The Commonwealth Games may have brought a lot of things to Melbourne, but it has also taken something precious away from it – its street art culture. Famous stencil-graffer Banksy (the guy who did that Blur album cover) has an article in the Guardian talking about the wanton destruction of Melbourne’s vibrant graffiti scene.
Melbourne is the proud capital of street painting with stencils. Its large, colonial-era walls and labyrinth of back alleys drip with graffiti that is more diverse and original than any other city in the world. Well, that was until a few weeks ago, when preparations for the Commonwealth games brought a tidal wave of grey paint, obliterating years of unique and vibrant culture overnight. This may seem like no great tragedy to readers of the Daily Mail, but Melbourne’s graffiti scene is a key factor in its status as the continent’s hothouse of creativity and wilful individualism.
I suppose it’s no great surprise to hear that the ‘powers that be’ have squelched street art in the name of making a place look nice (read nice as ‘bland’) for visiting dignitaries and camera toting tourists. But I for one think it’s rather a shame. I’ve always been fascinated by graffiti, ever since I saw early hip-hop videos back in the 80s. Stencilling is an interesting evolution of the form, and a more effective one for commenting on the increasing invasion of public space by advertising. All graffiti forms, including stencilling and stickering, are about reclaiming the urban environment from corporate culture. Each act of vandalism is a finger of defiance raised to a system that treats you as a demographic and nothing more, barraging you with instructions on what to buy, where to buy it and how to think. It is Banksy’s opinion that London will suffer a similar whitewashing of its walls before the Olympics, and sad to say he is probably correct. But I’m a great believer in creative energy – it always rises up somewhere else, like bubbles under the wallpaper. I wonder how Melbourne will look in a year’s time, when the world press have rumbled off to some other location and the locals have come back out of their hiding places.
As I remarked earlier, graffiti is an evolving artform. And much like the other spheres of modern life, technology is starting to become a part of the arsenal of its practitioners. One of these new ideas is electrograf, which uses conductive and magnetic spraypaints to include LEDs into a piece of work. Velcro City could do with some of that to liven up the back alleys.