You’ve been “tagged”

Last night at the Revelations Perth International Film Festival ( we saw a documentary entitled “Vigilante Vigilante”, a very urban bio of a few old fellows known as ‘scrubbers’ who dedicate their lives to the vigilante style removal of graffiti and the artists and writers protecting their work. Instead of cleaning it off they have decided the best method of combat is to paint over all of the graffiti with silver paint.  Confusion ensues as the lines between public service and disservice are blurred. There is no doubt that these people are nuts and are obviously making the problem far worse than it needs to be and look.

I found the documentary quite frustrating because I really don’t care about scrubbers, sure they are bizarre and pretty ridiculous but humans are very odd and I have come across people similar here who really do believe that they are doing a good thing when they are way off track. It’s interesting, but a short story. I think I got the point of the film very quickly and then my mind moved on, because graffiti is something that as an urban designer/planner I have pretty strong feelings about. The documentary really focussed on these scrubbers and not on the issue  as a whole, the creators of the film are supporters of all forms of graffiti and quickly washed over the general view of their art form to continue being misunderstood.

I love urban/public art, graffiti, anything that brightens, activates, or creates feeling of community ownership and interest. I know that some, especially the older people in the community, find the style of graffiti a bit intimidating but I think that is just a function of where it all began. People have different tastes and history. We have just come back from a week in Melbourne and am newly re-acquainted with how interesting, artistic graffiti can be and how it really contributes to space.

However, I absolutely DESPISE tagging.  It is juvenile, overdone, boring and ugly. How can you argue that it is a form of self expression when every bored teenager looking for a way to look cool is out there is grabbing a paint can and scribbling his/her name on things? It’s not expression when all of them look the same. Sure, I’m not expert on tagging and I’m sure there are many subtle and important differences in wrist control, shape and style but it’s not a bit enough difference to stand out in the crowd.

I am all for self expression; stickers, posters, caricatures, pattern, shapes, whatever, but your ‘tag’ does not express you. Look I’m not an expert at looking cool, in fact I am quite the opposite, but I remember what it was like being bored and trying to fit in. This is exactly like smoking behind the sports shed.

As someone who spends much of her time, energy and passion in creating beautiful places, and community spaces and infrastructure it is a stab in the heart when some board 16 year old comes along and scribbles on it.  Buses, in particular, really piss me off. Using a key to scratch your name into the perspex/glass, looks like crap and no one can read it or recognize it as your handiwork. There are many places around in the city and suburbs that are crying out for an injection of their community contribution; blank walls, roller doors, footpaths, driveways etc. Some places are inappropriate, private houses, cars, public art installations, trees, pretty bridges… you know, things that matter or people generally agree look ok.

It’s all about respect, and that’s why people hate graffiti so much, it’s a demonstration of lack of respect for what exists. Think about it before you get your spray can out and express yourself in a way that people can respect you back and for god’s sake, get a bit more creative and express yourself in a way that looks awesome and puts all your boring idiot schoolmates to shame.


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