This item is only available as the following downloads:
! ! "#$%&'(! (#$""&)&* +,--.!,.!/012.3/0451.!67!#2.0.1,892! 16 !152! #24:-,1068!67! ;:<-09! /=,92 ! >?! $-2@,!$8A2B.68 ! $!)52.0. ! /:
! "" ! Acknowledgments I would like to acknowledge the amazing help and support I received from my professors over my New College career and during my thesis process, with special thanks to Maria Vesperi for sponsoring my thesis through three different incarnations without ever giving up on me, and to all of the Anthropology professors for doing their best to destroy my brain (and forcing me to rebuild). I would also like to acknowledge the extremely generous help of Susan and Gary Goeke for hosting me during my fieldwork, lendin g me a camera, providing me with food, delivering me lost possessions, and generally welcoming me into their homes, and to Matt Goeke for accompanying me to New Orleans. I would also like to thank Jessica Anne Wheeler for giving me constructive criticism, and Zack Presson, for all his help and for understanding when my thesis had to come first. !
! """ Table of Contents Introduction ................................ ................................ ................................ ................................ 1 Chapter One: The Graffiti Movement and the Anti Graffiti Movement: A Dialectic ......... 6 Graffiti as a movement ................................ ................................ ................................ ............. 6 Cultural evolution as leading to artistic evolution, and back again ................................ ....... 10 Broken Windows theory and the formation of an anti graffiti movement ............................. 15 Graffiti Strikes Back ................................ ................................ ................................ .............. 22 The Return of the Orderly ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 25 Chapter Two: T heoretical Framework: The Orderly Public Sphere & Resistance .......... 27 Freeman: The City as Mise en Scene ................................ ................................ ..................... 28 Habermas and the Bourgeois Public Sphere ................................ ................................ .......... 33 The Contemporary Public Sphere: Don Mitchell ................................ ................................ .. 37 Graffiti as Resistance ................................ ................................ ................................ ............. 42 Chapter Three: P ostmodern Graffiti ................................ ................................ ..................... 49 Graffiti v. Street Art v. Postmodern Graffiti ................................ ................................ ........... 50 Appealing to the right to air one's opposition ................................ ................................ ....... 52 Appealing to the need for Humanization ................................ ................................ ............... 54 Stencil Graffiti ................................ ................................ ................................ ........................ 55 Chapter Four: B anksy: A Break With Tradition? ................................ ................................ 60 In Search of Banksy ................................ ................................ ................................ ............... 60 Framing Banksy ................................ ................................ ................................ ..................... 64 Banksy v. Broken Windows Theory ................................ ................................ ...................... 71 Political Activism ................................ ................................ ................................ ................... 76 Banksy's Wall Project ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 78 Banksy Framed ................................ ................................ ................................ ...................... 82 Faceless Icon for the Voiceless ................................ ................................ .............................. 84 Chapter Five: F ield Research ................................ ................................ ................................ 89 Chapter Six: A nalysis of the New Orleans chapter of the Graffiti Controversy .............. 123 The Gray Ghost: Defending the Dogma ................................ ................................ .............. 123 Banksy's Role ................................ ................................ ................................ ...................... 133 NOLA Rising, local art culture, and news in the age of free media ................................ .... 138 Banksy: Reprise ................................ ................................ ................................ ................... 143 Conclusion ................................ ................................ ................................ .............................. 146 Bibliography ................................ ................................ ................................ ........................... 150
iv FRAMING GRAFFITI: Walls as Sites/Sights of Resistance to the Regulation of Public Space Alexa Anderson New College of Florida, 2009 ABSTRACT In this paper I explore the extent to which contemporary urban graffiti can serve as a form of resistance to an ideology that excludes some people from participation in the public sphere. Using a theoretical framework drawn from Jurgen Habermas, Don Mitche ll, and Richard Freeman, I explain how visual interruptions to the normal order of the city may serve to open up public spaces as sites of discourse and dissent. Specifically, I analyze the implications of the larger than life characters who play major rol es in the New Orleans staging of this conflict: international graffiti artist Banksy, infamous anti graffiti vigilante the Gray Ghost, and local pro street art activist ReX, whose interactions have created a fascinating material record of the ideological b attle played out over the question of the use of public space. Maria D. Vesperi Department of Anthropology
1 Introduction Graffiti is a cultural practice that began in New York City in the 1960s as a way for kids in the inner city to get their names out and achieve a kind of recogniti on through painting on subway cars. Soon it turned into a veritable culture, with its own language and traditions, an associated style of music and dance, and most importantly, a social structure that allowed anyone to participate and achieve a sense of be longing in a hierarchy that was dependent on action rather than age or socioeconomic status. Meanwhile, its practices became a recognizable art form associated with this inner city culture but which was beginning to spread into new locations around the wor ld. In the 1980s, however, ther e was a sudden shift. New York C ity officials adopted a new perspective on crime prevention that involved order maintenance, a perspective that came from Broken Windows theory. This perspective made "disorderly" practices s uch as graffiti writing into a law enforcement priority, which caused the police force in conjunction with other officials in New York City to crack down on the practice of graffiti, eventually leading to the adoption of a costly no tolerance policy toward subway graffiti. This policy ended the heyday of New York train graffiti, but it created something else. Graffiti moved out into the city, changing the culture of graffiti significantly but making its practice even more difficult to control. This in turn led to a continued heightening of order maintenance policies criminalizing graffiti and graffiti writers. Thus these two different perspectives one emerging from the graffiti culture and one emerging from those who subscribe to the order maintenance theory of crime prevention came to be locked in a kind of dialectic relationship which requi res each
2 side to invest ever more in the continued pursuit of its goals. For the order maintenance camp, this meant increasing militarization, increasing investments in b oth deterrence and punishment of writers, and increasing amounts of money devoted to cleaning up graffiti. For the practitioners of graffiti, this meant an increase in the dissemination of their practices, a turn to media as a way of making graffiti contin ue to serve a communicative function, and increasing levels of artistic experimentation along with increasing risk of and penalties for being caught writing. This situation of increasing investments required by two mutually exclusive perspectives begs the question of why each continues to be willing to go to such extremes. The answer I propose is informed by the work of anthropologist Richard Freeman (2001) Fr eeman did fieldwork in Argentina which led him to propose that the use of public space as the site of discourse constituted not just another way of stating political claims, but an entirely new type of discourse, one in which space itself is political. Thr ough reclaiming public space as their site for discourse with authorities, Freeman implies that Argentinian activists found a powerful tool to regain the power that the citizens in a democratic state ought to have. I believe this is true in a certain sense for the practitioners of U.S. graffiti as well, but on the surface it is not clear that this concept could hold cross culturally from Argentina, a country in which the fight for democratic rule has been an extremely difficult journey, to the United States the "land of the free." However, I believe that the analogy does hold. As Habermas (1993 ) explains, the modern "public sphere" is an ideological construct of the bourgeoisie. This construct is meant to insure the maintenance of a social order in t he authority of
3 "pu blic opinion reigns, but only through the mediating factor of the bourgeois class, who regulate the public sphere by controlling the means of production of the discourse and therefore inevitably guide "public opinion" to exclude certain interests that conflict with their own. Habermas is an historical theorist; Foucault argued convincingly that the class structure Habermas described is no longer applicable in the sense of a layered hierarchy. Rather, power has undergone a kind of dissemi nation, being taken up by individuals and exerted through the formulation of norms of behavior. Sociologist Don Mitchell (2003) explains an analogous shift from Habermas' framework to that of the U.S. city today by showing that the U.S. notion of "public space" is itself an ideological construct in which space must be regulated in order to be safe for public use. In other words, Mitchell's analysis reveals the regulation of public space to be the mediating factor controlling the general opinion of which kinds of public actions are legitimate. Thus Freeman's framework is a legitimate way to understand the importance conferred on graffiti in the United States By claimin g regulated public spaces for communication graffiti brings attention to the ideology underlying that control making room for the creation of this kind of ideological warfare in the U.S. as well. In this way graffiti constitutes the enactment of a social and political right guaranteed to all citizens by the ideology of democratic rule the right to participate in the discourse not only as one who chooses from options handed down from above, but as one who can affect the formation of the discourse itself. Order maintenance theories such as Broken Windows on the other hand are the contemporary U. S. counterpart roughly analogous to the bourgeois vision of control which considers disorder to be dangerous, and breaks in ideology particularly so. Thus
4 those in a position to mediate the behavior of the masses through regulating the pote ntially dangerous interstices between private properties do so by upholding the appearance of order. From this perspective, excluding or censoring certain "dangerous" ideas from the public sphere is important to the safety of the system at large. In recen t years, there has been a proliferation of graffiti that not only engages in the political activity of creating a discourse on public surfaces, but which specifically seeks to reveal public spaces as politicized and to call attention to its own role in int errupting the ideology that normalizes that regulation This kind of graffiti, which I call "postmodern graffiti," maintains a tension between subversive tactics and a self conscious attempt to justify its own existence. The main way I see artists doing th is is by appealing in various ways to "higher" concerns than the regulation of order. One such concern might be the need for a humanization of space in the city. Another might be the need for art. A third might be the need for the opportunity to question a uthority a need whose practice the public authority cannot easily deny. One artist who serves as an example of this postmodern graffiti movement is Banksy, whose guerilla art speaks to all three of these concerns. Banksy is a well known graffiti artist fr om Bristol, England, who has been making pithy stencil graffiti in the UK and beyond since the late 1980s. Banksy's art has been wildly successful not only in proving that graffiti can be art istic can humanize a city, and can serve as political commentary but in poking holes in the idea that disorder leads inevitably to the loss of value. In August 2008, Banksy visited New Orleans and made several pieces there which he said were meant to do two things: to comment on the continued state of disrepair in the city, and to do battle with the Gray
5 Ghost, a representative of the order maintenance movement in New Orleans. Banksy's battle tactics included paintings of a man rolling over graffiti with gray paint I investigated the fallout from this ideological warf are for evidence of my theoretical understanding of the role of graffiti through a combination of ethnographic fieldwork and hundreds of hours of internet research that involved reading news articles, blogs, forums, and the comments sections of all of thes e, as well as watching videos and browsing photo hosting sites that were in some way involved in the discourse that grew up around the clash of these two titans To my surprise, both sides seemed to rely more heavily on indirect exposure through media than on the effect of encountering their modifications of the city walls directly However, this does not necessarily signal t he end of graffiti's importance, but instead shows a more complicated set of relationships in the continued pursuit of each perspectiv e's goals. In the end I did not find a cataclysmic destruction of one perspective by the other, but instead a beautifull y symbolic drama between larger than life players in the New Orleans staging of this ongoing conversation.
