The War of the Wall
Coca-Cola's street art attempt backfires
In the last week, a long-standing piece of graffiti by Sweet Toof covering the yard wall next to Hackney Wick station has undergone a transformation, much to the dismay of local residents and lovers of street art.
Coca-Cola, who are rather comically along with McDonalds’s one of the main sponsors of the Olympics, have replaced the graffiti with a ‘social realist’ style of mural depicting athletes deep in concentration. Coupled with its bright red background, the design no doubt unintentionally evokes communist-era artwork.
The re-branding of Hackney Wick
At the centre of the mural is a stream of bubbles rising from Katy B and Mark Ronson, who have presumably been included in a cringe-worthy attempt to get down with the kids. The wall is highly visible from street, building and train level, with a clear Coca-Cola logo now looming over the area: Hackney Wick, in an intervention involving no prior consultation with locals, was re-branded as Coca-Cola land.
The massive wall has become thus a symbol of the power of corporate sponsorship, since graffiti is illegal, and most London councils are very proud of their zero tolerance attitude towards it. Yet it appears that this anti-graffiti stance is dependant on who’s painting; a corporation keen to bolster its ‘street’ credentials is, apparently, allowed to massively intervene on public space without breaking the law in a way that a graffiti artist is not.
In an attempt to appeal to a younger generation Coke is trading on the ‘cool’ aura imparted by an art form that is illegal, and therefore dangerous to execute, while piggy-backing the well-established associations the location has with street art to consolidate the message.
Unsurprisingly, the locals are not happy. The day the mural was completed, indignation broke out on Facebook, as exasperated people from the area and beyond railed against it. Most people’s reactions are too rude to repeat but were typified by general expressions of disgust including suggestions to paint-bomb it, and anti-Olympics and corporate sentiment.
Sure enough, by day two, it was attacked with paint; and a week later, the words shame and f**k the Olympics have been crudely- but effectively- written across it. As one poster put it- ‘Hackney Wick is NOT sponsored by Coca-Cola’.
While some responding to the most recent photos were dismayed that an artist’s work had been defaced- even if they were working for Coca-Cola- the general reaction has been amusement, and a sense that the wall has for now been reclaimed from the corporate interlopers.
Others titled photos with ‘Hackney vs. The Olympics’, showing the level of distrust some of the local community feel towards the games and the corporate interests they represent. It seems that as a marketing ploy it has failed; though ad execs may feel that any sort of talking and writing about it represents the ‘oxygen of publicity’, the steady supply of which is, after all, the aim of advertising and sponsorship.
Public space colonised
Also, one could argue that as the wall is private property, the owner can do what they like with it. However it is ironic that while individuals are criminalised for their interventions into public space, corporations are allowed and even encouraged to do so, because they are paying for it. Yet as a public we have no choice as to where, when and how we receive the corporate messages that colonise our shared spaces.
Addendum: the future of the wall
So far responses have varied from cautious welcoming of the idea, to protests against the ecological damage all this painting will involve; others were angry that this company is helping a corporation to kill off one of the last creative enclaves in London. The ‘war of the wall’ is far from over.