Thursday, May 10, 2012

On Subcultures

Last weekend I went out to Clunes for Booktown. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, Booktown is an annual event held in Clunes where booksellers gather for special sales, and where authors, publishers and other bookish folk give talks. It’s a great little day out, if you’re nearby, so be sure to check it out.

In the end I didn’t end up getting anything from any of the local stores (you do have to hunt through a lot of rubbish to get to the gems, sometimes) but got quite a good haul from The Book Grocer, who have several shops in Melbourne. Among them were two books on the Melbourne graffiti scene. Melbourne has some fantastic street art, and I’ve been keen for a while to introduce a few art books to my shelf, so these two looked promising for both endeavours

The first, Kings Way, was about the early days of the scene, from 1983-1993. Honestly, I didn’t like the art very much in this one - it was almost exclusively tagging, the vast majority of which was (seemingly deliberately) illegible. I like my art to say something, or at least look appealing, so people just tagging trains with what looks like random squiggles doesn’t really do it for me. You could see the improvement as time passed, though - from very basic beginnings, they were starting to get quite good by the end of the period the book covered, and it was quite interesting to see that evolution. The biggest advantage I got from the book, though, was the contrast it provided with the second book.

Everfresh: Blackbook details the history of a studio in Collingwood from 2004-2010, and it’s amazing to see how far the scene has come in the missing decade between the two books. There is still a little bit of tagging involved by these artists but it has come so far - the text is still extremely stylised and interesting-looking, but you can actually read it now. Maybe I’m just a latent typography nerd but that makes a big difference for me. More than the tagging, though, there is actual art. With a few exceptions, there wasn’t really much in the way of social commentary provided in this art but it’s all visually stunning work.

What I really loved about Blackbook, however, was the sense of community it conveyed. The Everfresh studio is home to a bunch of street artists, most of whom have other jobs and other things going on in their lives, but who congregate there to express themselves. You really get a feel for what great mates these guys are - just hanging out with like-minded people, having a few beers, having a laugh, flouting the law and creating great art. That camaraderie created by pursuing a shared passion is something I think you find a lot when you investigate subcultures like this. There are tangible threads connecting the street art culture to punk rock culture, to drift culture, to tattoo culture…I don’t know if it’s the subversive nature of what they’re doing but it always seems to bring the people closer together. And I really just love the idea of this group of mates, who are passionate about what they do and don’t really give a fuck about what society or the law thinks of them, pursuing their dreams with single-minded determination.

I really hope to find myself in a situation like that one day. I’m not really a big “joiner” but part of what I’m hoping to find in Melbourne is that - people who shared my interests on a serious level in the small towns I used to live in were few and far between.

Anyway, with those two done, I’m back on track in the 52 Books challenge. The running total is below. I also just joined Goodreads, so add me if you so choose; or, as always, I’ll be tweeting as I go.

1. Richard Dawkins - The Selfish Gene
2. George Orwell - Animal Farm
3. Noam Chomsky - What Uncle Sam Really Wants
4. Noam Chomsky - The Prosperous Few
5. Noam Chomsky - Secrets, Lies and Democracy
6. Noam Chomsky - The Common Good
7. Peter Singer - Practical Ethics
8. Tucker Max - Sloppy Seconds
9. Robert Cialdini - Influence
10. Virginia Woolf - A Room Of One’s Own
11. Chuck Palahniuk - Survivor
12. Bill Bryson - Mother Tongue
13. Robert Greene - The Art of Seduction
14. Sam Harris - Free Will
15. Alain de Botton - Religion For Atheists
16. Lawrence Krauss - A Universe From Nothing
17. Kings Way
18. Everfresh: Blackbook

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