6 Chapter One The Graffiti Mo vement and the Anti Graffiti Movement : A Dialectic Graffiti, in the contemporary meaning of the word, is primarily an urban social movement that many consider to be a form of art, whereas many others consider it to be a form of vandalism. In the last 30 or 35 years, graffiti has spread across the planet, and has been used by many to promote various social agendas. Graffiti has given some people a new form of agency in urban contexts by providing them with a medi um for communication On the other hand, gra ffiti has had negative effects as well. Some graffiti is created on private property, which may clash with the image the property owner is trying to create, effectively making the graffiti into a kind of property destruction. But the graffiti controversy g oes far beyond this relatively straightforward concern. In fact, in reaction to the development of a graffiti movement there came an anti graffiti movement which drew on the ideas of the Broken Windows theory of crime prevention to oppose graffiti not just on their own property, but categorically. Graffiti as a movement "People will never really understand what graffiti is unless they go to New York to live surrounded by abandoned buildings and cars that are burnt and stripped and the city comes out sayin g graffiti is terrible, but then you look around the neighborhood and you've got all this rubble and shit, and yet you come out of there with the attitude toward life that you can create something positive." Brim 1980's era graffiti writer from Manhatta n ( from Chalfant and Prigoff 1987: 17) Graffiti is an age old phenomenon. The cave paintings at Lascaux, Alta mira, and elsewhere could be considered graffiti, especially if the caves were public spaces
7 a question beyond the scope of this project Still, these drawings date back at least 10,000 years and have much in common with contemporary graffiti. The artists in Lascaux even utilized a pigment spraying effect to leave handprints on the walls perhaps an early form of tagging (name writing) Gra ffiti has also been found at other ancient sites, from scratch marks on the walls of ancient Roman buildings to lewd jokes in ancient Israel ( Von Joel 2006: online, accessed 2/22/09). Today the word "graffiti" usually refers to a particular phenomenon tha t started in earnest in the 1970s in New York and it is this practice that I int end to investigate This phenomenon has been called "hip hop graffiti," since it grew out of and alongside a youth culture that included this type of music and dancing (Ferrel l 1995: 77). This type of graffiti generally involves writing or art made with spraypaint, although today graffiti writers/fans/opponents often include those who wheatpaste signs or place stickers in public places as part of the graffiti movement For inf ormation about the beginning of this phenomenon, I rely heavily on Subway Art by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant (1984), the first book written about the contemporary urban graffiti movement The reason this book is more useful than others that discuss th e subject is that it traced the early history of modern graffiti through actual interviews with those engage d in the phenomenon and it reproduces many of those interviews, giving me lots of primary source material. It is for that reason also highly anthro pological, in the sense that it is primarily ethnographic rather than analytical. The authors of this book were Cooper, a reporter and Chalfant a photographer who became interested in the graffiti independently. It was their
8 subjects the graffiti writer s who introduced them to each other, thus enabling the creation of the book. Many publications place the beginning of graffiti in 1970s New York and leave it at that (Snyder 2006 : 93 ) According to the early experts on graffiti, however, the beginnings of modern graffiti were to be found as early as the 1960s, when young New York residents began to write their nicknames on neighborhood walls ( Cooper and Chalfant 1984: 14; Castleman 1982: 53). This "name graffiti" had the function of creat ing a public identity on the street. Soon, it also evolved a territorial function gang members wrote their names in certai n places to mark their territories (Cooper and Chalfant 1984: 14). It is important to note, though, that the original practice of gra ffiti had to do with getting one's name out. The way a writer did this was by "tagging." A writer's tag could be his or her real name but more often than not involved adopting a number, often the writer's street address or an altogether new name, such as "Phase II," "T Rex," or "The Saint." In 1971, something happened that changed t he meaning and practice of name graffiti ultimately catapulting it into the widespread phenomenon it is today : the interview of Taki 183. In 1969, a young man in New York ins pired by the graffiti writer and gang member Julio 204, took the street name Taki 183 (The "183" referred to the young man's street address.) Taki began writing this name as his tag, a sort of personal logo just as Julio 204 had been doing However, sinc e he was a member of a gang, Julio 204 was not allowed to write outside of his neighborhood. Taki 183, on the other hand, worked as a messenger all over the city of New York. He was one of the first wri ters who tagged prolifically in all five boroughs, inc luding not just walls but
9 trees, mailboxes, and especially the insides and outsides of the trains he took around the city ( 1984: 14). When Taki 183 was interviewed in a New York Times article in 1971, it set off a chain reaction that caused graffiti to expl ode all over the city. Perhaps it was the fact that this subversive activity was legitimated as potentially effective by being recognized in a major newspaper. After all, Taki 183's name was recognized not onl y by others within the graffiti writing scene, but also in a mainstream media publication Subway Art gives another explanation: "Kids impressed by the public notoriety of a name appearing all over the city realized that the pride they felt in seeing their name up in the neighborhood could be expanded a hundredfold if it traveled beyond the narrow confines of the block" (Cooper and Chalfant 1984: 14). In any case, this event is recognized as a turning point, spurring competitive tagging all over the city ( Cooper and Chalfant 1984 : 14 ; Castleman 1982; Fa tCap 2008: Taki 183 ). Becoming well known, or "getting up," had become an end unto itself, something done not just in a few neighborhoods but all over New York, thus creating a graffiti movement The pictures in Subway Art support this idea, showing how quickly name graffiti escalated into an instantly recognizable visual phenomenon. Getting up mea nt achieving a type of fame among graffiti cognoscenti, and this was the main goal of mo st writers in the early days of New Yo rk graffiti Writers wanted to be known, and even more than that, they wanted to be respected. "Once writers have greeted each other, their next concern is to determine each other's status. If both are famous names, they will often greet each other effusiv ely, praising each other's work and often proposing a mutual venture for a future date" (Castleman 1982: 84). Castleman goes on to quote the story of Stan 153's first "in" to graffiti culture. He was
10 introduced to a few writers who told him that if they co uld find his name on the next train of the line he claimed to tag, he could hang out with them. The whole group went to the third line to look So we're at 96th Street and after a half an hour of waiting, my name carne up. It was an ugly of gook on the si de of the train, but I said, "That's my name! That's my name!" [They said,] "O.K. You can hang out. When they said that. I said to myself, ''I'm accepted The Bronx people accept me!" (1982: 86). One can see from such stories that a particular social structure was forming, one in which anyone could gain entrance regardless of age, gender, or socioeconomic status, so long as the person was willing to put work into getting known. As this social struc ture grew and crystallized, hierarchies formed, and the practices associated with participation in this movement began to evolve into particular traditions. Cultural evolution as leading to artistic evolution, and back again It was largely the competitiv e na ture of tagging in pursuit of getting up and thus gaining social status within the graffiti culture that led to the explosion in artistic experimentation associated with graffiti from the 1970 s. Castleman reiterates this fact, noting, "Style, form, an d methodology, major concerns of most writers, are secondary in significance to the prime directive of graffiti: getting up'" (1982: 19). And getting up' meant not only having a lot of tags, but having highly recognizable tags. Artistically e mbellishing tags was a strategy that added to their recognizability, of course, a development which in turn also upped the expectations for graffiti. It quickly became common for writers to create stylized, original tags. More than one source has likened these stylized tags to personal "logos" (Cooper and Chalfant 1984: 14 ; Manco 2004: 8 ). Like company logos, early tags utilized trademark
11 stylizations of words in order to gain visibility and recognition, and often incorporated a particular image. When graffiti w as quite limited in scope, as it was in the days of the book Subway Art it was possible to identify the source of various memes in graffiti. For instance, these authors trace Taki 183's influence by pointing out other tags utilizing a name and number (Coo per and Chalfant 1984: 14). Another artist, StayHigh 149, commonly incorporated into his tag a stick figure with a halo who was also smoking a joint. As of the publication of their book in 1984, Cooper and Chalfant declared, "The halo and the smoking joint are the most commonly used symbols today in both pieces and tags' (Cooper and Chalfant 1984: 15). Soon, style became an end in its own right. For some, style was important even over and above its significance to the pursuit of getting up, though this ma y signal more than anything a shift in the culture from conferring respect on any writing to respecting only writing which is considered talented. Several sources speak of writers investing significant time to designing works before putting them up. Castle man wrote in the early 80s that many writers "spend a great deal of time sitting in subway stations watching and criticizing the pieces that go by, passing around their sketches, and autographing' each other's black books'" (1982: 21). Similarly, Cooper and Chalfant wrote two years later about the care writers put into designing art they will later put up on trains, from planning the outlines to deciding the color scheme. Along with their description are several pictures. One photograph shows writers spe nding an afternoon "working on their piece books and looking over photo albums of their pieces on trains." Other photographs show real images from sketchbooks where writers have been designing their lettering (1984: 32 33). Castleman even notes that since most graffiti
12 writers like to think of their lettering styles as "original and unique," they invent names for them. "When Mitch painted his name in old fashioned Western style letters, he called it his Saloon Letter Piece.' He has also done Hot Dog Lette r,' Earthquake Letter,' and numerous other lettered pieces" (Castleman 1982: 25). By far the most widely used name for a letter style is "wild style," which is a sort of generic name referring to the interlocking letters most commonly associated with cont emporary urban graffiti. T hese developments in the heightening of style in turn led to a new form: the "piece." T o many, t his was the beginni ng of graffiti as an art form. In the graffiti world, a ccording to a number of sources, the word "piece" is short for "masterpiece" (Cooper and Chalfant 1984: 14 ; Chalfant and Prigoff 1987: 12) However, it seems that most people who create art call each of their works a "piece," and only one or two if any masterpieces. Even if the word originally came from "masterpie ce," it seems inappropriate to apply that meaning to all pieces today, especially since a prolific graffiti writer may create many works that are more than mere tags, but claim only a few to be truly great. One artist from the early 80s said, "The first s tep to follow in the approach toward wildstyle is to keep in mind that you are about to redefine the word letter' and at the same tim e produce a form of calligraphy Bando, NYC (Chalfant and Prigoff 1987: 75). This suggests an early understanding of the ambiguity between "mere tags," artful tags ," and "pieces." I will return to this point later: for now I will simply say that graffiti art grew out of name graffiti, but the two still coexist. For the s ake of simplicity, I will use the term "piece" to refe r to any work utilizing more than one color. This may be an oversimplification, and may in fact glorify some instances of
13 graffiti unnecessarily, but it gets around the issue of my having to decide the artistic merit of a given instance of graffiti. Early pieces quickly began utilizing more colors and larger areas. Graffiti was no longer necessarily just names and line drawings. The introduction of spray paint allowed writers to cover large areas with color relatively quickly, allowing both tags and pieces to grow in size (Cooper and Chalfant 1984: 17). Soon graffiti writers began to experiment with new styles. "By the mid 1970s, writers used highlights, overlapping letters, and three dimensional effec ts in their pieces" ( 1984: 15). These advancements are e ssentially trompe l'il ("trick of the eye") effects. Placement also became an axis for competition as well as for artistic statements, again suggesting that the two are interrelated. The more daring the location for a piece, the more respect accorded to i t or at least, the longer it was likely to remain. In 1984, subway cars were the major target for ambitious taggers, the most prestigious location for the most daring writers and crews. "Although two whole trains were completed, by Caine I in 1976 and by t he Fabulous Five soon after, the top to bottom whole car remains the ultimate test of a writer' s prowess" ( 1984: 17). It is important to note that much has changed since the 1970s, when graffiti writers were focused primarily on subway cars and trains Tod ay graffiti writers still hit trains, but it would no longer be accurat e to say that trains a re the most prestigious targets by any means All these advancements in the practice of graffiti have another side: as graffiti became more "advanced," it also became more exclusive. The best evidence of this shift comes from images of graffiti from the mid 1970s until the 80s in which the style of the lettering becomes increasingly complicated and for the uninitiated
14 illegible. This is not to say the pieces ar en't well drawn, but rather that as the practice of graffiti aged and became more widespread, the style at the edge of the movement was creating letters so complicated that only insiders could understand them. One possible explanation for this shift was th e need for continued exclusivity to extend the lifespans of the social grou ps that had formed around graffiti This explanation is supported by the fact that artists increasingly speak of some writers and pieces as "legit," and therefore worthy of respect. New writers have to work their way up, acquiring style and creating a large number of pieces before being considered "legit." Some insight into this early version of graffiti culture a nd the benefits to those who mad e it in to the club of legitimate writ ers is provided in Subway Art even though the book is quite early: "The subway is a communications network on which the names and messages of graffiti writers circulate throughout the city. Kids begin watching trains early and they are thoroughly familiar with the names and styles of "up writers" long before they attempt writing themselves. A youngster starting out finds a new community, focused on the subway, which brings together kids from all over the city. He gets a new name and a new identity in a gro up which has its own values and rules. He finds the particular subway stations where other writers congregate and where they form new alliances that transcend the old parochial neighborhood and traditional gang territory." (Cooper and Chalfant 1984: 23 ) So already there were ideas about the graffiti movement as a way for people to create a new system of values, a new way of expressing themselves, and a new way to gain identity. This cultural significance may have been heightened when graffiti was limited to the subway, since it served as a centralized place for all the writers to come together and do their work, as well as for viewers to observe it. The subway as open canvas brought together "kids" from all over the city a section of society that is always to some extent marginalized by the bourgeois conception of "person" as
15 "propertied person." Graffiti writers at this time were generally though not always racially and economically marginalized as well. In coming together they created new identities for t hemselves. The new community transcends traditional geographical boundaries creating a space shared by graffiti writers from all neighborhoods. This idea shows up quite often in early literature about graffiti writing, but seems less frequent in later wor ks. Castleman wrote, "In a much fragmented city, writers are among the few young people to reach beyond the bounds of their own neighborhoods and travel throughout the city, meeting and getting to know young people from other boroughs and a variety of ethn ic and economic groups" ( 1982: 71). Clearly, graffiti was already a powerful force in creating a new sense of community. Broken Windows theory and the formation of an anti graffiti movement From the beginning, graffiti has been seen by some as an aesthetic enhancement of the city and by others as a blight on society, a sign of urban decay in its own right. I n the early days of hip hop graffiti, however, punishment for kids caught painting the outsides of t he subway trains was usually relatively lenient. Suddenly, in the 1980s, New Yo rk police and politicians began to view graffiti as a major problem. What had changed was the general feeling of New York public authorities about the causes of ur ban crime. According to Snyder, this was the time that officials first used the Broken Windows theory to argue "that graffiti, not poverty, created an environment for subway crime" (Snyder 2006: 93). As a result of two "wars" on graffiti during the 1980s, subway graffiti decreased drastically But it wasn't until 1989 that the New York C ity train era officially came to
16 a close ," when the Metropolitan Transit Authority' s refusal to put painted cars into service caused the subways to cease being a means of communication (Snyder 2006: 93) Since subways were thus no longer useful for "getting up," writers stopped primarily hitting trains and moved their practice out into t he city itself. The end of the book Subway Art is full of pictures of graffiti suggesting that the heyday of graffiti was over. The decrease in subway graffiti during this time is often considered a victory by the anti graffiti camp. "Graffiti Died" by Seen, 1982 (Cooper and Chalfant 1984: 100) Broken Windows is a theory of crime prevention that spread rapidly among certain parts of society in the early 1980s, catalyzing a move among many authorities to a pre existing tradition called order maintena nce. As a policy, it is also sometimes called "quality of life policing," which is how many of my informants referred to it. The theory originated in an article called, conveniently, "Broken Windows," by George Kelling and James Q. Wilson, which appeared i n the March 1982 issue of The Atlantic Monthly The article claims that the best way to prevent crime is to maintain order or, more specifically, the appearance of orderliness. The authors claimed that when the job
17 of police was to maintain order, rather t han punish crime, the police force was far more effective at bolstering the safety of a community. This can be accomplished by cleaning up small problems, such as litter on the street or graffiti on the walls, which would otherwise send a message that diso rderliness was tolerated in the area a message that the authors claim results in otherwise well behaved citizens engaging in larger crimes. [A]t the community level, disorder and crime are usually inextricably linked, in a kind of developmental sequence. Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. This is as true in nice neighborhoods as in rundown ones. Window breaking does not nece ssarily occur on a large scale because some areas are inhabited by determined window breakers whereas others are populated by window lovers; rather, one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing. (Ke lling and Wilson 1982: 1) In the full version of their narrative explaining the progression from one broken window to a building full of broken windows, the story goes on. Passersby think nothing of small theft. The area becomes unsafe for upstanding citizens and is taken over by d rug users, prostitutes, and teenagers. Crime takes over as the way of life in this area, until finally someone is murdered. This theory gained widespread support for order maintenance approaches in popular arenas such as newspaper and magazine articles, a nd in general seems to have wide support among politicians and those involved in crime prevention. The best known example cited as evidence of the success of a policy of "fixing broken windows" and encouraging the appearance of orderliness was Republican m ayor Rudy Giuliani's clean up of New York City. During Giuliani's clean up effort in the mid 1990s, rates of crime dropped significantly in the city. Giuliani, his supporters, and the
18 adherents of anti graffiti movement claim that this drop in crime was th e direct result of policies of zero tolerance. However, many social scientists and other academics disagree about the reasons crime rates dropped at this time. One article from Slate nicely summarizes the findings of the many studies that conclude that Giu liani's policies were not valid explanations for the drop in crimes more serious than those they directly attacked. The reduction in New York City's crime rate was echoed nationally, in many cities that did not employ Quality of Life policing. In retrospe ct, the principal causes behind New York City's crime drop had nothing to do with Giuliani. They included: a receding of the '80s crack epidemic, a growth in the prison population thanks to the so called Rockefeller drug laws, an increase in the numbers of police initiated by Giuliani's predecessor, and possibly, as the Freakonomics authors famously argued, the legalization of abortion a generation earlier (Metcalf 2006). The article goes on to claim that Giuliani's heavy reliance on Broken Windows theory did serve several ends including the creation of a "brand name" of crime reduction, and of a national mythology that Giuliani was directly and single handedly responsible for the drop in crime in New York City, 1 in spite of the evidence that this drop in crime may have occurred for entirely unrelated reasons. However, Broken Windows theory remains the basis for much of the anti graffiti activism in the United States While looking for statistics about graffiti's negative impacts, I could not avoid the conclusion that this second group has evolved into something with a particular set of values and a particular constellation of meanings, many of which seem to rely on Broken Windows theory. 1 It does seem to have been convincing enough to have been part of the platform of a Presidential campaign for Giuliani, though not to enough of the population for him to win the Republican primary.
