The situationists had this idea that their city was either recuperated or alienated through various sensations of Paris’s geographical landscapes. Today I took to the streets and, in my spontaneous moment of dérive, did a bit of Tacoma-style drifting myself.
Psychogeography, as it’s called, is an idea with roots deeper than situationism in fact, traceable at least to Jürgen Habermas’ idea of the “public sphere” as a realm where public opinion is formed through “communicative action” in interpersonal relationships which are not necessarily between persons, but between landscapes and architectures as well.
Graffiti, as specific kind of psychogeography, has always interested me. I’ve found that graffiti, especially when it is much more akin to public art, helps shape impressions we have about our own situation, and helps shape our ideas of what it’s like to perceive our situation (or to be a “dasein“) in our own cities. It gives us an impression of what is brewing beneath the many layers of (- to pick on a particular enterprise -) disinterested corporations and their marketing campaigns.
Graffiti is hardly tolerated in any legal sense, but in a social sense, I think it is. (This image above was thrown up least two years ago.) The underground sphere is a pure, well-established, communicative method with ancient roots. In fact, archaeologists had a better idea of what it was like to live in ancient cities when they discovered ancient caricatures and markings on the walls, which expressed public opinions about religious topics in places like Rome, Jerusalem, etc.
This ancient markup language (- a metaphorical GML if you will -) provides a way to use text while simultaneously including all sorts of ‘extra information’ about it. It gives, for example, the somewhat obvious impression that there are all sorts of underground goings-on (or “going-ons”?) in your city, a sort of black market message-exchange for the oppressed. Like the fish who realizes he swims in water, this all-too-“unorthodox” expressive style (not always a style) makes one more aware of the various categories of bourgeois society.
Public art, as opposed to corporate art etc., is recuperative. A city without public art is dead. It is nothing but an immense accumulation of impressions with no life of their own, or life to draw upon, no life to detourne. City councils want nothing more than to kill the underground message-exchange (“illegal” communicative acts) while providing ample spaces for messaging systems guaranteed to pay well for permit-makers and tax-collectors. Thus while Tacoma makes its city attractive for businesses from Seattle, it drives out that special feeling of having a public and unitary urban situation and replaces it with the deadish society of spectacles.
Flâneur in French means “to stroll“, but specifically to stroll through one’s city in order to experience it. I suggest you try it some time in your own city, and notice the expressive formations which have impressed meaning onto the city. We, at least we students, don’t flâneur much in Tacoma. I admit that I used to think that a stroll through Commerce Street was all one needed to do in order to really experience the city’s beating heart. A barista in a coffee shop told me today that the university neighborhood is just a “bubble” for students where the language of universal separation has alienated us even from our own neighbors, whilst all along the city has been speaking to its drifters in non-conventional ways.
In the Manifesto of Industrial Painting, Pinot-Gallizio wrote “the new industrial culture will be strictly ‘Made Amongst People’ or not at all! The time of the Scribes is over.” That’s for sure. We’ve accepted the special code of the marketers and scribes and yet we’ve forgotten about the special code of the perhaps the most ancient and primitive messaging systems of our species, the spontaneous markup language for walls, the word on the street, the urban code, the language of industrial paint: graffiti.