The opposite of graffiti

What is it?

As graffiti is commonly understood to involve the addition of paint or other markings to bare public surfaces, its opposite would be the removal of such markings. Or, as in the case of the Ossario project by Brazilian artist, Alexandre Orion, it is the selective removal of dirt and grime to reveal a fresco of clean wall (first seen at fellow WordPress blog, Inspirational Geek).

Orion was approached by authorities several times during his nightly visits to the tunnel, but they were powerless to stop him – there’s nothing illegal about cleaning. In the end, they could only remove his installation by high-pressure hosing the whole tunnel from end to end. They didn’t stop with Orion’s tunnel either, but continued onto every other tunnel in the city, cleaning them all.

What do we think?

Orion has a specific agenda with this project, to highlight both the extreme quantities of pollution coating the tunnels of São Paulo and the public’s carelessness towards it. His choice of graphic imagery for the installation, a 160m long collection of sightless skulls, is a singular gesture that brings together the many layers of meaning in his work – skulls rendered as death, pollution and apathy.

As architects, we are often required to consider the potential impact of graffiti and its brainless, clumsy and brutal little cousin, tagging, on our buildings. Despite finding the latter entirely without merit, we have often regarded good graffiti as an enrichening celebration of the involvement we have with our public spaces. Artists like Banksy, Invader and Pixnit are all artists who use(d) graffiti in a positive manner, contributing to rather than detracting from public space. With Ossario, Orion has introduced a clever and intriguing dynamic to this discourse, not only passing judgement on urban pollution, but also investigating many ideas central to the practice of graffiti itself – those of permanence, legality and artistic value.

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