Vienna’s Street Art

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Central Vienna is beautiful, but a little too formal for my liking (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

This summer, I spent a few days in Vienna on a family holiday. Although beautiful, I found the city, particularly the city centre, had an add, formal feel that didn’t sit very well with me. It didn’t feel lived in, more like a model city than an actual place. There were some parts of the city I did connect with however, like the Prater funfair, the city’s lively protest sticker culture, and the street art. I quickly discovered however, that the advice the guide books give you about finding street art is not necessarily the best.

Dotted around the Museum Quarter of the city there are a series of Micromuseums, small passageways that focus on different art genres, including literature, typography, and sound art. They are the brainchild of Q21, which provides creative work and exhibition spaces in the Museum Quarter. One of these Micromuseums is called Street Art Passage Vienna, and its where a lot of guide books direct you if you want to see street art in the city. Whilst I like the idea of turning “simple means of entrance and exit to innovative art spaces,” I found the reality a bit disappointing. The space is almost 10 years old, and it feels a little neglected.

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The Street Art Passage Vienna was looking a little neglected when I saw it in July (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The two  permanent pieces of art in the passage by Invader (2008) and Lois Weinberger (2013) (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The main feature of the passage is a tiled bridge by French artist Invader (2008). His distinctive Space Invader mosaics are a recognisable feature of many cities. There is also a permanent typographic piece by Lois Weinberger (2013), which is visible in the above picture on the wall behind the Invader bridge. There are also temporary exhibitions by a wide range of artists (you can see a full list here). There are two vending machines, which are supposed to contain mini catalogues and sets of stickers that you can buy for 2 Euros, but the machines were empty when I went there. In addition, each temporary artists produces a limited number of affordable screen prints, designed to encourage young art collectors.

When there is crossover between the informal, ephemeral tradition of  street art and more formalised traditions of artistic display like art galleries and museums, there can be tensions. Whilst street art is often associated with a certain urban ‘scruffiness,’ in the case of the Street Art Passage Vienna it just felt neglected. For me, street art is exciting and vibrant, it makes a city feel more alive. The Street Art Passage felt…stagnant.

If you want to see dynamic and vivid street art in Vienna, and lots of it, then I would recommend going to the Danube Canal, which splits of from the Danube proper north of the city centre, then loops round to the west of the river before rejoining the Danube further south. The canal is below street level, with a tow path on either side and concrete walls rising to the main roads that run either side. The walls on both sides of the canal are covered in street art, and there are also some sculptures along the tow paths. In the hour or so I was walking along the canal, I saw several artists working on pieces on the walls.

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The Danube canal is below street level, with concrete walls between the tow path and the street. The walls are covered in street art and grafitti (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The confluence of the Danube Canal with Wienfluss. In the bottom right of the photo, there is an artist working on an image of a woman (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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An in-progress piece of street art on the wall under a bridge across the Danube Canal (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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A map of central Vienna with the Street Art Passage Vienna and the Danube Canal marked on it (Source: Google Maps, with alterations by the author).

Most guide books and websites will send you to the Street Art Passage Vienna if you’re looking for street art in the city. But I wouldn’t recommend it. The litter, dust bins, and empty vending machines felt a little sad. The street art at the Danube Canal, however, is energetic and vibrant, and helped me to connect to a city that had I had struggled to relate to previously.

We Are Many Review

Rise, like lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number!

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you:

Ye are many—they are few!”

The Masque of Anarchy, Percy Shelly, 1819.

We Are Many Landscape

Many of you who has ever been to a protest will be familiar with at least part of the above quote, the final stanza of a poem written by Percy Shelley after the Peterloo massacre. We Are Many, a documentary film that tells the story of the Stop the War protests on the 15th February 2003, takes it’s name from the final line of this evocative poem. The film is not unjustified in borrowing such powerful words; it is a forceful and effecting documentary.

Directed by Amir Amirani, and first released at Sheffield Doc/Fest in 2014, We Are Many tells the story of the global protests against the imminent Iraq War on the 15th of February 2003. Up to 30 million people in nearly 800 cities took part, many of whom had never been to a protest before. The film uses news footage, interviews with participants, experts, and journalists, footage of protests, and clips of political speeches to tell the narrative of the protests themselves, as well as the events that led up to them, and the political movements they helped to inspire (you can see the trailer here).

