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Is the Hosier Lane attack vandalism or street art?

Melbourne’s iconic street art venue, Hosier Lane, has been targeted with a spray-paint attack. Was it a retaliation for the lane’s commercialism or vandalism?

Gina Fairley

Tuesday 11 February, 2020

Over the weekend, Melbourne’s iconic street art venue, Hosier Lane, was targeted by a gang armed with spray-paint.

Purportedly, six people wearing balaclavas used spray guns to ‘paint over’ aerosol and stencil artworks.

A video of the event was posted to Instagram on Sunday (9 February), which went viral.

By Monday, Melbourne City Council was in clean up mode. Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp has said the historic cobblestones in the laneway were damaged in the act.

Capp told media: ‘We see this as vandalism and intend to pursue the people who have perpetrated this crime.’ Capp added, ‘That balance between street art and graffiti is sometimes difficult to define.’

The attack drew a storm on social media.

Opinions were divided, many saying the action was not in the spirit of the laneway’s ethos, while others have drawn attention to the very transient nature of street art – it is often quick, irreverent, against authority and largely ephemeral.

Channel 7 reporter Nick McCallum described the event on Twitter as ‘A culture war between radical graffiti and more commercial street art.’

Chinese-Australian political artist Badiucao has had work in the lane in the past. He said of this week’s activities: ‘For me it is more like a stunt. If they having the same uniform; if they do it properly and with a public announcement right after, then it would be much easier to read into.’

‘It’s unfair work has been destroyed, but I think of it like a bushfire – new branches come after a severe bushfire – and the lane will completely shift and changed. We have to not just see as a disaster, but to see as bringing a renaissance to the lane,’ Badiucao told ArtsHub.

What seems to be missing in this conversation is a level of understanding of the history and role of street art.

Melbourne artist Rone told the ABC that the tone of respect shifted about ten years ago, when the entire laneway was painted blue as an art project.  ‘Nothing was sacred after that. Nothing was important,’ Rone told reporters, adding that the lane had already been trashed as a tourist trap.

In an earlier ArtsHub article Emily McCulloch Childs writes about the blueing of Rutledge and Hosier Lanes.

Childs wrote at the time: ‘The late 1990s to late 2000s were significant in Melbourne art: for it was really the time the street art movement was born. Graffiti had flourished in the 1980s (in Melbourne); while there are still some decent practitioners left, the golden age is over.’

Like Rone, it is a view that it is a cyclical practice and one that is forced to recalibrate itself regularly – this is yet another iteration.

The lane has become famed for its street art to the level that it is now a major tourism boon for the city. It is the norm to catch a fashion photo shoot, buskers, artists selling their wears, and of course selfie addicts … all of whom are using the art, rather than engaging with it.

ArtsHub spoke with Zoe Poulsen, Festival Director of the forthcoming Melbourne-based urban art festival, Can’t Do Tomorrow. She said: ‘Artists know that their work can be there one day, gone the next. I think the lane will continue to be a space for provocation. Interesting to see what comes up next.’

Poulsen continued: ‘The lane has always incorporated art of various genres, its temporary and transient – it’s the life of the lane. Motivation frames what it is.’

Opening just a week after the Hosier Lane action, Can’t Do Tomorrow will be held 20-29 February at The Facility, and is all about a new generation of talent coming through our urban art scene. ‘Ultimately, we’re keen to question the very nature of art itself,’ said the festival organisers.

About the author

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub’s National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW.

Twitter: @ginafairley
Instagram: fairleygina

Photo Credit:

Tourists taking photos of the street art in the hidden laneways of Melbourne, 2019. Image shutterstock.com Photo Wade Machin.


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