No fine line between vandalism and street art in Hanoi

By Hari Chathrattil   May 24, 2019 | 10:00 pm PT
No fine line between vandalism and street art in Hanoi
This photo taken on May 15, 2019 shows vandalism on roller doors of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association and Fine Arts Exhibition House in Hanoi. Photo by George Burchett
For Hanoi-based artist George Burchett, vandalism and street art are like chalk and cheese, you cannot condone one for the other.

Following up on his article on the iconic Long Bien Bridge being "bombed" again, Burchett, an Australian painter, spoke to VnExpress International about graffiti as street art instead of vandalism.

Graffiti has been elevated to street art in many places around the world. So what do you have against street art?

Not every sound is music and not every splash of color or doodle is art.

I am no expert on "urban art," "street art," "graffiti art" or whatever you want to call it, but I am an expert on mural art, I have a Masters Degree in that rather specialized field and have been practicing it for many years.

Man's earliest form of artistic expression was on the walls of caves. With their very first attempts at depicting their world, humans created masterpieces of visual expression we call art that have been preserved to this day. That art is as beautiful, alive and dynamic today as when it was first painted, tens of thousands of years ago.

On the other hand, when today’s filmmakers want to convey the collapse of human civilization in some apocalyptic way, you'll often see in their films the ruins of a city covered in graffiti, where the survivors of some nuclear or other catastrophe fight each other for survival.

That is what I and, it seems, others too, associate it with: urban decay, social collapse, gangs fighting for territory and other aggressive visual expressions of collapsing capitalism.

Of course, everything under the sun has its place, and so do graffiti and street art, especially if they play a positive role within the communities and social environments where they are created or created for.

But the same names and squiggles sprayed all over Hanoi is repetitive, annoying and, frankly, extremely rude to the general public.

I mean how many times does someone have to shout in writing their name at the city commuters from street corners, roller doors, etc? Even once is too much, as far as I'm concerned.

Also, I see more or less the same images, styles in America, Australia, Europe and now here in Vietnam. A global traveller trend that spreads around the world in a tediously copycat, repetitive, unimaginative manner, the visual equivalent of junk food.

So you do think Hanoi has some space for street art.

Hanoi can have any possible form of art as long as it enhances the city and doesn't deface it. Hanoi is the artistic and cultural capital of Vietnam. I'm sure that its many artists, from all generations, would be only too happy to contribute to preserving and enhancing Hanoi's beauty, unique atmosphere and charm, and keeping it clean and green – as the nation's 1,000-year old capital should be.

As far as I'm concerned, the historical part of Hanoi should have minimum interference of any kind. Hanoi has its own colors, textures, rhythm, sounds... It is a busy city, full of hustle and bustle, with hundreds of street signs, shop fronts, cafés and other businesses competing with each other. There's absolutely no need to add anything to all this.

What about the new Hanoi?

Well, with so much construction going on, there are opportunities for well-placed artistic and other creative initiatives to make the development of "new" Hanoi environmentally friendly and aesthetically pleasant.

Students from various institutions – art, architecture, design, urban planning and other relevant branches – could collaborate on projects to enhance the urban environment and create new original art and design forms for the present and future. There are no limits to this.

I think it is a good time to use the new dynamics to create an enhanced new aesthetic and look for new creative approaches to enhance the urban environment.

And here's the key word: environment.

If we don't develop sustainable living environments, urban, rural and natural, we are doomed.

And then, perhaps, the spray can stuff will be adequate.

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