Street art, graffiti, and urban interventions: Inscriptions of ‘crisis’ in public space

‘Crisis’ is discursively circulated from above in order to impose new conditions of social existence on conflicted urban landscapes; but it is also lived, contested, and circulated from below, as a way of reclaiming public spaces and rights to them. In this session, taking visual and auditory material as our starting points, participants will examine how “crisis” is made visible and audible in political interventions in urban spaces, in more or less lasting or ephemeral ways: for instance, through political graffiti and street art on walls, through demonstrations or occupations (and their material aftermath) in city streets and squares—shaping collective and individual experiences of urban life.  Political street art and slogans appear as visual markers of the shifting, complex discourses of power struggles, marginality, and counter-cultures that establish a new reality that must be seen and heard. For example, economic crisis, the rise of xenophobia and fascism, what has been called the “refugee crisis,” urban deprivation, and even gentrification projects are transforming central areas and traditional notions of urban identity. In this light, these interventions capture the need for self-expression in a changing environment, and the practitioners actively participate in the production of culture on the micro-level by consciously contributing to the need for urban re-visions.

  • How do such interventions challenge (or reproduce) hegemonic framings of “crisis” and the normative ways we are to respond to them?
  • How are our perceptual, sensual, affective embodied encounters with the city shaped by such interventions?
  • How are our senses dulled or awakened by disruptions to the quotidian expectations of familiar landscapes when we are struck by the physical presence (or, once removed, the absence) of reclaimed and repurposed façades, edifices, streets, and other spaces?
  • How do we understand the political significance of such interventions in increasingly militarised, policed, surveilled, or otherwise controlled urban contexts?

 We invite proposals that theorise the implications of specific interventions in public space, taking a particular sensory afterlife (or, representation) of such interventions as their point of departure.

Myrto Tsilimpounidi, Institute for Sociology of the Slovak Academy of Sciences

Anna Carastathis, Independent Researcher