Criminal Law and Political Justice

Criminal Law and Political Justice School of Social and Political Sciences Faculty of Arts

A week’s tutorials were held at the Potter in this undergraduate subject (CRIM20002) that examines issues relating to the ways in which criminal law acts as a means of governance in contemporary life. Considering the topic ‘Graffiti and street art: Criminal images in public space’, tutorial groups visited the survey exhibition Stieg Persson: Polyphonic. Here, they spent time with a suite of recent paintings by this mid-career, Melbourne-based artist featuring shop signage and laneway graffiti tags sourced from the upper-middle-class suburb of Brighton. This breaking down of the boundaries between street and gallery, and unauthorised and authorised expression, facilitated breakout tutorial discussions around ideas of public civility and the criminalisation of certain behaviours in public spaces – the street and the museum.

Using object-based learning, especially when it involves looking at art, in a gallery space, can be overwhelming for some students at first. Holding classes in the gallery might be the first time some students have ever visited an art exhibition, while for others, this space is more familiar. Many students are surprised by the intersections between the art and the subject material they are addressing, and appreciate stepping out of the conventional classroom.

While there is often clear content-based learning which is facilitated by object-based learning, students are also acquiring new, transferable skills in the process. This is especially clear in the use of art, as object. We all know what we like when we see it, right? But what are we seeing? This is a very subjective process which nonetheless requires careful reflection, and invites open-ended thinking and a willingness to embrace ambiguity and nuance. Students also develop skills in working together, as a team, discussing the art and considering its possibilities, as an object of learning.

The exhibition by Stieg Persson, in which the artists uses graffiti motifs (tracings) in his work and overlays it with other images and Rococco style design was a wonderful opportunity to draw out the tensions between street art/graffiti and gallery art, in the subject Criminal Law and Political Justice. Addressing the topic of ‘Graffiti and Street Art: Criminal Images in Public Space’ , students were invited to reflect on these tensions, and to explore the intricate processes which enable some forms of expression to be deemed offensive under criminal law, at the same time that other forms of expression (art) are valued and cherished. In both instances, the work can be in a public space. But while one is given authority and legitimacy the other is regarded as excessive and a sign of disorder and criminality.
– Dr Claire Loughnan, Teaching Fellow, School of Social and Political Sciences, Faculty of Arts

What the students said
‘Really enjoyable. A different experience, refreshing.’

‘It has ‘physical and real world’ relevance.’

‘The art provided a ‘different lens through which to perceive graffiti and its aesthetic or economic value.’ – student responses