Controversial, out of rules and schemes, ephemeral as a light’s reflection, hard to grasp, its own habitat, out of the academic halls, makes impossible close Graffiti in a definition box.
From scenes of long hunting nights and dancing rituals till a big writing of a teenager celebrating a never-ending love, the habit to carve, draw, or decorate both natural and man made surfaces goes along our history from the origin. We always needed to mark the landscape of our passage, declare our presence, add a human meaning to the natural environment that through our action enter the history. Modern Graffiti is the contemporary manifestation of this need.
Like any forms of art the way to perceive and make it drastically change from artist to artist and place to place. From social and political messages rising from the struggle to find politic expression in a world often locked down or strictly filtered by the power, to a purely aesthetic action, Graffiti encompasses a broad variety of artistic manifestation. But some common characteristic can be found.
Graffiti does not ask for permission to galleries, institutions, public itself, it does not ask us to watch it, it stands there, whatever we do, and we can interact with it. We can borrow it, add our own creativity, or simply watch it, disgusted or entertained. The artist exposes its creation to the higher degree of interactivity that could lead to its own destruction. Compares to the art showcased in a museum, protected and closed off in a no-time no-action dimension, Graffiti is submerged into the flow of reality.
The concept of copyright and individual work is outdated by the idea of the art as a common property. The nature of Graffiti pushes us to reflect about the limit of one of the main concept of capitalism and neo-liberalism: private property: landscape is both a phisic place and an element of our identity thus it belongs to the whole society. Can law and private property claim the absolute right to chose what we must see or not and how our environment has to be shaped? Where is the limit of the individual action where a collective belonging as landscape is involved? Is it not more illegal force the individual to be subjected to advertisement without his prior approval as it happens with the big manifestos that cover walls, signs and metro stations and that we are forced to see?
Neo-liberalism created wasted lands of concrete, places where the beauty is forgotten and a hostile environment is the scenery of the daily life of millions of people. Graffiti artists paint beauty over ugliness and give colours to the grey landscape of the metropolis. Colours and lines flow out from the hand of the artist to mark a point of higher density into the landscape. This makes of Graffiti a way for people to repossess places or, as in case of abandoned and ruined buildings, it brings them back to life.
The low coast of tools, the fact that canvas are free, and there is no need of an official approval by the art establishment, so a filter between people and artists, makes of graffiti an extremely democratic art.
Rather than look at Graffiti’s popularity, especially tagging, as a response to frustration, I think Graffiti is an effective action to regain human dimension and identity. Often human being lose their own identity in constantly growing societies, where the economic processes transform a person in a piece of a manufacturing process and the landscape is the result of a distant and unknown power not related to the place, unintelligible, that steal our sense of belonging. In this scenary Graffiti appear as a response, as the conscious will to get back the possession of our places and names.
Graffiti becomes part of the landscape or better said, as traditional music is the sound expression of a society in its interaction with a place, Graffiti is its expression in images. Graffiti, especially for a traveller, acquires a higher significance as a medium to understand places and people.