Photo by Sharky1974

I’ve become quite a fan of graffiti art in recent years. I was always sort of aware of the quality out there, and I’ve long been an admirer of Otis Frizzell (who I commissioned to design my tattoo). In my travels in recent years, I’ve been struck by the different art lining the streets in different places. Marseille and Berlin, in particular, have some incredible works, there’s some amazing stuff right here in Birmingham (see above) and my hometown of Auckland has some brilliant artists.

And sometimes, they get in trouble for what they do.

But the thing that really got me interested was when a friend of mine in Berlin started pointing out how to spot works by particular artists. What their style was, what they were particularly known for, and in which areas of the city they tended to showcase their skills. And that got me thinking about the city as a sort of inside-out art gallery: with the paintings on the outside of the wall.

The only thing missing was those little white cards that tell you about the paintings.

Street Gallery – an iPhone App
I’m aware of books that you can get that have photographs of graffiti and tell you about the works – but books are kind of permanent, where graffiti sort of isn’t.

I think what I’m after is an update-able mobile application that not only tells you about the work in front of you, but can also tell you, based on your geo-location, the works to look out for, and the elements of style of the various artists. It should also be searchable by place or by artist (they can travel too, you know) – so you can browse the works of other towns, or find out more about works in different places by the same person or crew.

Of course, a lot of work will go into the creation of something like this, and the only way I can think to make it really work would be to make it completely open, so that people can update and add information about new works as they happen.

But for someone like me who is not part of the scene, but is interested in the same way that a member of the public visiting an art gallery might be interested in a Mondrian, it would be great if it was also curated in a way that assumed intelligence, but not prior knowledge.

The death of art?
Of course, the fact that someone like me (over-40 suburban parent of a teenager) is interested in something like this could be read as a mainstream legitimation of graffiti, and in some ways therefore, the demise of its role as a counter-cultural, subversive art form. I am, it has to be said, not terribly hip hop.

But, by the same token, I think something like this app could go some way in addressing some still very entrenched ideas about graffiti being nothing more than vandalism.

I wrote a piece in which I laid out my 5-step manifesto for solving cities. One of the steps was just to leave graffiti alone. It’s a self-healing process. Graffiti evolves, gets painted over, improves and develops.

So what does it look like?
Well, let’s say you find yourself standing in front of something like this:

Photo by Pete Ashton

You’d open up the app, and it would figure out where you are, and then give you a range of thumbnail images to choose from. Hopefully, there’d be a picture of this raised fist with eyes.

On selecting the image, ideally the app would then tell you the pseudonym of the artist, something about their style and some of the distinguishing characteristics of their work (ie: how to spot their stuff elsewhere), as well as some interesting facts about the piece itself.

The user may also wish to read more information about the artist’s other works, or choose to identify other nearby pieces of graffiti art.

If the piece of art is not identified, then the user is prompted to take a photo of the piece and upload it. It’s date-stamped and geo-located, and they can add whatever information they may have about it. More importantly, others in the know could also curate that new information.

It’s not as simple as that
With something that is often, broadly speaking, illegal (though just as frequently tolerated for good reason), the process of adding identifying information to a database is fraught with difficulty.

There’d have to be safeguards and protocols in place to make it helpful, without being a target for spammers, a legal trap for the artists or a site for rivalries to play out.

But the opportunity to turn the mere fact of wandering around the city into an art gallery experience really appeals to me, and I think this is the sort of thing that could be done intelligently and well.

I’d use it – which is sort of my litmus test for these kinds of ideas.

Table of contents for 30 Days of Ideas

  1. The other way of following first
  2. Now we’re up and dancing
  3. 30 days of ideas – 01: Keymash
  4. 30 days of ideas – 02: Radio Alerts
  5. 30 days of ideas – 03: Only Famous (a romantic comedy)
  6. 30 days of ideas – 04: Modcasts
  7. 30 days of ideas – 05: Numberless Calendar
  8. 30 days of ideas – 06: SpringCleanr
  9. 30 days of ideas – 07: Street Gallery
  10. 30 days of ideas – 08: Smart Business Cards
  11. 30 days of ideas – 09: Recordings in Concert
  12. 30 days of ideas – 10: Vinyl scanner
  13. 30 days of ideas – 11: Photo Stack-and-Scan
  14. 30 days of ideas – 12: A Box of Cool
  15. 30 days of ideas – 13: Karaoke-Tube Celebstar Idol
  16. 30 days of ideas – 14: I Made You A Tape
  17. 30 days of ideas – 15: Newspaper download codes
  18. 30 days of ideas – 16: Pebble Splash
  19. 30 days of ideas – 17: Digital radio, somewhere useful
  20. 30 days of ideas – 18: Public domain music collection
  21. 30 days of ideas – 19: Blog cast-list automator
  22. 30 days of ideas – 20: The Retirement Pile
  23. 30 days of ideas – 21: Nationalise EMI
  24. 30 days of ideas – 22: The Stainless Steel Rat (the movie)
  25. 30 days of ideas – 23: WordPress Bandcampify template
  26. 30 days of ideas – 24: Rollercoasters as public transport
  27. 30 days of ideas – 25: Next-gen personalised music radio
  28. 30 days of ideas – 26: New Music Trust
  29. 30 days of ideas – 27: Tamagotchi Gardening
  30. 30 days of ideas – 28: Charity shop clothing subscription
  31. 30 days of ideas – 29: ‘Now Playing’ social music app
  32. 30 days of ideas – 30: House of Spare Ideas
  33. Mixtape for You by Ray Kuyvenhoven
  34. What can you do in 30 days?