19 The website Graffiti Hur ts is a good example of anti graffiti thinking. This site has a section called "How does graffiti hurt?" which gives the following explanation: "Graffiti vandals believe their actions harm no one. The reality is graffiti hurts everyone homeowners, communit ies, businesses, schools, and you. And, those who practice it risk personal injury, violence, and arrest." Not much of an explanation, but then one assumes that the authors thought the damages were self evident. The site then breaks down the "cost" of graf fiti into four parts. First, "Transportation, property, and retail sales," by which they mean that "Graffiti contributes to lost revenue associated with reduced ridership on transit systems, reduced retail sales and declines in property value," because wou ld be patrons perceive the graffiti as a sign of a downward spiral. The second cost is "safety ," meaning that "Patrons of buildings, parks, or public facilities where graffiti vandalism has occurred may feel that if graffiti is tolerated, then other more s erious crimes, such as theft and assault, may also go unchallenged." This does not even say that graffiti causes crimes beyond itself, but merely says that it may cause people to feel as though the area is more dangerous. Both of these first two costs are versions of the Broken Windows theory. Third is "schools and youth ," meaning that youth encounter graffiti at school which is only a "cost" if one believes that seeing graffiti is inherently harmful to a person. Fourth last is clean up costs (GraffitiHur ts.org: "How Does"). Even clean up costs assume that graffiti must always be "cleaned up," although at least this "cost" is not entirely dependent on a particular ideological perspective, as someone might want to remove graffiti for a number of reasons. In other words, all these reasons are building on the Broken Windows theory in order to make the argument that graffiti is harmful apart from the cost of cleaning it
20 up, which itself makes the assumption that graffiti is something that ought to be cleaned up Similarly, the FBI.gov publication uses Broken Windows rhetoric, saying As a highly visible offense, graffiti represents a particularly menacing threat to the quality of life in a community. The residual effects of reduced property values, lost busines s, increased gang territoriality, and heightened fear of crime escalate the severity of graffiti related offenses beyond their impact as visual pollution" (Grant 1996: Conclusion). Bernard Harcourt calls this anti graffiti movement the order maintenance approach. Harcourt explores the false promise of the order maintenance approach in The Illusion of Order (2001) He develops a tripartite explanation of its failures. Part one reviews the data on the subject and concludes that there is no empirical evidenc e supporting Broken Windows theory. If implementing order maintenance policies were shown to lead to a significant decline in crime, there would still be no proof that the mechanism of fixing broken windows had anything to do with the effect ( 2001: 10 11). However, Harcourt explains, in careful studies (as opposed to retroactive claims of causality, i.e., the Giuliani initiative) there is no decline shown ( 2001: 9 11). The biggest problem Harcourt finds with Bro ken Windows theory policies is that they ass ociate "disorder" with crime, and people who do not fit in to the "orderly" city thus become constructed as criminals, whether or not they are engaging in criminal activity. In fact, Harcourt traces an intellectual genealogy of Broken Windows theory to an older, v ery conservative trajectory in the field of c riminology that basically divides the world into two types of people: "law abiders" and those who are apt to engage in criminal activity ( 2001: 11). Stated directly, this kind of categorizing is
21 general ly considered offensive today, besides being incorrect. However, Harcourt shows that it is hidden within the assumptions of Broken Windows theory, whose tenets hold that the appearance of disorder will cause some people (law abiders) to become afraid and t o leave, while causing others to lose their apparently tenuous moral hold on the world and to begin engaging in disorderly conduct themselves. This perspective thus affects the way those who adopt it view others who fall into the category the theory itself constructs of "disorderly, associating disorderliness of many kinds with crime. Thus it begins to make sense why "loud teenagers" or "interracial couples" are seen as threatening to the maintenance of order as Kelling has claimed Their very presence in a place whose orderliness is maintaining the behavior of part of the population could result in the otherwise respectable inhabitants of that place to turn into disorderly criminals themselves. Likewise, graffiti even authorized graffiti comes in this per spective to be viewed as something threatening to the maintenance of order, merely because it is associated with an alternative to that order. In Crimes of Style, Jeff Ferrell discusses this villainization in terms of the artistic conventions of graffiti. Even when legal, then, graffi ti style' cannot be tolerated; it threatens and embarrasses subscribers to an authoritarian aesthetic (Ferrell 1993: 182). It is as though the way an image looks thus comes to be constructed as more threatening than what the image is doing or whether it is actually illegal or subversive. The graffiti movement which understands graffiti as not only potentially aesthetically pleasing but as a medium for both communication and the pursuit of social status, and the order mainten ance movement in which graffiti is a dangerous practice that causes with crimes larger than its own creation, present understandings of the
22 world that are in many ways mutually exclusive. Their inevitable conflict has not led to a synthesis of their ideas nor to the destruction or takeover of one group by the other. Instead it has increased the lengths to which the adherents of each perspective will go to perpetuate their own set of values, as well as increasing the problems each group faces. Graffiti Strikes Back As I introduced above, the war on subway train graffiti enacted a series of policies that made subway graffiti more dangerous and less rewarding and concluded with an expensive change "no tolerance" policy of the MTA which kept paint ed trains off the lines altogether However, the end of the subway graffiti heyday only meant the beginning of hip hop graffiti in the city itself. This shift was quite important to the development of graffiti, pushing the practice literally (though not fi gurativ ely) above ground, changing graffiti writing signific antly but ultimately making it even more difficult to control. The war on graffiti caused an increased investment in the practice of graffiti in several ways, even as it changed some cultural mea nings of writing. First, it meant that there was no longer a pre determined, central location for graffiti writers to come together to share their maligned art On the one hand, this may have decreased the importance of the social networks that developed f rom graffiti writing. No longer was it necessary for a writer to be connected with all the other writers in the area. In fact, it might not even have been possible. This change may account for the progressive decrease in the sense that graffiti writers cam e together to create a family as the literature about graffiti becomes more recent. On the other hand, in the early days of
23 this dissemination, there were distinctive styles even in different parts of New York, as seen in the organization of Spraycan Art i nto different geographic locations such as Brooklyn and Staten Island The localized discourses that allowed these different styles to evolve were even more prominent in the book's survey of graffiti from other cities around the world, suggesting that the cultural factors whose social effects were so important to the early development of graffiti, and whose material effects were visible in their influence on the development of style, not only continued to play an important social role during the disseminati on of graffiti, but that they in fact spread to previously uninvolved places to create new social structures there as well. Second, being pushed out into the city also had an effect on the way graffiti writers thought about the shelf life (train life, wal l life) of their creations, eventually leadin g to the beginning of an industry of graffiti media. Early on in the subway era, without a mandate for systematic removal, many pieces remained where they were sprayed for a long time, perhaps as long as two yea rs (Snyder 2004: 94). But once graffiti was constructed as the cause of crimes beyond its own making and city officials began to think it was worth spending municipal time and money waging war on its existence, writers realized tha t graffiti was an ephemer al art and began to take pictures of their work. This created a new forum for the continued development of the graffiti movement Specifically, this meant either the direct trading of pictures, or "flicks," or it meant the publication of graffiti magazines (Snyder 2004: 94). Snyder goes on to claim "This transition allowed writers to take control over the representation of their subculture, as well as to reap possible financial rewards" (Snyder 2004: 94). Interestingly, this transition toward the use of me dia to communicate among writers
24 may have been able to fill in some of the gaps left by the dissemination of graffiti though it probably could never replace the graffiti culture as family model. Other considerations are whether photodocumentation decreased the importance of location in the making of graffiti, and whether the move to tradable media allowed for the appropriation of graffiti by capitalist enterprises, such as magazines that made a profit. More recently, graffiti sharing and consumption has als o expanded to the I nternet, creating an even less geographically based forum for graffiti wri ters to connect with each other. I n a way however, this might also decrease the extent to which the graffiti could be appropriated, since it is easy to trade, vie w, and compile pictures for free online. Third, it s expulsion from the subways increased the lengths to which graffiti artists were willing to go to create lasting pieces in the city. Artistic experimentation with the graffiti tradi tions continued on new surfaces in new areas Uses of graffiti were also expanded. Trains had been used to make some political statements, of course, but with the move to city walls there appears to have been increasing use of the walls of the city not just to "get up," but as a kind of public press. Early political use of hip hop graffiti. (Chalfant and Prigoff 1984: p 91) Graffiti also spread out in the sense that it was increasingly accepted by the art community as a legitimate art form. Again, this change in meaning may have had some negative effects on social functions of the graffiti movement. In any case, the
25 dissemina tion of the practice of graffiti, partially through the development of graffiti magazines and other media documenting graffiti and partially through an expansion of the meaning of the form, allowed graffiti to spread far beyond the original inner city comm unity. It even led to graffiti taking hold overseas. "In a remarkable variety of world settings, kids (and others) employ particular forms of graffiti as a means of resisting particular constellations of legal, political, and religious authority" (Ferrell 1995: 77). By the mid 1980s, graffiti had spread all over the world, and it was clear that it was not going to disappear anytime soon. Finally, it is also a sign of increased investment in the continuation of the practice of graffiti that writers kept maki ng pieces in spite of the increasing likelihood of being pursued, arrested, and charged with property destruction. The Return of the Orderly Much as competition for fame spurred the evolution of the graffiti movement, a heightening of competition with th e authorities spurred on the fight to quell graffiti, and so a similar heightening took place in the anti graffiti camp Sources ranging from blogs to academic articles trace the increasing investments and militarization of the anti graffiti campaign. The anti graffiti site Graffiti Gone! claims that it costs America more than $8 billion per year to clean up graffiti (GraffitiGone.com: Graffiti Statistics). With the U.S. population around 300 million people, that i s almost $30 per person. In an article by F errell, a professor from Northern Arizona University's Department of Criminal Justice, summarizes this escalation. Today, legal authorities and corporate sponsors create police and citizen surveillance teams armed with two way radios, home video cameras, remote
26 control infrared video cameras, and night vision goggles; send out antigraffiti helicopter patrols; secure freeway signs and bridges with razor wire and commercial buildings with special graffiti resistant coatings; and arrange toll free telephone hotlines use U.S. Marines in antigraffiti operations, deploy undercover transit and police officers in the guise of high school students and journalists, stake out popular graffiti writing areas, and set up sophisticated sting operations. (Ferrell 1995: 80). This begs the question: why is graffiti so important? Why did the practice of writing remain important, and in fact become important to new generations of writers in new cities around the world even after the original subway graffiti culture was mo re or less destroyed? Why are both graffiti movements and anti graffiti movements willing to invest ever more time and money into their mutually exclusive pursuits? In order to explore this question, I will rely on a theoretical framework combining works b y Jurgen Habermas (1962), Don Mitchell (2003), and Richard Freeman (2001).
