Saturday, March 03, 2007

Word Plague by Clerk Kant

The graffiti artist is a cultural transgressor.

Street(s)crawl with krylon colours; giant schizoid letters and blown-up comic book figures are the marks of the craft.The letters on a page (or screen) are employed in eye-connotastic (sic0 action: illicitly sprayed on concrete canvasses, larger than life. This recontextualization is in itself a semiotically subversive act. The symbols of the system of communication control - language- have mutated, tumefied into seven foot high monsters, looming from the new pages of history implied by the medium… the leavings of capitalist excess- our urban architecture.

In many ways the graffiti movement is a manifestation of Derridean play, and
"this movement of play, permitted by the lack of absence of a centre of origin is the movement of supplementarity."(p132D.T.)
The graffiti artist leaves messages acknowledging the voice of an underground. The graffiti artist does not function in isolation. (S)he is part of a movement, often linked with music or more overt forms of ideology. Graffiti does not represent a totalization of its ideology- "this sign is added, occurs as a surplus, as a supplement." (p.132ibid) this movement of supplementarity should accommodate the changes, progressions and advances in perception and communication of the community or movement.

The graffiti artists I will focus on here are engaged in an existencilist (sic) sense
"in opposition to epistemic discourse…[this] mythological discourse - must itself be mythomorphic. It must have the form of that of which it speaks." (p130ibid)
For graffiti the medium is the message. The medium is play- treacherous play; art crime. P@b£o Fi@$co and Miss.Tic both commit art within the mythomorphic realm of the alter-ego. They work in the often anonymous world of graffiti, yet both make use of the nom de plume; they have each created a mythical identity with whom we are to associate their traces. This is a form of "virtual anonymity" that our protagonists employ. It identifies the perpetraitor of the "crime", yet it acts as a disguise. The names chosen are semiotically loaded. They carry with them connotations of stance, of attitude.

Both employ a play of meaning as their signature. Miss.Tic signs her name in stencil, but in the style of a hand written signature. The use of the style of signature suggests a vulnerability, an admission of complicity: the personal signature is understood as a type of fingerprinting - a clue that should be easily traceable. But this signature is insincere - because it is filtered through a stencil it is at least once removed from the hand of the author by its nature. Miss.Tic has total motor control over her name. There is also an obvious play on words here. The name is a game. Miss.Tic is multiplicitous in meaning. The word has connotations of the role of the artist (mystical), and alludes to the romance of the graffiti artist - baffling, allegorical, mysteriously disappearing into the night. Miss provides us with an answer to her gender and therefore her agenda, tic implies both a parasite, (public image of the graffiti artist) and a repetitive involuntary muscle twitch, perhaps suggesting repeated offences, the method of the stencil artist.

P@b£o Fi@$co "signs" his name with a floating web of signifiers. The name is spelled with letters and symbols. The symbols; dollar sign, cent sign, pound sign and percent sign suggest a system of capitalism and empiricism. But these symbols we are compelled to read as letters in the name. The symbols must be read outside of their usual role of empirical denotation. In order to get the joke the reader is coerced into wrongly reading these strongest systems of a system of control. A sign's value is determined by its paradigmatic and syntagmatic associations. P@b£o Fi@$co is a sign of multiple signification. The name is paradigmatically linked to the artist P@b£o Fi@$co. This becomes a signifier in a second signifying transaction, one of connotation. P@b£o Fi@$co is also an artist, one who exploits the arbitrary nature of the sign; in this case making symbols stand for letters that they somewhat resemble, to make these power symbols comment on themselves, read against themselves. They are complicit, integral to our understanding of fiasco, or utter failure. P@b£o Fi@$co uses an erratic style of lettering as his signature. It suggests the blackmailer's alphabet, ransacked from newspapers and magazines to disguise the identity of the author. The blackmail style connotes a sense of urgency, of drastic measures, a bile means(sic) necessary defiance. It seems to link two criminal types in an attempt to create credibility by soliciting sources passionate and extreme, mythological and emotional.

One of Miss.Tic's earlier pieces is a picture of a woman, silhouetted in a posture of fright. It is captioned (roughly translated) "who writes on the wall" and "the wall also writes on you". The picture of the woman has been gouged and stabbed so that the stone beneath shows through. This may have been done by Miss.Tic But it is also likely that the picture was vandalised. In which case we have an interesting case of discourse. Someone may have been offended by the graffiti and tried to remove it, unable to remove it all, they left the traces of a violent attack against an image of a woman. We simply do not know who gouged the woman. Whether the act was perpetrated by Miss.Tic or not we have a rupture of centre.
"If it is now asked where the real centre of the work is to be found, the answer is that this is impossible to determine." (130D.T.)
Derrida claims
"The discourse on the acentric structure that myth itself is, cannot itself have an absolute centre." (D.T.130)


"The wall also writes on you" is itself a mythomorphic clause. The author displaces herself, in an act of "syntagmatic imagination" she does not claim for herself the position of projector and the wall as simply her screen. The role of projector or messenger is now the wall, the canvass that is written on is the consciousness of the passerby. Of this syntagmatic imagination Roland Barthes says:
"extension: its antecedent or consequent links, the bridges it extends to other signs; this is a 'stemmatous' imagination of the chain or the network; hence the dynamics of the image here is that of an arrangement of moblie substitutive parts, whose combination produces meaning, or more generally a new object.""(p.89D.T.)
The new object created is the old subject, the reader. The wall is no longer the object to be viewed, but works actively: to inscribe the viewer with its message.

