There can be no better example of how street art in Perth has been erased by anodyne civic decoration than the rear of RTR FM’s building in Beaufort Street Mt Lawley – to the extent that almost nobody realises that there is even a difference in concept between say adding brick paving and painting a wall mural. In Perth these are exactly the same things in both intent and effect. Do you spend money on a planter box or a wall mural? In Perth these are interchangeable, or to use a word that has suddenly emerged out of obscurity and into the arts scene fungible.
From inside the RTR studios, presenters may well be suggesting giving communism another go, denouncing the mainstream media, or generally smashing the patriarchy. And how lucky we are to have such an excellent station. I’m listening to it right now. But outside of the studios, the concept that a wall mural could be anything other than bland visual muzak does not even exist in the imagination of the city. And why would it, since there is nothing in the state that shows it’s even possible for public art to be more than boring nothingness?
In the US and elsewhere, murals, good or bad are frequently political and often seething with rage. It is the sad state of affairs that to my knowledge, there isn’t even one single example of this in the whole of Western Australia. None. And this is just here. In other states of Australia art murals have provoked calls to the police and even been forcibly painted out. Not here. Even an alternative radio station commissions and is apparently “chuffed” with a piece of civic decoration (let’s not call it street art) that would not be challenging enough for a kindergarten playground wall.
And can you blame the civic decorators? They, like brick paving layers need to earn money. But can nobody see outside the Perth paradigm? Will nobody have the courage to say to an artist. “I don’t care what you do. Just go for it. I want people to see my building and say “Jesus fucking Christ look at that! Not “meh””. Have artists given up applying because there is no chance of anything with the slightest edge being accepted? Or are only the least challenging decorators ever chosen? All of these are seriously depressing alternatives for Perth’s psyche.