27 Chapter Two Theoretical Framework: The Orderly Public Sphere & Resistance One way of considering why the practice of graffiti remained important to writers is by considering the way in which graffiti may have satisfied some need not otherwise met. In the following chapter I will argue that graffiti can serve a political purpose, by using Richard Freeman's idea of the city as a mise en scene However, I do not think it is self evident how U.S. graffiti is political. In order to explain how even self interested tagging can be a politically charged action, I will rely on a framework originally laid out by Habermas explaining how the "public sphere" is a bourgeois invention intended to exclude some people. In The Right to the City Don Mitchell builds on Habermas's framework to show how in the contemporary U.S. city, public spaces the mselves are regulated to effect this exclusion. Thus public spaces become a site for the struggle of the disenfranchised against those who hold the power to frame the argument, and visual interruptions of those spaces are a material form of resistance to t he ideology of regulation. Graffiti is one such action, transgressing and therefore disrupting the ideology that regulates the public sphere according to bourgeois interests. Likewise, it is for precisely this reason that the anti graffiti movement has spr ung up to counter the power of graffiti. The reason these mutually exclusive pursuits are so important to each side is because each is engaging materially in an ideological battle over who has the right to participate in the public sphere.
28 Freeman: The City as Mise en Scene In "The City as Mise en Scene ," anthropologist Richard Freeman explains his idea that the city plays the role of the backdrop and setting to the stories of its inhabitants, and in this way serves as an important part of the story. He calls this concept of the setting the mise en scene a concept he borrows from theatre terminology. Much as a playwright or director can use the setting to develop the action of a play, the city as setting "can be an active character in a fil m, or, as I argue here, a very salient factor in the process of social identity formation" (Freeman 2001: 38). To Freeman, the visible structure of the city acts as a political stage or setting against which the inhabitants' lives play out and take on mean ing (2001: 41). Other writers have touched on this topic before. Kevin Lynch wrote the book The Image of the City (1960) to encourage planning cities to have powerful imagery, such as San Francisco has in the Golden Gate Bridge. Lynch believed that this ki nd of imagery could give people a sense of place and encourage healthy emotional connections to the city. But Freeman suggests that individuals can harness this power to act as directors in order to achieve political goals. Of course, no individual is ever responsible in the last analysis for the design of a ny living city, and so there is no (one) director behind the appearance of any urban environment. Cities are palimpsests of many different visions, sometimes spanning hundreds of years and preserving in their architecture evidence of huge cultural changes. One example might be narrow streets used in modern cities as one way roads; another example is the Colonial era Spanish church of Santo Domingo in Cusco, built
29 on top of a still visible Inca holy site of Koricancha; the whole complex has a modern addition. Yet the environment a group builds for themselves is not just the result of their particular needs; it also reinforces the way that group lives. On the other hand, the city does not determine the way people act; it merely influences it. Freeman notes this as well, explaining that the relationship between actors and their mise en scene is a dialectical one (2001: 38). On the most direct level, visual cues in a city can influence actions by means of stre et signs, one way roads, the placement or absence of sidewalks and crosswalks, or other ways of directing how people move through the city. In order to change this effect, a particular interest group such as a group of business owners who want to increase foot traffic in their area might lobby for more sidewalks leading to their businesses. However, these examples do not express the profundity of what Freeman seeks to explain. To Freeman, individual citizens' recognition of the possibility of using the city scape as mise en scene is the basis for a whole new form of activism, one which can be quite threatening to a government that relies on the repression of its citizens' discontent in order to maintain its power. Freeman's fieldwork was done in Buenos Aires Argentina, and he seems to believe the city has a personality. Largely he believes this personality comes from its history "the specifics of how citizens interact with each other is due to the unique and complex history of their nati on" (2001: 39). In th e Argentinians' case, this shared heritage has resulted in much frustration. Modern Argentinian society was based on a European model, but Argentinians have not experienced the kind of stability and freedom that their European counterparts have enjoyed over the past few decades. On the contrary; Argentina has experienced surprisingly repressive rule even after instating
30 democratic elections, and has undergone ruinous economic instability even after implementing the recommendations of world financial institutions. Freeman explains how this frustration manifests in the city through an ethnographic, narrative account in which walking down the street is dangerous because drivers have such aggression that they will, for instance, speed up as they approach pedestrians. It is as though Argentinians are so used to the abuse of power that when they find themselves in a position of authority over others, they act abusively for no apparent reason. This sort of action clearly has no intentions of creating a mise en scene However, he does believe that the visible display of this aggression and frustration sends a message, and that both the history which caused these feelings and their visible display are forces which serve to shape the political identity of its inhabitants (2001: 40). Though Freeman does not use this term, I will call these unintentional place setting messages These unintentional place setting messages are in turn picked up by others. Freeman's ethnography focused on how these messages are picked up by youths, because the youths defined themselves in opposition to that worldview. Specifically he seeks to show that this is the case concerning activists whose strategy to enact political change involves "the reclaiming of public spaces for civil society" (2001: 38). These youths became activists not just by fighting for their causes in spite of the overwhelming sense of frustration communicated unintentionally by other citizens, but by intentionally creating a world in which protest and resistance were possible. These mess ages were meant to affect the mise en scene and thus to re shape the political awareness of other citizens, and they accomplished this by making their claims into
31 visible, public spectacles. In one example, students and teachers protesting President Carlo s Menem's educational budget cuts set up a tent in plain view of the Congress building. "Some teachers' wages in the interior of the country are as low as $250 a month. Teachers from all over the country travel to stay in the tent and new groups continuall y arrive to take over from the previous group" (2001: 48). The problem in this case is that the government is cutting funds from an already disempowered group: teachers in the interior of Argentina command very little money and (therefore) very little powe r. In order to get anything done about their situation, these activists found it necessary to illustrate the problem visually and to place this visual metaphor in plain sight in a public space. Placed in the public, such metaphors amount to a kind of discu rsive warfare, serving to force the problems of these people into the public discourse in spite of their disempowered status. In his photographs and his explanations of his fieldwork, Freeman shows that the streets of Buenos Aires are almost constantly bu zzing with intentional messages from those who are discontent with the status quo. The result is that "even those who want nothing to do with politics cannot avoid it" (2001: 56). Protests, flyers, graffiti, and other methods of putting discontent onto the streets are used in such a way that they create an inescapable public dialogue, constantly bringing attention back to what the youths and activists believe to be problems. Evidently, this is a powerful strategy: as Freeman says, "To be apathetic is a cons cious decision" for those in Buenos Aires (2001:56). Another benefit of using public places to stage these messages of discontent is that when such actions are done in full view of the public, it is much more difficult for the government to take violent or repressive actions against the responsible parties.
32 Thus, actions that attempt to change the structure or appearance of public spaces, particularly in the city in other words, deliberate attempts to re shape the mise en scene can be an effective way to af fect the political identities of those who come in contact with those messages. This is where graffiti comes into play. I believe that applying this framework to the visual phenomenon of graffiti could be a valid and productive way to talk about graffiti. But there are problems with applying Freeman's framework to the contemporary U. S. graffiti movement I want to be careful not to exalt subversive activity as resistance if it is not resistance. Two main objections occur to me as possibly complicating the usefulness of Freeman's paradigm. First, Freeman's work was done in a very different context from the U. S. city, in a country still struggling to create a stable democracy. His first experience in Argentina was during the rebellions against the military demands on President Ral Alfonsn in 1987. The negotiations between the two factions of the government resulted in Alfonsn capitulating on nearly all the military's demands. As Freeman put it, it was his "first taste of politics in Argentina, and it was a defeat for democracy." As Freeman's fieldwork continued, Argentina continued to struggle against military control of the government and ruinous economic disaster. It would seem that the United States, land of the free, faces no such problems. One could hardly imagine the U.S. President capitulating to the demands of the U.S. Army, or that the U.S. citizens would be scared to speak out against the government for fear of being "disappeared." Thus one could argue that it should not be necessary in the U.S. to change the appearance of public spaces in order to change minds about political issues: in America, people are
33 guaranteed the right to express political unrest without fear of persecution by the government. A second objection would be that even if ther e were some reason to use the city as a mise en scene in the U.S., most contemporary American graffiti is not overtly political. Some of it is, certainly; but in Freeman's framework each of the visual interferences he mentions qualify as a change in the mi se en scene because they have political relevance, and thus charge with meaning the everyday lives of those who come in contact with them. In order to explore the way that contemporary American graffiti might also be a political action the way Freeman exp lains, it is necessary first to explore the meaning of public spaces in America. In order to do this I will use Habermas' explanation of the contemporary Western meaning of the public sphere, and I will synthesize this explanation with a recent work by Don Mitchell that links this explanation to concrete matters of public space. Together these explanations illustrate how the ideology underlying the use of public space in America does account for graffiti as a meaningful change in the mise en scene. Haberma s and the Bourgeois Public Sphere Habermas, a German philosopher and sociologist, gives a useful framework for talking about public space. In his 1962 study, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere he traces the meaning of "public" through time. Habermas explains that the different uses of the word "public" reveal a multiplicity of meanings, some of which contradict each other. "Public events" are open to all, as opposed to exclusive
34 events. But a "public building" need not be open to all; just by housing state institutions a building can be considered "public" whether or not private citizens are allowed inside. Likewise, the state is the "public authority," capable of giving a "public [official] re ception." And finally there is the most common meaning associated with the word public, meaning "the public as carrier of public opinion" (Habermas 1993: 1 2), which might also be called civil society. These different meanings of the same word point to a c onfused history of the idea and ideal of "the public," ultimately revealing our current conception to contain a paradox. Habermas then traces the evolution of the public sphere from ancient times, beginning with the Ancient Greek public sphere, the agora The agora was the marketplace, but it was also the place where all Greek citizens came to get news, to exchange ideas, and to manifest their full public selves in the presence of others. "Only in the light of the public sphere did that which existed becom e revealed, did everything become visible to all. In the discussion among citizens issues were made topical and took on shape" (1993: 4). Of course, even in the agora political functions were limited to citizens, which in ancient Greece consisted solely o f property owning men. It was, Habermas explains, precisely by virtue of their autonomy as masters of their own private households, directing the labor of women and slaves, that these men were freed from having to participate in the productive labor and th e shame of necessity which took place within the walls of the house. Thus the Greek citizen was elevated to the realm of the public sphere. Of course, Ancient Greece was organized as independent, democratic city states. In this polis structure, the public life was directly related to the political. Those who
35 commanded power through being a master in the private sphere participated in the negotiation of larger, public issues simply through debating them in the agora with the other citizens. Issues of indivi dual interest became issues of public interest simply by being aired and becoming the topic of public debates. Thus there was no inherent power structure within the agora itself for regulating the politics of public life. From time to time, of course, thos e who were judged to have acted outside of the bounds of proper behavior were brought before a jury and fed hemlock. But for the most part, the agora served as a site of unregulated mixing of business, pleasure, and politics, of the "bumping together" of d ifferent ideas and concerns. Habermas follows the development of the contemporary idea of the public sphere through a reading of history informed by Marx, in which the changeover from feudalism to a capitalist economy fundamentally changed the structure of society. During this period of changeover to a capitalist economic system, a new set of social relations emerged, bringing into existence a new class of people who were not primarily concerned with productive labor but with property values. This class was the bourgeoisie a class tha t emerged from merchants and others who were able to better themselves through the liberalization of economic policies. This class took up residence in the social hierarchy below the ruling class, the aristocracy, but above the working class, the proletari at. This liminal position contributed to the distinguishing characteristic of the bourgeoisie: a preoccupation with appearance and order. During the same time period, there were other shifts that ultimately allowed a much larger percentage of the populatio n to claim power for themselves by way of subjecting "public authority" (meaning national rule) to "public reason" (meaning the
36 collective reasoning of the aggregate of private persons). The bourgeoisie were in the middle of this new system. On the one han d, they claimed the authority of "the people" to check the power of the ruling body. On the other hand, they wanted to maintain their power over "the people." In order to maintain this balancing act, the bourgeoisie "invented" the public sphere as that whi ch formed the "public opinion" in other words, the collection of individuals engaged in rational discourse to which domination would be subject. The bourgeois were private persons as such they did not rule. Their power claims against the public authority were thus not directed against the concentration of powers of command that ought to be "divided"; instead, they undercut the principle on which existing rule was based. The principle of control that the bourgeois public opposed to the latter mainly, public ity was intended to change domination as such (1993: 28). However, the group that actually held this power was still constituted of the educated classes those with the money, leisure, and interest to research and discuss politics : the "reading public," o r the bourgeoisie In other words, the ideal of "public opinion" was only an ideal. Habermas claims that the identification of "property owner" with "human being as such" which allowed this process to take place was more or less the beginning of ideology ( 1993: 88). By this he ostensibly means it was the beginning of the kind of ideology discussed by Marx, which can lead to a normalization of the structures which keep power concentrated in the hands of certain groups, even while keeping other groups deprive d of real participation in the system, perhaps through a reified consciousness. In this case, the ideology was the story the bourgeoisie invented to justify their new claim to power. This fancy ideological footwork allowed the bourgeoisie to further act in its own interest by crystallizing structures that conserved its power. The maintenance of social order was a large part of this conservation of
