Front doors, as points of transit between public and private spaces, assume some of the qualities of each sphere. And if one were to anthropomorphize a house while the windows would be the eyes the door would be the mouth: the place where speech takes place. And, given the mixed quality of the door, it will be the place where public and private speech can take place, depending on how the tension between public and private is played out culturally.
I noticed in Williamsburg, a place of many tribes, that the two most self-promoting tribes–the (mostly) white gentrifiers and the (mostly) black street people–were fond of self-assertion through the colonization of public spaces. While the white gentrifiers left “private” doorways mostly alone in favor of phone booths and open walls the street culture was dominant as regards colonizing private doors top to bottom–one way, I suppose of saying “shut your face.”
I am in Ghent for a week, a lovely small city in the northern (Dutch) side of Belgium. It’s close to, and similar to, the better known city of Bruges down the road, though being a little less pristine it attracts fewer tourists and British gangsters–no falling bodies from towers either, as far as I could tell.
But it is a highly charming city nonetheless. Here, let me just show you some doors and make an observation about them vis-a-vis Williamsburg.
Lots of nice doors . . .
. . . and essentially no door graffiti. Some doors have tiny little stickers put on them saying not to post bills or leave flyers in the mailbox but that’s it. Other than that, the doors are permitted to speak with their own voices.
The Dutch (both Belgians and Hollanders) they are a decent and tidy bunch so this does not surprise. In fact, while they like the rest of the world hears the siren’s song of graffiti culture, the issue is handled with characteristic restraint.
Yes, there is the occasional piece of graffiti on public walls . . .
. . . .but it’s kind of pathetic, really.
So what does a seriously creative graffiti artist do? Well, you are free to paint at one of a couple designated “graffiti streets”. Here are some snaps from one such street. It is in the very heart of the medieval area but it is tucked away and narrow, and runs discreetly, like a red-light zone, between two larger streets.
Some might say this approach tames what should not be tamed. Others will find this particular balance between public and private entirely to their liking.