Graffiti artists can often be seen to ‘tag’ buildings, walls and objects throughout a city or town their own icon or brand. The same as any artist has their particular style, street artists can be recognised simply by their tag. This post will follow an unknown artist (by this writer at least) who has created an identity of not of the tags themselves but also in their locations around the city of Lincoln. The post looks at what can be classed as artwork and what can be seen as vandalism.
Lincoln’s mushroom street artist has many pieces strewn around the city that all share more than their appearance in common. Most if not all are features on buildings, walls or objects that do not have a strictly obvious ownership or use. The majority of the mushrooms can be found on electrical or communications boxes at the side of roads, with a small handful featuring on derelict buildings or other roadside artefacts.
There are not many of these tags that seem to have been removed in the past year, nor is there much of a problem around them being present. For the people of Lincoln, issues seem to arise more around homelessness, development and antisocial behaviour, judging from the local news publishers. Graffiti and vandalism only becomes prevalent in the public’s eye when it involves local or high end businesses, such as a high street bank being vandalised during the environmental protests during March and April of 2019.
A part of why street art and in particular, the Lincoln mushrooms, are not an eye-sore is that they are more than not features on objects or buildings which are deemed ugly. Even some of these can be seen at the side of main roads, and main access routes for many citizens of the city (such as the above piece near the main supermarket closest to the university campus), they are adding to a object that seems ugly and out of place compared to vandalising something valued by the public.
Electrical and communication boxes are seen as something solely practical, for companies to maintain our infrastructure. When not being in use, which is most of the time for these boxes, they can way spoil the aesthetic of an area, or more importantly, be in a space that is accessible by all, when they could be placed out of the way.
Adding a fun feature to any area can completely change the aesthetic and bring so much more than the detraction of culture in some shots. The above shot reflecting this, which shows a historical building, the 1912 Lincoln Co-op Building Society building, being intruded on by unsightly function boxes.
Although some may paint all graffiti under the same vandalistic brush (excuse the pun), each individual piece must be put under a microscope individually. There can sometimes be something added through art and creativity. Examples of this being; the artwork seen in London’s Shoreditch area, the graffiti walls of Berlin’s East Side Gallery or Banksy’s main pieces around the globe. All of these being mainstream attractions that were once deemed to be or are closely linked to street art and vandalism.
With some of these pieces being on private property, and others being painted onto state-owned utilities, the question arises around what is vandalism and what isn’t. If someone who is a tax-payer (singular), does this mean that they are allowed to do as they please (without destroying of course) with facilities paid for by the collective tax-payer. Without researching the rules it would seem to most quite clear-cut that any form of change without permission is a form of vandalism, including that of state-owned property. Bringing back the examples of main-stream attractions that were once forms of vandalism, there must be a clear line of what is and is not vandalism.
An experience had at the previous mushroom was that of attraction to the graffiti. Whilst taking this photo a man approached and stated, ‘what are you taking photos of that for?!’. His aggression was quite prominent. After being told the reasons behind the photography, he turned his attitude around and actually seemed a little startled by the answer. It was little experiences like this that made the mushrooms seem iconic in the local public’s eye.
Although on a completely different background this time, this mushroom is placed on something that also has the mix of ownership as electrical boxes. This bridge is frequently used by the Royal Mail distribution centre behind, to reach one half of the city, and is no way falling apart. Yet the artist still felt it an appropriate spot for their tag.
Bridges and derelict areas could potentially hold a similar feel to that of council owned electrical boxes to the artist, with little point in them being so prominent or unused. These derelict areas have gained more attention by having graffiti emblazoned on them. Again the same effect as some major attractions in cities around the world, art or graffiti being the centre of attention.
At what point to attractions become popular, is another question that could be asked. There have been a variety of controversies surrounding this in recent years, with Banksy pieces being ‘vandalised’ or the largest remaining part of the Berlin Wall being torn down for the construction of hotels. These are situations when a facade was improved by graffiti, in that it became an attraction, and has caused controversy when this has been changed.
Could the same be argued in the opposite direction? If something is an eyesore, could it be seen as an improvement if it provides a canvas of some kind for artists to express themselves. There is no physical damage, in a loss of function being caused through this, so is it a big deal?
No more is this appropriate than here. An old garage or workshop that has been turned into a makeshift shelter. Despite the complete eyesore that this is, with a nesting ground for swans and geese just opposite, let alone the potential for antisocial behaviour to be prominent here, would a change of aesthetic improve it? If an artist were to convert it, would it still be an eyesore?
Whether some may be slightly prejudice towards those who graffiti and vandalise areas, others would argue that graffiti is another artistic medium that poses no real threat to society. Graffiti taggers cannot be labelled together as destructive, for some of societies prominent artists have come through it; the aforementioned Banksy, Shepard Fairey (responsible for the famous ‘Obey’ artwork) and Blu (whose pieces can be found all over the world).
Graffiti has inspired a generation ever since being made popular in the 1990s, and cannot be denied that it has risen in popularity. There seems to be no clear ‘black or white’ with graffiti and the barrier to vandalism. It is simply the medium of structures and objects in society that make the topic slightly controversial. Artists can make any form of offensive artwork with any art medium, it is that graffiti is constantly in the public’s eyesight that it can become a bigger issue.
From the perspective of this blog, there is one clear answer that anything that damages or hinders the use of an object, or building can be seen as vandalism. Besides this, however, there should not be exceptions. What this could mean is further examples being made of when street art has been vandalism in the eyes of the local authorities, the media or the public’s opinion.
Feel free to say what you think of the graffiti featured in this blog post, and whether you deem it to be obstructive of use or offensive to the public. If you have any examples of other forms of street art or graffiti that has been seen removed through it being graffiti, or being cherished as an attraction, feel free to mention it in the comments! Many thanks for your time.