37 power, even though this conservatism necessarily conflicts at times with the "democratic" ideal of public autho rity over the "public authority" which allowed the bourgeoisie to take this power. Habermas' theory is, of course, somewhat dated, and not directly applicable to the situation in the contemporary U. S., which does not seem to operate in terms of the thr ee classes he describes. Foucault famously argued that the kind of power Habermas described had actually undergone a kind of dissemination. Instead of being exerted by one class against another class, Foucault viewed power as being held and exerted by all individuals aga inst all other individuals through generalized structures of control, such as norms of behavior. In this perspective, there are continuances of old power struggles today because of things like the crystallized structures which reinscribe pow er onto that which had power before, but the reasons for the continuances do not necessarily lie in a class structure. This is essentially a philosophical argument, but the social sciences have in this case provided a good example of this kind of thinking in Don Mitchell. The C ontemporary Public Sphere: Don Mitchell In The Right to the City (2003), a contemporary American sociologist, Don Mitchell, builds on Habermas' framework and applies it to the American city today in order to argue for the importance of fighting for a certain kind of public space. Although U. S. society is not dominated by such a strict class system as that which Habermas discussed, it is still possible to conceptualize the middle class as the petit bourgeoisie or the "petty bourgeois ie," over and against a whole class of have nots who are systematically excluded from bourgeois institutions. Of course, according to
38 Foucault, this concept might be dated and unnecessary, but Mitchell does not seem to draw on Foucault. I mportantly, howeve r, Mitchell does show that in the U. S., public spaces are regulated in order to enforce the kind of exclusion of the "have nots" by the "haves" that Habermas described. Mitchell's understanding of the contemporary city is grounded in his fundamental concern with the loss of open public space. By "open space," he means the kind of unregulated space he claims the ancient Greeks had in the agora. Mitchell explains it as a pl ace of "pleasurable jostling" where "bodies, words, actions" were all on mutual display (Mitchell 2003: 131, quoting Hartley 1992). In the ideal of this public space, strangers could and did meet regularly, and the agora encouraged "nearly unmediated inter action" (2003: 131). Mitchell's point is that the agora was an open space, in which different kinds of people and ideas bumped up against each other in an unregulated way, in order to form and reform the public discourse. He leaves out, however, the point from Habermas that this free intermingling was premised on a society in which a certain group of people was categorically included, while everyone else was categorically excluded. Mitchell describes the agora in order to explain the changing face of the p ublic sphere today. Our contemporary concept of "the public sphere" is, according to this line of thought, an aspatial "ideal of a suite of institutions and activities that mediated the relationship between the state and society" (2003: 131, after Habermas ). The problem for Mitchell is that in contrast to the openness of the agora, in the contemporary city this ideal does not play out in the reality of the capitalist democratic state as a place where all people or even all ideas are welcome. Whereas for Hab ermas, the public
39 sphere had been claimed by the bourgeoisie by means of ideological controls, Mitchell sees those same principles of control being inscribed in the very structure of the city today. In today's city, public space is the "material location w here... public activities of all members of 'the public' occur" (2003: 131). But it is not truly public; it too is only an ideal which actually serves as an ideology. Mitchell explains: "The central contradiction at the heart of public space is that it dem ands a certain disorder and unpredictability to function as a democratic public space, and yet democratic theory posits that a certain order and rationality are vital to the success of democratic discourse" (2003: 130). Since ideas come into competition o r conversation in space, and specifically in public spaces, the Supreme Court ultimate authority of the bourgeois incarnation of law has come to uphold the idea that the free exchange of ideas can only occur when public space is "orderly, controlled and s afe" (2003: 48). Ultimately this has meant instilling the same ideologies that supported the hidden rule by the bourgeoisie into the physical structure of the city through the regulation of space. The regulation of space and the regulation of the public sp here are not only parallel they are the exact same thing. Mitchell's example is homelessness. Since in the bourgeois construction of the public sphere, public spaces are where you present yourself, whereas "business" and "necessities" take place in the private sphere, there is no room in the bourgeois public for people who do not have a private sphere from which to emerge. Those who have to engage in what may be considered shameful, or at least embarrassing, necessities while in public, such as using the bathroom, are expected to retreat to some private space, if not their own. Not to do so would be indecent a crime against the sensibilities of
40 innocent passersby. But when one lives in the public, often there is no choice. One can never present oneself as being anything other than homeless, and since homelessness i s already an unacceptable state, using semi public facilities, such as restrooms in stores, becomes more and more difficult. Eventually homelessness itself becomes a sign of indecency and danger, and the homeless person is excluded from legitimate particip ation in the public sphere through being conceptualized as using public space in a "dangerous" or "criminal" way. Public space for Mitchell, thus takes on the same ambivalence as Habermas' public sphere. In other words, democratic theory, based in the cl assically liberal project of the bourgeoisie and now generalized in contemporary U. S. society holds that rational public debate must be civilized and orderly. Thus in the U. S. today this has become the tenet that public space must be regulated or else i t will be dangerous and will therefore cease to comprise a "public sphere. But this regulation, according to Mitchell, is actually harmful to the idea of public space, limiting who can use public space and for what purposes and ultimately limiting the pub lic sphere. Habermas also claimed that in the modern world, the public sphere is falling apart: "Tendencies pointing to the collapse of the public sphere are unmistakable, for while its scope is expanding impressively, its function has become progressively insignificant" (1993: 4). Evidently, this is because there is an ideology that paints public space as a place that is open to all, when in reality public spaces continue to be regulated in such a way as to uphold their function specifically for those who own private property. Thus, for Mitchell, the fight for the rights of th ose other than the bourgeoisie is necessarily a fight grounded (literally) in space. Space itself must constantly be claimed
41 and used lest it be appropriated by powerful institutions and made to serve only the benefactors of those institutions, which are n ecessarily those who hold some kind of private property. He situates this situation as a dialectic, a power struggle between two basic visions of how public space should function. The one, associated with those powerful institutions, is the vision in which space should be regulated thoroughly I will call this the vision of control This vision is concerned with a need for surveillance and control of all spaces to insure order These assumptions and their implications uphold the idea of a meritocracy, an ill usion which normalizes differences in power between different groups. Because of such illusions, many people simply do not recognize that the regulation of space for "public" benefit actually only benefits some, and leaves others disenfranchised. Thus this vision of space is in many ways analogous to what Habermas would have called the ruling ideology concerning space in the contemporary city. The other vision, associated with activists and freedom of speech, is marked by openness to all, by "free inter actions, user determination, and the absence of coercion by powerful institutions" (2003: 128). I will call this vision the vision of resistance In this conceptualization of public space, the users of the space have the right to determine how it should be used. This is a fundamental break with the ideology of the bourgeois project and it is where movements such as graffiti come in. There is a whole new species of movement based on the vision of resistance. These movements are united by the understanding t hat the regulation of space is a method of social control, and they seek to open up the landscape as a site of contention, a place in which and by which to take back agency. Some of these movements have
42 been more successful than others. One such movement i s parkour or freerunning, a form of movement through urban areas which seeks to utilize city structures not intended to be walked on for that purpose, in order to move more quickly than people who follow the "rules" [police]. Another related movement is t he community garden movement, which reclaims unused spaces in the city and makes them sites of community action, creating a form of collective efficacy through claiming a right to change the environment and by making empty spaces into productive ones. Anot her such movement would be street theatre, which differs from conventional theatre in that instead of the audience choosing and paying to attend the performance, it confronts the passers by whether they like it or not. Graffiti as Resistance To return t o the issue of whether it is useful to apply Freeman's paradigm of visual interruptions recasting the mise en scene to an investigation of contemporary American graffiti, I need to revisit the objections I posed earlier. The first objection was that there is no ruling class in America repressing the lower classes from being able to air their political concerns as they please. According to the synthesis of Habermas' and Mitchell's analyses of the meaning of public space, however, this actually is happening in a certain way. The propertied classes whose main investments involve property values (in Habermas' terms, the bourgeoisie) promote the regulation of the use of public space for their own benefit. This regulation of public space is supported by the ideol ogy which not only excludes disenfranchised groups from public spaces but simultaneously delegitimizes their voices. Thus it is quite
43 possible that there are some groups of people who cannot simply air their concerns and expect to be heard. One way of reac ting to this exclusion from the public sphere could well be to create visual interruptions in public which are disconnected from those traits that would delegitimize the person's voice, such as by being black, or an undocumented immigrant, or by not speaki ng English. One channel left open for these people to participate in the public sphere and thus claim their full status as human beings is to do so through interacting with the mise en scene The second objection to applying Freeman's framework to graffi ti in the contemporary U.S. city was that although some graffiti is quite political in nature, most graffiti in the U.S. is not overtly political activism. Merriam Webster Online defines graffiti as usu. unauthorized writing or drawing on a public surface ." If Mitchell is correct, then graffiti is illegal because it is public; because it serves as an unregulated interruption of the private regulation of public space. This interruption, in and of itself, is a political action. Thus the content of graffiti i mages need not be overtly political for graffiti to be nonetheless a meaningful change in the mise en scene Graffiti does not take up three dimensional, physical space, the way a building does; it does, however, take up visual space, and this has an eff ect on observers. Graffiti's very existence in public spaces challenges the ideology of the bourgeois public sphere. In other words, graffiti can be a conscious attempt to change the mise en scene of the contemporary American city. But even when it is not deliberately political, it is still an example of an unintentional place setting message. As such, graffiti is always political, whether it intends to be or not, because it can serve to undermine the idea and ideology that public spaces are regulated for t he benefit of all. With this in
44 mind, I will return briefly to a discussion of graffiti itself, this time using Freeman's paradigm for analysis. Some tags are meant to literally lay claim to a territory, as is the case for most gang related graffiti. But t his kind of graffiti only accounts for approximately 10% of all graffiti even according to the anti graffiti websites I found (Graffiti Hurts: Facts). Other sources cite lower percentages Everyone suspended in the webs of signification associated with th e bourgeois vision of public space is likely to find this kind of graffiti threatening, since ostensibly it claims what is already private property. However, even this type of graffiti regarded as the most destructive and most dangerous type is not competi ng with the private property claims. There is no threshold past which a graffitied building is claimed as belonging to the graffiti writers. Instead, "turf war" graffiti acts as a second form of ownership entirely. Gangs engaged in turf wars seek to claim the rights to the public interstices through which people travel to these private destinations. The problem, however, is that contested areas between the territories of different gangs are inevitably associated with danger and violence, and for good reason So a proliferation of gang related graffiti in an area might well be a very bad sign for business owners, since people may choose to avoid the area and take their business elsewhere. In this way gang related graffiti does relate to the destruction of pro perty values through the drop in revenue received by businesses in the area. On the other hand, these lowered revenues may be comparable with those that would result from Wal Mart or some other directly competitive business moving into the area. It would b e very difficult to say whether or not this was the case, because the effects of turf war graffiti cannot be studied outside of the context of the escalating contestation itself,
45 which may have had these effects regardless of the existence of graffiti as a n element of the turf war. It is possible, however, to state that as a result of this effect or of the perception of this effect, business owners usually feel the need to paint over or repair graffiti on their property, and thus this kind of graffiti steal s the cost of those repairs from business owners. Although this type of graffiti's destructive power seems to have been overstated by Broken Windows theory, it is nonetheless a destructive practice Fortunately, it only accounts for a very small percentage of graffiti in the United States. Unfortunately, the same visions of control that associate homelessness with criminality also associate graffiti writers with the kind of criminality that is in reality only associated with this small fraction. Other ty p es of graffiti lay claim to the public sphere through metaphorically claiming public space. Most tags are simply the signature of a particular writer who is making no literal claim to territory, but rather "leaving his or her mark." The previous chapter di scussed in some detail the attractiveness of "getting up" and gaining a public identity. In many ways this may be an attempt by those who are systematically excluded from participation as equals in the public sphere to reclaim their right to a public ident ity. In this case too, though, the perspectives associated with the vision of control see tagging as property destruction. I am not arguing that property owners should not be able to keep their property's appearance however they like it, and certainly many people do not like the appearance of graffiti on their property. However, the reaction to graffiti seems disproportional to the crime. This kind of graffiti is not associated with violence, and most of the perpetrators are kids. The cost to property owner s consists of the cost of repairing the damage it has done to the appearance of the
46 necessary to cover the tag. In the vast majority of cases involving tags, then, this cost is quite small, since most tags are small signatures made with markers on smooth surfaces and require only a flick of paint. Granted, the price may be significantly higher in cases where the writer has used spray paint in order to paint on a more difficult surface to repair, such as brick. But the average cost to repair this kind of ae sthetic damage is likely not much greater than other types of aesthetic damage from bird poo to pollution damage to general weathering. This cost does not explain the ever increasing militarization against graffiti nor the ever increasing penalties for bei ng caught tagging. It is only when the perceived cost is distorted by a belief that disorder is dangerous that the relatively extreme reaction of anti graffiti policies makes sense. There is another form of graffiti which does not make an ownership claim in the same way: it does not claim a territory as belonging to a particular gang or group, nor does it merely serve the purpose of getting the writer's name into the public, although it may be done partially in pursuit of the latter. This form of graffiti is, however, nonetheless a challenge to the idea that public space needs to be regulated from above, and it makes this claim simply by existing on a public surface. By this I mean the "piece," graffiti as art, or graffiti as political statement. Graffiti m eant purely as art is no small consideration in the graffiti world. Near the beginning of the spread of contemporary urban graffiti, Castleman wrote, "Many graffiti writers believe they are beautifying the city with their train painting and consider their writing a public service. Police officer Lesnewski has quoted one captured writer as saying, You can cut both my hands, you can cut both my arms off, I'll still paint the trains every day because I owe it to the people of New York City to make these trai ns beautiful" (1982: 71).
