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18 Jul, 2012

Bowen Street Shows Signs Of Life

When is a street sign not a street sign? Although their usual purpose is to tell people where they are or where they’re going, a group of street signs on a vacant block in the city aims to stop people in their tracks.

The ‘Signs of Life’ public art project in Bowen Street in front of the Central Bus Station uses Council street signs to carry poems and ideograms – a graphic symbol that represents an idea or concept -  instead of the usual road names and traffic directions.

Adjacent to Common Ground community housing, the site also features planter boxes filled with lime trees and rosemary to initiate a small community garden and, along with seating using recycled materials, will enhance the area for locals.

Lord Mayor Stephen Yarwood launched the project on Wednesday 18th July.

“Public art is provokes community discussion and creates spaces for contemplation. It adds humour, vitality and colour to urban environments and stimulates thinking. I’m a firm believer that cities make fantastic art galleries,” Stephen said.

The short, pithy poems range from the philosophical to the satirical, and most relate directly to the surrounding environment: the bus station, Common Ground, the nearby back-packers hotel and the Central Market.

The project was funded through City of Adelaide’s 2011 Arts and Living Cultures Grants Program and managed through its public art program. Poet Mike Ladd and visual artist Cathy Brooks proposed and curated this innovative art work.

Mike is well-known through his work in radio over the last thirty years and is currently the producer of Poetica on the ABC’s Radio National. He has published seven collections of poetry and his latest book Karrawirra Parri, Walking the Torrens from Source to Sea was launched at this year’s Adelaide Writer’s Festival.

“The short poem or epigram goes way back to the ancient Greeks who carved them on tombstones. There is a rich modern tradition of the visual or concrete poem, including the Xisto brothers in Brazil, Edwin Morgan in Scotland, Jas H Duke, Pi O, Thalia, Alex Selenich, and Richard Tipping here in Australia,” Mike said.

“Bowen Street continues that tradition with our own contemporary South Australian variation. It’s another way of getting poetry off the page and into public life.”

The graphic design for the poems and associated ideograms that relate to the text and the locale have been developed by Cathy. The signs are printed in novel colours and use visual elements of the area and the iconography of street signs.

“Mixing it up, visuals and text, epigrams and ideograms, gives it a playfulness. Imagine the surprise for locals and tourists when they are expecting another boring parking sign and look up and get a fragment of beauty, a satirical comment, or a bit of humour or philosophy instead,” Cathy said.

Sixteen poets and artists have contributed to the project and have each brought their own unique philosophies and approaches to the project. Many are from or based in South Australia and have drawn on their various life experiences for their contribution.

All of the artists’ biographies are available here:


Media Contact

Paula Stevens
Ph: 8203 7760 or 0427 910 554

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