by Carolyn Steinat. This article is available also in German (Deutsche), with photographs!.
My request and the reason for my writing here is the demolition of the "Schlachthof" area in Wiesbaden, which has commenced on June 18th, 2001. This place, which also served as a Hall of Fame among Graffiti writers and in which the surely well-known "Wall Street Meeting" has taken place for several years now, will be torn down with the help of caterpillars and other demolition machinery.
Truly, one of the most interesting and manifold cultural spaces with international reputation, the "Schlachthof" was an important space and center for artistic creativity (e.g., Graffiti and band rehearsals, etc.) and sports activity (skateboarding etc.)for teenagers from Wiesbaden and the surrounding region. With a lot of self-initiative from the juveniles and charity work, a space was created for youthful fantasy and creativity, a space for the free expansion of the mind, beyond the boundaries of nationality or skin color.
Unfortunately, this space, set free of consume, where creative energies found it's entitled expression in numerous ways, now has to give way to economically far more interesting applications- for example a duty parking lot.
It is the intention of this article to create a feeling of tolerance for Graffiti writing as an artistic form of expressing thoughts, wishes, ideas and peaceful protest and a way of communication, which cannot be generally reduced to simple vandalism. In my opinion, the international wide spread HipHop-and Graffiti subculture distinguishes itself by it's great variety. No one cares about the other in terms of nationality, race or gender. The only things that matter are the Graffiti writing skills.
This attitude is the fundamental requirement for tolerant coexistence. Never the less, this attitude is being denied by repressive actions, such as the demolition of the "Schlachthof" area, which is taking place at the moment and by the "zero-tolerance" tactics in Frankfurt.
The standing of the officials displayed hereby showing a tendency to an increasing criminalization of the juveniles concerned, becomes less and less comprehensible, living in a time, that is emphasized by the spirit of a united Europe.
This form of art roots in an urge for size and the wish to be seen and being visible to everybody. Graffiti, according to expert Hinrichsen, is created among the people and requires an audience - such as the "Schlachthof" represented a stage, a permanent exhibition.
If this legal space is being reduced to a minimum again, it forces the juveniles to search for other opportunities and spaces to make their art.
Which possibilities do they have in this case?
The predominant attitude of community representatives at the moment is also becoming obvious in a quote from American Graffiti opponents:
"Destroy the romantic myth that graffiti writing is a harmless act ... it is predictable that a young graffiti writer will become a criminal ... graffiti writing is a school for crime. (...) [ Graffiti ] is a symbol that we have lost control. If we are to regain control of our system, we must have assistance of the media in portraying graffiti for what it is - vandalism." (Dennant 1997: 15)
The opinion is being promoted that any form of Graffiti is the starting point for a criminal career. This is how teenagers are driven into crime - conscious or unconscious.
However, here in Wiesbaden colorful pieces of art were created, which enhanced the disconsolate architecture of this city and which contributed to transform gray concrete walls into a huge gallery - and all that for free?!
These paintings are not the property of anybody and that shows the power and uniqueness of graffiti in a society which is mainly characterized by property-rights and capitalism.
From this point of view, should we not look at these paintings as a constructive criticism of today's unpleasant cities, the disconsolation of concrete walls and the transformation of values into goods? From this theoretical perspective Graffiti stands up against the total market economy of capitalism, which interferes with all aspects of our life in society and leaves only little space for "irrational", non-profit focused creativity and fantasy. The teenagers that are interested in HipHop and especially in Graffiti, explicitly want to participate in this form of culture and are no longer willing to be fed with "easy-to-digest" leisure time offers designed by industry.
Therefore, Graffiti essentially reflects the schizophrenic nature of our society, which is in a state of constant tension between an ideal world we all ought to strive for and the deviation hereof in reality, which especially influences young people and contributes to their confusion.
As how Graffiti expert Ferrell states in his analysis: "The coincidence of youth, style and crime - this criminalization of youth - develops therefore out of the politics of youth, out of the relative powerlessness and marginality of the young, and out of the particulars of their resistance to this" (Ferrell 1993: 194)
Have not power and fantasy of young people been focused in a very constructive way here on the "Schlachthof" area, which might have eventually led to other (violent) acts? I am of the opinion that it was definitely an important alternative to other, maybe self-destructive activities.
Has not the painting of walls in conclusion always been a form of communication and the free exchange of thoughts, as how Norbert Siegl, a research authority in the field of Graffiti from Vienna, promotes it as well. It is quite simple to comprehend that human beings have always felt an urge to express themselves in a specific way and to communicate hereby with the world around them, even by painting walls.
Looking at it under this aspect, teenagers should be given the opportunity to express their thoughts in their own way.
In an urban society where anonymity is increasingly experienced, it becomes important to express the own personality, one's heart and soul by creativity, by creating something distinguished on our own. This is how the Graffiti writer attempts to escape from the surrounding anonymity, by the individual art of Graffiti marking, which however happens in a group, to create a sort of "homeland" in the jungle of the city.
In my opinion, within a culture human beings communicate and define themselves by language. Our voice defines our identity such as a painting is the "voice of art" that individualizes the artist. The writing as a form of communication turns here into a fundamental medium of dialogue between the individual and it's environment and leaves an individual or also collective trace, as this can enable the creation of an identity within the three dimensional coordinate system of the city:
"To pour your soul onto a wall and be able to step back and see your fears, your hopes, your dreams, your weakness, really gives you a deeper understanding of yourself and your own mental state" notes Sprayer Coda.
Therefore, I assume that Graffiti writers, too, state their existence by their paintings, setting individual life signs by this specific way of publication.
Only for this reason could an art gallery of such tremendous extent, as to be seen in Wiesbaden, arise.
Never the less, the "Schlachthof" as a space being able to provide the place for an creative urge, will now be leveled to the ground - as if it never existed.
The demolition going on right now creates a feeling of sadness, disappointment and anger. No one can gives us back this space where artists from all over the world met to exchange experiences and where evolving influences could be taken back home.
By tearing down the "Schlachthof" a only rare existing variety of art pieces is lost. It is an inestimable loss for everybody concerned.
However, it is obvious that the demolition machinery will not be an obstacle for this art form. "Color never dies"
The question remains how and where alternatives can be found for these creative young people in order to realize their interests and their ambitions in the future.
There ought to be a public interest in this young art form. Taste is quite something to argue about but it has to be said here that new art forms have never found the approval of the mass right away.
It is however the "mission" of art to consistently search for new forms of expression of creativity and accordingly move away from too rigid forms of art.
This can be applied to Graffiti. The people considering Writing as vandalism seem to neglect how much time, work and energy is necessary to create a Graffiti piece.
In which way will the City of Wiesbaden continue to support the enormous potential of creative ambition - of which many visitors could convince themselves - and the peaceful interaction of young people?
I assume it must be the interest of many parents as well as that of sports and art interested citizens of the Wiesbaden area to find a solution for this situation as soon as possible in order to support their ambitious children in the future.
Community representatives are also challenged to contribute their share necessary for a solution.
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