Painting the City : Performative Cosmopolitanism and the Politics of Space and Art

Abstract: Understanding everyday urban practices as performative, political, and potentially transformative, this dissertation aims to explore how graffiti- and street art use, subvert, and, via media, extend urban space in Stockholm. Drawing upon a performative ethnographic approach, the study focuses on both the practice of and the various forms of social commentary and critique generated by graffiti and street art in Stockholm. The findings illustrate the diversity of positionalities that abide in this cultural cluster, noting, in particular, the ambiguities, juxtaposition and tensions therein. Furthermore, the dissertation explores the cosmopolitan potentials of graffiti and street art as transnational movements, which create connections through shared imaginaries and senses of belonging. The analysis is based upon in-depth interviews, nine months of fieldwork, and numerous photographs, and addresses three research questions: (1) how is contemporary Stockholm graffiti- and street art culture articulated and performed by its makers and in what ways the culture collapse with other media than “writing”/painting?, (2) what characterizes the scope of social critique articulated as part of the performative repertoires of Stockholm graffiti and street art discourses? and, (3) what are the critical and aesthetic cosmopolitan potentials and/or deficits of graffiti- and street art culture and under which conditions do they materialize?Theoretically, the study draws on the concept of aesthetic cosmopolitanism in order to explore and analyze the acts and practices of “world-making” through aesthetic performances. By linking aesthetic cosmopolitanism with ancient Cynic philosophy, the concept of performative cosmopolitanism is introduced. Performative cosmopolitanism captures the varieties of outlooks and spaces that open up through critical, sensorial, and, in certain cases, even transformative, interventions in the city and their mediated extensions. Using mediatization as a paradigmatic approach, both an increase in digital dissemination and visibility and a decrease in actual performances and visibility are observed. In this respect, the mediatization of graffiti and street art remains a paradoxical process. Given the entanglement of different media with graffiti and street art performances, the study further introduces the concept of hyper-mediatization to articulate an interdependent relationship between the actual and virtual forms of these urban performances: they fundamentally affect and extend each other by both sustaining and expanding existing imaginaries and connections and generating emergent ones. The dissertation paints the image of a contested, controversial and subversive urban culture and its contemporary mediatized extensions. It shows how graffiti and street art can be understood, both culturally and politically, as a critical, alternative and essentially anti-capitalist aesthetization of the urban. Utilizing the concept of regimes of cosmopolitanism, the author highlights the potentials and deficits of “comingtogetherness” through and during creative practice and the dual dynamics of hospitality and encapsulation. Particular emphasis is placed upon the tensions related to gender and the ways in which such tensions factor into the social relations within these artistic communities and the aesthetics they produce. 

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