"The Melbourne scene is incredibly diverse," says Alison Young, head of the department of criminology at Melbourne University. "The range of artists includes people in their 40s, in their teens and a relatively large number of women." Young was commissioned by the city council to draw up a draft graffiti strategy last March in which she recommended tolerance zones be set up where street art and graffiti be allowed a small space within the city, where writers and artists would be at a lower risk of being arrested. "This was rejected by the city council, despite it generating lots of public support and despite evidence being presented that zero tolerance, for lots of reasons, wouldn't work."
Instead, the council doubled its anti-graffiti budget. "The clean-up is an imposition of a supposedly mainstream, or dominant, cultural view," says Young, "in denial of the diversity of cultural styles that actually exist within a city space."Evidence of Melbourne's stencil-art scene survives online in photographs on websites:
The street art destroyed in Melbourne will survive on graffiti's new best friend - the internet. The web has done wonders for graffiti; it perfectly reflects its transient nature, and graffiti is ludicrously overrepresented on its pages. The ability to photograph a street piece that may last for only a few days and bounce it round the world to an audience of millions has dramatically improved its currency. On the other hand, the internet is turning graffiti into an increasingly virtual pastime. It is now possible to achieve notoriety by painting elaborate pieces in secluded locations, without the associated risk of arrest that is usually attached. By posting photographs online you can become a significant graffiti writer from a town where none of your work is actually visible.Though, given that the Australian government has just banned a video game simulating the writing of graffiti, and is planning a national internet censorship firewall, how much would you want to bet that graffiti-related websites would be viewable unfiltered from within Australia?
And as Melbourne has been Giulianified into inoffensive blandness and approved commercial messages, due largely to the Commonwealth Marketing Exercise, er, Games, London (with a far bigger commercial extravaganza coming to its artist-infested East End in 2012) is likely to be next:
The precedent set by Melbourne does not bode well for London in the build-up to the 2012 Olympics. The games will be set in east London, where Hackney is one of the few remaining parts of the city where affordable studio space for artists still exists. After the warehouses have been flattened by compulsory purchase orders, the pots of grey paint will be opened and an area rich in street culture and frontier spirit will disappear. Factory doors whose flaked layers of Hammerite reveal history like the rings in a tree stump will be thrown on the fire. Disused cranes perched on top of foundries like skeletal crows will be torn down. Everything will be replaced by a cardboard-partitioned village perched on a pile of cheap laminate flooring. And if you think the graffiti will be removed so it can be replaced by vistas of clean urban space, think again. Every meaningful spot will be clogged with giant billboards by the likes of McDonald's encouraging you to get fit by staying at home and watching the games on TV.