One of the things I love about Melbourne are the amazing graffiti pieces we get. Apparently, we’re known internationally for it, in certain circles. We have a thriving and skilled population of graffiti artists – even under draconian laws that, for example, make carrying a can of spraypaint illegal (giving the police a pre-packaged excuse to stop suspected vandals that merely “look the part”, and haven’t actually been seen doing anything traditionally illegal).
The ‘Authorities’ choose to interpret graffiti as an eyesore. This has led to ridiculous crackdowns in the past, and masses of public money blithely wasted by our state and local governments on “graffiti clean-ups”, such as during the Commonwealth Games.
In the not-so-distant past, a police graffiti/transit squad was rumoured to have engaged in “tagging” of graffiti pieces. Graffiti artists would report catching police “slashing” graffiti pieces (painting over the top of them); I found one tale on an internet forum from a guy who says he left a can of spraypaint behind while being chased by the police – and later found that his can had been used to “slash” a range of pieces.
Tags began appearing, slathered across much better pieces, reading “CTSA” – rumoured to stand for “Cops Trashing Shit Art” or “Cops That Slash Art”.
My view of graffiti is obviously more positive than the “legal” view. I think you need to put it in some kind of perspective. Consider this: We’re bombarded with advertising wherever we go. A billboard is a genuine eyesore. We put up with lists of sponsors and corporate logos on sporting, artistic, and museum events, because we want their money. But they look disgusting. Most of the time, advertisers are outright insulting us; if they’re not insulting our bodies, they’re insulting our intelligence.
Graffiti, on the other hand, entertains. It’s not something put up there to make money; in fact, graffiti artists lose money on it, and sometimes carry it out at great personal (and legal) risk. Sure, it’s about prestige and showing off, and the worst of it – the texta tagging – can almost sink to the level of a company logo… not quite, but almost ;). But it’s often genuinely impressive. If not for the skill involved, then for the “How the heck did they get up there??” factor. Sometimes, there’s even a political point to it – while companies use slick advertising to gloss over their use of overseas sweatshops and other crimes against humanity, graffiti will occasionally bring you comments like “Stop Logging Our Water Catchments!”, “No Jobs On A Dead Planet” (in massive letters on a giant smokestack), and the bitingly ironic slogan “Shut Up And Shop“. And at least it’s your fellow Melbournians trying to grab your attention, just because they think your attention is valuable – not because they want to hustle you.
In around March of this year, Melbourne commuters began noticing a new tag – “CTCV” – used to “slash” a range of pieces. Mostly along train lines, and always over much better pieces.
CTCV tags along Melbourne's train lines.
A friend of mine pointed out that “CTCV” isn’t too far from “CTSA”, and apparently he wasn’t the only one to draw this conclusion. Do an Australia-centred google search for the initials, and you’ll find lots of forum speculation along similar lines by those in graffiti culture.
Is it the work of “gronks” – less talented kids trying to annoy the older graff artists and make a mindless mark of their own? Or could the “C” at the start of “CTCV” stand for “Cops” – as it has been rumoured to in the past? “CTCV” – “Cops That Catch Vandals”? “Cops Trashing Crap Vandalism”?
We’ll probably never know, unless they’re caught in the act. And then, the only people catching them would be graffiti artists themselves – reliable enough eyewitnesses if you ask me, but I doubt the “authorities” would concur.