Saturday, January 22, 2011

Oz Graff and Banksy

Stencil graffiti can be annoying and funny at the same time

This week I'm at the University of Sydney, Australia for a Crime and SafeGrowth workshop.

It gives me a chance to wander the streets of this beautiful city and compare it to my experience last year and a decade ago. In 1998 Sydney was a city of graffiti. Last year, not so much. Much has happened in Sydney, and in the world of graffiti, in the past year.

Some of the trends appeared in blogs I've written on train graffiti, murals, and the ICA Graffiti Guidebook.

Graffiti is called graff by practitioners of this underground ├╝ber-chic, street artists, wanna-be street artists, and just plain sweaty vandals. Graff is pandemic in both virtual and real space all over the world.

Take for example the stencil graffiti trend started by Britain's anarchist Robin Hood, Banksy. Stencil graffiti now makes appearances in art galleries and in art books. Graff-folk gather on websites to advertise their wares or simply look for cities to "practice". Says a graff-writer in one post:

I'm from Los Anzgeles and will be out in Sydney next week. Although I'm not traveling for graff I would DEFINITELY like to paint while I'm there (as well as stickers)... If anyone can give any info on ANY cool spots to paint as well as GET paint I would greatly appreciate this...

Police and prevention specialists tinker at the edge of graff, sending in the enforcers, writing new laws and installing CCTV. Police map it along with other crimes. But it seems they simply don't get what is going on.

Graffiti mapping in Sydney, Australia

In Sydney, like elsewhere, traditional enforcement tactics hold back the tide: anti-graffiti teams, resistant sprays, CPTED lighting, and so forth (probably why graffiti has somewhat declined in Sydney).

The truth is, like most large cities, in Sydney resistant pockets flourish - some interesting and inventive, most just blight. Example: Around Sydney's central train station where CCTV watched everywhere, I counted 31 public murals, every one graffitied.

Most public murals are not graffitied. Then again, these were not "community-based" murals painted by local artists. They looked corporate, perhaps designed by city or train station officials.

Banksy's documentary film, Exit Through The Gift Shop premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year. It is well done, glorifies the good, bad and ugly, but more importantly it provides insight; insight we need to better understand the future of the public realm.

It also suggests to some degree, like it or not, the once-maligned is now going mainstream.