“They are criminals. They have assaulted a part of the city that is very special,” says Sally Capp, Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Australia, to a reporter on the local television news.
“It’s an act of vandalism and it’s something that police are taking very seriously,” says Inspector Troy Papworth, of the Victoria Police.
Alternately, one may describe these unarmed baklava-wearing youth with paint-filled fire extinguishers as performance artists for the tourists. As they slowly rolled through the cobblestones streets defacing in broad daylight you may say they are Situationists with a very healthy respect for satire and a thirst for attention-getting rebellion.
As you watch footage of this mismatched team of what appear to be white young male (and female?) sprayers in comfortable footwear quietly annihilating the sanctioned Street Art and murals on Hosier Lane, it strikes you that it was an appreciative crowd of onlookers who happily recorded them on their phones. Beyond the light whir of propellers keeping the camera drone over your head, also recording, that popping noise you hear in your mind may be the metaphorical sound of heads exploding all around the urban art world.
It’s nearly impossible to peel back all the layers of irony involved to examine our history. A previously reviled act of vandalizing property with paint was eventually circuitously legitimized by galleries, high auction prices, consumerism, and its ability to aid and abet gentrifying real estate developers.
Pair it with a renewed interest in murals and attendant festivals, and any signs of its counter-culture originality have been subsumed into themes that are cute and edgy, with a writer in the Guardian commenting that definitions of Street Art have become predictable and formulaic. “(S)o many murals feature instantly recognizable tropes,” writes Sean Irving, “Among them, pop culture references, anthropomorphic animals and recognizable portraiture.”
Our knee-jerk addiction to social media and our seductive romance with AR/VR, of course, are both warping all our accepted archetypes and conventions of human interaction – with reality-based art being as relevant as staged and enhanced Photoshop versions of it. Are you an actual vandal or are you simply playing the role of one in a VR game?
Your Granddad was just getting used to all this legal graffiti down the lane – and now these rotten kids have come and vandalized it! Try changing the subject to football or show him pictures on your Tinder account – because this vandal topic won’t get any clearer for any of us as we go forward.
Can this current situation be fixed? Certainly. “Come to Hosier Lane and go crazy on the walls there,” says the Lord Mayor in her public entreaty to aerosol artists to cover up this nasty spray paint.
*All images are screenshots from re-shared video alleged to be from the vandals.