Today’s Weekends With a Sociologist lunges us into the heart of Australian suburbia. There’s revelry in Australiania, a notion that I’ve never been especially comforable with, but we’re plunging in all the same! You’ll see there is much to cringe about, and more delights in store, in Jon Campbell’s Word. The Irish-Australian migrant artist lives in Coburg, an inner Northern suburb of Melbourne. The exhibition is based on his artworks that use numerous light boxes to emphasise the language of the working class in the inner Northern and Western suburbs of Melbourne, the typical signage seen along country roads, and Anglo-Aussie surf culture. Banners host Aussie venacular, pub menu items, live music posters, and peculiar messages familiar to locals.
This exhibition includes Stacks On (2010) and the 65 metre mural commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art.
The artist’s irreverant sense of humour is as evident as his keen sense of observation. Campbell sees there is power in the words that define sub-cultures.
‘I’ve always been mostly interested in things around me, the local, Australiana, language and rock ‘n’ roll. I try to represent the overlooked and undervalued.’ – Jon Campbell 2014
Let’s take a few of my favourite pieces in this exhition, resonating with my childhood, spent in the migrant-filled suburbs of Melbourne, and later in the monocultural Anglo-dominated outskirts of the West.
First, we see two brighter light boxes atop a rectangular box that is on its side, bearing the name of formerly industrial suburbs from Footscray, Seddon, Yarraville, to Altona. In the past two decades, these suburbs, once a haven for poorer migrants and working class people, have become increasingly gentrified. Houses are just as old, but they are now fetching more than twice their former value, as White, middle-class and socially mobile families feel the urban sprawl of Melbourne’s housing market.
The sign below will be instantly recognisable to people of non-English-speaking backgrounds, who grew up seeing furniture mogul, and fellow migrant, Franco Cozzo’s advertisements. Loud, sublimely low-quality, repetitive almost to the point of being obnoxious, Franco Cozzo’s TV spots were one of the few instances where we’d see smiling, bilingual migrants on TV, other than Anglo comedians making fun of us.
Cozzo’s empire was infamously cut short as he went to jail, but in true migrant lore, he returned to our screens (briefly, I believe) decades later. His shops were not too far from where my family first lived, when we first came to Australia. There is no migrant child who arrived in the mid-to-late 1980s who can’t still mimick his brash but memorable slogans, spoken in multiple European languages and half in English. “Grande sale, grande sale, grande sale. Dove? A Brunswick and Footscray.”
Below is a nod to the 2009 campaign to save the de-funding of the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA). The VCA has educated some of the nation’s most famous artists, actors and filmakers, including Patricia Piccinni, Adam Elliot, Isabel Lucas, Sibylla Budd, Nicole Kidman, and David Noonan.
The video below gives you another look as I walk around the exhibition. Enjoy the pub grub!
John Campbell, "Stacks On." Work features Australian slang on light boxes and fabric banners. My favourite? "Franco Cozzo," a notorious figure amongst non-English speaking migrant-Australians from Western Melbourne (where I grew up) and "It's a world full of lying bastards." There's also a banner reading "save the VCA.org," a reference to the Victorian College of the Arts, a campaign from 2009 when funding was being cut.