“Is that the light switch that they will turn off after Brexit?”, one tourist asked after taking in a new street art sensation that is sweeping Oxford and confounding and delighting viewers along the way.
Local artist-prankster, A34 (@Athirty4), has affixed Plaster of Paris switches throughout the city centre. They appear on street signs, bus stops, pillars and post-boxes and have been received enthusiastically in the streets and the Twitter-sphere. “Today was a great day for random non-sticker-war street art”, tweeted Stickers Against Hate (@stickersftw), “Thank you for injecting a little absurd fun onto the streets!”
A34, self-described as an “Artist, collaborator, inspirer, doer, achiever and a trafficker of ideas” explained that the switches were inspired by the loss of a family member and close friends and act as a “memento mori”. “One moment we’re alive (switched on), the next we’re non-existent (switched off)”, the artist said. Any explanation accompanying the switches was deliberately omitted to enable the viewer to ascribe their own meaning. “I sort of like the way the switches can be interpreted in a whole medley of ways”, A34 stated.
Previous public works by A34 have also challenged viewers to engage with everyday objects in a new and more meaningful way. In 2018, the artist added routes such as ‘Gotham City’ and ‘Neverland’ to road signs in Didcot and installed Plaster of Paris Polo mints around Oxfordshire. More recently, A34 placed one of the Polo mints above an image of climate change activist, Greta Thunberg, like a halo.
In May 2018, the artist placed a sign, which read “Please use this machine to cleanse your mind of all prejudices and negative preconceptions relating to contemporary art” beside an abandoned washing machine in the Littlemore roundabout underpass in Oxford. The work sparked debate as to whether it constituted art or fly-tipping.
A34 explained that the washing machine had already been dumped in the underpass when the artist “found it and recycled it in an imaginative way” to transform it into a commentary on “our throwaway/profligate culture in the west”. The council removed the machine within 24 hours of the opening of A34’s ‘exhibition’, a move which served to encourage the artist further. “Ironically, I have drawn their attention to it, I have done them a favour in a way”, A34 said.