“Beauty is the Street.” The Evolution of Graffiti Practices in Melbourne, Australia
Abstract Graffiti has had a history as an illegal and unsanctioned presence in Melbourne, Australia. It has propelled the city to the forefront of the international street art movement as the graffiti capital of Australia and the Pacific, while being decreed both a dangerous blight on the cityscape and an important part of the city’s urban culture. This thesis examines these developments, asking how and why graffiti has been paradoxically received as both a form of crime and art by the Melbourne City Council and the Victorian State Government. My thesis begins with a discussion of the symbolic nature of contemporary graffiti practices in an international and historic context, looking primarily at the similarities and differences between hip-hop style graffiti and street art, and the diverging responses to these forms of graffiti. I argue that it is primarily the disruption graffiti practices represent in relation to urban social and visual order that has influenced and informed official responses to graffiti practices. Furthermore, the strong position taken by city authorities against graffiti internationally has effectively worked to enhance the disruptive and subversive nature of graffiti, imbuing it with a powerful and evocative presence in urban space. Following this, I address the diverse history of graffiti in Melbourne and the circumstances unique to Melbourne that have culminated in its international reputation as a graffiti capital. I outline the policy and legislative actions undertaken by the Melbourne City Council and the Victorian State Government in order to eradicate the presence of graffiti in the city, arguing that until very recently, Melbourne’s reputation as a city ripe for graffiti production was undesired and actively rebuffed by city authorities. I also argue that these harsh measures were undertaken largely because of the pervasively negative cultural value of graffiti. The final section of the thesis examines the authorised redefining of street art (but not other forms of graffiti) as a positive presence in Melbourne through both the pervasiveness of the ‘creative city’ model and the growing international popularity of street art. Ultimately I argue that the appropriation of street art to bolster Melbourne’s image as a creative and vibrant city has the potential to the reduce the disruptive nature of street art, as it transforms it from subversive symbol of disorder into a part of the city’s authorised and controlled urban visual culture.
Advisor: Collard, Judith; Radner, Hilary
Degree Name: Master of Arts
Degree Discipline: Art History
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: street art; graffiti; Melbourne; creative city; urban space; visual culture; Australia; New Zealand
Research Type: Thesis