I recently moved from Houston to Chicago and betrayed all that I know and believe in by leaving my vehicle behind. YIKES! So now I’m a pedestrian traveling with "Pat and Ben." A sucker taking the train and bus everywhere. One of the unforeseen benefits of this new urban and eco-conscious lifestyle is that I’m paying a lot more attention to some of the tagging and stickers and post ups around the neighborhood I’m living in.
This has given me pause to consider what these things do for me as I move through my day. The competition for visual space is steep, and I have always admired the anonymous artist doing battle against the heavily armed forces of capitalism. I know there are plenty of issues about property damage and other blah blah blah, but Graffiti has a very special place in my heart. There is an elegance and urgency to this form that is of course absent when the only cause is to gain more capital.
I believe that advertising has had the effect of forcing an oppositional language to emerge. A language that operates around the spaces that are absent in the uber clean, uber happy, one dimensional world of advertising, where all are beautiful and white, or white-like, and smell good and eat dry crumb-less toast.
To that world, an extra clever artist will find the biggest concrete wall he can and in bright neon colors yell forth the rallying cry of the rebel alliance.
OK, So Toni Morrison did not write this. Still, for me it was real exciting. Here was at least an honest statement amongst all the visual clutter I had been passing through. This has lifted my spirits a few times as I ambled through brightly lit bus shelters pitching me jeans for petite girls, and Axe Body Spray. At its foundation, Graffiti is an act of resistance. A tag like this is anti-advertising. A self-aware billboard tired of its own lying and manipulation and presenting instead its true feelings about us.
One of the great things tagging has done for me is make me feel less lonely in a city where I don’t know too many people. Seeing the same tag over and over again, popping up in all the places I frequent is sort of reassuring.
Clam Chowder has been really active around my neighborhood. A really ugly tag, in chalk no less, He turns up near my local grocery store, my comic book shop, the train stop, around the corner from my house. (Ok, that sounds a little bit creepy). In any event, I feel like I know Clam Chowder, and there is comfort in that familiarity. His script becomes a connecting tissue between us. The consistency of seeing this silly name reminds me that all these people I see walking around with ipod wires squiggling out of their ears (myself included) are real people. They are real because one of them wrote this.
Again, I want to bring up the idea of resistance. As simple and benign and arguably juvenile as it is, this is a rebellious act. He’s breaking the rules just by announcing his presence. For me the sheer ugliness of this hand printed style is a reminder of that Human presence. It is an affirmation of the organic nature of the human hand, which exists in sharp contrast to our present prescribed position where we construct our identities through machine cut ideas of self. We project this identity through our avatars and profile pics that suggest a version of ourselves that we wished we were all the time. Our facebook photos claim we visited the beach when in reality we may have gone there to take a picture and then we left. Clam Chowder was standing, outside, performing, when he wrote these tags. Unlike you or I at this moment, staring at some computer screen that’s probably too bright. I don’t mean to suggest that somehow he is living more than we are. I’m sure he also googles his own name. However, his simple act of tagging is helping me to remember to breathe.
This brings me to SMEER, a burgeoning favorite.
Ah, Smeer, you are a riot!
Though we may collectively chuckle and or roll our eyes at this second image, I found myself wondering what set him off on this particular assessment of our armed representatives of the state. I mean, we can all imagine what the relationship between some anarchist tagger (That is an anarchist logo right? Unless SMEER is a member of the Avengers) and the police must be like, but I would assume that this is by now an accepted norm. "All cops are hypocrite bitches" seems a very specific critique. It set me to imagining all sorts of encounters between these two forces. Whatever the case, I should at least offer in his defense, that we do live within a strange arrangement where some of our conservative countrymen may bring assault rifles to voice protest against our first black president, but those unarmed protestors on the left are very dramatically carted off to who knows where. My assumption is that SMEER is presenting his opinion of this climate.
I find those all previous tags interesting and curious but still kind of crude and lacking. By far my favorites are those that maximize, style, color and placement. The best Tags offer a moment of visual poetry. These are few and far between but I’ll end my rambling here with an excellent one I stumbled upon the other day. This just made me feel really good.