When I think of graffiti I envision neon bubble letters spray painted on underpasses or parading across public trains but in truth it takes many forms and as a result graffiti has enjoyed a long and controversial history. What started out as a scandalous, covert operation has escalated to a world-renowned, contemporary form of expression in the hands and cans of so-called street artists like Banksy, Kobra, and Mr. Brainwash. Graffiti begs many questions, primary among them: is it vandalism or is it art? The distinction appears to be that graffiti is vandalism if it is not art. Recently the Kurier posed this same question in considering the stylings of Puber, a sprayer of Swiss origin who has recently tagged his pseudonym throughout the city of Vienna.
And this is why we are here today – because I cannot stand Puber and his – as far as I am concerned – faux art aka desparate attempt at graffiti. There is nothing intriguing, suggestive, or remotely interesting about these careless scribblings that are popping up all over the city. In the four districts that I frequent, I have come across six of Puber’s tags and they are all. exactly. the. same. It looks like they were done in a hurry; there is no style or continuity to speak of among them. “Puber” simply perches on the wall in a black, harried script just begging me to attach a “-ty” to it so I can put an end to these territorial pissings and call it like it is.
Vienna does have some fine graffiti – if I can call it that – although distinctions between street art and graffiti have recently come to light as city streets and public spaces turn into canvases across the world. My own definition is nebulous because the obvious and fundamental question that first requires definition is: what is art? and I do not expect to find a fulfilling answer to this question in my lifetime. In my estimation, graffiti is not restricted to tagging. I find the distinction between graffiti and street art to be slightly condescending as they emerge from the same traditions; I simply don’t see the need to create a hierarchy among creative people choosing to use public spaces for their own expressive purposes. Some people make the claim that there is a distinct difference but I am not sure that it is so clear cut.
I am deliberately choosing not to display a shot of Puber’s artistry because it is a) so abundant (just take a walk!) and b) I do not wish to promote or encourage it. Instead, I would like to share some images, graffiti, street art, what-have-you that has caught my eye around the city:
I should note that while I do not find all of these pieces attractive, I do find them all to be interesting, curious, and thought-provoking. So again, what is art? What is graffiti? What is street art? and more importantly, who decides? We all get to decide which is why these questions are so interesting and circular and never-ending. In fact, I’m not sure I want an answer – I just want to keep the conversation going!
As far as the question between vandalism and art? Recent developments demonstrate that if there is no aesthetic value or cultural appreciation at hand, citizens are more likely to cry out against it. Case in point: Puber. Amidst gallery openings on the hip Schleifmuehlgasse, soirees at the Mueseumsquartier, the painted stairs at the Albertina, the restricted visitors to the Palais Liechtenstein…how does Puber make it into Viennese headlines?! In contrast, citizens are more likely to clamor after it if the opposite is true. Case in point: Banksy. An anonymous street artist from the UK, Banksy has created a market for mass produced graffiti, which, once hung on a wall, assumes valuable aesthetic, cultural, and political dimensions that earn it the title of art (despite the fact that Banksy may be secretly laughing – or crying – because of this).
Whether graffiti or street art correspond to, branch off of or depart from a particular art form is hard to say – it would seem to me that art is form-less, defying these kinds of negotiations and caveats.
In the end, I do like graffiti. I do like street art. I’m not sure what the difference is. I want Puber to go away.