Category Archives: Books

Urinals, Public Space & Murals

Trains, Travels & Murals

This month marks a hundred years since the artist Marcel Duchamp submitted his now famous artwork, Fountain, to an international exhibition in New York. Influenced by Dadaism his submission was simply a urinal he’d bought in a local shop. Duchamp’s surrealist questioning of institutional definitions of art has had a defining impact on modern art. Continue reading

The Graffiti Handbook

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The Routledge Handbook of Graffiti and Street Art is a new release, edited by Jeffrey Ian Ross, which aims to be a comprehensive reference on the subject. At nearly five-hundred pages the book is pretty mega with contributions from a whole range of experts on a number of different topics. Inside there are thirty-five chapters that are split into four key areas. The first is a look at the different types of graffiti, some historical, and what their meanings are. After is a section that focuses on the theory behind the study of graffiti and street art. This is followed up with examples of different place specific graffiti and finally seven chapters around what effect graffiti has on areas such as policy, culture, or mainstream art. As there’s just so much content in the book it’s been a bit hard to work out where to begin. I was particularly interested by certain themes that kept cropping up through the book so decided to focus on a couple of them. The first of these is how discussion of graffiti, more often than not, revolves around issues of contested urban space, state control and gentrification. Graffiti is closely tied up with the effects of neoliberalism which is discussed a lot in the book. Another interesting topic is female participation and the role of gender within the graffiti subculture. After this I dip into two of the chapters from the theory section and then end by briefly outlining a few other chapters to give a better idea of the range of content. As already mentioned this book is pretty thorough and what’s covered here is only a small sample of that.

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Graffiti and the State in East Asia

This latest post reviews Aestheticizing Public Space by Lu Pan which was released at the end of last year. The book studies graffiti in cities around East Asia; that is Hong Kong, China, Japan and South Korea. Lu Pan works with a broad definition of graffiti that includes everything from conventional graffiti letters, street-art, digital media and even traditional East Asian writing practices. There are four main parts to the book which each focus on different case studies of graffiti and discusses them in the particular social, political, or cultural context they took place. There is also an informative introduction and a ‘special’ fifth chapter of interviews. Lu Pan also sets out four topics for the book; carnival, publicness, aura, and the creative city. However here I’m going to focus on a few themes that crop up throughout the book which stood out for me. In particular there is discussion of the different views and approaches to graffiti in East Asia compared to in the West. Another interesting thread is the relationship between graffiti, public space, and the state. Finally Lu Pan also uses philosophy as a way of explaining and interpreting her subject.

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New Wave Muralism

Muralismo MorteMuralismo Morte is the second book by Jens Besser I’ve reviewed. In this book the content is made up of photographs interrupted by short pieces of writing that link them together. Rather than examining the more theoretical side of muralism they discuss some history, first-hand experiences, or the ideas behind the work of the artists. Continue reading

The Philosophy of Muralism

Time for MuralsI recently got sent a copy of a book called Time for Murals. The book was published after a conference, organised by the artist Jens Besser, that took place a couple of years ago on the subject of the “contemporary phenomenon” that are urban murals. Now murals aren’t my usual area of interest but in my home town of London there are a few cool murals dating from the late seventies and eighties that I really like. The sort of murals that I see going up nowadays all seem to be large scale pieces of street-art rather than the community focused and often politicised murals that came before. Continue reading

King For A Day…

Up until now New York’s most famous literary son has been Holden Caulfield. However the privaleged protagonist of JD Salinger’s boring coming of age novel never hit up a million tags. In fact, regarding a million, Holden Caulfield believed that “you couldn’t rub out even half the ‘Fuck you’ signs” graffitied in that number of years. Well, the author of What Do One Million Ja Tags Signify? estimates, “through averages & fudging with time & math”, that the eponymous tagger of the title has put up a million of his own fuck you’s in just thirty years!

Like Holden Caulfield the nameless narrator of What Do One Million Ja Tags Signify? hasn’t reached a million either. But he isn’t a phony, he recognises JA as the defining statement of his generation’s New York. The book, by Dumar Novy, is a monograph on the tag ‘Ja’ and the academic discipline of ‘Jaism’ that it has now spawned. I read it as almost a parody of intellectualism that delves into race, religion, gentrification, the police, Darwinism, genocide, philosophy, capitalism, and bum sex. 

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Wiping the floor with the boys

blog_-3All City Queens is a new book about female writers that provides a snapshot of graffiti done by over fifty-three writers from around the world. The introduction declares that “there are no tits and arse shots” which is a bit of a hint at the feminist vein throughout the book. Many of the writers featured create graffiti as feminists and the book aims to address women as participants within the subculture. Continue reading

The Art of Hooliganism

I recently went on a trip to Warsaw and whilst there I visited the Polin museum to see an exhibition of work by the photographer Wojciech Wilczyk. The exhibition showcases some of the photos from his ‘Holy War’ project which were made into a book titled Święta Wojna. The book is a collection of nearly four-hundred photos of football graffiti from Poland. As a fan of both graffiti and football I was bound to be interested in this book really.

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