A washing machine in an underpass has put a council in a spin and sparked debate whether it is street art or fly-tipping.
The Littlemore roundabout underpass in Oxford was transformed into an exhibition space last Wednesday when the white-good was installed alongside a sign reading: “Please use this machine to cleanse your mind of all prejudices and negative preconceptions relating to contemporary art”.
It didn’t last long – by Thursday, Oxford City Council had removed the piece, which was the work of prolific local street artist @Athirty4.
And he told The Big Issue that the exhibit had achieved its objective by transforming a household appliance into commentary on fly-tipping.
“The washing machine was already there – I found it and recycled it in an imaginative way – I reused it with a sign that transforms the meaning of it,” @Athirty4 told The Big Issue.
“It becomes something else and gets people talking about something other than a washing machine. It has been called fly-tipping but you can see it however you want to see it, that’s fine by me.
“It’s rubbish to some people but it works on many different levels and gives people something to think about and a reason to go to an underpass that would otherwise be quite dreary. The washing machine piece was also a comment about our throwaway/profligate culture in the west.
“The council has removed it and I’m pleased that, ironically, I have drawn their attention to it, I have done them a favour in a way.
“I have had a lot of feedback on Twitter and I would say that it is 65/35 in favour of fly-tipping at the moment. But there are other people who appreciate it – people like seeing things that they don’t expect and it makes them stop and think at what they are looking at. There is a debate to be had.
“People only see what they want to see, that’s the feature of the art I do. They either love it, hate it or destroy it.”
Oxford City Council confirmed that the washing machine had been removed with executive member for a safer, greener environment Tom Hayes insisted that it had been “blocking the public highway” and invited the artist to work with them to “create lasting public artwork”.
This is not the first time that @Athirty4, who has used the alias for over 20 years and is working with friends P. Destrian and Lord Veeb on the Under-Currents project, has brought thought-provoking pieces to Oxfordshire.
He hit headlines earlier this month for replacing street signs in Oxford with social media-inspired versions, including Twitter Lane, Selfie Passage and Facebook Row.
This followed another light-hearted stunt in nearby Didcot earlier this year when he added fantasy locations like Gotham City and Middle Earth to road signs to lift commuters’ spirits.
“It is a similar thing with the road signs – I was trying to take people out of the moment and away from the pain of sitting in a traffic jam for just a second,” @Athirty4 said.
“The social media signs also worked on many levels – social media is a network just like roads and streets and sometimes they take us to places that we do not expect. They were also 2d until you looked closer when they appeared to be 3d and that was deliberately to create an illusion – just like social media. I did see people walking past the signs on their phones funnily enough, which I found loved because they probably read about it online later.”