01 October 2010

Graffiti controversy - again

(Photo: Jonas Haarr Friestad/Stavanger Aftenblad)

Here we go again. As sure as rain in the autumn, the media manage to dig up negative opinions in the wake of the annual Nuart streetart festival. The last years it used to be Rogalands Avis giving space for the local board of shops in Stavanger going on about how horrible graffiti is, and how Nuart make everything worse. Their logic is that streetart leads to more streetart, graffiti, tags, vandalism, window-breaking and garbagespreading.

This year has a new twist. This time it is Stavanger Aftenblad bringing the old news, by portraying head of the politic art board Sissel Knutsen Hegdal and her fellow Høyre (conservative party) representative Kjell Erik Grøsfjeld. They are talking about how nice and fine the Nuart pieces are, but all graffiti must disappear. They want to make all legal graffiti walls illegal, and rather put some streetart on the walls instead.

Intended or not, this seems quite speculative. This seems like using the Nuart festival to benefit the party, to gain more votes from real estate owners and conservative voters. The risk of losing votes of the same reason is small, as most teenagers are too young to vote, and there are probably few potentially conservative voting graffiti-friendly people. To gain attention it always works to attack a marginal group. Especially a non-organized group operating on the border of what is legally acceptable. When graffiti is considered a crime, it is difficult for the writers to defend themselves.

Secondly, it is quite conservative and without knowlegde to distinguish between streetart and graffiti as good/bad, nice/ugly, legal/illegal. I am surprised that even streetart is accepted, but this is probably a result of many years of Nuart in town. They accept if the citizens are making streetart, but not tags and graffiti. And it should all be done inside, hidden from the public. This is not only distinguishing between good and bad art, this is also distinguishing between good and bad hobbies. In a town like Stavanger there should be possibilites to have all kinds of interests, not only football or brass bands.

It is also a logical break to assume that graffiti and tag writers are the same people who destroy property, break windows, steal garden flowers. The logic is that because they are criminals they commit all sorts of crime. But by making an activity a criminal offence, you create criminals. I even remember when rollerskating were forbidden in Norway. My guess is that criminal activities like vandalism are a result of a LACK OF activities, not as a result OF activites like for instance painting. It might also be that some of the vandalism is done by drunk adults.

Speaking about lack of activities for teenagers: The story is also connected to Geoparken, a prize-awarded activity area for youngsters, designed by architects Helen&Hard. In addition to the amazing design and the use of materials, the park got a lot of attention because of its focus on the young activites. From being originally aimed at teenagers, the park has been more and more considered as a park for the kids. The Høyre opinions confirm this, by wanting to expel the teenagers from the park.

Unfortunately these politicians are not the only ones not recognising the value of graffiti as an art form. Most of all they are ignoring the value of the art itself. But also the values it gives to the writers: Choosing a wall, sketching the tag, making a lot of choices about forms, colours, size and text, performing the artwork, and enjoying it afterwards. This includes the value of fulfilling a project, the planning and performance of the task, and the joy of seeing the result of your work.

I hope this headline was a result of the Aftenblad journalist trying to create controversies, not as a result of the Høyre party publishing their official view on culture. It was a rather bizarre experience to in the same newspaper find a double-page spread of presenting all the artwork of Nuart2010, and a double page of this anti-graffiti story. The story was followed up some days later, with plans for what will happen with Geoparken in the future. Grøsfjeld suggest that here could be some kind of Nuart-ish showpiece. I really can not see who would be arranging that? I notice that now streetart is even approved by the conservatives, while the graffiti art still has a long way to go.

Links (all in Norwegian):
Map of Nuart

Høyre-topper vil ha slutt på lovlig tagging

Martyn Reed: Fjernt å fjerne lovlige vegger

Eirik Faret Sakariassen: Gi ungdommen flere lovlige vegger

Have a look at the comments as well, some are really hilarious!