47 Today, purely artistic graffiti accounts for an even larger proportion of urban graffiti. Using public space for art which is often political itself is perhaps an even more powerful disruption of the normalization of ordered publi c space. All of these forms of graffiti represent the reaction against the contemporary manifestation of the bourgeois construction of the public sphere. If there were not a counter reaction on the part of the ruling ideology, these movements might be qui te successful in opening up public space to a multiplicity of uses and voices, and in moving public space in the U. S. in the direction of the kind of open, unregulated space that Mitchell claims could save the function of public space as the public sphere However, all of these types of graffiti have in fact been villainized as a cause of further crime by the counter movement grounded in Broken Windows theory. Broken Windows theory can be linked to the bourgeois ideal of public space, and on the most obvi ous level, one could argue that this is the case simply because Broken Windows theory assumes that graffiti is violence against property. By connecting Habermas to Mitchell to Broken Windows theory, I believe a much stronger explanation can be drawn out fo r the extreme reaction of the anti graffiti movement against what might otherwise have been considered street art. Graffiti as a movement, together with its artistic traditions, has been denounced by the order maintenance perspective as part of a culture o f crime whose eruption into the orderly public sphe re is dangerous and destructive simply by virtue of the fact that it exists as visible disorder. If graffiti is such a problem, then it is clearly very powerful. The question is, is it powerful in the way Broken Windows thinking believes it to be powerfully destructive? No. The reason it is so powerful it that it disrupts the ideology that insures
48 the maintenance of social order in the public sphere. By breaking the illusion of orderliness, people are confr onted with the reality that public spaces do not serve as the public sphere for everyone, but rather exclude some people categorically. Some people must resort to criminal behavior in order to gain recognition in the public sphere. This answers the questi on of why graffiti is so important to two different groups: one invested in its ongoing creation, and one invested in its elimination. The potential graffiti holds for disrupting the apparent order of the city makes it a very powerful political force, one which each perspective will no doubt continue to try to harness for its own ends.
49 Chapter Three Postmodern Graffiti In the previous chapter, I explained why graffiti either its continued production or its repression has become extremely important to two competing groups. Both groups cannot succeed, yet each year more time and money goes into the production of graffiti, and likewise each year more time and money goes into the removal of graffiti and the pursuit and/or punishment of writers. Due to the dialectical nature of this situation, both camps must continue to evolve and change. This is especially true of the graffi ti movement both because it is the aberrant stance, challenging the status quo, and because it is art meaning that it creates its own reasons for constant experimentation and change. Since the dissemination of graffiti in the 1980s writers from New York to Cape Hope to Tokyo have been experimenting with new forms However, one trajectory of this experimentation with graffiti stands out as being of particular interest, a form I call "postmodern graffiti." Practitioners of this form are not only conscious o f its role as the kind of interruption that conspicuously politicizes public space, but in fact deliberately frame their work in order to legitimate its existence. This is not to say that earlier graffiti writers were not aware of the need for framing, but to suggest that there is a difference between graffiti that seeks to participate in the practices of graffiti writing in spite of those practices being villainized, and postmodern graffiti, which uses some of the traditions of graffiti and balances these by appealing in various ways to what may be larger or more highly valued social concerns than the preservation of order. Bo th types continue to exist, and
50 there is no hard line between them. That said I have found three excellent examples of what I mean b y postmodern graffiti. One presents itself as a subversive act which is nonetheless legitimated by its role in questioning the authority of advertisements. One presents itself as a subversive act legitimated by the fact that it serves the need for humaniza tion of city spaces. And one is Banksy. But is this "post graffiti" really enough to overcome the war on graffiti? For that matter, is it a break with the graffiti tradition, or is it only the inevitable next step to avoid elimination by the authorities? Graffiti v. Street Art v. Postmodern Graffiti In recent years graffiti has expanded to include many new forms. It is probable that much of this recent evolution has to do with avoiding obliteration by the anti graffiti campaigns. Other innovations, howev er, may simply be the inevitable experimentations of artists for the sake of the art. It is impossible to sort out whether a given innovation is due to one cause or the other which suggests that in many cases these new forms may come about in reaction to b oth forces : anti graffiti campaigns putting graffiti art on the move, and that of the artists' influence on each other. Some of these innovations have expanded the possibilities of traditional hip hop graffiti. Others have come from the other direction, c reating a new form of art and attempting to have it recognized as graffiti. Altogether the movement away from traditional hip hop graffiti styles has caused some to refer to this newer art as "street art" instead of graffiti. Some artists prefer to call e ven their spray painted creations "street art" and outright reject the term "graffiti," either because of the positive implication that the work is art or else because
51 of graffiti's negative association with vandalism. This was obvious in my interviews wi th artists In an interview with Rex, the founder of a pro street art activist group in New Orleans whose webpage effusively praised and welcomed Banksy and other international graffiti artists to the city, I asked if he were pro graffiti, and he resoundin gly answered "no." I won't necessarily say that I'm pro graffiti, but I will say that I'm pro street art, and I'm pro installations, and I'm pro public art. I think when it comes to graffiti, just wholesale graffiti, there's very lit tle artistic merit to it often I f it's something that's just destructive, or stupid, or somebody got drunk and decided to write all over a church, then yeah that kind of pisses me off (2/24/09). To put this response in perspective, though, Rex has been cited for hundreds o f counts of unauthorized posting of flyers, and knows he is in the public eye as a promoter of "street art." In this case, in order to be a public figurehead for art in the public, Rex had to let go of the word "graffiti." Unfortunately, dumping the term graffiti may also throw out the baby with the negative connotations. Graffiti by any other name might a way for the powerful parts of society to continue to villai nize traditional graffiti as being part of a culture of crime while endorsing related movemen ts in public art. If part of the goal of the new form of the practice is to prove that graffiti is not inherently harmful, allowing traditional graffiti to be vilified not going to help that cause. Tristan Manco notes that some artists are uncomfortable wi th the term "street art" because it may seem to be associated with "fine art" (2004: 7). This association would ostensibly undermine the subversive nature of unauthorized public art. Furthermore, certain artists may prefer to adopt the graffiti label speci fically because of the sense of illegality it invokes, which may serve to
52 authenticate certain movements as legitimate or lend a sense of adventure to an artistic endeavor as tame as putting up posters with flowers on them in public areas. The confusing sp ace between "graffiti" and "street art" has already resulted in a few new terms, such as "post graffiti" and "neo graffiti." According to Manco, these terms are rarely used (2004: 7). In general, however, preserving the term graffiti seems important when d iscussing the type of activity that uses strategies of framing specifically to avoid, overcome, or invert the tenets of the anti graffiti movement or Broken Windows theory. Of course I believe that individual artists or writers ought to call their work any thing they choose. For purposes of exploring a particular movement, however, I would like to create a term that is sufficiently narrow without constituting a complete break with the tradition from which it emerged. I believe that the term "postmodern graff iti" allows for a differentiation of this sort of action from the original form of graffiti without giving up the connotation of subversiveness that the term graffiti carries. Appealing to the right to air one's opposition One way that postmodern graffi ti has attempted to deal with the campaigns against its existence is by counterpoising its nature as an illegal activity with the clear message that this illegality is a necessary component of the point it seeks to make. My example of this strategy is Post er Boy, a New York City artist whose canvas is always advertisements. He sometimes marks on these advertisements, but just as often only cuts up and re arranges the pictures themselves. Interestingly, most of his work is done in New York City subway statio ns. An article from New York Magazine refers to his
53 work as "mash ups," a term usually heard in reference to music suggesting that Poster Boy does not entirely break with graffiti traditions, and perhaps in some ways has managed to return to its roots as a cultural movement intertwined with music (Raftery 2008: "Slice and Dice" 1). This form of graffiti seems to embrace the countercultural ideology of "mental environmentalism," associated with "culture jamming" and Adbusters magazine. The movement encourag es people to reclaim those spaces used by advertisers to put their products into the public sphere by co opting them for art or for some other kind of message. The New York Magazine article explains, The die hard Fight Club fan hopes to start a decentralized art movement, one where anyone can claim to be Poster Boy. "No copyright, no authorship," he says. "A social thing, as opposed to being an artist making things for bored rich people to hang above their couch." That such a crusade might encourage vandalism doesn't bother him. "Where I'm from, if you go by the book, it's a very slow process to get what you want," he says (2008: 1). Poster Boy, much like the activists in Argentina, seems to feel that he cannot get what he wants ostensibly, a world in which the visual space of the public sphere is owned by the people, rather than by advertisers by going through the usual channels. So he simply resorts to more direct action. By cutting up and altering rather than simply destr oying or even covering over the advertisements he targets, he is able to frame his unauthorized statement as satire Although his work is still removed by the MTA, Poster Boy's "art" achieves a kind of immortality on the internet through photos 2 and throu gh articles that call him the Matisse of subway ad mash ups ," (2008: 1). And more importantly, he achieves a kind of middle ground with the police: it's not that his 2 Poster Boy's official Flickr photostream is available at : http://www.flickr.com/photos/26296445@N05
54 work is in any way authorized, but it seems to be tolerated as less offensive than other graffiti, as seen in the following passage from the article, He's only halfway finished when he's halted by a voice: "Stop!" The crowd parts, revealing four hard charging NYPD officers. "You got ratted out," one officer says, pointing to a Tropic Thunder poster that's been defaced with a homophobic slur. Apparently, a commuter saw Poster Boy at work and mistakenly I.D.'d him as the culprit. He spends a few minutes pleading his case he's opposed to such sloppily executed epithets, for philosophical and aes thetic reasons. After taking his razor, the cops let him off with a warning (2008: 2). Appealing to the need for Humanization "Urban knitting" is a form of graffiti "so pleasant that i can't imagine even the harshest critics of regular graffiti getting w ound up," according to one blogger (DeputyDog.com 2008). Urban knitting is clearly a break with graffiti traditions in many ways. It does not use conventional styles or spray paint; it does not even create words or images but rather covers various objects with "sweaters On the other hand, urban knitters do form communities, as there are a number of "urban knitting crews" with information online. One example of a knitting crew is Knitta Please, who describe themselves as a tag crew of knitters, bombing t he inner city with vibrant, stitched works of art, wrapped around everything from beer bottles on easy nights to public monuments and utility poles on more ambitious outings (knittaplease.com: "About," accessed 3/22/09). Their language and philosophy clea rly draws on graffiti traditions. Likewise, urban knitting is a way in which a group of people can change the appearance of a space without permission, an act which can draw attention to space as politicized. In the case of knitting around a park bench, fo r instance, an urban knitting crew might draw attention to the fact that the space was otherwise impersonal, even
55 alienating, or to the fact that the city has not provided comforts for its less fortunate inhabitants. Of course urban knitting is almost di fficult to classify as graffiti. These people are not "legit" in the sense of putting themselves in real danger of arrest, and they will almost certainly never get the kind of respect that most graffiti writers seek. Making such "pleasant" art and calling it graffiti is in itself a challenge to the idea that an unauthorized alteration of public space is vandalism. An Example of Urban Knitting from Deputy Dog.com Stencil Graffiti Another way to appeal to people on a level they are likely to think is more important than the maintenance of order is by making graffiti that points out its own nature as a political statement. This is the case for stencil artist Banksy, who also manages to make his graffiti appeal to people on several other levels.
