Tag Archives: Occupy Wall Street

Private Public

People complain, “Taggers vandalized my fence”.

“Really?!” I think to reply. “They came onto your property and scribble stuff on the inside of your fence, that’s outrageous.”

I’m then informed that the taggers wrote on the outside public side of the fence or wall. Not your side of the wall then? You wouldn’t complain if your neighbour wrote on their side of the wall between your two properties but you want to claim ownership of the public wall. You want to impose your beige or mission brown identity and taste on the public but object when others do it.

Public space in the city is an illusion. As far as the state is concerned it is the public and consequently public spaces organized like private space. In Melbourne public transport infrastructure is fenced off allowing buildings to go derelict rather than to allow any other use of it. Every defined border of public space, the walls and fences, is theoretically either privately owned or under the control of some government authority. Then there are private spaces posing as public space, like the shopping malls and pubs (short for public house). There is petty parochial nature in Melbourne with the proverbial dog in a manger attitude of ‘I was here first’ is matched by the territoriality of some graffiti crews.

Public and private are not natural states they are created by a culture and therefore can change or be in a state of flux. Changes in the public and the private become an issue for a culture to discuss – private or public communications on Facebook, how much of your body you can uncover in public and the contrary how much of your face do you have to show in public.

What exactly the public is an even more complex political issue. Do you mean the sum total of all the individuals, including all the taggers, the psychos and the others that you might want to exclude, or just the mob majority? Or do you mean the mean average, the beige, neutral public, Baudrillard’s silent majorities the great force of inertia? Or a ghostly public that is altogether imaginary, theoretical and ideal, that is a cover for politicians and executives that essentially owns it and treats it as their private space.

Upfield line wall – Brunswick

In part this post is a comment CDH’s article “Street Artists Aren’t Vandals”, that expands on the ideas in his Trojan Petition, because the issues are greater than just permission. A lot of new concrete walls went up along the Upfield train line in Brunswick, these walls haven’t been neglected but they are magnificent public walls for graffing. Street art, squatting and the Occupy Movement challenge and examine the sacred concept of ownership. The ownership on this city that was originally owned by the aboriginal peoples of the area has to be examined in a practical and civic way. Real and substantial damages should be the measure of a crime as opposed to transgressions on the sanctity of ownership.

We all share this city. We see it, hear it, feel it and smell it everyday. Tom Civil has spoken about “how street art and graffiti create community, mark space and act as a human-scaled anarchic form of urban architecture.” A piece of graffiti in a good location where nobody can be bothered buffing or a legal piece on the side of a house can last for ten or more years. It becomes part of the neighbourhood’s identity, in what is often a featureless uniform urban environment.

Street art explores the border of areas of the city, the areas of marginal interest, the laneways and alleys, the littoral zones of the walls that divide the city into sections. It challenges the ideas of public space.


2011, the Year of the Street

2011 was the year of the street. The revolutions in the Middle East, the Occupy movement across the USA (with a smaller local version) and other protests in Europe were all on the street. There are problems that have been building up, like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, left unresolved for my entire life while a very few became disproportionately wealthy. And in 2011 this had gone beyond the limit of what most people can accept.

As well as the protests, street art has entered a new phase; in Melbourne’s streets and laneways it continues to flourish and diversify. On the street the woolly growth of yarn bombing expanded and yarn bombing entered the public consciousness. This is remarkable because just a few years yarn bombing was an obscure and eccentric practice. In previous years I have looked at the growth of exhibitions by street artist in galleries. There was no point in continuing doing it this year because of the exponential growth in the number of exhibitions and galleries specializing in artists from the street art movement. There were a few major street art exhibitions: “Space Invaders” exhibition at RMIT Gallery and Everfresh and other crews in NGV’s Studio space. And the documentary Writers Bench by Oriel Morrison and Spence David provided a history of the last three decades of Melbourne graffiti (read my review). Thinking about all of this I realized that the nature of public art has changed fundamentally.

The street art and the protests are interconnected. Syrian school kids started the revolution by spray-painting a wall and when they were beaten and tortured there were demonstrations that have continued and expanded as the cycle repeated. During 2011 revolution in Tunisia as most of the population was on the streets local artists carried their paintings through the streets; it was the perfect place to exhibit them. Egyptians painting walls during the protests, anti-Gaddafi paste-ups around Misrata; it is about the right to express your views.

The metaphorical significance of the street is akin to the real world. Street culture is seen as a real/symbolic cultural source: “reality-fantasy-symbol. Reality may easily be regarded as the most fantastic category, as the most crudely symbolic category. Symbol may be the realist, most accessible etc. etc.” (Richard Meltzer, The Aesthetics of Rock, 1987, Da Capo Paperback, p.14 footnote 1). Control of the streets is a symbolic status for the legitimacy of any government, hence the need for violent responses to street protests or artists painting on walls (read my blog post about Controlling the Streets from earlier this year).

The question of the year was does symbolic/real control make a government legitimate or does legitimacy of a spring from democratic elections, respect for human rights and representing concerns of the population? And in 2011 the answer appeared on the streets.

The Globalization of Festivals

I’ve been enjoying the 2011 Melbourne Festival, especially “The Manganiyar Seduction” for both the music and the spectacular presentation. No sooner had the Melbourne Fringe Festival finished then the Melbourne Festival started; sometimes it seems that there is a film, fashion or other cultural festival planned for the whole year.

This year at the Melbourne Festival there was a parade of giant black baby demon statues. The demons took on another meaning when Melbourne City Square was briefly occupied by protesters joining in the Occupy Wall Street movement. The baby demons have been touring other arts festivals around the world. That started me thinking about the globalization of art festivals.

I was reading Richard Broome, Coburg – between two creeks, (Lothian, 1987) and I was I was surprised to find that Coburg had held the first arts festival in Australia. I was also surprised to find that this was in 1944. Coburg held five arts festivals in the following years. In its second year the arts festival had an art exhibition, curated from pictures on loan from the collections of Coburg residents; the art included work by Louis Buvelot, Rex Battarbee, Harold Herbert, Daryl Lindsay and Sir John Longstaff. (Look up these guys up to understand the high quality of artists that were on exhibition.)

The transformation of the community based arts festivals, like 1944 Coburg Arts Festival, into the corporate sponsored tourist attractions, like the Melbourne Festival, is remarkable not just for the growth. The contemporary arts festivals requires greater infrastructure than venues for the events, there has to be restaurants, cafés and bars for the audience before and after the events, there has to be transportation, hotels and other facilities. This kind of arts festival has become an international travelling tourist attraction as the acts, like “The Manganiyar Seduction” and the “Tom Tom Club” travel the international festival circuit. In the process festival directors have become stars and their role has developed from an administrative to a curatorial role.

In 1986 the Cain state government started the Spoleto Festival of Melbourne. Four years later the festival changed its name to the Melbourne International Arts Festival and the “international” and “arts” has gradually faded from Melbourne Festival’s title. 1986 was the same year as the California’s Burning Man festival was established. As festivals became more similar, with the same acts, around the world, very little attention was paid to creating different kinds of festivals. Not the Alexandrian approach of a festival for every category from the Armenian Film Festival to the Zombie Art Festival. Rather to take a creative approach to creating festivals, as Burning Man has done.

What do you think about the globalization of art festivals?

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