On a back street in Adelaide’s CBD is an unlikely piece of public art; The Matchbox Car Wall. The creator? An eccentric Slovenian artist, who likes to go big.
Matej Andraz Vogrinčič was born in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, in October 1970.
The city has a rich artistic tradition – it is famed for its Renaissance architecture – and Vogrinčič studied art history at the local Faculty of Arts.
At university, Vogrinčič came under the influence of the 60s era ‘Fluxus’ movement; a group of radical, Avant Garde artists from different disciplines who tried to create wholly new artistic forms. Vogrinčič was especially taken with Ben Vautier, a French artist who ran a record store in his spare time.
Fluxus artists were among the first to experiment with video art, and multimedia, and they often created large-scale installations. Their works were aggressively anti-establishment and deliberately provocative.
Following in their footsteps, Vogrinčič began to experiment with large-scale installations, often using every day and even absurd items.
His eschewed galleries to work in public spaces; partly to enable him to work on the largest possible scale, and partly to snub the artistic establishment.
‘The most important part of my artwork, is the space. All kind of spaces.
The majority of my artworks were created especially for those spaces. With objects carefully chosen to work within the space, that resonated for the community or its history.’
- Matej Andraz Vogrinčič
When he was 23, Vogrinčič created his first public art piece; a ‘dressed house’.
His eye had been caught by a derelict house on the banks of the river Ljubljanica, which flowed through central Ljubljana. While the rest of the block the house stood in had been recently refurbished, this one dwelling had been left abandoned, in shabby condition.
Vogrinčič took up a public collection of second-hand clothes, and then spent several weeks ‘dressing’ the house in them, hanging them all over the exterior. His motivation was elusive, or it may have been simply an impulse; explaining the work he only stated that he felt the house ‘needed’ to be dressed.
Dressed houses in Venice, and then New York, followed in the next six years.
All three works became more like public events than art. They attracted a large audience and were much discussed. Vogrinčič’s art was playful, striking, and easily accessible.
In 2000, the curators of the Adelaide Festival offered the mercurial artist a prominent spot at their event.
They wanted a large-scale public art project, similar to the dressed houses, but different, thematically. Something fun, that would draw attention to the festival and get people talking.
Vogrinčič visited the city, and was struck, he says, by the number of car parks it contained:
‘Adelaide is a capital of garages and car parks. I found a stencilled graffiti saying ‘Small Car: Members Only’ and decided to make a car park for really small cars.’
- Matej Andraz Vogrinčič
And so Vogrinčič proposed covering one wall of a building with toy cars.
This unlikely proposal was accepted and Vogrinčič again appealed to the public, this time asking for matchbox car donations. It was even included in the advertising copy for the event:
Eventually, nearly 15 000 toy cars were gathered. During the festival Vogrinčič attached them to the wall of a car park in Rosina Parade, just off Hindley Street, in the west end of the city.
Beyond the quote above, Vogrinčič again offered little detail by way of explaining his piece. Local critics, generally positive, supplied their own theories; a commentary on urban sprawl, according to one, and a critique of modern consumerism, according to another.
But the piece, like Vogrinčič’s others, was a hit with the public, and attracted large crowds through the festival. So much so that, while it had originally been intended only as temporary exhibit, it was maintained after the festival’s end, as a permanent piece of public art.
It still stands to this day. I have seen it several times, and each time there have been people hanging out, taking pictures and grinning like maniacs. It is certainly something to see.
The success of Vogrinčič’s work in Adelaide lead to further public works in Australia.
In 2002, Vogrinčič was commissioned by the SA Tourism Commission to create a giant work in the desert, outside of Cooper Pedy. Called ‘Moon Plain’, this consisted of 2 000 white watering cans, scattered across the red sand, creating an image of striking contrast.
Photographs of the installation were used in promotional material for the state, before being dismantled.
The following year, Vogrinčič was brought to Perth by the Awesome Film Festival, to fill an oversize, vacant block with thousands of colourful beach balls. This was also used in promotional material for the festival.
And in 2005 he was in Melbourne, filling the cavernous GPO building with a thousand umbrellas, at the behest of Melbourne Fashion Week. Titled 'When on a Winter's Night a Traveller', the piece also featured simulated thunder, four times a day.
Vogrinčič has only worked sporadically since, and is selective about what projects he accepts. And his works are, by intention, usually only temporary.
Which adds even more cultural value, to Adelaide’s matchbox car wall.