Starting with 9/11 and the beginning of the War on Terror; the documentary traces the foundation of the Stop the War coalition; the growing opposition to military intervention in Iraq; the protests themselves; further attempts to prevent Western intervention in Iraq; the war itself; and the Tahir Square protests in Egypt. It ends with the vote by British Parliament in 2013 in which they decided against military intervention in Syria, an indication that, although the Iraq War was not prevented, the protest was not necessarily a waste of time. It is a comprehensive account, and I think it could have benefited from doing less, the last half and hour or so does drag somewhat.

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The Stop the War march on the 15th March 2003 was one of the biggest marches London has seen in decades (Source: Channel 4).

Overall, however, I thought it was a brilliant documentary. The interviews were particularly effective: a US air force veteran who came to oppose the war and US government officials admitting the war was wrong make for convincing viewing. The documentary also featured footage of the interviewees speechless. When the narrative arrives at the 19th of March when the war started, many of the interviewees were lost for words, even after a decade. That was pretty powerful.

When a protest doesn’t result in direct changes, it can be difficult to assess its impact. We Are Many admits that the Stop the War protests failed in their primary objective, and left many so demoralised that they withdrew from political engagement. The documentary does, however, make the argument that the 2003 demonstrations had long-term, positive impacts. It argues that the democracy movement in Egypt in 2011 was the product of the global anti-war movement, and highlights that when Britain faced the choice to invade Syria in 2013, MPs made a different decision than the government made a decade before. It is an interesting attempt to assess the impacts that a protest can have.

We Are Many is a comprehensive and emotive account of the events of the 15th February 2003. The global day of protest is thoroughly contextualised in both the events leading up to it, and the possible impacts it may have had. I would recommend this film as a teaching resource about both dissent and the Iraq War, or for those who are just curious about one of the biggest globally coordinated protests the world has ever seen.

London’s Protest Stickers: Israel-Palestine

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This is not technically a sticker, but I like the work of this artist, so I decided to include it (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Oxford Street, 15/04/15).

On the 25th of August, Frankfurt City Council approved a bill that will ban the use of municipal funds for Boycott, Divestment Sanctions (BDS) activities targeting Israel, if it is approved by the city parliament. Frankfurt is the first German city to take this step, but it looks like Munich will follow suit in the autumn (Jerusalem Post, 2017).Uwe Becker, the deputy mayor and city treasurer for Frankfurt, argues that the movement is anti-Semitic. The BDS movement campaigns to put economic pressure on the Israeli state in order to compel Israel to obey international law in its dealings with Palestine. Founded in 2005, BDS is a coalition of groups from Palestine and around the world. London’s protest stickers suggest that support for the BDS movement is much stronger here than it is in Germany. In fact, every sticker I have found in relation to the Israel-Palestine conflict in London is pro-Palestine.

You can see where I found these stickers on the Turbulent London Map.

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The colour scheme of BDS stickers usually reflects the Palestinian flag, which has three horizontal strips of black, white, and green, overlaid with a red triangle on the left hand side. War on Want is an organisation that campaigns on multiple issues relating to human rights, social justice, and the root causes of poverty (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Lewisham Way, 20/03/16).

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This sticker, which features the Palestian flag, is produced by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which claims to be the biggest organisation in the UK campaigning for Palestinian human rights (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Royal Mint Street, 25/02/15).

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This sticker doesn’t directly refer to the BDS campaign, but it does also use the colours of the Palestinian flag (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Cable Street, 25/02/15).

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Again, this sticker uses the colour scheme of the Palestinian flag (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Pentonville Road, 23/03/17)

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I suspect that this sticker was designed to be worn by people rather than street furniture, because of its small, round shape. However, stickers worn on street furniture tends to last longer than stickers worn on clothes (Photo: Hannah Awcock, British Museum, 12/05/15).

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This sticker was produced by the Socialist Worker Student Society, the student arm of the Socialist Worker’s Party, a revolutionary party that campaigns for socialism and internationalism (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Malet Street, 28/05/17).

