<body> Public Ad Campaign: How Do We Think About Graffiti In A Modern City?
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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How Do We Think About Graffiti In A Modern City?

I've always had a tenuous relationship with tagging, with those who use/abuse the public by writing their names on the walls of our shared public spaces. Depending on who you ask, the scrawl is a rich texture of social networks and base level social communication, or simply the wanton destruction of public and private property by citizens hellbent on reaping havoc on our city and culture. I must say my views lie somewhere in the middle and at least in theory favor those striving to create a signifier which represents themselves in a vast network of individual, and corporate iconography. After all the city can be an incredibly complex environment in which to define ones identity and ideas, especially for those whose identity is perhaps forming for the first, but probably not the last, time.

It would seem that as a public we are fighting this scrawl to the best of our ability. Two examples of this counter initiative are the Anti-Vandal squad wing of the NYPD as well as the private maintenance crews employed by local BID's to paint over graffiti as fast as it can crop up. While doing our best to control this aggressive form of mark making, I think it is important to take notice of some of the interesting scrawl that exemplifies a more concerned individual armed with a spray can. Not all graffiti is intent on destruction and when it is, sometimes it is indicative of a social fabric rich with differing opinions and interests. Some graffiti goes beyond the name and enters into the realm of conversation. Is this form of urban writing worth preserving and even fighting for? And how, or should, we distinguish between the mundane and the exciting?

This photo was removed. It was a picture of one of the public art works at the LMCC's newest Lentspace project after having been vandalized with the words "This is not art". It seems there has been a mistake and the kind people at LMCC think I might have been responsible for this act of vandalism. I most assuredly was not and do not condone the destruction of public art. I apologize to anyone who might have gotten the wrong idea.

Take for example the recent vandalism of the LMCC's newest public art project. It appears someone took it upon themselves to make a commentary about the use of the term "art" to describe several works presented by the LMCC in their newest sculpture park, a public/private collaboration between the LMCC and the Trinity Real Estate Development Corporation. If you know this location, you know the high risk involved for the individual who made this commentary. I do not necessarily agree with the statement, but one cannot deny the fact that this was not your typical tagging so much as it was social commentary, whether you agree with the vandal or not. Again, graffiti is being used here as a form of communication, and not in an arbitrary way, something I think we should take notice of before we simply denounce all graffiti as vandalism. The question then becomes, do we want this sort of visual commentary/vandalism to be a part of our public experience?

photo by Jake Dobkin

Another instance of graffiti I think we would be quick to call vandalism is the work of Booker. Often you can see his work around town in the form of simple scrawl and stickers, albeit more interesting than most in my opinion. His graffiti employs the word "read" and "book" over and over again in many different iterations, "read more", "reader", "read more books", etc. As far as I'm concerned these statements defy the typical egocentric nature of street level name tagging by incorporating a beneficent slogan into the tag. True to form, one of the more recent works by Booker that I have seen takes this to another level, getting rid of the reader name all together, simply asking viewer to "Open Your Eyes".

How then do we qualify graffiti in our shared public spaces? is it vandalism? is it a simple nuisance? or is it something more that a city with such a widely varied set of opinions must embrace as a form of public communication? I still don't know but I think we must all think harder about what and who graffiti is for before we shut down our minds and cover the entire form in a blanket of illegality.

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