Guest Blog | Jenna Kirouac: Graffiti as Vandalism-- The War on Love

Guest Blogger Jenna Kirouac is Avant-Guardian Musings Vancouver Arts Correspondent. To see her previous posts, please click here.

Local Vancouver "I Love You" graffiti (photo by Jenna Kirouac)
Have you noticed the graffiti workings of some young Vandal Romeo professing “I Love You” on the sides of buildings that have been popping up all over downtown Vancouver? I have spotted at least four of them now, although some have been painted over as quickly as the next day.  They are all, no doubt, done by the same hand. All workings bear the same style of sloppy spray paint cursive. I know that I am not the only one who is intrigued and amused by his/her efforts as I recently spotted a spray painted “We Love You” as some other amateur vandal’s response just two blocks down from one of the original tags.

The efforts sparked a few different thoughts:

The “I Love You” tags reminded me of the long-standing battle most Canadian municipalities have had with graffiti. The subject is a sensitive one because tax money is spent on funding for public murals that are sometimes horrible (in my opinion) and by the same token, money is put into covering up work that wasn’t commissioned by the city in the name of vandalism--work that is sometimes better than the professional murals. For example, when the Beatty Street mural that had been commissioned by the city in 2007 was covered up for the Olympics, there was a public outcry.  What was wrong with the mural? Nothing. The city painted over it the custom cobalt blue that matched the visually appropriate propaganda for the games. At first, I was a bit ticked off. I liked that mural and I had to look at the blue wall of nothingness everyday when I stepped out my front door. However, I loved the Olympics and quickly forgave the city for their bad behavior when the announcement of a new mural was soon to come.  Well, that time has arrived and the new mural has emerged. What do I think of it? Meh.

Beatty Street Mural (photo by Jenna Kirouac)
There are parts of it that look great and there are other parts that look so amateur. I cannot believe that the city commissioned a mural in such a high traffic area that was executed so poorly! The portrait of Terry Fox looks like he has Down’s Syndrome (sorry). I can only hope the mural is not yet completed (although I think it is) and in that case I will eat my words. Graffiti raises some tough questions that need examining when we think about modern art. Art is inherently subjective and therefore some people will hate what others really love. Far more importantly, there is the question of hate-speech and the stigma that comes with politically fueled semiotics such as a Swastika. So if we could probably all agree that a spray painted Swastika needs to be covered up then where do we stop agreeing? I don’t think we should claim a slippery slope and enforce a zero-tolerance policy. After all, who gets to decide what murals adorn our public spaces? If these shot-callers implemented the recent Beatty Street mural, then perhaps the least they could do is grant the residents of Vancouver a say in what stays and what goes in terms of graffiti.

Canadian cities are not the only places that tend to have a zero-tolerance policy for graffiti, but there are lots of major metropolitan areas that have a different relationship with it than we do. However, regardless of which city you find yourself in, the critical issue is always centered largely on the aesthetic quality of the graffiti in question; especially as some of you would be quick to agree that graffiti work like that of the famous Banksy is worth keeping intact. After all, his work usually carries a powerful political message. Well for those of you who stake that claim, Ok fine. Then what about “I Love You?” Could there be a more powerful and positive message?  Do we paint over it just because it wasn’t written pretty enough or because it wasn’t done by a famous artist? Before you decide, check out these two YouTube videos. One is a trailer for a documentary on the origins of graffiti and the other is a clip from an unofficial documentary on Banksy. How do you like them apples?