Art, graffiti and citizenship

I came across a promising idea today from the blog for Toothfish Posters. Namely that the concept of the political billboard, known to spring up everywhere prior to elections, are, as a version of public communication, asking for art intervention.

“Toothfish suggests that rather than defacing political signs in the future a group of human artists in New Zealand could form a legal political organisation (maybe an ART Party instead of an ACT Party!) for the purpose of legally erecting ‘political signs’ at the next election. There doesn’t need to be any promises, policy or candidates. – just some nice art on three metre square billboards strategically placed in front of any future National Party billboards.”

For the recent 2011 election Toothfish cheekily instigated their own unofficial Plankton Party, (because plankton vastly out number all of us in a voters game) and put up some striking posters. If you find party politics frustrating, imagine what it would feel like to have your personal concerns out there on the streets, as a giant billboard! Now why does that sound familiar…

active citizenry + art + public surface = ?
I’ve already argued for graffiti as a necessary public voice here, in the absence of adequate coverage in mainstream media of the devastating tsunami in Samoa in 2009.


Here is a similar argument for ‘non-traditional’ public art being recognised as an essential part of the community, and the hurt that occurs when it clashes with the wider view of how we as New Zealanders present ourselves to the world.

Earlier this year I wrote a small research piece for a project called Art Was Here, a response to the scrubbing away of Auckland’s graffiti landmarks prior to the rugby world cup. Their goal was to get some kind of recognition for existing graffiti art that has permission from owners (and community) to prevent unnecessary destruction of art in what is supposedly a creative city.

the full article is here:
http://artwashereak.tumblr.com/theory

It is mostly a review of Javier Abarca’s essay about the value of street art in art education and its role in generating awareness of the urban environment as a context for art and life. (See below for a direct link.) Javier posits the idea of street art as a form of active citizenship.

There is a link between sense of ownership of public places and feeling like we belong, that this is home. That sense of ownership includes responsibility and agency, the potential to have an effect on one’s surroundings. Public art as a form of citizenship holds both these aspects, and I believe it can do so for any community member, not just sanctioned artists, or billboard producers.

Key points from the Art Was Here article:

“Public art is not just about permission in terms of ownership. It is a negotiation with all other users of a particular space, for the right to be heard, and the responsibility of being an active participant in society. The lesson from street art is that we can influence the world we inhabit in striking ways. The lesson that Javier teaches his students is that intimate dialogue with a public space is a form of social awareness, it reveals once again that the personal is political and vice versa.”

“the impetus [for the Rugby World Cup paint-outs] seems to come from a conservative view of public art and graffiti as a communication model only available to the heads of state, as part of a sudden desire to display an unusually homogeneous rugby culture in an otherwise diverse, multicultural New Zealand city.”

The ‘buffing’ process led to media controversy over the removal of a popular 10 year old mural beside Karangahape Road, on Poynton Terrace. It appears an over-zealous graffiti removal contractor decided that this was Not-Art and therefore grubby and removed it, upsetting not just the artists who had kept it up all those years, but also the K’ Rd community. The council initially tried to fix the problem by offering to pay for a conservative style mural in its place, essentially dismissing the original artists once again, and ignoring the ‘edgy’ urban context of the site. Eventually the mayor got involved and things were resolved somewhat.

Askew, one of the artists has this to say about the outcome:

“I hope that if anything this has illustrated that people like me, that like or do graffiti do care and have a vision for this city just like anyone else. I hope we can engage and work more often towards creating positive projects that come with compromise and understanding rather than just applying robotic bureaucratic measures to every issue that comes about. I hope that we can start to see return this city to a place where everyone can feel a sense of belonging and ownership, where things aren’t constantly standardized, painted grey or rebuilt purely as a veneer to impress foreign Rugby punters. Like I said – today I feel optimistic.”

So, anyone keen to keen to join the ART party?
If for no other reason than to reply to this rather cynical use of public space by the NZ police:

police recruitment campaign 2011

police recruitment campaign and graffiti response 2011

—-
short cut to Javier Abarca essay ‘Teaching urban intervention, learning to see the city anew’, May 2011.
http://www.eksperimenta.net/ohjur/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/1101-Teaching-urban-intervention-IDEAlab-Javier-Abarca.pdf

http://urbanario.es/clase
http://urbanario.es/dialogos

Toothfish.org


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