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.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Taking it to/from the Streets...

Welcome to my Blog. It was just a matter of time, I suppose...

Many of the kind folks I have met over the past 2 years or so while stalking legal (and not so legal) graffiti walls with my camera have asked me "what do you do exactly?" This blog comes about in part to provide these nice folk with an answer, although a partial one. I like to play guitar in a substandard fashion. I get paid to trouble people's assumptions about moral order, authority and hopefully inspire some thoughts about social change and rock & roll.

This blog is a place for me to 'think out loud' about graffiti in Ottawa. I am currently researching the social history of graffiti in this concrete coloured town. I look forward to sharing critical observations about how the city attempts to 'manage' graffiti in particular.

That being said, please know that I am not a lawyer, nor should my reflections about such things as municipal policies be taken as legal advice by anyone. I am  a cultural critic who got her PhD by analyzing the crime drama CSI.

While I like to think of myself as an advocate on behalf of local writers (through text and less-than-professional photography), I do not intend to even suggest that I could ever speak FOR the many unique individuals who make up this complex and vibrant community.I only intend to encourage others outside of the community to think differently about graffiti and those who take boring urban spaces and make 'em sing.

One thing that I WONT be doing on this blog: giving out the coordinates of local writing sites. 

Why not?

It's hard enough being a writer in a capital city that seems to buy into the idea that "boring/grey walls = the appearance of security" and I don't intend to make it harder for writers by revealing such places to those who like to buff. You know who you are...

I will be posting photos I've taken of writing that has inspired my thinking on this topic, crediting writers when I can (feel free to correct me when I get em wrong, folks!). This is a kind of visual sociology without the peer-review process I suppose. This blog is also a testament to research as a dialectic process: my research is shaped by the people I meet, the places I've been and the culture in which this all takes place.

I'll try to remain relevant and post often enough to keep those of you who are kind enough to 'tune in' mildly interested.

Until next post...