, cultural policy and digital platforms. As a writer and photographer, he has pioneered new methods to register the complexity of graffiti and street art. His work is widely cited and has been translated into French, Italian and Ukrainian.

His most recent book is Instafame: Graffiti and Street Art in the Instagram Era, published by Intellect and University of Chicago Press. He is currently Director of the MIECAT Institute in Melbourne, Australia.

Off The Grid: Invader and Melbourne Street Art in the early 2000s from 14 September 2022 until 15 February 2023 at the City Gallery, Melbourne Town Hall. 

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