Graffiti artists are sometimes more intent on securing space and keeping unwanted graffiti writing off of walls than the usual anti-graffiti suspects. But instead of relying on law enforcement and the criminalization of graffiti to thwart the appearance of unwanted writing and images, graffiti artists will declare a particular wall “off limits” (see the “Do Not Tag These Walls” page for an L.A. example).

Relying on the legitimacy of having received permission to paint on particular walls from property owners, or having discovered wall space in a wash, abandoned lot, or unmonitored industrial space or train yard, particular graffiti artists and/or graffiti crews will lay claim to walls through intimidation in unsanctioned spaces, or through appeals to authority in sanctioned spaces (pictured below).

Minneapolis, 2008. Photo by Stefano Bloch

Minneapolis (2008). Photo by Stefano Bloch

Minneapolis, 2008. Photo by Stefano Bloch

Minneapolis (2008). Photo by Stefano Bloch

In this stenciled message a reference is made to “art.” Given that this is a sanctioned graffiti space, the graffiti becomes “art” given its status as legal. This is common: that is, the placement of graffiti in the city determines weather it is legal and therefore beautiful “art,” or illegal and therefore ugly “tagging,” “scribbling,” or vandalism. In reality, however, it is often the very same aesthetic produced by the very same graffiti artist/writer that is at once seen as “beautiful” when performed legally, and “ugly” when done illegally and out of place.(1)

I am arguing that it is not the objective appearance or placement that renders graffiti either desirable or undesirable; rather, it is graffiti’s legal status and appropriate placement that problematically defines the graffiti aesthetic for most people. When it comes to such urban aesthetics, then, taste and spatial perception are informed by subjective notions of taste that are informed by law, policy, and a desire for control over the visual environment.

"Lokust" piece and tags (on right). Part of legal graffiti "art" production across from Brackett Park, Minneapolis (2007). Photo by Stefano Bloch (2008).

"Lokust" piece and tags (2007). Part of legal graffiti "art" production on "This is Not a Free Wall," across from Brackett Park, Minneapolis. Photo by Stefano Bloch (2008).

Just across from this sanctioned and controlled graffiti space along the Minneapolis bikeway is a sanctioned space for skateboarding. As with graffiti, skating began as an unsanctioned street act for which utilitarian infrastructure acted as the hardware of the craft. And like graffiti, once it was seen as destructive, unsightly, or out of control, it was relocated to a specific space and reintroduced as safe, creative, and most importantly, controllable. While providing such spaces for graffiti and skateboarding are seemingly positive uses of the public (and private) sphere, the legality of these “safe” spaces justifies the criminalization of graffiti writers and skaters who choose to operate in uncontrolled, and therefore unsanctioned, environments.

Brackett Skate Park, Minneapolis, 2008. Photo by Stefano Bloch

Brackett Skate Park, Minneapolis (2008). Photo by Stefano Bloch

Like the graffiti artists who turn to sanctioned wall space to avoid the possibility of arrest, these skaters practice their skills at a sanctioned skate park provided by the city. By practicing here they are able to avoid tickets and even arrest for performing the same acts in unsanctioned public spaces on pieces of infrastructure.

Unlike tennis which is necessarily played on courts (pictured in the background), “street skating” began and has evolved as an unsanctioned act performed in the public sphere and empty swimming pools.(2) However, these two “sports” now share a corner of a park that also provides jungle gyms, basketball courts, and baseball fields.

Skating under a code of conduct (on right). Brackett Skate Park, Minneapolis, 2008. Photo by Stefano Bloch

Skating under a code of conduct (hanging on right). Brackett Skate Park, Minneapolis (2008). Photo by Stefano Bloch

Skating with tennis players in the background.

Skating with tennis players in the background (2008). Photo by Stefano Bloch.

Brackett Skate Park, Minneapolis (2008).

Brackett Skate Park, Minneapolis (2008). Photo by Stefano Bloch

(1) I am referring here to Cresswell’s (1996) use of “out of place” from his In Place / Out of Place: geography, ideology and transgression.

(2) For a complete history of skateboarding from a spatial perspective see Borden’s (2001) Skateboarding, Space and the City: Architecture and the Body.

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