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Street Art Gets Behind the Wheel

Commanding commuter attention in New Zealand’s capital city is the Go Wellington Graffiti Bus that was launched earlier this year as part of the vibrant Cuba Street Carnival. While graffiti is often viewed through the lens of vandalism, its defenders claim that it creates a sense of belonging and expertise while providing a vehicle for publicly expressing personal, social and political viewpoints.

A chance meeting in a Wellington alley-way brought together the Goethe Institute and Auckland-based aerosol artists Cut Collective. This evolved into a collaboration with German collective Via Grafik resulting in an exhibition and panel discussions at Wellington’s New Dowse gallery and a live event at the carnival during which the bus was given its street-wise makeover.
By showcasing planned, commissioned and intricate works, exhibited urban artforms are placed on a higher plane than vandalism but reference to public space still seems relevant. Carnival organiser Chris Morely-Hall supported the idea that street art be hailed both in and outside the gallery context. Last year’s Street Art show at London’s Tate Modern similarly acknowledged a need to present works by urban artists outdoors rather than merely confine them to gallery interiors.

With urban surfaces becoming increasingly corporatised the bus also raises issues around the dynamics of disruption and motivations for street art.

“We are bound by our own decision-making framework that is based on pretty robust ethical values. We are business owners and ratepayers, so we are respectful of others in that position. By the same token, being contributing members of society in that way, we also feel we have some right of reply within a public space dominated by advertising imagery and messages.”
– Cut Collective member Ross Liew (aka Trust Me) Source: Unlimited

Go Wellington were amazingly cooperative in meeting my request to pull the bus out of circulation so that I could shoot it. While waiting at the expansive Kilbirnie bus depot I came across a driver who had been at the wheel of the bus on a number of occasions. He mentioned that it certainly gets a lot of attention on the street – good, bad and bewildered. Wherever I’ve come across it I’ve noted that while many people smile as they view this creative contrast to the usual corporate bus advertising, others frown at the irreverent path its cuts through Wellington streets. If a key role of art is to pose questions the Graffiti Bus certainly qualifies – as it drives debate and salutes skills through the city’s main arteries.

Related articles:
Writing on Walls
Indo-French Street Skills
Melbourne Karachi Tram Project [external]

Note: more imagery follows in the Comments Section.

Respect to all mentioned in the article plus Lisa Mönchmeyer from the Goethe Institute, Flox + Component of Cut Collective, Go Wellington’s Siobhan O’Donovan + Darek Koper and my main man and personal bus driver – Alan.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Meena Kadri September 23, 2009, 9:56 PM

    Cut Collective have recently been commissioned to spray that backs of ten Auckland buses to advertise Tiger Beer throughout the city. Here’s one by member artist Component (photo credit: Birdman)


    And here’s a detail by Component from the Wellington Graffiti Bus:


    Cut Collective member Flox (Hayley King) has produced visuals for murals, interiors, live performance and has her own clothing range. Here’s a concept detail for a job she did for Air New Zealand for their Christmas mail-out.


  • Meena Kadri October 4, 2009, 1:01 PM

    Plus this year’s identity for Wellington’s Cuba Street Carnival was designed by my former student, Ben Fraser, for Ogilvy.



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