Diigo Links

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Position change: taggers

Previously in this space, I pilloried "taggers" as little more than wee dogs pissing on posts. In my own self righteous and growed-up way, I stated firmly that respect for private property surely trumped any culturally inspired compulsion to tag. I'm about to reverse that decision.


Because I take the train. I take the train and am therein surrounded daily by tags, graffiti, paste-ups, throw-ups, stencil art, all that. I see it a lot. And I judge it. Not like "right" vs. "wrong", but more like "art" vs. "noise" or "succeed" vs. "fail". For a long time I was happy to put tags en-mass in the "noise" bin. And on occasion in the "fail" bin. But mostly noise getting in the way of art/expression.

But today on the train I had a bit of a moment. It was one of those moments where you don't know what you're looking at, and it makes you look again, think again. There's a MASSIVE tag at Strathfield station that I believe says "stops owa". It's probably 4 or 5 meters tall, and 5 or 6 meters up the side of a big windowless building wall. It looks as if it was painted using some sort of hose or maybe a paintball gun. It's really ugly, but it's way bigger than any of the other stuff done down at human scale. So, why?

At first I thought:"hippies". Because it doesn't look like typical tagging, I thought OWA must be a union or something. And this must be protest graff. But then further along the line I saw an OWA tag. That's when it hit me: "branding". These people, all people in the city, are bombarded daily with brands on billboards, busses, inside trains, train stations, buildings, bus stops, TV, bathrooms, almost everywhere. So why wouldn't it become a natural conclusion that an individual should also broadcast a brand - their brand, a tag? If brands are valued, valuable, why don't I have one? Why not create one?

Once the brand is created, the thing to do with it is to get it "out there". The question of "why" sort of answers itself at some point - "because everything of worth has a brand, look at me, I am worthy of a brand". It is a dog pissing on a tree, but it's also a birdsong, a loin's roar, a beaver dam.

Identity in the world, in a very specific social structure, the risk and ritual of establishing that identity, provides value, security, pecking-order, etc.. The writing is an artefact of the a process that answers questions for a portion of the population for whom no useful answers are being provided. It's worth the time looking deeply at these messages, to read what they say about the people writing them. Because what they are writing, although usually only one word, forms a class of the most profound and economical poetry ever written. In one word they're saying: "I am here" over and over and over again.


stopstops said...

Hey, Stops is just a moron who hasnt grown up even though hes now an adult, belonging to a group of vandals call OWA, from what of heard it stands for Out West Artists, but more accurately best described as Out West Ass*****.

I work on the rail network as a dog handler, my job is to prevent these idiots spraying trains while theyre stabled in the yards.

I have had some run ins with Stops and his girly friends and all they do is run like scared children.

I dont think its correct to romanticize their vandalism, if they want to shout "im here!" they can do that that by doing something worthwhile, not criminal and not at cost of 50+ million in damage to public property per year.

Brendo said...

Wow! An actual comment! Thanks for stopping by stopstops. I totally agree with you that criminal things are going on here, and that that costs money. And I'd agree that it's waste-money. The difficult thing is to create a society which spends money up front to direct "Out West Artists" in more productive ways. I concede that I did romanticize, but I believe it's important to try to grow enough sympathy for future OWAs to drive care towards them. It's a lot cheaper in the macro-economy to give kids the support they need early, than it is to adjudicate/incarcerate them as adults. The devil is in the details here. It’s very , very difficult to find the secret sauce of governmental/community/family influence to put all kids on the front foot. I think it’s unreasonable to expect 100% perfect kids in a city. And from that we obviously get less than 100% perfect adults. And if you look at this vandalism, it’s perpetrated by a small minority of the millions of people who live in the city. We’re doing fairly well if the crime is painting. Sao Paulo, Brazil would love to have our first world problems.

Let’s face it, some people are “idiots”, just like you said. From what I’ve seen, even stupid people learn a lot by getting ripped out of their comfort-zone and plopped into a hostile environment.
One of my suggestions would be to employ heaps of aboriginal elders to take every Australian schoolkid bush for about 6 weeks in year 9 or 10. Put city kids on the ground, show them what they really have by taking it all away. An idea like that, correctly implemented, would appear incredibly expensive (if you consider all the liability and logistics), but I think it would turn up to be worth it in the long run. Better than giving them all laptops...