Play in the Derridean sense we may also take to mean an ambiguity, or multiplication of meaning.
"the event I called a rupture…had to begin to be thought, that is to say repeated, and this is why I said that this disruption was repetition in every sense of the word." (D.T.124)
For the stencil artist, repetition is the very nature of the craft. Miss.Tic also repeats her theme. She has always only used images of women in her work. The images of women are generic, not specific. Her more recent work objectifies women even more severely, they appear wearing lingerie, but they are just a torso, there is no head attached. This seems to break into ambiguity of meaning. Why would a woman use images of objectified women? These signs are symbols of oppression. The objectification of women in advertising is a tool of the phallocracy.

In "The Survival of Culture" Homi Bahbha argues
"the discoures of minorities…formulate their critical revision around issues of cultural difference, social authority and political discrimination in order to reveal the antagonistic and ambivalent moments within the 'rationalizations' of modernity."(p.171 The Location of culture)
Homi Bahbha gives this a motive of "historical necessity" to be used "for elaborating empowering strategies of emancipation" requiring a "reARTiculation (emphasis mine) of the 'sign' in which cultural identities may be described." (p.171ibid.) A caption that accommodates one of Miss.Tic's headless torsos reads "Esthetique du minimum, j'ecris mince." This is an intentionally ambiguous caption. But this ambiguity is controlled. Minimum aesthetic can be seen as a criticism of this use of women's bodies, decapitated, and therefore minimised. "J'ecris mince" engages multiple meanings. Mince means slender, thin, slim, to make the passage read "I write slender". But mince also means insignificant, or insubstantial. Both of these meanings are critical readings of the symbols of patriarchal abuse. Mince has yet another meaning, to express surprise, admiration or annoyance. The word acts as a criticism of a system and predicts the response of the reader.

P@b£o Fi@$co is a graffiti artist working in England. London, Brighton and Oxford are 'riddled' with his cryptic messages. His work mockingly emulates his namesake, Picasso. His criticisms of the conservative government, in particular the legislation of the "Criminal Justice Act" he denotes as part of his "blue period". He has also had a "cubist" period, in which he would reclaim discarded televisions, paint them garishly with pictures and slogans and then hang them from trees or smash them through the windscreens of junked cars.

P@b£o Fi@$co uses an intriguing code of communication. The work of Milton Glazer is referenced. Milton Glazer is the graphic designer who created the "I Love New York" rebus, one of the most successful graphic designs and marketing ploys of the 1970's. The sign is altered to read "I Love Beuys". Joseph Beuys was a German post war artist whose work was distinguished by a rejection of materialism in favour of an essential spirituality, his enigmatically ritualistic work was one steeped in mysticism. He created for himself the role of an urban shaman. But the sign "I Love Beuys" also invites a homonymical reading. It is the associative relationship of Beuys with I and the heart that allows us to reread Beuys as boys. This simple rebus has two meanings. But the paradigmatic relationship is coded. If the reader does not know the first meaning, who Joseph Beuys is and how it is pronounced, then the reader will not guess the second meaning, the suppressed meaning, I love boys, which could be intended as a rather highbrow way of acknowledging his homosexuality.

In illustration one P@b£o Fi@$co seems to be working in dialogue. The word "no" sprayed on the wall has been extended in a simple improvisation. "No" is now "no joke". The oke of Joke an iconic reference to a corporate logo. The iconic sign for Pierce resembles its conceptual object in some way. For Pierce the richest signs or signifiers are always those which combine iconic, indexical and symbolic elements. This logo is transformed, an ironic iconic supplement occurs. The joke is coke. But "no joke" refers to the subsequent message. The message can be read in several ways. The first three lines read on their own as short sharp stabs, vague as to who they refer to, but obviously critical. "It's his" is an issue of ownership, "tory man" describes ideology and gender, "aged con" furthers the criticism, presumably of "tory man". But when the control the borders hold over us readers is ignored, the lines no longer read separately, there is a flow which reads " it's history, managed, confused upon walls." This acts as a cultural engagement with the present via a mythologized past and the tension between the two circumSCRIBES (emphasis mine) a contested and contestatory space of cultural intelligibility and occlusion."

This contestatory space is one of active rupture, of placement and displacement. The stencilist is a subliminal criminal working in a time based medium the duration of which is indeterminable. Their messages are in the realm of the ephemeral, simultaneously concrete and impermanent. They act to announce graffiti as history - not just in the sense of a past event, but as a credible form of documentation.
NUISANCE - Independent Arts Zine

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