Arts & Entertainment


With Coffin Ed.

A few weeks ago I made reference to the many fine historical photographs of Sydney that the City Council was now displaying on building sites throughout the city. Enlarged to mural size proportions and printed in evocative sepia, they are a wonderful reminder of what the city used to look like from the early 1900s onwards.

I have to say I was disappointed but not surprised to see that many of these archival snapshots have now been the victim of the graffiti tag, especially those in George Street in the CBD. For the taggers, obviously with little interest in or reverence for the past, they are an irresistible target. Once one tag appears the others quickly follow as territory is marked with the ferocity of a dog pissing on a pole.

Last year an ABC News blog reported that “Tagging, the act of writing your graffiti name with spray paint or markers, is one of the most maligned, misunderstood and prosecuted forms of self expression”. It went on to make the assertion that “Just like the political and protest graffiti that was once prevalent in our cities, in today’s image-based culture, tagging serves as a reminder that in a democracy there will always be a way to challenge the status quo, seek notoriety, or simply engage in anonymous public mark-making.” 

I’m sure there are many reasons why some people are prompted to tag – be it in a railway carriage, on the wall of a building or over a pre-existing street mural. Psychologists and sociologists have a field day, tossing around all kind of motives, like ‘self-empowerment’ and the ‘alienation of youth’ but personally I’ll be buggered. I’m certainly not going to theorise here, anymore than I would in suggesting the reasons why some people grow Ned Kelly beards, cover their body in tatts and spend half their life on Facebook.

Tags and their big brother ‘graffiti’ are often more frequent in certain suburbs, at both the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum and in the liberally minded inner city where street art is enthusiastically promoted. They are few and far between in upper class haunts like Double Bay and Vaucluse where perhaps the young folk don’t feel quite as alienated as their counter parts in Claymore. In the pursuit of social and economic justice maybe the Claymore taggers need to invade the Eastern Suburbs one night and leave their calling cards on the multi-million dollar mansions.

That’s unlikely to happen as the bastions of the wealthy are both well guarded and well maintained. It’s essentially the vulnerable – the boarded up building, the side wall of a terrace, the public housing estate or the bus stop that is the target of the tag. But is there anything sacrosanct or verboten within the taggers unofficial book of conduct?

Back in 2007 there was outrage when taggers bombed the War Memorial in Hyde Park, leaving a dozen or so tags on the side of the monument. At the time NSW RSL President Don Rowe was quoted as saying “the graffiti did not contain any anti-war or anti-political slogans, leading him to believe the offenders were simply ignorant to the significance of the building.” He was probably right and that perhaps is the most perplexing aspect of the tag.

Determining the prime motivation why some people choose to leave their tag wherever opportune is a bit like hypothesizing why dogs urinate on poles. It was originally thought this was a way our canine pals marked their territory as well as attracting dogs of the opposite sex. Perhaps the analogy is not that far apart. In her book The Hidden Life of Dogs Elizabeth Marshall Thomas  notes that “the higher a stain appears on a post or wall, the next dog along would go to great lengths to hike its spray just a bit higher”. There’s no doubt that tagging is competitive and new virgin territory enthusiastically appropriated, like the recently anointed wheelie bins in my own inner city hood.

Sadly though, unless the taggers submit themselves en masse for a full university controlled psychological assessment, we will never know what really drives them. In the meantime Point Piper remains a blank canvas!

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