Tuesday, 30 March 2010

To probe a culture - an essay.

During semester one last year, while taking part in Design Studies, I looked in to the problems of graffiti on trains. Looking at the trains in American where they seemed to be most attacked. I used various research methods that included papers, books and journals on the problems and also the advantages.
The secondary source reading was incredibly helpful on gaining ideas and opinions from others but they were mostly very bias towards their point of view. And most were against graffiti.
Wanting to get a balanced opinion, I would undertake a research study and use various methods in gaining more information about graffiti.

Seeing as I would not quite be able to make it to America to see the trains in question I guess the first place I would start would be in Dundee, perhaps even Glasgow or further afield and go to London.
These three cities all have train stations and Glasgow and London both having Undergrounds.

Firstly I would document the graffiti by observing. Taking photos of what has been done on and around the trains. Seeing if there was a connecting factor, be it by the same person if tagged or a similar style.
This would also give me the chance to observe the people on the train and how they react with one another and the graffiti or vandalism, depending on how they see it.
I do not think drawing what I’m seeing would help as tackling graffiti is more about opinion and how people are reacting with and towards it. I would not gain much from this research method.
By taking photos I could cross-examine them and see what the linking factors between Dundee, Glasgow and London are. Are Glasgow and London similar in the amount of graffiti, as Dundee is a smaller city?
Are local trains more affected or is it the sleepers and longer train journeys that are worse? 
I would have to take in to account the times as well, rush hour being a major issue, as perhaps children going to school may become bored and restless on the trains. What could prevent mindless scrawl on the trains tables and upholstery? Is it “just mindless scrawl”?

I would then take a look at the actual train station. Is it appealing to the eye? Perhaps the “vandals” are just bored with the same old, beige, brown stonewalls they are having to look at. Do they just want to brighten the place up? Bring some colour in to the dreary world of commuting.
Questions need to be answered, so I would take my research to the people!
By conducting interviews I would experience peoples first reaction to a question, the bare truth of what they think of the graffiti or “vandalism”. This could be conducted on the trains, I could also ask the people doing it, if I catch them! Though they may take this as an attack on themselves rather than research in to helping them, so this may not be the best method.

I could write up questionnaires by asking what people though of the graffiti; is it vandalism or art? What makes people do it? Is it out of boredom? What can be done to prevent such boredom on train journeys?
By asking questions like these, I can gain valuable information from the public. The public may also have questions for the “vandals” that could be answered.
These could be left on trains, in the train stations and maybe even handed out. Though I think the safer option would be to leave questionnaires in the trains, at the tables and on the backs of the seats, with a pen next to it. Giving them something to do when they are waiting to reach their destination. And they wont be filled out then lost if handed out to them at the stations.
This also means I would get information back from different age groups, back grounds and social groups. Making it a wide selection of opinions.

By taking these questions and answers from the public I could then hold a focus group, asking graffiti artists and perhaps some school children who take regular train journeys too and from school the reasons why they do this.  I could also ask the city mayor or city council to join in and see what their ideas were on tackling the “problem”. And of course asking the general public, perhaps the ones who had questions to ask, to put towards the graffiti artists.
These focus groups may help with controlling the graffiti too, as it could lead to a mural being painted in the stations, with help from graffiti artists and the school children, so there is less desire to “deface” the boring walls around.
Also asking the questions; how can we prevent the mindless scrawl that so often happens? Could classes in graffiti art be the answer?  Does the layout and design of the trains and stations need to be changed so it is more appealing and interactive with the public?

I feel that using these methods I could gain incredibly important information and views on graffiti in the train stations and on trains.
Although the journals and papers are very informative, they have very bias opinions. By using these methods I can gather a range of views from a range of ages, I think the generational issues would be particularly important. Is there a huge difference? Are the generations today more likely to “deface” something as an artistic output?
Could there be pads of paper and pens put on the tables for people to doodle on? Thinking of recycled paper too!
By getting information from graffiti artist, this, although a bias approach, could influence the school children, and for the better. As they may encourage them to peruse in art related subjects, to take pen and paper with them wherever they go so they can keep their ideas.

Would it be better to encourage the art of graffiti, rather than to smother it? If you say, “don’t touch” you automatically want to touch. Perhaps it’s the same with “don’t draw here”?



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Bushnell, J,1990, “Moscow Graffiti: Language and Subculture.” Boston: Unwin Hyman.
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