chapter  11
19 Pages

Graffiti as Character

WithKim Dovey, Simon Wollan, Ian Woodcock

The Lonely Planet travel guide lists the graffiti-covered laneways of Melbourne’s inner city as one of the city’s premier tourist attractions. Yet when images of these laneways were used by the state tourist authority for international marketing, a political dispute erupted. The minister for tourism was forced to rebuke his own department, saying: “graffiti is not the way we want Melbourne to be promoted to a global audience” (Mitchell 2008). Meanwhile, an image in one of these lanes by the famed British graffiti artist Banksy was covered with Perspex (by the building owner) to protect it from overwriting. Graffiti has both positive and negative symbolic capital; it adds and diminishes streetscape value. These contradictions suggest that we look beyond the content of graffiti to the ways it is framed as an urban spatial practice. Why is graffiti where it is and what is its role in the construction and experience of place? How does graffiti add character to built form, and where? Through mapping and interviews in two case studies of inner-city Melbourne, this chapter examines how graffiti is mediated by the micro-morphology of the city and the ways it is seen to contribute to or damage urban character. The chapter explores the ways graffiti negotiates ambiguous territories, combining public/private, visible/invisible, street/laneway, vandalism/art and art/advertising. It also analyses the intersecting and often conflicting desires to establish territory, to purify the neighbourhood, to create and protect urban character.