What would you do if you were confronted by human-sized pieces of chalk on a busy Sydney street? Politely step around them? Use them to scrawl your signature or a pithy aphorism? Grind them into dust, just because you can?
Countless people did all this and more when giant chalk sculptures appeared outside the Queen Victoria Building last weekend. What began as a large blank space on the ground was soon filled with graffiti, cartoon dinosaurs and proclamations of love. Children saw them as objects to sit on and ride.
It was a case of anything goes, and it was art.
Titled Chalk, the interactive installation is by the internationally renowned artistic duo Allora & Calzadilla (Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla). The ongoing project was first run by the pair in 2002 in the main square of Lima, Peru. Since then it has reappeared in Paris and New York, each time providing a political and societal snapshot of that city. This is the first time it has come to Australia and the response was predictably unpredictable.
“It evolved in an interesting way, particularly depending on age,” says Art Gallery of NSW curator of modern and contemporary international art, Nicholas Chambers. “Adults’ association was with mark-making [while] children had a different approach and were often interested in the chalk as objects, sticking them up like sculptures or grinding them into dust. And that’s what the artists were interested in – metaphor and the vastly different responses.”
The footage of Chalk shot in both Lima and Sydney will screen at the AGNSW alongside the chalk sculptures as part of Seven, a collection of works that have been donated to the gallery through the John Kaldor Family Collection. Other artists represented in the collection are Paul Chan, Ugo Rondinone and Wilhelm Sasnal. They are a diverse group of influential contemporary artists, each with a solo show devised in collaboration with the artist.
Kaldor first came across the work of Allora & Calzadilla around 15 years ago and has since become friends with the couple while also collecting its work. “What I like about them is, like a number of contemporary artists, they use all kinds of media to express themselves – 2D work that isn’t actually painting, sculpture, video and performance,” Kaldor says.
Chalk particularly interested him because of its history and the reactions it’s invoked. What began as the innocent writings of children and adults in Lima quickly evolved into political protests against the government of the day. Police ultimately shut down the installation to prevent further anti-government slogans being written.
“The good thing is the [interactive chalk] may interest people to come to the gallery later on,” Kaldor says.