56 The stencil graffiti form itself deserves attention In Stencil Graffiti (2002) UK based author Tristan Manco traces a history of stencili ng from the use of stencils on the walls of caves 22,000 years ago through their use as decoration of the walls of the Egyptian p yramids through contemporary wallpaper painting (2002: 7 8). Then he explains the beginnings of stencil graffiti as originating in political protests in South America in the 1970s ( 2002: 9). In the early 1980s in Paris, "the strong traditions of protest ar t combined with an Art Deco decorative tradition and many other factors to produce something completely new" ( 2002: 9). One of the originators of this new form of graffiti was Blek le Rat, whom Banksy claims influenced his work. Manco quotes Blek: "This is now one of the main reasons that I work in urban space. I had a presence for thousands of people who I didn't know and whom I would never meet, and yet I had a firm feeling of existing and speaking to them out of the anonymity and isolation of urban surro undings" ( 2002: 9). So Blek, too, wanted to break open the restrictive and isolating urban landscape to the possibility of humanization and politicization. The movement swept Paris before moving across Europe and back to the U. S. in a progression that re versed the original movement of graffiti out of New York. The tradition now has a strong correlation with protests around the world. Manco notes, "As can be seen in the graffiti campaign to free American prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal, the walls of the world are in effect, a free press, used to express solidarity for causes and issues both local and global" ( 2002: 60). The reasons stencil graffiti is particularly well suited to political statements have much to do with the form itself. In contrast to early hip hop graffiti, which seemed to seek to change the appearance of its very industrial settings such as the boxy subway car, stencil lettering
57 is itself well suited to function in an urban environment. In fact, stencil lettering is often used by property owne rs themselves or by other legitimate authorities as a practical method of signage, for instance to communicate messages such as "Do Not Enter" ( 2002: 12). Its clear and familiar shape and its utilitarian nature probably add to the fact that it is often ass ociated with functionality and a certain kind of authority. As Manco points out, "When used for official notices, stenciled text the spacing, the aesthetic of the letters and numbers tends to have a precise, military authority that blends with street archi tecture" ( 2002: 13). This is attractive to many artists who wish to co opt that sense of authority, whether to provide alternate instructions or simply to make fun of it. However, as Manco observes, "Whereas hip hop graffiti evolved from the written lette r, the majority of stencil graffiti is essentially iconographic or pictographic" ( 2002: 19). And in fact, most stencil graffiti work consists of imagery rather than words. The stenciling medium remains important to the way the images are perceived, though, at times lending even images a sense of authority or official status. In contrast to freehand graffiti, much of the artistic work of stenciling is completed before the artist gets on the street. This can mean that the stencil is used over and over and thu s creates a predictable, standard image associated with a certain writer. This is the way most of the early protest stenciling worked. This is also the case for contemporary stencil artists such as Bananasprayer, a graffiti artist from Germany who leaves t he same image of a banana everywhere he goes. In the book Street Logos Manco suggests that this kind of repetition is a type of "logo" much as earlier authors suggested was the case for tags. Th us th e new signatur e for stencil graffiti writers need not in corporate a name or
58 lettering at all. An other possible effect of the stenciling method is that a graffiti artist can get far more detail in much less painting time. Since stencil graffiti is still a criminal ized activity, this method allows artists to get a lot of "information" on a wall at once as long as the stencils are well planned beforehand. Manco specifically differentiates stencil graffiti as an artistic type of graffiti, distinguishing it from tagging and throw ups, which he says are "over ringin gly about defacement," and which constitute an activity that while sometimes defended as freedom of speech "most people would condemn [for] its destructiveness" ( 2002: 9). On the other hand, "With the more creative forms, such as graffiti pieces and stenci l graffiti, there tends to be more respect for private property and culturally significant or beautiful buildings, which amounts to self policing on the part of artists as to choice of location" ( 2002: 11). He also suggests that stencil graffiti often surv ives council clean ups because it is, "not seen as graffiti but perhaps as public notices or murals," and goes on to claim that this longevity has much to do with stencil graffit i's more careful placement relative to some other types of graffiti. The examp le I have chosen to represent this form of postmodern graffiti is Banksy, who has such a complicated persona of balancing subversion with various counterpoising appeals that h e became the center of my study. Banksy is clear that he makes graffiti, not art, yet he has done things that even the most acclaimed artists cannot do, such as getting his art into the Lourve. As an article in Wired magazine put it, "Last March, Banksy achieved a sort of art world quadruple crown when he snuck his works into four New York City museums the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Brooklyn
59 Museum in a single day" (Howe 2005: 1). Banksy does not copyright his images, yet he has made millions from the auction of original pieces. Banksy makes unauthorized art of many kinds, yet he is not exactly a vandal, because his work tends to greatly in crease the worth of anything it defaces. Most importantly, Banksy creates work that points out its own nature as both illegal and subversive and in so doing, somehow manages to drum up far more support than any innocent piece of subway decoration ever did.
60 Chapter Four Banksy : A Break With Tradition? Banksy is a thirtysomething graffiti artist from Bristol, England. He has gained international fame (or notoriety) for his work, which has appeared in cities in England, Spain, Germany, France, Jamaica, and the United States, to name a few, and has at times showed up uninvited inside of museums. Banksy is important to the story of graffiti because his work is worth so much money that it actually has the opposite effect of what Broken Windows theory alleges gr affiti will do, which is to say that Banksy's work can actually increase the value of anything he "vandalizes." However, the real reason Banksy stood out as a good possibility for a case study of postmodern graffiti was that on his website he had stated th at his recent work in New Orleans was meant to do battle with the (in)famous buffer the Gray Ghost, a statement I interpreted to mean that I would be able to investigate a material record of an ideological war. Banksy's entire persona as a graffiti artist is relevant to his role as a character who would engage in this battle. I will argue that Banksy was able to create this highly potent persona through careful framing, using a particular set of non threatening traits combined with a series of impressive st unts in order to become a hero for those who want to reclaim the public sphere for everyone. In Search of Banksy So who is this seemingly paradoxical figure, Banksy? It's hard to know for sure, since he protects his identity, but there are a few good sou rces for information about
61 him. First, he does have an "official" website, banksy.co.uk, where he posts some pictures of his work. This is especially helpful in determining whether new pieces are genuine Banksys or not. He also co hosts a website called Pi ctu res of Walls which features the art of other graffiti writers in pictures submitted by various photographers with Banksy serving as a kind of editor Banksy doesn't explain much on these sites, but much can be inferred from them regardless. Second, Ba nksy has also published several books: Banging Your Head against a Brick Wall (2001), Existencilism (2002) Cut it Out (2004) Wall and Piece (2006), and Pictures of Walls (2005) Wall and Piece is basically a compilation of the first three books, but in f ull color This was helpful, because the first three books, which are out of print, each cost more than $70 on the internet, so I relied on it and Pictures of Walls for official Banksy publications. (The high price of these books may in fact serve to symbo lize the difference in cost of going through "the usual channels" to change people's minds, as opposed to the unusual channel of directly painting on walls.) In his books, too, Banksy says relatively little, preferring to let the photographs speak for them selves most of the time. But what he does say is chosen carefully, and each statement adds something to the book. The th ird source is everything secondary : newspaper and magazine articles, blog posts, books by others about Banksy, etc. These second hand (or third hand) sources are in some ways much more informative than Banksy himself. Part of the reason is that the Banksy phenomenon has two sides: Banksy himself is certainly important, but understanding the way his work is received is equally significant At the same time, many of these sites make contradictory claims; for example giving different years for his date of birth.
62 The publicly available facts about Banksy are limited, of course, by his desire to protect his identity. Yet there is much that a persistent reader can learn about him, even from his own publications. For instance, Banksy has published pictures of himself putting up his work in which his face is obscured, or while wearing a fake beard. One can tell from these pictures at least that he is white and male. Additionally, the very length of his "career" as a graffiti artist suggests that h e is old by graffiti standards. M ost sources put him in his mid to late thirties (Collins 2007). These traits make him a somewhat out of the ordinary g raffiti writer, at least relative to United States graffiti writers But they also almost certainly have an effect on the way people receive Banksy as an artist, and as a graffiti writer S everal groups on the internet claim to have discovered Banksy's tr ue identity, as well as some fairly respectable sources that have published what may be pictures of the "real Banksy." While that may be interesting, it does not add much to my argument, so I have not investigated of the veracity of those claims or tried t o pin down for sure what year he was born. On the other hand, quite a bit has been said to the effect that the secrecy surrounding Banksy's identity has contributed to his fame and mystique. For one thing, it allows him to publish books in which he essenti ally admits to committing a crime hundreds of times and to do so without getting himself arrested. His secrecy may also have contributed significantly to the cult of personality that has arisen in awe of Banksy. One way to explore Banksy is simply to look at his work. The following images are all from the "official" website, banksy.co.uk, accessed 3/24/09 unless otherwise noted All have been cr opped from their original form to save space.
64 (Banksy 2006: 82) Sign given to Orangutan in Melbourne Zoo ( 2006: 82) L ooking at the images of his work, it's not hard to figure out at least part of how Banksy became famous. I have a few ideas about why his fame reached astronomical levels, which I will relate after extricating a little more about the persona of Banksy himself. Framing Banksy One fact about Banksy that is publicly available is his hometown, at least insofar as it was his artistic home. As a young graffiti artist, Banksy developed in Bristol. In his book Wall and Piece he even includes several pictures of pieces he
65 created on cows and other livestock, explaining, "If you grow up in a town where they don't have subway trains you have to find something else to paint on. It's not as easy as it sounds because most subway t rain drivers don't wander around with shotguns" (Banksy 2006: 152). My impression of Bristol from these images was that it was a small, rural English town, with Banksy as some kind of unexpected non sequitur, disturbing its age old traditions with crazy id eas that came from inner city America. Of course, there is a way in which these seemingly humble origins might well destroy much of Banksy's "street cred" among graffiti writers. On the other hand, the fact that he approaches his own origins with a sense o f humor and humility contributes to an image of him as non threatening. Interestingly, it seems that Banksy purposely plays up the idea that he came from a small town. When I started engaging in serious research into Banksy's life, I realized I had a numb er of erroneous assumptions his origins were certainly one of those. Bri stol is no sleepy little town out in the English countryside; it is a bustling hub of both politics and art Stephen Morris even called Bristol "the European leader" in graffiti art ( Wright 2007: 5) This statement might be a slight exaggeration, but it is not just about Banksy. In fact, one of Banksy's graffiti writing predecessors in Bristol was 3D, who left the graffiti world to form the well known band Massive Attack. In Wright's b ook, other informants give theories about why Bristol was such a hub for graffiti. The graffiti artist Cheba explains, "It was a lot to do with 3D going to and from New York, bringing back lots of graffiti writers. Bristol is such a small community, it's n ot hard to get your name around, everyone knows everyone in the scene. In London, there are graff communities, but they're much more scattered, less close knit" ( 2007:
66 6). Two other theories mentioned the presence of psychedelic drugs in Bristol In any ca se it is apparent that Banksy chooses to present himself as coming from a rural town, when in fact this is something of an exaggeration. This implies that it is more important to Banksy to present himself as non threatening than to present himself as cosmo politan or street smart perhaps as part of the postmodern graffiti need to present one's subversive actions as growing out of some kind of powerlessness. Another way that Banksy balances subversive actions with self deprecation is through humor. Banksy us es a lot of humor in his explanations, just as he does in the images he creates. For example, o n his official website, one tab is labeled "Man ifesto." The page it links to as of March 2008 is surprisingly bare, just a blank white frame with a single quote attributed to Emo Philips: When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised God doesn't work that way, so I stole one and prayed for forgiveness" (accessed 03/14/09). I am arguing that there is more to Banksy's philosophy tha n this. Why hide it? Or perhaps this is just one clue, one truth in a tell the truth but tell it slant sort of way, part of a puzzle that a viewer is supposed to piece together over time. Here he is creating an image that he cannot get what he wants withou t doing it illegally. The image of an innocent desire for aesthetic improvement which labels itself as illegal, or as graffiti, is not a new strategy: cf the Urban Knitting crews such as Knitta Please who call their work graffiti even though police and cit y officials do not see it that way. Again, this characterization has a particular effect, and the attempt to elicit that effect is probably a deliberate decision on Banksy's part. As I mentioned above, Banksy's work is estimated to be worth tens of
67 thousan ds of dollars, and may even raise the value of businesses it adorns. He would not be hard pressed to find volunteers to host his pieces. So Banksy presents himself as both subversive and innocent, as though he has no other choice but to create the art tha t he does, regardless of its meaning in whatever context it finds itself. And he presents himself as unable to get what he wants through conventional means, even though he could sell his services as a painter for far more than most artists today. Similar t ensions can be drawn out of an analysis of his work, which balances subversiveness with humor and political statements with artistic beauty. First, Banksy's work is very clever. Many of his pieces are simply humorous, and this is, of course, its own appea l. Others are subversive in a clever way. Much of his work is very sarcastic, even self referential, and most of the images are quite thought provoking. The Flower Thrower, for instance, is one of the most well known of Banksy's images. It is almost funny: Banksy takes a stereotypical image of an anarchist or revolutionary in the stance of someone about to throw a molotov cocktail or something equally dangerous, yet this revolutionary is throwing a colorful bouquet. On the other hand, this is not just humor; this is politics. The image could mean different things to different people, and I do not presume to know which meaning or meanings Banksy intended. Is it commentary on the lengths revolutionaries will go to make a better world? Is it commentary on the perception that property destruction is violence? Is it a statement about the revo lutionary power of art? Or perhaps about the ineffectual nature of art? I cannot say; but I do think the fact that viewers might see any of these meanings, or something else entirely, allows it to appeal to a wide audience, and that these tensions are perh aps productive.
