Good Design | Reverse Graffiti

Reverse graffiti, also known as clean tagging, dust tagging, grime writing or clean advertising does exactly what it says on the tin. Instead of ‘vandalizing’ the city walls and tunnels, it cleans them! It works on exactly the same principle as the ‘wash me’ signs that you see etched into the back of dirty lorries, except street artists have taken it one step further and use sponges, scrapers and pressure hoses.

The movement although started by street artists has now also been adopted by big brands such asSmirnoff, The BBC and Microsoftas an innovative and environmentally friendly way to advertise their products and services. The artwork/adverts last between 1-3 weeks depending on footfall and weather conditions, basically until they get dirty again!

Local authorities being local authorities, have inevitably tried to find ways to regulate reverse graffiti and prosecute those practicing it. However most have failed due to the fact that the work is temporary, biodegradable and non-destructive (not exactly your usual list of graffiti accusations). The exception being Leeds council who issued this ridiculous statement that somewhat embarrassingly missed the point:

“Leeds residents want to live in clean and attractive neighbourhoods, and expect their streets to be free of graffiti and illegal advertising. We also view this kind of rogue advertising as environmental damage and will take strong action against any advertisers carrying out such campaigns without the relevant permission.”

The street artist accused, Paul Curtis aka ‘Moose’ was charged under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act and ironically ordered to ‘clean up his act’. However, in Sao Paulo there was a much more productive and positive resolution.Alexandre Orion, started scraping skulls (a comment on the harmful effect of vehicle fumes) into Sao Paulo’s soot-covered tunnels. The police found they couldn’t charge him with anything as cleaning the walls was not a crime, so instead they cleaned the parts of the tunnel that Alexandre had worked on. When he just carried on his work in other tunnels they decided the only way to stop him was to clean every tunnel in Sao Paulo. Alexandre 1 – Authorities 0!

Personally I think that reverse graffiti is a stroke of street art genius and long may it continue to brighten up and bring life to our dirty streets.