I picked up a pamphlet on “Managing Graffiti in Moreland” by Moreland City Council when I was at the council offices paying Dignity’s cat registration. The pamphlet is a strange little publication with a lot of very vague statements about: “What is graffiti and why is it a crime” and “Who does it and why?” There is information on reporting graffiti, graffiti prevention and removal.
“It (graffiti) can include tags, stencils, pieces and even colourful murals, which have been done without the permission of the person who owns the wall and without Council’s prior permission.” This implies that you need Council permission to paint your own wall and if so who do you contact? There is no information in pamphlet. It is odd considering that the Council is also recommending, in “tips to prevent graffiti” to “consider painting a mural on a targeted wall.” But this is the kind of incoherent nonsense that I’ve come to expect when government’s write about graffiti. However this was not the worst part of the pamphlet.
“Tips to prevent graffiti” includes: “Avoid providing blank or bare walls by planting creepers or vines”. Of course planting creepers or vines are only useful in preventing graffiti as creepers and vines can cause substantial damage to brick walls with old mortar but they will prevent graffiti. The pamphlet promotes other solutions that are potentially worse than the problem: for example, anti-graffiti coatings can be toxic. Fortunately, Moreland Council has an extensive disclaimer that “expressly disclaim any liability, for any loss or damage, whether direct or consequential suffered by any person as a result of or arising from reliance on any information contained in the publication.” Basically, Moreland Council is saying that they are just saying some stuff because they have to say something about graffiti because it is politically popular to say things about it.
There were no council pamphlets available on managing feral pigeons, managing illegal rubbish dumping or managing rats. These are all more serious problems than graffiti that are the responsibility of local councils; graffiti won’t damage your health. Local councils need base their responses to perceived problems on evidence rather than popularism. It is very popular to write about graffiti, whatever opinion you might have about it, and the story can be illustrated with an exciting image. <insert image here>
Illegal graffiti in Coburg - don't worry it's only paint...
Are chalk drawings illegal under local laws? Moreland Council city infrastructure director, Nerina Di Lorenzo said that chalk drawings were illegal under Moreland Council laws. (Tessa Hoffman, “A message for all” Moreland Leader 27/9/10 p.1) I have tried but have been unable to get a comment from Nerina Di Lorenzo but it does appear that Moreland Council has made it illegal for a child to draw a hopscotch pattern on a Coburg sidewalk.
The Moreland Council is highly unlikely to prosecute a child drawing in chalk on the sidewalk. The legal threats were the council’s response to the political demands of the chalk marks as that were part of the campaign for a high school in Coburg. Letters to the Moreland Leader the following week were all in favour of the chalkboard hoarding. The campaign for high school in Coburg doesn’t care they have also been using a sticker campaign to get their message out.
One un-stated reason for the state to enact draconian anti-graffiti legislation has been to censor and control the public space. And anti-graffiti legislation goes further in providing an excuse to censor computer games, films and magazines about graffiti because they promote illegal activity. For example, in 2007 70K, a local film about graffitists, including Renks who was a member of the 70K graffiti crew, has been censored by the OFLC (Office of Film and Literature Classification) and cannot be shown in MUFF (Melbourne Underground Film Festival). “The Classification Board also refused classification for the film, 70K, because it deals with crime (the defacement of public property) in such a way that it offends against the standards of propriety generally acceptable to reasonable adults. The film features documentary footage of people, with masks, disguises or their faces blurred out, vandalizing passenger trains and applying graffiti to walls in Australian cities, including Brisbane and Melbourne. The film is edited to rock music and does not feature commentary, interpretation, justification or explanation. In the Board’s majority view, the film glamorises and attempts to legitimise what are criminal acts committed in Australia and which have a negative impact on Australia and the Australian people.” (OFLC Report p.57) The filmmaker’s obvious mistake, as far as the OFLC is concerned, was not to have a pompous pedantic narrator and a soundtrack by Hildegard Von Bingen.
For more about graffiti and censorship see my blog entry from 2009: Graffiti & censorship. Trying to control and censoring the messages on the street is a reason for enacting anti-graffiti legislation. Anti-graffiti legislation is about censoring the young and poor. People passionately quote Heinrich Hein about burning books but anywhere that they destroy and censor they will also destroy people.
Now Brunswick has a statue of King Leonidas of Sparta in Sparta Place off Sydney Road. The statue has been the subject of local controversy, it is disliked by the local traders, and created as part of the junket politics of sister cities.
