Monday 5 October 2020

Picture Post 58: The Underpass

'Because things don’t appear to be the known thing; they aren’t what they seemed to be neither will they become what they might appear to become.'

Posted by Tessa den Uyl

What is graffiti? Urban art, identity statements, politics, distraction, public empowerment, vandalism, property, religion, claiming ownership—graffiti embraces them all. Not always do we know its meanings, though habitually we recognise it when we see it.

Aesthetically speaking, graffiti might not be attractive—though this does not explain why often it is at one and the same time accepted and abolished. Obviously graffiti tends to move against the mainstream, though its form it is somehow of the same language—eradicated in that contradiction which suits the social order.

This makes graffiti a scribble in a world where its echo is instantaneously consumed. On the other hand, it is a manifestation and a message, noticed by the unconventional way it is proposed.

Yet the incompatible is never as discordant as it might initially appear. Graffiti exposes the innate ambivalence of our societies and legal systems, by being an illegal form of expression while also being sold for high prices in mainstream museums. While some graffitists obtain copyright on their work, others are prosecuted for vandalism.

Similar to the man depicted in the picture above who, exceptionally, has become a legend and a symbol for a generation and beyond, it might well be that the influence of graffiti will have clearer definition in the future, to become what it is not yet.

Whatever the case, it seems bound to tell us more about ourselves than we initially imagined some swiftly drawn assumptions of its meaning could provoke.


Thomas O. Scarborough said...

I hadn't thought much about graffiti, and I like this broad look at what it is and might become. While it has been with us for a very long time, it proliferated in the early 70s. I wonder what it is about our society that gave it a boost at that time?

Keith said...

It seems that history and prehistory give graffiti cache. Ancient cave graffiti that’s tens of thousands of years old and the ash-preserved graffiti of Pompeii are of that kind. Where ‘public’ surfaces provided the canvas and exposure sought. A few smidgeons of contemporary graffiti, now often begrudged by busy moderns as intrusive or considered a form of urban ‘white noise’, might likewise survive, to be seen by our descendants as having cache. The passage of centuries and millennia has a way of indiscriminately sorting it all out.

Tessa den Uyl said...

To me it seems that graffiti is one of those expressions which is judged before having gotten a clue what it is about. I believe, in regard to the contemporary graffiti which Thomas mentions, that it is a rather secret world in which an alias is intended to communicate solely between the scribblers. ( I.e. they know what they are talking about, and we are left in the dark). Which shows that graffiti has transformed in, one would almost say, different branches. One doesn’t sometimes understand whether a building with graffiti is a decoration ( some are amazingly well done) or an action against its demolition, or both. Interests, personal and financial, has divided certain views. Then there is this scribbling which seems empty without any idea behind it and only wants to mark something without having any idea why. This is the graffiti ( I am judging here!) which ruins the landscape it was raised upon.

In a way, graffiti is a public announcement without formality which makes it an interesting expression, yet to be explored, by who is doing it and the one watching it.

re: Keith, I doubt the materials used today will be able to trace signs within centuries. I like the word cache you choose, and your view that indiscriminately it will show its way. ( I am not sure if human being will be capable to do so though...)

Tessa den Uyl said...

Ah! Your comment Keith just made me think of movies which do not seem to have exploited the idea of the remains of graffiti in their futurist perspective of a destroyed world and their significance. Documents, books, publicity yes. Recent graffiti stays behind...

Martin Cohen said...

For myself, I think there are really so many different 'kinds' of graffiti that it hardly makes sense to talk of it under one heading. Yes, there are the 'messages', such as the Taggers clapping territory, the racists trying to intimidate… but then there are the 'artists'. Just recently, the rather wealthy and successful graffiti artist 'Banksy' tried to copyright one of his works - a Palestinian youth throwing a bouquet of flowers in protest at the Israeli military occupation. The European Union Intellectual Property Office declined saying: "Banksy has chosen to remain anonymous and for the most part to paint graffiti on other people's property without their permission rather than to paint it on canvases or his own property".

I think the case is revealing as it highlights a sort of conflict in the graffiti artist world: is the art subverting property and society - or is it seeking control and power?

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