Vandals and the City: Documenting London's underground graffiti scene

Vandals and the City: Documenting London's underground graffiti scene
Writing on the wall — Over a period of twelve months, documentary photographer Marc Vallée tagged along with one of London's graffiti crews, silently painting the city in defiance of the law. Before the launch and exhibition of Marc's self-published zine in Berlin this month, Oliver Zanetti explores the politics of art in the city.

By and for whom are cities made? In London, the answer is made visible by an urban horizon clustered with skyscrapers. The city is a servant to neoliberalism, where the financial sector and an exploding residential property market dominate the landscape. The vandals documented here undertake an alternative making of urban space, leaving their mark on the bare walls found in the city’s interstices.

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As a subject matter they’re far from uncontroversial. For many, the writing of graffiti is regarded as an antisocial act of defacement, contravening both legal and moral spatial codes. This is reflected in the collection’s title and the work itself, where contrast and framing conceal the location and the identities of the writers documented. But through their recalcitrance, the writers invite us to rethink the nature of the urban order.

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Contemporary staples like pop ups or the sharing economy were once envisaged as routes to the democratisation of urban space, widening possibilities for public participation. Yet, in fact, such moves have served to further entrench existing urban and economic disempowerment. Habituated to seeing the effects of their work, a glimpse of writers at work is far less common.

In witnessing their resolve in the practice of their craft, we are invited to consider the various radical ways we might all intervene to create inclusive and genuinely participatory urban public spaces.

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Oliver Zanetti is a human geographer whose work examines the interface of materiality and urban space. Oliver is currently a Research Associate in the Department of Geography at the Open University.

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