What I’m trying to conceptualize, living graffiti, probably doesn’t quite exist as such. I’m trying to conceptualize graffiti as it could / would be if enough of us saw it that way.
What do I mean?
Well, there’s this one issue: Is graffiti art or vandalism? The dichotomy, of course, is false. It can easily be both, and often is. But, often enough, it may only be vandalism—malicious tagging on people’s homes, for example; or it may be art, pure and simple, as something done on a “permission” wall. But that question, art or vandalism? designates a social dynamic that is at the heart of graffiti.
And that dynamic makes most of the graffiti objects rather ephemeral. They’re going to be “buffed” away by the authorities, or gone over by other writers, or be eroded by the weather. But it’s those individual ephemeral objects that are at the center of thinking about graffiti, if not the actual practice. There’s a deep “pull” in this thinking—yours, mine, everyone’s—toward the conceptions developed around ‘legitimate’ art.
That art is about individual works conceived as more or less persisting and unchanging objects. Those objects can be defaced, they can be stolen, and they can be faked. But they are persisting and most often (but not entirely) static objects.
And so we see graffiti as consisting of ‘would be’ or ‘wannabe’ persisting objects that just happen to be painted on other people’s walls, for whatever reason. Because of that, most of these wannabe persisting objects do not, in fact, persist. But is that so? That may be how we think of it, that may even be how the writers themselves, for the most part, think of it. But I don’t think that’s what the writers actually do. Let me repeat that: that’s NOT what the writers actually do. What they actually do is to, in one way or another, go with the flow.
That’s a cliché, perhaps the New Age cliché of clichés. But it’s what graffiti does, and in a way that’s not predicted by nor circumscribed by that cliché.
I don’t have time right now to say in detail what I think that go with the flow means, because I need to get on with and out of this post. But you’ll find lots of examples / instances / pieces of what that means in the standard books, magazines, and blogs, and you’ll find it in my posts. Long term, what I want to do is figure out how to bring our thinking in line with actual practice so that that practice can, in turn, be freed of that remaining shackles of that thinking, and of the institutions that follow from that thinking.
And of the institutions that follow from that thinking.
You see, I’m thinking of graffiti as something inherently, essentially if you will, fluid. The ephemerality of the individual objects is not a matter of thousands of small defeats, nor is the continued creation of those objects a matter of thousands of protests against or triumphs over those defeats. That’s looking at the wrong thing/s. Whatever graffiti is, it’s a kissing cousin to Tim Morton’s hyperobjects, objects massively distributed in time and space. The fluid graffiti objects aren’t so massive.
Take the Bergen Arches in Jersey City. It’s roughly a mile long, 80 feet deep, 100 feet wide, and has two masonry archways and three small tunnels. Physically large compared with you and me, but not massive, not global warming massive (one of Tim’s paradigmatic examples). Graffiti’s been on those walls for, I don’t know, 20 years? Maybe 30? But not much more. Not much time depth there.
The graffiti in the Arches keeps changing. That is, the individual graffiti objects of conventional understanding, they come and go. But this larger graffiti quasi-hyperobject remains in fluid play amid the various forces and individuals intersecting through it. The fluid graffiti object is a manifestation of those intersecting individuals and forces.
THAT’S LIVING GRAFFITI!
What do we call it? I don’t know. What will it become when we learn / create its proper name and so free it to become something new?
How could I possibly know that?