The chorus of condemnation was loud and widespread. They were disrespectful. They were criminals. Some couldn’t understand why onlookers didn’t try to stop them.
But there’s a reason those in the street art community have been quiet. A reason they’re not outraged like you and I.
Because whether it feels right to us or not, it’s part of the culture.
“You understand your art won’t last forever,” Melbourne street artist James Wilson told theUK Telegraph last year. “An artist will paint over it or the council will.”
Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp tweeted on Monday after the story made headlines. But what she wrote proves an important point about the conflict that exists.
“Melbourne is the street art capital of Australia,” she wrote.
“The very nature of street art is that it’s temporary, ephemeral and forever changing.”
Then she labelled the masked youths “vandals” and declared their actions “unacceptable and not in keeping with the spirit of Hosier Lane”.
So, to recap. Street art is temporary because it gets painted over. But painting over street art is also “unacceptable”.
No wonder Australians are confused.
Melbourne is the street art capital of Australia. The very nature of street art is that it’s temporary, ephemeral and forever changing. We’re aware that a group of vandals covered Hosier Lane with paint. This is unacceptable and is not in keeping with the spirit of Hosier Lane. pic.twitter.com/gJRE2ssSuy
— Lord Mayor Melbourne (@LordMayorMelb) February 10, 2020
That’s the point.
You may not like what Hosier Lane looks like right now, but every street artist accepts their stuff will be destroyed or replaced and the cycle continues.
Suspect it’s a protest how people try to sanitise and control what is “acceptable” street art. #Melbourne https://t.co/x6HSSOfmWR
— James Oaten (@james_oaten) February 10, 2020
Zoe Paulsen, a Melbourne street art festival director, told The Age: “So many artists in the lane know their work can be there one day and gone the next. And they have provided the space with a whole new canvas.”
Melbourne journalist Jim Malo wrote on Twitter: “(In my opinion) Hosier Lane takes away from the spirit of street art anyway by protecting it.
“Graffiti, to me, is beautiful because it’s impermanent. Apart from the art itself it’s compelling because artists pour their heart and soul into something that could be gone within the week.”
But not everyone sees it as poetically as that.
Author Asher Wolf wrote that the Hosier Lane vandals were “the worst a**holes in Melbourne”.
“Just be honest: you’re an untalented git and you want to destroy sh*t. Don’t call it art.”
“People who object to Hosier Lane being sprayed over by a bunch of men don’t get graffiti culture.” Oh go tag your ego somewhere else
— Asher Wolf (@Asher_Wolf) February 10, 2020
I get that urban art is a contest and impermanent but the idiots who did this to a fifth of Hosier Lane last night just destroyed, didn’t create. When they put their videos online best response is to deny the oxygen of ‘fame’ they’re seeking. I won’t be linking. pic.twitter.com/Ld3bdssNNh
— NickdMiller (@NickdMiller) February 9, 2020
Some took issue not with the destruction of existing art but with the random and messy nature of what went up in its place. Fair enough.
But others say it’s a blank canvas now. And street artists are already staking claim to the real estate.
As for the vandals, well, police are investigating. But the only criminal act they committed appears to be making a mess of some cobblestones.
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