Aesthetics, Authority and the Outlaw of the Street

Susan Bird

Abstract

This is a paper about the meanings of aesthetics, authority, street art, and graffiti. It is about the potential that graffiti has to disrupt the codes that emanate from the post-industrial, capitalist city, and the ways in which law making authorities have attempted to curb that potential. The regulation of public space involves control over the visual appearance of that space. The Graffiti Prevention Act (Vic) 2007 is one instrument employed in regulating the aesthetics of space. The legislation defines street art as illegal and imposes harsh penalties for the creators of this form of public art. As Margaret Davies writes in Asking the Law Question, the illegality of an act cannot be seen at face value – it is only after we see the act through the filter of the law that it is seen as criminal. I use this as a starting point in asking why graffiti is a criminal act.

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