Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Graffiti and Car Customization

What do customizing cars and graffiti have in common? First, they are both active users of spray cans and permanent paint technologies. Secondly, they both take skill and precision. Yet, these two apparently distinct practices are much more closely related than might first be thought despite one being legal and the other illegal. Both exemplify freedom, personal expression, and youth culture.

The idea of art on public space is hardly new. Ancient cave painting in Lascaux, France occurred in 'public' caves that were not places of ongoing habitation, but possible refuges or of religious significance. The aerosol paint can was first invented by Edward Seymour in the US. Use for personalizing cars grew in the US with 1970s car culture as demonstrated in the film Grease, where car customization was a major past-time.

But, in contemporary transport policy terms graffiti is a form of vandalism. For example, the notorious Sheffield artist Bloodaxe recently unleashed a spate of new material that cost Network Rail thousands of pounds to remove. The Star 1 September 2010 Graffiti is seen as impacting upon both travel aesthetics and transport delays and because of this graffiti provokes zero tolerance responses. The now famous graffiti artist Banksy is a case in point. Many of Banksy's public works have been removed accidentally by councils. Regional Press 1 September 2010 Yet for Banksy the discovery and danger of public space is also part of the appeal as continuing discoveries of his work demonstrate. Culture 24 26 August 2010

How does graffiti culture impact upon travel? The UK Department for Transport Case Study Report on Graffiti (2003) highlights graffiti as encouraging vandalism and other 'environmental nuisances'. Similarly, the DfT report 'Better Rail Stations' (2009) approaches graffiti as an issue of cleaning standards. While bans on aerosol cans have provoked outcries from suppliers a general, but ineffective, solution has been to ban sales to minors who can't drive cars. The Times 19 January 2003

Spray can technologies are intimately linked to transport and travel and both the practices of car customization and graffiti continue to impact on society in unintended ways. Further policies that are designed to combat one can impact upon the other. It remains to be seen how these different interests are reconciled in future.

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