In 1989 I and my crewmates did a piece in Randwick with a tombstone that said ‘graffiti died 1989’. It was a transition period because a lot of first-generation graffiti writers left the scene. Around 2014 I did an ebook called ‘walls and trains’ that was about different eras of painting and art I did from the late 90s until 2014. One section talked of the squeeze of development that had taken over Sydney and how painting spots became scarce. It seems since 2014 I and my painting collaborator had a couple of good spots that within the next few months will also disappear. Some walls have disappeared because of hardcore graffiti writers targeting our walls and giving the building owners a scare. Others because of development. Sydney seems to have become less and less creative. You could also argue that Sydney is going through a street art renaissance because there have been highly ambitious projects that have literally taken over certain sites. This is both a good and bad thing. For one it closes the door on any sort of traditional graffiti finding its way into these highly curated sites. The positives are it raises the bar for what sites can look like and function like.
My main concern is who can access the sites and how much control do they get to have in curating anything within them visually? If a site is literally designed so specifically for a ‘look’ with every part meticulously designed to the centimetre what hope does anyone have of connecting to it other than as a lifestyle of choice or as a privilege? That is the scary part of street art on a very direct trajectory of design for spectatorship. Keep in mind that not everything can be designed down to the exact centimetre in all cases as it requires money and time. These requirements limit the reach of many projects. The good thing about these projects is that they are well suited for commercial spaces like malls or cultural centres where people need a curated experience to heighten their retail or cultural experience. Graffiti sites themselves are proven to be haphazard and somewhat passe for cultural sites as they promote decay. The amount of money being poured into new ‘precincts’ is pinned on cleanliness and the ability for businesses to operate as part of a lifestyle and socio-economic positions.
It seems graffiti is always under pressure but also bursting at the seams. Graffiti is pretty old hat and there are new challenges for a society obsessed with shiny new toys and looming scarcity. When I mention scarcity I mainly mean the drive to achieve economic goals for the sake of not missing out. This is also even though corporations shore up large amounts of money away from the economy which seems to drive a form of greed bred from the necessity to reach goals that are achievable within specific bounds leaving no room for messy decisions. Even your choices have to be clean and well thought out. Otherwise, you could join the army of homeless people filling up the streets and surviving from day to day. A world not so much for everyone. But only for those who make the ‘right’ decisions.