Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Where the Streets Have No Names?

As I was going through my photos of graffiti this week, I found this pic I snapped the Monday after House of Paint 2010, which was put on by the awesome folk at Keepsix. I will write a bit about my HOP experience soon enough, but today I'm going to indulge myself and write about this picture.

Its a pretty terrible picture of a ordinary concrete barrier, I guess. But in the city of Ottawa, a city infected with gray concrete, barriers stand next to walls the way a tree stands against a forest.

It is 1 of about 20 such stones along the Transit Way in front of the legal 'Tech' Wall. If you are of the mind that these are merely letters, I'd encourage you to look again. This barrier reminded me of property. Yeah, property & pretty.

Clearly, "Prestige" (a construction company) wants to mark a claim on this concrete barrier. I suspect concrete forms are expensive and so Prestige wants to let others know not to take this one.

Fair enough. Property.

But if the stencil is just a message about who gets to take this concrete barrier home, then why the fancy little chevron over the 'tig' in the Prestige stencil? 


The point of adding 'style' in the name of ownership is connected to branding; branding is about identity. The stencil does not just say "this is mine" it also says "I am this KIND of person in this city: I am a corporate citizen who paid for this block; hence, because I am this KIND of citizen and I can legally act in ways that you can not"

Now consider the other tag.

Do I think that the person who wrote "Venise" is making a political statement about property relations and branding? I have no idea. Maybe. Maybe not. All I know is that - in my books - Venise wins in this style war between corporate and non corporate citizens (of course, I am assuming Venise doesn't own a corporation, and I could be wrong.)

Both of these tags are framed by an understanding of property and the tension between public and private spaces. Because Venise is violating a moral order, which is based on property, then some might claim its "ugly". This is not Venise's "stuff", George Carlin might have mused.

We march to the sound of oatmeal that echoes between concrete walls of the Nation's Capital to our jobs in - or servicing to - the government sector: signing our own names to papers that other people own; serving cups of coffee branded by corporations; teaching their adult children to be criminologists. 

The parade of beige paint and grey walls frame tags so that some stand out as 'wrong' identities (citizens) worth ignoring, while others are 'right' but boring.

What a strange irony of paint.


  1. I do hope the city has done something to add a little more color to the infrastructure. Being mostly a drab grey would be an eyesore.

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  2. It is not very pretty to have such vandalism. I hate people who do it. In our place, the vandalized walls were painted with colorful designs to cover them up. liquid limestone perth

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