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This sticker does not use the traditional BDS colour scheme, but it does illustrate the logic behind BDS in a way that I think is quite striking (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Russell Square, 15/04/15).

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The boycott element of BDS includes academia. In 2015, the SOAS Student Union held a referendum over whether or not the university should implement an academic boycott. The students voted yes to the boycott (Photo: Hanna Awcock, Malet Street, 17/02/15).

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This sticker Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st century is a group that campaigns on a whole range of issues. This sticker is calling for BDS, using the image of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Gordon Street, Bloomsbury, 09/08/15).

Preparing for your Viva: Collected Resources

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The printed copies of my thesis before I submitted them (Photo:  Hannah Awcock)

A few weeks ago, I passed my PhD viva! As my viva got closer, I spoke to lots of people about theirs, and many had actually enjoyed the chance to talk in-depth about their work. I also trusted the work that I have put in over the last four years, and trusted that my supervisors would have told me if they thought my thesis would fail the viva. So whilst I was nervous about my viva, I was also quite looking forward to it. Whilst I wouldn’t go so far as to say I enjoyed the viva, I definitely would not say it was a negative experience, and it definitely wasn’t the terrifying occasion that some people expect it to be.

I think part of the reason I wasn’t too nervous before and during my viva was the preparation I had done. I read my thesis, trying to identify anything my examiners might ask about, and made notes on a series of general questions that I thought might come up. I found this to be quite a good way of getting ready for the viva; I felt well-prepared. I put the list of possible questions together from advice from my supervisors and others, and from the websites listed below.  The list of questions that I prepared for, in no particular order, are:

  • How did you come to research the topic/how does it relate to your earlier studies?
  • Who are your intellectual influences?
  • Summarise your key findings?
  • Why did you choose your case studies?
  • Explain your relationship with theory.
  • What is original about your work/ what are your contributions to knowledge?
  • How does your work contribute to geographical debates?
  • Which topics overlap with your area?
  • What are the strongest parts of your work? What are the weakest?
  • Looking back, what might you have done differently?
  • Do you have any plans for publishing your work?
  • What did you learn from the process of doing your PhD?
  • What are the main issues and debates in this subject area?
  • Why was your research worth doing?
  • What published work is closest to yours? How is it different?
  • How have you evaluated your work?
  • How has your thinking about the topic changed as your research went on?
  • Did you have any problems with the data collection process?
  • How would you hope that this research could be followed up and taken further?
  • Do you have any questions for the examiners?
  • I didn’t get asked all of these questions during my viva, but most of them came up in some shape or form.

And here is a list of webpages and blogs that I used to collate my list of questions and for other general advice:

Nasty PhD Viva Questions by Dr. Andrew Broad is written from a Computer Science perspective, but I think that most of it is generic enough to be helpful to other subjects. As well as a list of possible viva questions, it also contains advice for preparing for the viva in other ways, such as preparing a summary of your thesis.

Research Essentials: Top 40 Potential Viva Questions is a comprehensive list of questions that your examiners might ask.

University of Leicester Graduate School: Practice Viva Questions is another helpful list.

David Denyer: Questions in a PhD Viva provides another list, as well as some general tips about the attitude with which to approach your viva. Many of the questions are similar to those in the other resources listed here, but I thin that is quite reassuring, as it shows that similar kinds of questions do tend to come up again and again.

The Guardian Higher Education Network: How to Survive a PhD Viva: 17 Top Tips is a compilation of advice from different people. It covers both before and during the viva.

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A celebratory post-viva selfie with my family and partner (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I have two main pieces of advice about doing a PhD viva. The first is don’t blag answers; if you feel like you can’t answer a question, or need to spend a bit more time thinking about it, then have the confidence to say that. The second piece of advice is take a few moments to think before you answer each question; there’s no rush, and the examiners will appreciate a more thoughtful answer. Fundamentally though, try to relax– you never know, you might actually enjoy yourself! Whilst the viva itself is important, your thesis is what really matters. The viva lasts only a few hours, but the thesis is your lasting legacy, and in many ways, it speaks for itself.