Imagine taking dozens of Australia’s best street artists, putting them on a heritage-listed island with a couple of cartons of spray paint and letting their competitive nature take its course. The initial chaos would turn into an organized survival of the fittest, with Anthony Lister and Ben Frost each captaining a team of bravado-filled can masters. They would battle daily, eat live seagulls, be voted off the island and compete for the coveted immunity stanley knife. Throw in a film crew and you would have Survivor: Graffiti Island.
While this sounds like a reality TV show plot, its more realistic form is currently taking place on Cockatoo Island: a small, abandoned land mass in the middle of Sydney Harbor that used to be a prison. It was a little like Australia’s Alcatraz, which seems a fitting location for a six-week long festival celebrating a largely illegal art form. Even though the artists are not partaking in tribal warfare, the competition is fierce with the biggest names in the country vying for the most successful art piece.
A monolith ‘No Trespassing’ sign that is visible from shore is a strong contender from Melbourne’s notorious Everfresh crew. Makatron, Meggs, Phibs, Prizm, Reka, Rone, Sync and Wonderlust’s collaborative piece resembles a 80-foot long antiquated warning sign, covered in the crew’s signature stickers. Anthony Lister’s huge inflatable buoys tie into the exhibition’s aquatic surrounds, Beastman’s acid-trip geometric figures are dotted in the most obscure places, and one of Vexta’s flying characters drops from the sky on a scale that took an entire week to paint. One of the wonders of exhibiting in a space like this is the ability to work with the natural surrounds in order to bring another element to the work. From the poster side of the movement, Ben Frost curated ‘Paste-Modernism’, which showed off the neighborhood wheat-paste squad, spanning an intire industrial warehouse. There are also a few international appearances, one of which being animal-anarchist Roa, whose Aussie-themed creatures spanned the sides of whole buildings.
However impressive the breadth and quality of the work appearing on the island, Kid Zoom’s conceptual installation is by far the most astounding piece. Moving away from his purely aerosol aesthetic, this concoction of painting, sculpture and video evokes a strong emotional reaction as well as a viewer interaction with the construct. He and a half-crazed team completely rebuilt his childhood home in Perth from scratch, on which he painted one of his iconic skulls. ‘Parked’ out the front are three mutilated, bashed up red Holden Commodores – a common lower-middle-class car in Australia – one of which has been set on fire. The piece comes together when you enter the rear of his ‘home’, in which an astounding video plays of Kid Zoom himself destroying the cars with a sledgehammer and spray cans. The completed project references the hardship, boredom and mindless self destruction that comes from growing up in a small city that is five hours’ plane journey to the rest of the world. Zoom reflects back on this time and its catalyst for him to begin making art and pulling himself out of the downward spiral often seen in remote areas. It is a very moving and inspirational piece that raises the bar of Australian street art, adding another dimension to an already-expansive field of artists. – Georgia Frances King
OUTPOST is showing on Cockatoo Island, Sydney until December 11th. – http://outpost.cockatooisland.