Culture //

Sydney Stickers: Art? Vandalism? Both?

In a tunnel that smells like piss, on the directional signage overhead you will see an overwhelming amount of communist furry stickers.

Art by Amelia Koen.

Lockdown sucks, and like all of you reading this, I am waiting to reclaim many aspects of my life (within sensibility and reason). I miss employment, physical classes, seeing my friends, being able to be near another human without fear of death, the pub, but most of all I miss the streets of the inner west and their art. Namely, stickers. 

The first time I truly started paying attention to the little adhesive vinyl artworks was in Newtown, possibly Marrickville, at a live show. On a fire hose jammed above a toilet in a particularly cramped stall was a picture of two illustrated frogs on a penny farthing bicycle with the caption “fuck the police”. This gave me a holistic sense of reassurance that only expletives and two frogs on an old timey bicycle can give, and like any good human born after 1999, I took a picture of the thing, posted it to social media (see attached image) and returned to my booth to eat hot chips and exaggerate stories about other times I was at the pub.

Stickers spring up anywhere public infrastructure flourishes and grumpy men in high-vis won’t scratch them off. Whether you’re at Redfern Station or over the footbridge in the beloved Flodge, stickers are slapped up anywhere they can be. God I miss the pub. On campus the most obvious place to find stickers is the graffiti tunnel, or rather the sticker colonies outside the tunnel. They plaster a fire hydrant towards Manning House, and on the back of the signs hanging off the footbridge over Parramatta Road. That being said, nearly any major transit hub, town-centre, park or pub bathroom in the Sydney area will have at least one bit of rogue adhesive vinyl. To find a local ‘spot’, a place where multiple random people have all decided to place stickers, is like visiting a local art gallery. It is simultaneously communal and private. It is a little urban secret society, and nothing on a phone screen can replicate seeing them in their true habitat.

Stickers strike me as the strangest little things, all due to their versatility. They are guerilla business advertisements, marketable art-pieces, vandalism. All of the above are intertwined and indecipherable from each other.

These vinyl sheets are ultimately more socially acceptable than more rudimentary forms of vandalism, such as smashing stuff and graffiti, both being arts as ancient as mankind. But they require more money to print and the knowledge and time to create the respective artwork, earning them a somewhat gentrified status. With this status I would not disagree, but I would argue that stickers are an ideal form of street-art in the surveillance age, due largely to their ease of  installation.

Individuals, or possibly groups, paste stickers that pretend to be advertisements for construction companies, Fibro (yes, like asbestos) and foot fetish brothels, among others (see attached image), and thus disguise their graffiti monikers. It’s absurd and really very clever — a sticker poses as an advertisement rather than an obvious act of vandalism, thus blending in with the apparently permissible ‘Apex Glass’ company stickers that line the windows of the corpse-like buildings along King Street, Princes Highway or Parramatta Road. God forbid we have anything to look at other than advertising and murals that have been deemed consumer safe.

Like all things, there is also a political aspect to stickerdom. The friendly neighborhood Antifa tend to make their presence known via stickers. It’s almost an old-school mark of territory rather than advertisement. Your not so friendly neighborhood Nazi’s also have stickers, and there is no greater shame than to have a Nazi sticker pasted near your own without damage, and it is a common sight online to film their destruction.

If Nazi-Antifa sticker combat was not absurd enough for your tastes, I’ll make it weirder. Under Railway Square at Central Station, in a tunnel that smells like piss, on the directional signage overhead you will see an overwhelming amount of communist furry stickers. These stickers have unnerving sexual undertones, and are so relentlessly placed that they have overlapped other artists’ stickers, and even made the sign completely unreadable in areas. This has started a small-scale war between the local artists and the ushanka wearing wolf-men, where those involved battle to reclaim the space with their art in relentless competition. Yes, you read that correctly, communist furries and graffiti writers have a turf-war over the railway square pedestrian tunnel. Truly we live in strange times.

In urban spaces such as Sydney it is impossible to interact with everyone. Our city has just become too dense. But these stickers represent all those people you share your world with but never see. Their views, their experiences, their thoughts. I find the creative flare a good addition to our drab light posts and electrical boxes, and I see little harm in putting a bit of colorful plastic on a publicly owned piece of metal. Frankly our canals and alleyways would be fairly dystopian without them.

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