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1 September 2013 – Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

Although not strictly about culture jamming this post makes observations about how urban culture and aspects of the night time economy that are deemed deviant are displaced away from the urban centre and in to disused industrial zones, and what this means for the ‘deviant’ group and society as a whole.

The hall of fame is a project between the highways agency, the local councils and Ntrprnrs, a clothing & music branded blog. It is out of the local urban centres by quite a distance and lies between Longport train station to one side, within a largely industrial zone, and a 400 year old woods and brick factory to the other.

The hall of fame is actually a very large underpass that is now much improved by graffiti. This is evolving at a rapid pace as both local and visiting artists make their mark.

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Driving to the hall of fame and parking at the entrance to the woods it becomes apparent that the graffiti artists are not the only people who regularly occupy this space. The woods in fact are an area prolific for dogging. This is highly visible; walking along the overgrown paths towards the HOF you can often be surprised by grown men just appearing from the bushes. Holding a camera as I got out the car today automatically put me in a vulnerable position, when four men emerged and headed to their cars – visibly angered by my presence with recording equipment. Luckily I never go alone, so they quickly moved on.

I understand that this is a secretive subculture, I obviously was not there to photograph them, yet they would not know my intentions. However, I was at the time taking a picture of this:

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The reason why I was photographing it was because of surveillance. This spot is the only place to park by the hall of fame; it has double yellow lines and active CCTV. This suggests that it is an area that attracts known criminal activity.

 

Just to reiterate, the hall of fame is a LEGAL wall. Therefore the prevention and detection of crime in that area cannot be the activities of the graffiti artists.

 

It is possible that people visiting the hall of fame for any reason could have their details recorded and referred to by police at a later date. I suspect that the reason CCTV is there is because of the dogging. However, It poses questions to me about control.

Why move part of urban culture out of the main urban centres? Graffiti is a prominent part of most urban landscapes. However, the best graffiti I have found in Stoke on Trent so far has been pushed out of the city centres and in to areas of vacant industrial or points of transport (canal/ motorway flyovers/ train tracks). The transport links, particularly trains is unsurprising as this is a traditional point for graffiti. However, I had expected more graffiti behind shops, in underpasses in the town centres, car parks etc. But most of the graffiti had been cleaned away (faint shadows could be seen) or painted over (anecdotal reports from neighbours).

In Newcastle Under Lyme town centre there are many under passes only open to pedestrians. These are well lit and easy to get to on foot or public transport. If the aim was to keep graffiti to legal walls only but still in the urban environment where it belongs, and also safe for the artists themselves to go, these would have been an ideal place to site legal walls.

There appears to be a pattern of encouraging/pushing subcultures out of the centre and in to the industrial. This is nothing new, it has happened in other parts of the world and with other subcultures that are deemed deviant. For example, Zurich has just opened drive-in sex boxes for sex workers to legally work in on the outskirts of the city. They have to buy a ticket and the area is policed by CCTV. AS with graffiti artists there are workers who will make use of the legal facilities and there are those that will not want to leave the footfall of the urban centre and night time economy.

The basis of these decisions by local leaders is based on the broken windows theory.

 

‘small acts of deviance — littering, graffiti, broken windows — will, if ignored, escalate into more serious crime’ (Herbert, 2013).

So basically, keep the town centre streets clear of graffiti and there will be no more banking fraud or MP’s fiddling their expenses?

Graffiti is part of the urban night time economy. It links other creative products like music and fashion. While legal walls offer the opportunity to take your time and showcase your talent, without fear of arrest, illegal graffiti is an essential part of the culture. This is because the origins and home of graffiti is not owned/controlled/sited by the state. Yet local councils put on art festivals and commission artists to paint pre-designed murals to appropriate the cultural capital that graffiti displays.

Ntrprnrs should be applauded for persisting through what I can only imagine to be a long drawn out, bureaucracy riddled, process to get legal walls in Stoke on Trent. However, the local councils should not feel like they have accomplished control over the local graffiti scene. It is a shame that the leaders could not understand the value of keeping the artists safe within the centre and the cultural value that legal walls within the urban centre would bring.

 

Wray Herbert, using broken windows theory, ponders findings linking a person’s messy environment to deviance and disorder. While those in tidy environments are more confirmative offering socially desirable outcomes, those with messy environments were more creative and innovative. So, borrowing his conclusion and the example of Albert Einstein, who famously quipped:

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” 

Without illegal graffiti, or a change policy by council leaders, Stoke-on-Trent is in danger of becoming the empty desk, devoid of innovation, culture and individual personality.

Refs

Herbert, W (2013) What a Mess: Chaos and Creativity http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wray-herbert/what-a-mess-chaos-and-cre_b_2726060.html

Ntrprnrs (2013) Stoke Hall Of Fame http://www.ntrprnrs.com/p/tunnel.html

 

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