At the Melbourne Stencil Festival on Sunday 10th August, Fiona Scott Norman, of The Age and ABC 774, hosted the panel discussion “Cans Up – you’re arrested – the impact of the Graffiti Prevention Act (2007)”. The talks by Snr Constable Linda Hancock of Victoria Police about the enforcement of Graffiti Prevention Act, and Hala Atwa, a lawyer from Youthlaw were focused to an audience of young street artists. I had previously heard Alison Young, a lecturer in criminology from the University of Melbourne, talk about graffiti before.
The talk by Dr Lachlan MacDowall has made reconsider the aesthetics of Melbourne in relation to graffiti. Dr Lachlan MacDowall is a lecturer in graffiti studies from the Victorian college of the Arts and former street artist.
Firstly, in dealing with the ownership issue MacDowall recognized the original aboriginal owners of the land. This is an important point in understanding graffiti issues as nobody asked their permission before vandalizing their homes and sacred sites.
MacDowall talked about the “overlaying culture” and the architecture of the city.
MacDowall explained a “donut view of Melbourne”. There are two cities: the inner city European style city in the core surrounded by a ring of an American style outer-suburbs. And the graffiti is different in these two types of cities – the laneways and alleyways of the old inner city compared to the suburban streets.
The urban landscape is made from an accretion of architectural forms as new buildings are added like the layers of posters built up on into thick masses. Melbourne’s architecture ranges from the colonial to the contemporary. The landscape of the city is not cyclical as in nature but one of accretion, as outlying towns and rural populations are pulled into the mass of the modern city.
The city of Melbourne’s almost 100-foot wide streets were designed by Robert Hoddle, Melbourne’s original surveyor to accommodate bullock carts. Trams were later added to some of these streets and between these large blocks a network of small lanes and alleys. All of the little service lanes in Melbourne’s inner suburbs, the old back alleys paved with large bluestone cobbles, were used for the ‘night-soil’ carts to take away the sewerage. When they were constructed they were purely utilitarian and so they remained until street artists found another use for them, out of sight of the main street.
The radial nature of Melbourne’s trams lines created long inner suburban shopping strips radiating out from the CBD: Sydney Road, Chapel Street, Brunswick Street, Smith St. etc. Currently there is fierce competition amongst Melbourne’s inner suburbs to be the trendiest and this includes which suburb has the best street art. The street art in these areas are somewhat integrated into architectures and is used by some businesses for advertising or simply decoration. MacDowall believes that street art responds to (and in a way documents, consider all the urban landscapes on exhibition at the MSF) the changing cityscape. Melbourne is changing from an industrial to a post-industrial city with gentrification of the Docklands and other former industrial areas.
Away from all of the inner city are the post-war American-style, dormitory outer-suburbs are an attempt to escape from the intense urban landscape with a regular planned construction that occupies the entire areas. Here graffiti represents urban degradation and the graffiti is all hip-hop style aerosol art. It is located mostly along the railway lines and in isolated places.
These differences explain the very different attitude towards street art and graffiti in these two different areas of the city. A difference that is represented in the different approaches that local city councils have to graffiti; with tolerant inner city councils and anti-graffiti campaigners in the outer suburbs.