4.9 Street art research

The purpose of this exercise was to carry out some research to identify examples of street art on the walls near you.

Key words from the brief:

  • Identify examples of street art on the walls near you.
  • Write a short commentary about how this work interacts with the environment.
  • How important is the context to understanding what the work is trying to do?
  • Reflect on whether you think a particular piece of graffiti is ‘art’ or just vandalism.

Location

My research was done during one morning walking the streets of Shoreditch, London. This area, particularly around Brick Lane, is well known for its street art that has become a tourist attraction with it’s own organised tours; I came across several people taking photographs of the brightly coloured graffiti on my wanderings.

Shoreditch is a trendy ‘hipster’ part of London and is located just north of the City of London.

How this work interacts with the environment

The work is split into a number of different types.

  • Large scale images, purpose designed for specific buildings
  • Medium sized pieces, usually made using spray paint that tend to take up specific sections of a wall or building
  • Smaller works that are predominantly created on paper and then glued to walls to make random collages or collections of images

Each one interacts with its surroundings in slightly different ways. This is partially to do with scale, and, particularly for the smaller paper based works, what other work is it close to, stuck over or partially covered by.

The overarching context however is one of acceptance. Although some of the messaging in the smaller works is anti-establishment and subversive, it is, (it seems to me), wholly acceptable, accepted and probably encouraged by residents and planning authorities.

There is an interesting piece in The Guardian titled ROA’s graffiti rabbit faces removal by Hackney council that reports on an argument between residents and Hackney Council who were threatening to paint over a well known piece of street art

What is generally true is that much of this work is very functional. It is made to be seen by ‘normal’ people going about their everyday lives.

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How important is the context to understanding what the work is trying to do?

For the work I photographed in Shoreditch I don’t think the context was that important. Many of the large works are decorative in nature and to a certain extent play off the contrast with the surrounding housing, and a social/political understanding of the area and its people didn’t seem to me to be essential to the understanding of the work.

Some of the politically motivated works could be seen as reactions to the City of London that can been seen in the distance.

Reflect on whether you think a particular piece of graffiti is ‘art’ or just vandalism.

I only came across one piece where I instinctively felt line between art and vandalism became blurred. This was a transit van parked in one of the gentrified streets around Spitalfields Market.

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On reflection this is for two reasons:

  1. It was incongruent. Out of all the masses of street art and graffiti that I’d photographed, this was the only instance of it being on a vehicle
  2. The van was a fairly new model so it seemed unlikely that the owner thought it was a good idea.

So why does that make a difference?

I suppose the answer is that art is in the eye of the beholder. Just because someone sprays graffiti on a van without the owner’s knowledge or permission doesn’t mean it’s not art. It just makes it slightly more edgy which I guess goes to the heart and origins of graffiti.