Archive for July, 2009|Monthly archive page

Talking about street art….

I’m giving a lunchtime talk in my department next week, called ‘Street Art and the Contestation of Public Space’.

Here’s what it will be about:

“Cities are sites of intense cultural and aesthetic production, engaged in the continual development and refinement of their self-image. This occurs by means of a range of aesthetic practices, such as architectural innovation, statuary, control of signage and advertising, and public art, underpinned by a network of planning regulations, local and municipal laws, and public order law.

For its citizens, a city’s processes of cultural production are sometimes unremarkable or even imperceptible; at other times, however, these processes become contested, subject to planning disputes, legal intervention, and shifts in public opinion. This talk focuses upon the contestation arises in connection with street art and graffiti writing.

The talk will focus upon two examples.

The first is the approach to street art taken by the City of Melbourne. Since 2003, local councils within Victoria have been required by the Department of Justice to develop plans for the regulation of graffiti within their municipalities. The City of Melbourne initially developed a strategic approach to graffiti based on the concept of zones of ‘tolerance’ for graffiti and street art, but then elected instead to pursue a policy of zero tolerance combined with a discretionary permit system.

The second example focuses upon the French street artist JR, who uses street art as a means of engagement with the politics of ethnicity, race and religion and as a platform to draw attention to the impact of war or emergency in ‘post-conflict’ cities and countries.”

If you are in Melbourne and are interested in coming along, here’s a link to the departmental homepage, where you can find details of the talk listed under ‘Events and Seminars’. Clicking on that link will open a downloadable pdf of a poster for the talk, which gives information about the venue and the time.

I’ve done a few talks on street art and graffiti over the last few years in Melbourne – Street Alliance, at Federation Square, or the Cultural Development Network’s forum on Permissible Art at the Famous When Dead Gallery. This one will be a more ‘academic’ one, given the setting, of course. Anyway, if you are interested, you are welcome to come along.

On being small

Reading back through some of the previous posts on this blog, I realised there is a bit of a repeated theme, in that I’ve commented favourably on the large scale of many works (for example, the works in the Leake Street Tunnel in the Cans Festivals, JR’s paste-ups in London, or Bill Viola’s images, or the works on the façade of the Tate Modern).

Since I don’t want to give the impression that an artwork has to be huge in order to impress, I thought I would devote this post to images which demonstrate that an affective charge can arise from placement and composition as much as from scale.

One of these is something that I have been thinking of as ‘art in a jar’. Have a look:


Perched on a window sill, high above ground level in Brick Lane in London, sits a little jar, with a lid on it. Inside the jar, there is a piece of paper, folded up, and on the piece of paper you can just about glimpse a drawing of a figure. I love the idea that someone not only did these little drawings but also placed them inside their own small containers and then placed the jar on a window sill, which functions as a kind of display shelf for the artwork. It’s the tiny size of the jar and its half-hidden drawing that gives the work its character, which would be lost if the jar were bigger.

I also like this stencil very much:


Taken in Richmond, Melbourne, back in 2003, it is signed by Civil and shows one of the little stick figures that have since become a signature motif, featuring in large numbers in much larger works. I like those larger images a great deal, but there’s something quite perfect about the simplicity of this: the figure, the name, and the frame.

And finally, here’s something I saw just last week. Actually, my daughter spotted it, as we were walking home from school. She suddenly stopped and pointed upwards, saying, ‘Look, mama, graffiti!’(She doesn’t make any distinction between street art and graffiti: controversial, I know, but since she is only seven, I figure she still has plenty of time to learn about the arguments as to whether graffiti is different from street art and vice versa.)

Here’s what she had spotted (and what I had missed):


And a closer view of it:


It’s a simple enough piece of work, nothing tremendously spectacular about it. But what I liked is the fact that it is placed so high on the wall (it’s a good fifteen feet up), and is thus easy to miss (as I did). It’s a great example of an artwork being there for the noticing (or not). Once noticed, its very presence brings pleasure: I now feel as though I’m party to a secret history for that little part of the street, since the presence of the artwork reveals that someone came here, probably with a ladder, and attached this image to the wall, placing it in such a way that it could be overlooked, just as it looks down at us from on high. Now I’ve seen it, it draws my gaze upwards, reminds me to be alert in the streets of the city, attentive to whatever small gifts might have been placed in public space for us to enjoy.

Guest post on Vandalog

I’ve been crazy busy teaching an intensive course the last few days, so not much time for posting here.

But I did manage to write a guest post for Vandalog, which is a fantastic blog about street art. RJ, Vandalog’s author, is currently away on holiday and he has asked a range of people to contribute guest posts while he is away.

You can read my contribution here.

And if you’re visiting Vandalog for the first time, it’s definitely worth browsing through it.

Thanks for the invite, RJ! Enjoy your holiday!

And more posts on Images to Live By coming soon, because my intensive teaching finishes in a few days time.