Oh, so it’s 2013 and we’re still talking about street art? Cool. The latest revelation to rattle the gilt cage of the street art world is Adrian Doyle’s recent action in painting over a huge section of Rutledge Lane, the lesser brother of Melbourne’s hippest graffiti/wedding photo location – Hosier Lane. Doyle has titled the piece ‘Empty-Nursery Blue’ – and written a pretty long contextual essay which you can read here.
The images are pretty dramatic – with the space going from looking something out of Steve Beardon’s worst nightmare (side note, but remember in 2007-ish when someone was writing Steve Beardon for a minute? That was real street art) to completely buffed in the space of a day.
GIF by Khoon Sorasari, artFido
Of course, the image above only represents the 45 minutes that the lane stayed clean before the local lads busted out the exports and started to take it back. And of course, the media savvy older generation no doubt saw the free buff as an opp to get some nice background shine. (See the Shem RDC burner in the gallery clip.) In fact, at the time of writing Rutledge lane looks pretty much like it normally has for the past six years or so – a hot mess.
But that’s not really the point is it? The point is the backlash that’s been stirred up by these images that are circulating the web. The thing is, this action / installation / piece / whatever you’re comfortable calling it could actually start a semi-interesting conversation about public space. But it won’t. Instead we’ll see the same tired arguments that have been endlessly recycled for the past decade or so. The arguments that’ll pretty much stick to the one of the following themes:
1. Doyle is not a graff writer, and therefore has no right/ownership over what is supposedly a landmark spot for graffiti culture.
2. It’s disrespectful to claim a huge section of that space, especially considering how much (alleged) history there was there. (Although in my opinion, it is a shame to see those MIC and Tekno rollers disappear)
3. You can’t vandalise vandalism. Doyle’s actions are social commentary and he should be applauded.
So, you know – with everyone throwing their hats in the ring, I thought I might as well get up on my digital soapbox as well. I mean fuck it – it’s Monday, and the only other thing in my social media is a bunch of Miley Cyrus VMA jokes.
So, as a disclaimer – I’ve known Doyle for a number of years, through a bunch of different avenues, so there’s that. I think the argument that he didn’t know exactly what kind of reaction he would stir up with this work is completely off the mark. Doyle has long been a fixture in the street/gallery scene, and is instrumental in the development of a number of artist’s careers. Doyle may not be a graff writer, but a lot of his livelihood is tied to graff culture – for better or worse. And while his interview comments of ‘Frankston represent’ and ‘sick balls’ might have you believe otherwise, he is also a savvy operator. Comments that seem engineered to piss off 3AW’s audience will generate more coverage, and more attention. See, for example, the completely different side that he presents in this interview with The Age – it’s calculated controversy.
But – all that aside, the fact remains that the whole ‘outrage’ around the action is entirely a product of the media. Hosier and Rutledge lane were, at one point, a destination for the kind of culture that the City of Melbourne loves to use as mise en scène when they’re filming ads, but hate any other time. When there were still artists’ studios actually located in Hosier, and before the majority of Until Never Gallery’s back catalogue went up for auction – but that was then and this is now. To call Rutledge or Hosier an epicentre of graffiti is like calling the Melbourne Zoo an authentic jungle experience. Let me give you a hint: if you’re looking for a spot where gritty graffiti culture flourishes, it’s generally not at a place where nearly 11,000 people have checked in on Facebook.
I will say this though: to appreciate all the discussion around urban identity and the concept of home, head down to Rutledge Lane and take a look at Doyle’s piece (if it hasn’t already disappeared), then cross the street and go and look at Ian Strange’s Suburban piece at the NGV. Both of these bodies of work are free, but only one of them deserves this kind of media attention in 2013.