ArgumentNo. 13/2021

Urban Context. Visual Communication. Graffiti as a Manifestation of Heterotopia

  • / assoc. prof. PhDc arch., “George Enescu” National University of Arts, Iaşi, RO
  • / “George Enescu” National University of Arts, Iaşi,, „Gheorghe Asachi” Technical University, Iași, RO


City and imaginary architectural space oscillate between two categories typological - utopia and dystopia, to which we can add the contemporary concept of heterotopia. Michel Foucault defines heterotopia as an actually realized utopia, a counter-location, a place outside any place, even if it is localizable. In contrast to utopia, heterotopia is a different kind of space, a mythical and at the same time real challenge of the space in which we live. There are two major types of heterotopias - crisis and deviation, but also a less common category of compensation heterotopias. What is offered to us is more than an illusion of another world, it is precisely a compensation for the shortcomings of evil, a world organized according to totally different values and criteria. The individual feels the need to express himself through alternative means, which over time we have come to call arts, such as graffiti. Starting from the visual aggression of buildings, deserted alleys and degraded public spaces and the psychological impact they have on the individual, we understand that urban space must be seen not only as a simple framework of manifestation, but also as a catalyst and generator of this social phenomenon. As in the case of any other work of art, the appreciation of a graffiti is influenced by the category of the observer, by his emotional connections with that place, by his training and intellectual structure. Graffiti and urban space influence each other, an aspect revealed by analyzing urban art through the prism of the concepts of heterotopia and the right to the city. Urban space often needs to be personalized, humanized, in the same way that one personalizes private space, one’s own home. It is a marking of the territory and a correction of a deficiency of contemporary architecture – depersonalization.

Keywords: utopia, dystopia, heterotopia, urban space, graffiti, street art

Published in Argument 13/