as both art and crime can be viewed positively as something which signals the

As both art and crime can be viewed positively as

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as both art and crime – can be viewed positively, as something which signals the presence of ambiguous public spaces where individuals and groups contest and negotiate their co-presence, in a condition of ‘thrown-togetherness’ (Amin 2010; Massey 2005). Con- trary to representations of graffiti as threat, such discourses of ambivalence create room for consideration of the surprise and excitement embodied in graffiti, as an urban inter- vention, which contributes to distinctive communal experiences. So, we would argue that the question of whether graffiti is art or crime is entirely mis- placed. It is both, with each being necessary rather than anathema to the other. Similarly, we now want to argue that a series of other dualisms within which graffiti is often framed are also ripe for deconstruction. Private and Public ‘If mainstream society doesn’t like it, they can go and get fucked’. So said Sydney-based graffiti-writer SNARL, in an interview for a documentary on Australian hip hop back in 1998 (Basic Equipment 1998). This statement tells us quite a bit about the complex rela- tionship graffiti has to the public private distinction. Crudely, we can think about the public private distinction in at least two different reg- isters (Iveson 2007; Weintraub 1997). Graffiti is written in public, if we think about pub- licness as a form of visibility . Graffiti is certainly visible – all too visible, according to those who want it eradicated. But is graffiti a form of public address, if we think about publicness as a form of collectivity ? Much contemporary graffiti is frequently described as being ‘illegible’ to the ‘general public’. SNARL’s statement is an aggressive version of the commonly articulated notion that graffiti writers use public walls to write for other graffi- ti writers (Lewisohn 2008). It is in this sense often described as a ‘private’ language or communication, written for and understood by only the community of graffiti writers (e.g. MacDonald 2001). This notion that graffiti is a ‘private’ communication is fre- quently mobilised in support of efforts to eradicate graffiti. Opponents of graffiti assert that it is a selfish, individualistic and ‘private’ appropriation of the public realm, and they claim to be acting on behalf of the beleaguered citizens who want to reclaim the public realm from graffiti writers on behalf of the ‘general public’ or ‘the community’ (e.g. Gla- zer 1979; Sennett 1994). Interestingly, some artists who work illegally on the street have embraced this same logic. The emergent ‘street art’ movement increasingly seems to want to distinguish itself Conceptualising graffiti in the city 133 ª 2011 The Authors Geography Compass 5/3 (2011): 128–143, 10.1111/j.1749-8198.2011.00414.x Geography Compass ª 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
from ‘graffiti writers’ on the basis that ‘street art’ seeks to engage a wider public audience, while ‘graffiti’ is written only for those ‘in the know’ (Lewisohn 2008). This distinction is premised on the claim that different styles are accessible to different publics. While

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