Petros Georgariou – King Leonidas 2009
Greek artist Petros Georgariou sculpted the bust of King Leonidas, in a retrograde and conservative nationalist-realist style. The modeling of the bust is crude and stiff. The statute’s black marble plinth, a material alien to the local area, makes it look like a tomb. Not content to leave the 2005 remodelling of Sparta Place alone, the statue has been erected right in the middle of the mall. The placement of the plinth and style of the statue clashes with the existing contemporary style statue in the mall, New Order by Louise Lavarack. There are a lot of things wrong with the statue but not as many as the things wrong with the politicians who commission it.
Roberto Calasso in The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony argues that Sparta could not be understood before Stalin. “Lycurgus was the first to compose a world that excluded the world: Spartan society. He was the first person to conduct experiments on the body social, the true fore-father all modern rulers, even if they don’t have the impact of a Lenin or a Hitler, try to imitate.” Sparta always acted in their “national interest” and would kill and enslave to achieve this end.
Mayor Lambros Tapinos said the statue symbolized “the contribution of the Greek community and its vibrant history within our municipality”. Other local politicians, like Cr Ange Kenos, have also praised King Leonidas for his defense “of human rights.” To dismiss these politicians as stupid and ignorant is to be generous or sympathetic to them, these are the kind of people who would help another Hitler and Stalin to power. I’m sure that as a politician Mayor Tapinos has learnt the highest rule of Sparta society: you can do anything; steal, rape and kill, just don’t get caught. Laconophilia may be popular but it is also amoral and delusional.
I have written about Coburg’s multiple sister city junket politics before in regards to the use of the arts: see Man of the Valley and Cross Currents @ Moreland Civic Centre. I have been unimpressed with the artistic standard of these exchanges and I have seen no other evidence of any value to the City of Moreland’s three sister city relationships.
Cross Currents, paintings by Wen Jun at the Moreland Civic Centre would be almost entirely irrelevant were it not for the Chinese government currently throwing their weight around with attempts to censor and sabotage the Melbourne Film Festival. And the local debate in Moreland usefulness of having sister cities. Moreland has three sister cities: Xianyang, in China, Viggiano, in Italy and Sparta, in Greece. Moreland does have a large Italian and Greek immigrant population but the connections with China are far more tenuous.
This is the 20th anniversary of contact between Moreland and Xianyang that was established by Wen Jun, Geoff Hogg and the then Mayor of Brunswick (now part of Moreland City). During this time Geoff Hogg has become an expert in public art and cultural exchanges. In 2006 he became the first Australian to be appointed an Honorary Professor of Art at Xianyang Normal University in China.
Moreland and Xianyang City Councils jointly sponsored the exhibition. At the opening of the exhibition there were of course the usual speeches, first by Robert Dorning, the Convenor of the Moreland and Xianyang Promotion Committee. The mayor, Cr Lambros Tapinos noted in his speech that Council has 2 of Wen Jun’s paintings in the council collections. In such low level diplomacy there is always talk about the benefits of such cultural exchanges without any evidence. It is an old line and probably no longer true in a time when there are many more routes for cultural exchange than just diplomacy. Wen Jun made a speech in Chinese, with a translation delivered by his daughter in English, about his art. About 40 people, including the artist, mayor, and city councilors, attended the opening of the exhibition. There was choice of a Long Vern 2008 Shiraz and Loire 2007 Sauvignon Blanc to drink and plenty of delicious finger food, typical of Moreland Council functions.
The best of Wen Jun’s paintings are reproductions of Tang Dynasty tomb frescos. His watercolor paintings are the same size as the original frescos. Xianyang was the imperial capital of the Tang Dynasty and the location for the famous Terra-cotta warriors. In Wen Jun’s paintings of the frescos every crack, lacuna, faded colors and other blemishes on the frescos are carefully reproduced. There are extensive didactic panels in Chinese and English. His earlier work, described as ‘traditional’ or ‘spring festival’ paintings are chocolate box sentimental images.
What is the public to conclude from this display of petty diplomacy hiding behind art and culture? That is all about putting on a good face and political junkets. That art and tourisms celebrating China’s imperial past are favored by China but documentaries critical of China’s imperial present are not. Is there any evidence that after 20 years that such diplomacy there has been any positive benefit for the ratepayers of either city? There is currently a local debate about the expense of Moreland City Council’s gift of a statue of King Leonidas to another sister city Sparta. I think that the debate should be about which local sculptor will receive the commission.