Bombing the City: Tags, Graffiti, and the Political Significance of Imperfection in Urban Aesthetics
‘Tagging’ is the most basic and yet most radical form of graffiti writing. Though many today appreciate several styles of street art and graffiti, ‘tags’, that is, monochrome signatures of writers’ street names, are still generally despised. Widely considered a form of vandalism, tagging is dismissed and criticized as pointless disruption of the aesthetics of the ‘perfect city’: a practice that ruins urban harmony and décor. However, tagging’s undiluted power of introducing imperfection in the city’s landscape has politically significant consequences requiring attention.
In this paper, I argue that, by challenging the city’s décor, tagging exposes the exclusionary nature of aesthetic ideals of urban perfection. In effect, perfect cities are created and maintained through processes of ‘othering’ which rely on social marginalization and extensive policing. This find an insightful analogy in practices of defensive architecture aimed at pushing poverty out of sight. Tagging is an aesthetic antidote to dominant oppressive policies of urban development. Its aesthetic imperfection is a form of liberation from the authoritarianism of urban control.
Andrea Baldini (PhD, Temple University, 2014) is Associate Professor of Aesthetics and Art Theory at the Art Institute of Nanjing University. Since 2015, he is also the coordinator of the Jinling Artist-in-Residence Program, whose aim is to promote cultural exchange between China and Italy. From 2014 to 2016, he was International Postdoctoral Exchange Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences at Nanjing University. Before moving to China, he was a Fulbright Fellow at the Department of Philosophy at Temple University (Philadelphia, USA).
His main research interest is in philosophy of art and aesthetics, especially at their intersection with applied ethics, critical theory, metaphysics, social and political philosophy, public policy, and visual culture. The critical focus of his research is on public art, graffiti, and street art. Recently, he has published articles in the Journal of Visual Culture and The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. He is preparing a monograph (Brill, 2018) on the relationship between legal and aesthetic judgement in the context of contemporary graffiti and street art.
His CV is here: ABaldini_CV_PH
This conference is supported by JSPS Kakenhi grant number 16K02109.