There were four seasons in one Melbourne sky on Saturday, September 20th as heavy grey clouds raced across the sky above Clifton Park, Brunswick. How Jeremy Gaschk and his crew managed to keep their three billboard sized temporary walls erect in the wind was incredible. The Don’t Ban The Can event was several things: a cultural event, a community party and a political protest against the draconian Graffiti Prevention laws.
As a free community party Don’t Ban The Can had everything for the couple hundred people that came to the event. It was certainly family friendly event, fathers and sons, mothers with infants and lots of teenager boys. It was remarkably well organized with clearly identified volunteers providing an informal and fun atmosphere. Good music from a series of DJs that kept the mood mellow and relaxed. There was the Rotary Club doing a sausage sizzle: it was great to see the elder Rotary Club supporting the youth community. Two policemen had a look at the event but clearly felt alienated by the good vibes and kept their distance.
Although it was pleasant to just hang out in the Clifton Park with cool people the focus of Don’t Ban the Can was aerosol art. Watching the crews of graffiti artists demonstrating their art on the temporary walls was the main event. But as a cultural event Don’t Ban the Can was very successful because it had interactive elements. It was an art jam – there were two marquees with free art materials and tables made of old doors. They were filled, shoulder-to-shoulder, with people from 10-40 years old drawing. It also turned out to be a photography and documentary film-making event. The number of people with cameras of all kinds in their hands was remarkable; photography is a major art practice that the community is involved in.
As a political protest it didn’t really happen. There were no speeches; Don’t Ban the Can was propaganda by deed. Those who attended saw what street artists mean by a responsibility to the community. And Victoria’s politicians will ignore it – the can has already been banned.
I have been writing and painting walls; writing this blog and painting walls white, not being a street art writer. The boys are still bombing along the Upfield line in broad daylight as I ride my bike to the hardware shop to buy more undercoat. There was a advertisement about the Graffiti Prevention Act’s presumption of guilt for carrying spray cans taped to the hardware shops counter. Spring has definitely arrived in Melbourne but there is still a chill in the air.
Victorian Police Minister, Bob Cameron is quoted in Herald (“Anti-graffiti activists infuriated by pro-spray demonstration” August 20, 2008) saying graffiti was not art, and the laws were introduced to deter vandals who were committing a serious crime. It is hard to see the boys painting on an old corrugated iron fence as committing “a serious crime”; it is easier to understand Bob Cameron as wildly exaggerating to defend draconian laws that remove the presumption of innocence. And nobody needs more Police Ministers making ignorant comments about what isn’t art after the Bill Henson fiasco.
At the Melbourne Stencil Festival panel discussion “Cans Up – you’re arrested – the impact of the Graffiti Prevention Act (2007)” last month. The talks by Senior Constable Linda Hancock of Victoria Police about the enforcement of Graffiti Prevention Act made the humanity of the police main defense of the role that the police in enforcing the draconian Graffiti Prevention Act. This defense is also one of the many criticism the Graffiti Prevention Act that the police are human and therefore possibly arbitrary and prejudiced in who they choose to search and charge.
There were other criticisms of the Graffiti Prevention Act raised at the panel discussion. The Graffiti Prevention Act ignores the rights of children to be diverted to education and rehabilitation. It will also be a net-widening exercise increasing the number of criminals, as if there were enough already.
Leader Community Newspapers (September 9) is using headlines like “Graffiti party fear” and “Moreland police prepared for graffiti party” to create a conflict leading up to “Don’t Ban the Can” protest, street party and street art exhibition even if the stories don’t justify the headlines. It is a bad strategy by poor sub-editors to exaggerate the drama of the story. (“Don’t Ban the Can” is from 12pm onwards, 20 Sept., Wilson Ave, Brunswick.)
The chill in the air is not just the weather it is political.