Please mind the gag

Paul Raven @ 04-05-2011

Continuing my fascination with the non-destructive redecoration of urban public spaces, here’s something very Brit-centric – indeed, very London-centric, though I expect similar culturehacks would (and probably already do) take place in other metropoli. Stickers On The Central Line does what it says on the tin, using the familiar names and iconography of tube maps to poke fun at topical issues [via Duncan Geere]. Some of the gags may be a bit too Brit for non-citizens to grok, but some of them are pretty universal:

Central Line tube map sticker hack

I’m going to be heading to London a lot more frequently in the near future, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for these. If anyone knows of similar satires in other cities around the world, please pipe up in the comments! Might be fun to do a compilation post…


Another ‘soft’ graffiti form: thread tagging

Paul Raven @ 31-03-2011

A definite close cousin to yarnbombing, thread tagging looks to be a way to make anti-burglary grilles a little less grim:

Threaded graffiti on anti-burglary grille

Via Lauren Beukes. To reiterate, what’s important here (at least to me) isn’t the criminality or otherwise of urban vandalism/redecoration, it’s the sudden expansion of its forms and practitioners beyond the traditional “angry young men with spraycans” demographic; that’s a profound cultural shift whose meaning has yet to fully play out.

I mean, look at my own word choices in the headline: ‘soft’ resonates with attributes considered feminine – nurturing, decoration, gentleness – whereas ‘graffiti’ conjures images of male aggression/destruction. A core dualism of Western culture is being subverted here, albeit in interstitial and largely apolitical urban spaces… but then, change tends to start out on the edges of things, after all.


Yarnbombers

Paul Raven @ 24-03-2011

Maybe not the most obviously futurismic topic I’ve posted in a while, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to mention yarnbombing, as covered by the charming folk at the Interstitial Arts Foundation:

My knitting group has been doing this for a while […] We’ve knitted flowers to wrap around bike racks, animals for a light post in front of the Animal Rescue League, Christmas ornaments to hang from trees in the park, insects to put on a fence at a dog park, and more. Today we were covering cement rings with brightly colored bits of knitting that we had loosely based around a “Spring” theme. Mine looks like a little bee, and I sewed it around a ring while people from the community watched and took pictures.

So what are we doing, and why are we doing this? The short answer is “sharing our art” and “because it’s fun.” There’s a longer answer about the importance of art being shared in a community, about art being public, about making a statement that people can add to or change as they see fit, but really, it’s fun. People in the South End of Boston, where we focus our efforts, love what we do. It’s a way to brighten up a public spot, and the people passing by today were really excited to see that we were doing something new. A little girl stopped with her family, and ended up helping some of my co-conspirators with the installation. How often does a kid get to say that while they were out walking in the park, they got to help with a public art installation? It’s a fascinating thing to me, that something like this can almost turn into performance art. People chat with us, they share stories about our other installations that touched them, they take pictures, it’s like an impromptu festival.

I’ve long defended the artistic validity of “traditional” graffiti (or, to be precise, the mural-scale tradition of graffiti that stemmed from NY hip-hop culture, rather than the simple scribbling of names on walls) because it represents something important: the reclamation of public space by the otherwise-voiceless public, and a testing of the boundaries of what “public space” actually means in the modern city – which, in many cases, is basically your right to go there at certain approved times, to engage in a certain limited set of legitimate activities, and to be advertised or marketed to.

Defending graffiti is a prickly subject, because it’s hard to get past the “destruction or defacement of public or private property” angle. The usual semantic come-back is that it’s actually “(re)decoration” of a public space, and that’s far easier to defend in the case of yarnbombing, a much softer artform (in both senses of the word). But furthermore, yarnbombing – intentionally or otherwise – reclaims and rehabilitates that urge to redecorate public spaces; the graffiti artist is too easily framed as a component of criminal gang culture and a destructive force in the urban environment, but those attacks dissolve when turned on the yarnbombers… which leaves the question open: is it the graffiti artist’s urge to redecorate his environment without asking permission that is repellent, or is it the [black-rooted, young, male, working class, outsider] culture from which [s]he springs that causes the true offence?


Macrograffiti: Communist slogans carved into forests

Paul Raven @ 16-02-2009

No commentary or speculation this time; I’m just throwing this up here because it tickled my WTF spot, and I thought it might do the same for you lot.

So: Soviet-era Russian forestry projects that form political slogans when viewed from space. Bam.

'100 years to Lenin' - Communist slogan cut into Russian forest

There’s a whole bunch of these (plus the Google Maps coordinates, so you can see they’re not ‘shopped) at the consistently bizarre EnglishRussia blog; the hat-tip goes to Strangeharvest.