'It's telling that people are convinced they're real': the satirical signs of Sydney’s ‘nanny state’


At first glance you’ll probably think they’re real. But a series of eye-catching, official-looking signs that have sprung up around Sydney are in fact works of satire.

Produced by an artist and a therapist duo who call themselves Wowser Nation, the works are taking aim at Australia’s creeping nanny state. And they’ve started with the city they believe to be at the forefront of the creep – Sydney – even as the New South Wales government repeals the majority of its draconian lockout laws.

“We take existing rules and regulations and turn up the volume just a bit,” sculptor Clary Akon explains when we meet in one of the rare Sydney coffee shops that stays open till 10pm.

“It’s very telling that people are even partially convinced they’re real.”

Photoshopped artworks include a warning that “this area is patrolled by FUN POLICE – protecting Sydney’s citizens from themselves” in the official police colours and font.

Another threatens a $550 fine if you flirt, laugh out loud, dance or “use long words confusing to security”.

Two satirical posters by Wowser Nation.



‘Having fun? You will get caught!’: Two satirical posters by Wowser Nation.

The hypothesis that they would pass for real was first tested in 2016, with a sign in Bondi threatening fines unless all joggers wore helmets, and an instruction to “log your jog”.

The Daily Mail wasn’t sure how to take it, reporting “mass confusion” and quoting one person saying “‘Sydney’s gone TOO FAR this time”. Another said a licence was a “good idea – need to weed out the irresponsible joggers who ruin it for everyone else”.

For the satirical artists, who saw social media posts of people actually trying to log their jogs on the fake website, something clicked.

“We realised this was a powerful way of drawing attention to an insidious process many people weren’t aware of: that their lives were becoming more and more restricted,” co-founder Francis Merson says, comparing the situation to the frog that jumps out of boiling water but boils to death if warmed slowly.

“We wanted something to happen before the water boiled and it was too late. We were desperate to provoke at least some kind of response, for people to realise, ‘Fuck, this isn’t us. This isn’t Sydney.’”

Over the last three years, they embarked on their guerrilla artist campaign. Merson designs the signs and Akon sneaks around putting them up at Town Hall, Coogee, Bondi, Bronte, Newtown and Marrickville.

In an ironic twist, Akon dons the uniform of authority to evade suspicion: a high vis and helmet.

A "fun police" sign installed at a beach.



‘We were desperate to provoke at least some kind of response.’ Photograph: Wowser Nation

Their work satirising Australia’s property obsession – in which they placed “SOLD!!! F**K YEAH! MO $$$ BITCHAZ” notices across property signs – has been accused of being “vandalism” and “inappropriate” but, Akon says, “[Australia] needs to be shamed, to be held up as an international laughing stock”.

In response to Wowser Nation’s “Hey, Tosser” signage – satirising the glee with which people enjoy shaming others for misdemeanours such as littering – Ireland’s biggest independent radio station tweeted one of the artworks:

Today FM
(@TodayFM)

Jaysus, they don’t mess about with litter warnings in Sydney.

(Via Colm Spierin) pic.twitter.com/TGNobR2s9G


April 18, 2017

The guerrilla tactics combine two very Australian and very opposing themes: the officiousness of wowserism and the mischievousness of larrikinism.

“Francis and I were going out in the 90s when Sydney was still fun, laid-back, breezy,” Akon says. “Now it’s tense and rule-bound … And if there’s no spontaneity in society you can’t really have creativity.”

The worse Sydney gets, he says, the more inspired he becomes.

Summer of Glove sign by Wowser Nation.



‘When we started in 2015, I had no idea how bad it’d get,’ says Francis Merson. ‘The strip-searching would’ve seemed implausible.’ Photograph: Wowser Nation

Akon says it’s more relevant than ever post lockout laws: after all, they were just one of many examples of overreach by a conservative Berejiklian government that supposedly promotes personal responsibility over state interference.

All fallacies, Merson says: “When we started in 2015, I had no idea how bad it’d get: the strip-searching happening today would’ve seemed implausible.”

Akon lists a litany of other examples too: being ordered to tip away wine at peaceful beach and park picnics; bag-checking by uniformed police at Bondi Beach at Christmas; and the nimbyism of noise complaints by residents in new apartments next to pubs.

With NSW police now strip-searching children at festivals and passengers at Central Station, the pair’s most recent work – rolled out this week, under advisement from their new collaborator Christie Aucamp, depicts Gladys Berejiklian about to perform a strip-search under the caption: “Summer of glove”.

Wowser Nation’s upcoming stunt returns to their copycat signature style. An LED flashing road sign will be placed in an undisclosed location, flashing slogans such as, “Enjoying yourself? You will get caught.”

Merson, “an artist in exile”, says he won’t be joining their guerrilla pursuit. “In creating this utopia in which no one could ever accidentally die, a place was being created where no one could truly live. I missed the bohemian, free Sydney.”

And so he moved to buzzier Paris.

“I guess I’m the frog who jumps before the water boils.”





READ SOURCE

READ  An architectural ski tour: Les Arcs, 50 years on

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here