Who is Occupying Wall and Street: Graffiti and Urban Spatial Politics in Contemporary China

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Abstract

This paper examines three cases of graffiti production characterized by showing the connections between three key ideas (aura, carnival, and publicity) in the context of contemporary China. This paper attempts to construct a paradigm for this particular cultural phenomenon by analysing three cases situated in three different social levels. First, graffiti as artwork, as exhibited by the contemporary artist Zhang Dali, is discussed. Second, sponsorship of graffiti culture by the local government is studied. The last and most controversial topic of discussion is how graffiti's online circulation reflects civil society in China. This paper explores the complex intersection of street culture, public space, and media. In revolving around the questions of what defines graffiti producers and spectators, what can be said about graffiti-writing practices, and who has the ability to speak out, this discussion illustrates the extent to which graffiti can be understood as a means of public communication against the backdrop of, and amid the moments of crisis in, the construction of modern Chinese cities. This paper illustrates how the aesthetics and the politics of representational forms and their intermediality are mobilized in a variety of contested spaces, where producer and spectator change and exchange identities.

Politics revolves around what is seen and what can be said about it, around who has the ability to see and the talent to speak, around the properties of spaces and the possibilities of time. Jacques Rancière (2004)
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136-153
Number of pages18
JournalContinuum, Journal of Media and Cultural Studies
Volume28
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts

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