Category Archives: Books

Le Langage Du Mer ?

As an Englishman my ability to speak any language except my own is severely limited. So when I first picked up Graffiti Brassaï: Le Langage Du Mur I was a bit puzzled how graffiti could be the language of the sea? I quickly realised my mistake! In fact this is the first serious art-historical study of Brassaï’s Graffiti photography series. Researched by the curator Karolina Ziebinska-Lewandowska the book sheds light on the artist Brassaï and graffiti as his subject.

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Changing the Urban Wallpaper

Advertising Shits in Your Head is a new handy pocket guide to modern advertising and, more importantly, how it can be subverted. Published by Dog Section Press just last year it has already run into a second edition. The book’s title was originally used in an article by a certain Bill Posters where he attacks advertisers who surreptitiously “shit in your head”. Expanding on this Advertising Shits in Your Head discusses why advertising should be regarded as such a problem and how it can be tackled effectively. The publishers tell me the book is “intended as a call to arms against the outdoor advertising industry particularly, and capitalism generally. It’s also an exploration of the origins of the modern day, international subvertising movement, and a guide to some of the theory and practice underpinning it.”

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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. Now, rather then creating something, a contemporary artist will add the label ‘art’ (and therefore implicit meaning) to anything they choose. Duchamp’s legacy has left a large portion of the public completely baffled when they enter a contemporary art gallery. Alongside its increasing commodification and institutionalisation this pretentiousness has also crept into urban art. This is what leads Pietro Rivasi, writing at the start of Trains, Travels & Murals, to declare that “we are living in the dark, medieval times of urban art.”

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The Graffiti Handbook


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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Notes from a ‘Zwinglian province’

I can’t say I know too much about Swiss graff as I’ve only briefly set foot in the country with just enough time to slam down a cup of coffee and leave. So I approached Zee City, the new book about graffiti and hip-hop culture in Zurich, with an open mind. As I read through the book I learned a lot about the early influences on Zurich, how they shaped the scene there, and in turn how the city has affected graffiti elsewhere. The story begins typically enough when rap videos or films like Wild Style and Style Wars were shown on European tv. However from there Zurich has its own particular story to tell.

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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 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 linking 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. The photographs show different styles and techniques, covering a broad range of surfaces and situations, which are brought together under the term of ‘new muralism’. The introduction to the book describes the evolution of a new generation of muralists whose abstract work departed from the writing and letterforms of graffiti to focus on the characters that were no longer “the icing on the cake of a burner.” This is the new muralism that is represented here. To avoid producing yet another anthology of street-art the author has attempted to show lesser known painters with the main focus on illegal productions.

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The Philosophy of Muralism

I 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. Anyway as Besser points out in the book “a narrow interpretation may result in nerdiness”. So, as not to be classed a graff-nerd, it’s probably healthy to delve into another type of urban art that isn’t usually graffiti and doesn’t have to be street-art. Each chapter in the book is written by different artists and organisers discussing the place of murals in the city and within the urban art scene, descriptions of mural festivals, community initiatives, a bit of mural history and finally an interview.

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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!

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