Friday, April 9, 2010

Graffiti Regulation in Edmonton

Grace McNeely, Adam Chatwin, Debra Rusler, Laurentia Romaniuk
Photo taken by Jamie Law
What is Graffiti?
"Graffiti is an act of vandalism and a criminal offense when placed on public or private property without the owner's consent. If not removed, it can lead to more acts of graffiti and creates an environment in which crime can thrive. It also sends the wrong message that it's okay to put graffiti on your property. Edmonton Police Service will investigate graffiti crimes and pursue charges against graffiti offenders whenever possible." - The City of Edmonton (A Guide for Graffiti Wipe-Out Events 2)

Taken from The City of Edmonton's Website
Get with the Program
Through its Graffiti Management Program the City of Edmonton has recruited citizens to expunge uncommissioned street art in their own communities. The results have been positive in the eyes of the GMP and city government, as much of Edmonton’s most trafficked areas (such as Whyte Avenue and downtown) are nearly graffiti-free (A Guide for Graffiti Wipe Out Events 2). Guides such as the one pictured above, provide detailed and specific accounts on how one should go about wiping out graffiti.

Photo contributed by Laurentia Romaniuk
Wipe-outs are promoted as a "community event where individuals or groups contact local property owners and volunteer to paint over graffiti on their property" (A Guide for Graffiti Wipe-Out Events 2). Though such programs appear to give citizens agency to act out their desires (to eliminate graffiti within their area), these programs are government run, and furthermore, they are not acts of the individual but rather they are acts of a collective group or "community". Therefore, these programs that assist in aiding individuals to enact agency are in reality functioning as what Louis Althusser refers to as an Ideological State Apparatus (ISA) and as a Repressive State Apparatus (RSA) (Althusser 10). The ideologies of the state are reinforced and sustained though these programs and through the actions of individuals in these programs and as RSAs these programs deny ideological freedom to business owners who choose not to remove graffiti from their buildings, as they are faced with the alternative of paying a heavy fee (City of Edmonton Bylaw 14600 16-18).

Photograph contributed by Laurentia Romaniuk
They're Watching You
The absence of graffiti on Whyte Ave and downtown correspond to the amount of surveillance present. This could suggest that catching the criminals through heightened security has reduced graffiti, or it might be the result of the Panopticon Effect. This phenomenon arises when people avoid doing something against the rules because of the possibility that they might be seen doing it (Foucault 195). Michel Foucault writes that "inspection functions ceaselessly [...] the gaze is alert and everywhere" (195). While security cameras are placed around public parts of the city, businesses take responsibility as well with private systems. Citizens are also encouraged to report any graffiti they see with their own eyes. As a result, artists must avoid not only the government’s eye, but that of all Edmontonians or any other spectator aware of the laws set in place by the state as well.

Photo contributed by Adam Chatwin
What is Art?
Beyond the ISA/RSA structure of these programs and beyond the panopticon effect, there is also the problem that much of the Edmonton government’s dialogue about graffiti creates a separation between street artists and other Edmontonians. Street artists are presented as a menace to the community as they are said to be promoting crime and debeautifying the city, rather than being part of it, or seeking to add personality to the streets (A Guide for Graffiti Wipe-Out Events 2).

Giants of Edmonton (pictured above) is another city program that shows both the government’s way of uniting the people while pushing an artistic ideology. These murals are commissioned onto buildings after the subject of the painting is voted on through the radio station 630 CHED. This contains a democratic vision that is also present in graffiti removal-while some graffiti may be appreciated and considered art by some people, the city cannot be the judge of that and so must take the stance of eradicating it all.

Photo taken by Jamie Law
This serves to illustrate the city’s ideology of what art is: very clearly, graffiti is not counted in any form, despite the fact that some graffiti artists in Edmonton do have art shows. Indeed, one local artist commonly referred to as the "Daft Punk artist" because of his Daft Punk tagt has had a show running just recently - from April 8th , 2010 to April 11th at the Avenue Theatre. The Daft Punk artist is the artist responsible for the "Joker Mural" that was painted on the eastern wall of Savoy on Whyte ave (pictured below).

Photo taken by Jamie Law
This life sized image was, by City of Edmonton bylaw, viewed as graffiti, and therefore was eventually painted over. In the opinion section of the Edmonton Sun shown below, one concerned individual spoke out in dismay against the wipe out of what he referred to as a "mural". In his letter, Jamie Law mentions that he has seen many other Edmontonians walk by the wiped out mural cite with a look of sadness or confusion on their faces: why wipe out such an interesting piece?

Photo taken by Jamie Law

Photo contributed by Laurentia Romaniuk

This is an image of the eastern wall of the Savoy as it appears today. In response to the question above: why wipe out graffiti that can or has been viewed by so many as art is simple (by City of Edmonton bylaws) - if we allow graffiti to exist in an area, be it pleasing to the eye or not, it promotes further graffiting of the area. By the reasoning of the state, graffiti is not simple spray paint on a wall, it is an open invitation to more graffiti, which ultimately invites crime to the area (City of Edmonton Bylaw 14600 4-6). Not all graffiti appears as a mural such as the Joker Mural, some tags for instance, are gang tags.

Photo contributed by Adam Chatwin
Freedom Within the Confines of the State
Through free art walls, the City of Edmonton does acknowledge that not all graffiti is gang-related. The city has provided graffiti artists with public spaces in which they can freely make their mark.The image above is an example of such a place. Free art walls can be found in two locations in the city, these places allow graffiti artists to freely paint whatever it is they choose. The problem with these spaces, however, is that they are both limited and found in dangerous areas of the city. Furthermore, graffiti can be read as a challenge on what the state perceives as public and private. If graffiti artists choose only to work within specified realms sanctioned by the state, then the ideological assault of graffiti art is neutralized. That is not to say that all graffiti artists seek to challenge the state's perception of property and space ownership, however, this challenge of the city's ISA and RSAs is exists whether graffiti artists readily acknowledge it or not.

Photo taken by Jamie Law
So Who is Right? Who Wins?
So what can be done? Can graffiti ever be stopped? Even if the city provided street artists with many more free spaces, would graffiti on private spaces ever end? Can graffiti artists out-paint those performing wipe-outs? The answer to these questions can be found in a stencil done by the Daft Punk artist: "the war on graffiti can never be won". So long ideologies exist, and they always shall exist, there will always be ideologies to oppose them. The City of Edmonton in some ways must take the stance is has - that all street art is graffiti and must be eradicated - if it did not, each piece of graffiti in Edmonton would come up for debate and wipe-outs could never occur. This discourse however, is not one which every individual must subscribe to. Graffiti artists subvert the law and challenge popular discourse.

Works Cited:
Althusser, Louis. "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" Lenin and Philosophy and Other
. Trans. Andy Blunden. (1971): Print.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. 2. New York: Random House
Inc., May 1995. Print.

The City of Edmonton, . "A Guide for Graffiti Wipe-Out Events." Graffiti Management Program ,

The City of Edmonton, . "Community Standards Bylaw 14600." The City of Edmonton, 13/Feb
/2008. Web. 9 Apr 2010. <# #>.

"Jamie Law Images." The Search for Draft Punk Graffiti. Web. 9 Apr 2010. (Permission granted
by Jamie Law to use his photos in this blog)

Works Referenced:
Sturken, Marita, Cartwright, Lisa. Practices of looking: An Introduction
to Visual Culture. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford, 2009. Print.

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