I recall an interview a few years ago with a well-known architect from the suburb of Fitzroy in Melbourne, Australia on a radio station in Venice, Italy from the Australian pavilion at the Venice Biennale (Fitzroy is where I started this journey, and soon it will end at Fitz Roy Mountain in Argentina). In certain circles, this particular architect isn’t held in high esteem and is often referred to as the ‘Butcher of Fitzroy’ because of his ugly, incongruous, modern apartment buildings (perhaps Melbourne should slap World Heritage status on its inner-city as many forward-thinking Bolivian, Peruvian, Chilean and Ecuadorian cities have done).
I was curious to hear what someone with the esteemious title of the Butcher of Fitzroy would have to say about Melbourne and Australia from Venice in Italy, one of the birthplaces of Modern Western civilisation. The Butcher was struggling with the questions from the interviewer and didn’t seem to understand the geographical context of the interview, namely Venice, a city perhaps a little too remote and strange to him to be worthy of referencing (and in need of a good renovation!). The Butcher somehow came to the subject of graffiti as Melbourne had an active graffiti scene about a decade ago which got hijacked by the City’s promoters and thus became part of narrow global-trash-narratives. Thus, the Butcher repeated the hackneyed statement that “Melbourne is the graffiti capital of the world!”.
This cringe-worthy statement grated out of my little radio in my room in Melbourne from Venice, perhaps the most elegant city in Europe (and ‘graffiti’ is an Italian word describing a practice invented in Italy, or, at least, ancient Rome). And graffiti isn’t a State so how can it have a capital? And it seems incongruous for graffiti, an autonomous and rebellious art form usually in opposition to the State to be conflated with political cities that are central to its institutional control. What a Bogan I thought to myself (a Bogan is an unsophisticated Australian prevent in all classes of society, not unique to Australia but common in many countries where economic development and cultural development are often at odds with one another such as Qatar, the Bogan capital of the world). Even if graffiti had a capital, how could it possibly be Melbourne, a comfortable and complacent city; a capital of Banality perhaps but certainly not graffiti.
In Valparaso I reflected upon the Butcher of Fitzroy whilst wandering the steep streets with walls and houses covered with spectacular, confronting and uplifting street-art. The Butcher had obviously never been here and even if he had, he possibly wouldn’t have noticed it (and Valparaso is protected by a UNESCO World Heritage overlay, so what some call progress isn’t so destructive).
I stayed in Valparaso for two weeks, walking, eating, drinking, reading and thinking. As a port city, it reminded me of Fassbinder’s Querelle, a noir vibe with dodgy bars with lonely seamen. It is surrounded by forty-two hills, each hill forming a neighbourhood with dozens of funiculars carting women with their shopping and backpackers with their peculiar perspectives to the top. The funiculars are old and rickety and each quite different to one another, with at least one going under the ground.
I am now in Santiago, a large, modern developed city that looks like any other large, modern developed city. In fact half the Chilean population lives here, but more on that next…