Signal Box Performance
Demise of Signal Box – A Case of Tunnel Vision
February saw the end of the Signal Box case at Museum Station, a performance and installation space which had been running for a near of a year above the stairs as you descend into the Museum Station Subway platform. Initiated by Mark Joseph and continued by Mr. Michael Graham, this little advertised but greatly appreciated space, presented a wide range of weekly events by varied selection of up and coming artists. With an ever changing audience over a 24 hour period of approximately 15,000 commuters, the public experienced art first hand outside the gallery system. Unfortunately not all the public were favourably responsive to encountering artforms at close range when coming to and from work. A supposedly obscene performance by Scratch My Nose in mid-February upset members of the community. The S.R.A. (State Rail Authority) showed no hesitation in closing down ‘Signal Box’ to protect it’s customers from the horrors of modern art. So with fond memories we bid farewell to this unusual space. Thanks to those involved … and remember – “We are sorry about the inconvenience – but the train to Central has been delayed”. Art Almanac 1991
“Censorship is the suppression of speech or other communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient to the general body of people as determined by a government, media outlet, or other controlling body”. It would then seem ironic that a artwork whose themes were about censorship – was censored. The rationale for stopping the performance was unknown and never really discussed with SMN. Also ironic was that just previous to this performance, SMN had developed a ‘Censorship is Torture’ campaign across the streets of Sydney.
Scratch My Nose had planned five different performance pieces which would have run at peak hour in the evenings as commuters were leaving work for home. But unfortunately only one performance was ever presented in this unique mannequin window box before SRA officers brought a halt to the performance and the immediate closure of the space altogether.
The one and only performance at Signal Box saw the two performers inside the window box – one represented the oppressed consumer while the other, dressed in dark suit and sunglasses, represented the mogul. Inside the performance box was a very high powered wind machine, an 8-foot stack of newspapers and a digital noticeboard which fed strange newspaper headlines (almost like they were drawn from the “World of Today” newspaper cut up with Douglas Adams’ alternate dictionary ‘The Meaning of Liff’). The piece was silent with minimal movement from performers, but any movement was exaggerated like a close up on a TV sports slow motion action replay. The performer in the suit would open a sheet of newspaper which then would blow out of his hand onto the muted performer who had an adhesive on his skin so that the newspapers would stick to his arms, legs, face and body. By the end of the performance the whole window box was full of newspapers so that it looked like the performers were drowning in newspapers. This image in essence is the idea behind the performance where the media, who are controlled by multinational corporations, have a vested interest in making people dumber and have ‘smoke-screened’ society to make them more obedient shoppers.
SMN completely understood the nuances of the performance space as they only had at most 5-10 seconds to communicate their idea. In the time commuters walked down the stairs under the performance space to the Museum Station platforms below, they would only have time to view one absurd headline from the digital noticeboard while observing a small vignette of the performance. Though most commuters ignored the performance, quite an audience stopped to watch further.
At this point SRA officers were discussing pulling the curtain on the performance and threatening police intervention after some complaints from the public. One of SMN’s peers who was documenting the event was approached first by SRA officers, in part provoked the situation thinking that police intervention would be a good thing and a great career move for SMN to be arrested. Later Arts Law wanted to represent not only SMN but also the organisers of ‘Signal Box’ as a test case but nothing eventuated with either situation. SMN weren’t arrested, the space was closed immediately and Arts Law did not get involved. Still to this day this window box exists. It occasionally has some State Rail paraphernalia stuck to the window of the box but in the main has laid empty - since 1991.
Photography – Robert Boyd