Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Anti-Graffiti, Part 1: Aesthetics

[This is the first of what I hope will be a series of posts about anti-graffiti in cities. Part 1 here looks at aesthetics, part 2 will dig into the anti-graffiti industry...]

So, graffiti is "ugly", a "blight on the urban landscape", it makes places "dirty", it is just like a "broken window", right? These are typical of the terms used to justify the on-going wars on graffiti.

I guess regular readers of this blog will know my response to this -- for reasons I've got into elsewhere, I think these aesthetic critiques of graffiti are highly problematic. But I've been thinking lately about the fact that anti-graffiti efforts are not only based on a flawed aesthetic critique, but they have their own aesthetics. Here, I want to break down some of the different kinds of urban landscape that we can associate with the on-going wars on graffiti.

As we'll see, what is most interesting about many of the anti-graffiti interventions that I'm about to discuss is how closely they actually resemble graffiti, if considered from a purely visual standpoint...

The new urban swatchwork

Countless walls in countless cities now look like examples of some particularly large-scale paint preparation site ... it's as though someone is agonising over just the right shade of brown or beige to paint the city, and is obsessively testing out different shades all over town.

Urban swatchwork, Enmore (Sydney)

I've actually come to love this swatchwork, in a strange way. As with ghost graffiti (see below), the patches each speak to the hollowness of 'victory' in the battle over some wall or other. The cleansing of graffiti does not produce any aesthetic integrity or purity of its own, just a visible indicator of the desperation of authorities to assert their authority. They're not actually too fussed what the wall looks like, so long as it doesn't have graffiti. And like the swatches of an aspiring domestic decorator, they suggest to me a wall that is not yet finished, still awaiting a decision on its status.