How do people use public spaces to mark their territory? Are they creating art or simply committing vandalism, and how does the city respond to all of this this? The book Sorry for Damage Done by Vincent Wittenberg and Wladimir Manshanden shows the bizarre battle in public space between the Dutch city of Eindhoven and its local graffiti scene.
Between 2007 and 2013, the Dutch city of Eindhoven launched a zero tolerance policy on graffiti and street art. A huge number of cleaning companies were commissioned to clean unauthorised images and messages in public space such as graffiti, stickers, and posters. As evidence of their work, the companies had to take photos of the situation before and after cleaning, leading to a huge digital archive of over 50,000 images representing the ongoing struggle between the graffiti scene and the Dutch city.
Wittenberg and Manshanden stumbled upon this valuable historical archive and decided to browse through all of the 50,000 pictures and make a publication out of it. Sorry for Damage Done is an atypical book on graffiti and street art. Whereas most books on this topic celebrate the amazing creations in public space, this book shows the counterpart of this movement — the enormous professional effort to keep public spaces clean. As Wittenberg states, “the production of this book has cost over 3 million euros” — the total costs of removing thousands of ‘artworks’ on the street.
The choice to look through the lenses of the cleaning companies to highlight the graffiti scene is both novel and interesting. Unintentionally, it exposes some hilarious situations. In one instance, the “before” pictures shows two urban objects with graffiti on them, whilst the “after” shots show that only one is clean, instantly demonstrating the absurdity of the strict and specific cleaning contracts. This is further depicted by images where stickers are removed from a traffic sign, but not from the pole; or when the paint used to paint over graffiti does not match with the color of a wall, leaving another mark in its place. The phrase “two steps forward, one step back”, repeatedly comes to mind.
Overall, the book exhibits seven years of graffiti culture in Eindhoven alongside the city’s struggle with the dilemma of combating vandalism versus embracing subcultures.