68 Another way Banksy balances the illegal nature of his work is by utilizing visual style that does not frighten people, whether because it is visually clear or simply because it generally cannot be confused with gang related graffiti. Wherea s much of traditional graffiti lettering is quite difficult for someone outside of either the graffiti movement or the anti graffiti movement to read, Banksy (in his later work, at least) avoids "wild style" lettering altogether and instead presents extrem ely clear, usually regular wording, if indeed a piece contains words at all. Even Banksy's tag avoids the usual graffiti conventions of interlocking letters, instead using a blocky typeface that could even be used for a business logo. (Banksy 2001: 1) In his pieces, too, it appears that Banksy specifically aims to be visually readable. This idea is backed up by statements from the artist himself. In an article in Wired magazine, Banksy is quoted as saying, "Most graffiti is like modern art, isn't it? Pe ople are like, What does it mean?" ( Howe 2008 in Wired ) Banksy, on the other hand, tries to make his art easy to interpret. Part of this readability almost certainly has to do with his medium, the stencil. Stencil graffiti can achieve very clean lines and an almost lifelike realism, since the stencils can be worked out beforehand using as much time and as many tools as the artist decides to use. This readability is also considered by many to be aesthetically pleasing. "The attraction for all stencil artist s old and new, on the street and off is that, as well as being a great method of communication, stenciling also has an enduring aesthetic appeal" (Manco 2002: 12). And many people
69 clearly do like the way Banksy's work looks, and buy it as art to put up in their homes. Banksy gives some insight into why he chose stenciling in an interview: I started off painting graffiti in the classic New York style you use when you listen to too much hip hop as a kid but I was never very good at it. As soon as I cut my fi rst stencil, I could feel the power there. The ruthlessness and efficiency of it is perfect. I also liked the political edge. All graffiti is low level dissent but stencils have an extra history. They've been used to start revolutions and stop wars. They look political just through the style. Even a picture of a rabbit playing a piano looks hard as a stencil. (Manco 2002: 77 79) Here Banksy suggests that he chose the stencil medium to be threatening, but I believe this too is a slant truth. By choosing a style that makes even a rabbit look "hard," Banksy can in fact make pictures of little girls hugging bombs or teddy bear revolutionaries. Another part of Banksy's characteristic readability has to do with the subject matter he chooses. Bristol artist Wil l Brown said, "Banksy is interesting to me because he has become a successful artist without interesting or appealing to the art intelligentsia or academy. His pictures rarely refer to other art or the art world. They are not complex or difficult to get' so they don't confer on the viewer the pleasure of being in a select club of the artistically literate who are able to read' them" ( Wright 2007: 44). In fact, Banksy often uses familiar icons or well known phrases, recombining them in humorous ways. For i nstance, one Banksy piece features the main characters from Pulp Fiction pointing bananas instead of guns. Another effect of this use of familiar images is that Banksy's pieces cannot be interpreted as gang related. Banksy's work may be easily recognizabl e, to the point of being a kind of "street logo," but it is unlikely that a gang would use such complicated, diverse, satirical images to claim its territory. Nor would any gang try to claim a
70 territory as wide as Banksy's pieces are scattered. Banksy has done work in Bri stol, in London, in Paris, in zoo s in Barcelona and elsewhere in Jamaica, on boats, on beaches, in galleries in New York and sidewalks in Los Angeles in CD jewel cases, in Disney World, and in at least se veral other types of locations It is that sense of Banksy's work as both edgy and engaging that creates the kind of excitement that follows Banksy around the world. Another part of the appeal may be that these pieces have a meaning for many different kinds of people not just for those wh o are involved with the graffiti movement or those who have a background in art history though it can appeal to these people too Even when the pieces rely on cultural references for their full effect, missing the reference doesn't make the piece incompreh ensible. One example is "Macdonna," which references the famous Baroque sculpture The Ecstasy of St. Theresa to make what is ostensibly a statement about the fetishization of fast food. Even without realizing that the image is a take off of a famous Christ ian sculpture, a viewer can see that it pokes fun at American eating habits by comparing them to religious inspiration Wright quotes art critic Alan Bamgerger, who explains that the pieces are engaging without being exclusionary. He has a very engaging t ake on urban art. His work actually makes you think. You're not just looking at a typical piece of graffiti: there's a story there, there's something happening, something to think about, a message. Even if the message is no message, there's something else happening, that extra intangibility that works so nicely. Plus, he's done some things to help himself, like placing these bogus pictures in museums he's very good at garnering publicity for himself. ( Wright 2007: 79 80).
71 "Macdonna" (Banksy.co.uk, acces sed 3/18/09) These factors subversive imagery tempered by a non threatening presentation, humor, and a potentially universal appeal combined with the ineffable fact that Banksy is a talented artist seem to have been sufficient ingredients for Banksy to be gin climbing the ladder to international fame. But he wouldn't have gotten there without a series of fascinating stunts to keep his work "fresh," and through which he was able to construct an identity as a voice for the voiceless. Banksy v. Broken Windows Theory Banksy's reasons for making graffiti seem to have been cultivated at least partially in reaction to the Broken Windows theory. Throughout his books and in interviews, Banksy makes statements that subtly reference and refute the ideas of a Broken Windows theory perspective, favoring instead the vision of resistance that would give all people the right to express themselves and participate freely in the public sphere.
72 Near the beginning of Wall and Piece he explains, "The people who run our cities don't understand graffiti because they think nothing has the right to exist unless it makes a profit, which makes their opinion worthless. They say graffiti frightens people and is symbolic of the decline in ou r society, but graffiti is only dangerous in the minds of three types of people; politicians, advertising executives and graffiti writers" (Banksy 2006: 8). Interestingly, this statement seems to conflate politicians and capitalists not an uncommon way of thinking, especially among Marxists. But Banksy never explicitly mentions anything relating to Marxist thought. In any case, there is a sense in this quote that graffiti is considered dangerous because it fights an ideology in which things are safe because they must be safe in order to make a profit. Therefore, anything that doesn't exist to make a profit is dangerous. In another sense, graffiti is dangerous because it exists in such contradiction to the city as envisioned by politicians and advertisers, an d as such serves as a break in the ideology put forth by these people. However, in a particular way, postmodern graffiti such as Banksy's may actually serve to illustrate that people are invested in an area, rather than the reverse. Much as those who liv e in a neighborhood full of relatively stable, owner occupied houses are more likely to engage in aesthetic improvement of both their own property and their neighborhood "commons," such as by mowing the grass at the entrance to the neighborhood, evidence t hat people are working to improve the appearance of a city may also raise people's expectations of it. Besides this somewhat idealized version of how Banksy upsets Broken Windows perspectives on graffiti, it is also clear that a wall that gains a Banksy pi ece gains a significant amount of monetary value.
73 In Wall and Piece Banksy has a page titled interestingly enough "Broken Window Theory," on which he summarizes George Kelling and James Wilson's theory. Beside this explanation is a letter received by the Banksy website in which the writer explains how the appearance of Banksy pieces in a particular neighborhood are causing gentrification This is interesting (and humorous) because gentrification is a phenomenon in which property values for the area rise, a process considered by those from the anti graffiti camp to be more or less the opposite of the urban decay and downward momentum of property values that they associate with the appearance of graffiti. I don't know who you are or how many of you there ar e but I am writing to ask you to stop painting your things where we live. In particular xxxxx road in Hackney. My brother and me were born here and have lived here all our lives but so many yuppies and students are moving here neither of us can afford to b uy a house where we grew up anymore. Your graffities are undoubtably part of what makes these wankers think our area is cool. You're obviously not from round here and after youve driven up the house prices youll probably just move on. Do us all a favour an d go do your stuff somewhere else like Brixton (Banksy 2006: 130) Of course there's no telling whether or not this email is "real," and in fact the whole thing might have been made up by Banksy to prove a point (or, again, just to be funny). But some wel l documented events serve to prove by sheer numbers the real monetary value of Banksy's work. 3 In 2006, Angelina Jolie spent a total of £200,000 on three works by Banksy at a show in Los Angeles (Daily Mail 2006). In 2007, a single Banksy piece commissione d by Blur sold for £198,000 at auction five times its estimated value which, according to the BBC, demonstrated how much the value of his work had 3 These numbers are given in pounds, so for American readers I'd like to note that although the exchange rate of pounds to dollars has fluctuated during the period discussed, a good general idea is 2 dollars to 1 pound.
74 "skyrocketed" ( BBC News, "Banksy painting" ). A BBC article from 2008 documents a Banksy painting on a wall s elling for more than £ 200,000 a figure which did not include the cost to the buyer of removal of the painting or repairing of the wall, estimated at £ 5,000 (BBC News, £208,100 eBay bid"). In another article from 2008, the BBC documented how a pub's sellin g price had doubled from £ 500,000 to £ 1 million pounds on account of a Banksy mural painted on its outside wall and this despite the area where it was located being in the middle of a housing slump (BBC News, "Banksy Rat"). Another article about the same t opic ended with the suggestion, Hey, let's invite Banksy to graffiti on all those empty, foreclosed houses in the US! (Neatorama 2008). This particular example is fairly extreme, but the incredible surge in value does make sense: a pub with a Banksy piec e has a built in tourist attraction, not to mention its increased social capital for locals. This suggests that people understand the presence of Banksy paintings to increase the value of buildings, and even to increase the profits of businesses. These f igures are even more impressive when one considers that Banksy doesn't "cheat up" prices by restricting the supply of his art, and in fact actively engages in the opposite process, attempting to keep his work affordable. Banksy sells prints and books throu gh the website Pictures on Walls, a site which also sells the work of a few other artists at any given time. Banksy's prints here sell for a set rate usually between £100 and £500 and always sell out quickly, because they are listed below market price. Thus to buy a Banksy print from the site involves engaging in a "click war" rather than a "bidding war The book Home Sweet Home: Banksy's Bristol provides an insightful quote from Roberts about the si te: "It's making art as affordable as possible to as ma ny
75 as possible. The POW website also supports emerging artists, because the presence of Banksy's work on the site attracts huge traffic visitors who then start browsing and buying work by other artists in the store (Wright 2007: 78). Even being featured near Banksy on a website can boost an artist's sales. I actually bought the book Pictures of Walls from the POW site, because even with a higher overseas shipping cost it was far cheaper to buy the boo k new from Banksy than to buy it on Amazon even used. This means that e ven the books are being sold for below the market price on this site And in fact the website forced me to read a message that discouraged me from reselling the book at a higher price, and warned that if they caught me reselling the book before I even had it that they reserved the right not to ship it to me. Another quote from Roberts explains the lengths the site takes to prevent the "flipping" of Banksy art and books for a profit. He' s chan ging the way we relate to art, h e's making it more accessible, no longer a rich man's painting club. It's pretty hard getting people hooked into art if you sa y, 'right, this is a Rembrandt now you have a go!' That's not inspiring, because it doesn't feel achievable. Banksy, on the other hand, is quite explicit about how he produces his pieces and tell s others how to make their own. (Wright 2007: 78) There is something paradoxical here. Banksy makes "achievable" art, and even tells others how to do th e same. Banksy himself says, "Despite what they say graffiti is not the lowest form of art it's actually one of the more honest art forms available. There is no elitism or hype, it exhibits on the best walls a town has to offer and nobody is put off by th e price of admission" (Banksy 2006: 8). Yet there is quite a bit of hype surrounding Banksy's work, and clearly the price of owning an original Banksy if not a print can put many people off. It seems awfully ironic that an artist who consciously tries to k eep his art affordable and to promote an idea of art as something everyone
76 should have would become such an expensive phenomenon. In some way, Banksy must be considered "high art" something worth owning in the original form, even if the cost is a thousand times the cost of owning a print. Political Activism Another way Banksy subtly creates the sense that his graffiti is more important than the crime of its creation is by using graffiti to make political statements. (He usually tempers this position as an activist by using humor to make fun of himself as well, but somet imes his true intentions show through.) For instance, the last work on the "Outdoors" page of Banksy.co.uk is a painting of a child losing an umbrella to the wind, a piece painted on a levy in New Orleans. Above this picture used to be a caption explaining that Banksy wanted to help the still wrecked city, since it had received so little aid in its clean up. Below the picture, he wrote, "Only later did I realize that painting on their st uff might not actually help their clean up efforts (accessed 10/08 ) 4 This statement is for one thing an example of how Banksy uses humor to make himself seem less threatening or even less powerful, but it nevertheless explains that his work in New Orleans was politically motivated. This could serve as a reason in many peop le's minds to let Banksy's work stay, since the United States guarantees its citizens the rig ht to make political statements. M ost Americans would be able also to sympathize with the subtle metaphor of loss Banksy has created by politicizing this image of wind as a force that can take something from a person 4 This is a reconstruction from memory. As of January 2009, the caption no longer accompanied the picture. After this point, I saved copies to my hard drive of each web page cited in the paper.
77 Another strategy Banksy uses to make his graffiti overt ly political has to do with his tendency to focus on areas that have been claimed by and for those in power, instead of painting on private prope rty. The photographs of his work in Wall and Piece seek to emphasize this fact. Banksy often uses official government property, such as traffic signs, as his canvas. He may replace or embellish the images on the sign, or else use the conventions of offici al signs to create his own messages. His rats, for instance, which many have interpreted to be Banksy's "signature" mark, are often painted doing anything that official notices tell people not to do. Several times he has found signs forbidding some action, and placed pictures of rats performing that action near or on the sign: for example, rats in swimsuits near "no swimming" signs, a rat with a ball standing defiantly under a sign reading "No Ball Games" ( 2006: 93 1 01). (modified sign [cling changed to c limb] with rats, Banksy 2006: 96 ) In another example, a large billboard sized Banksy piece was photographed specifically to capture the city placed sign in front of his graffiti: "POLICE ENFORCEMENT CAMERAS" ( 2006: 43 45). A ll of these examples represent
78 attempts to re claim for public discourse space that is "public" only in the sense that it is official government property. In this case, the visible fact that it is possible to accomplish such feats may be, in a way, empowering to others to reclaim space a s well a point to which I will return later in the chapter. Banksy's Wall Project Perhaps the most famous of Banksy's overtly political exploits was his "Wall Project," a series of pieces made on the Separation Wall in Palestine. However, this project ha s both supporters and detractors. Can vandalizing a wall truly be a productive political action that also legitimizes the unauthorized use of public space? My opinion is that it can be, though I am not sure Banksy's work always gets it right. Still, I beli eve this project ultimately helped cement Banksy's identity as a hero for the excluded. Banksy is clear about his intentions towards the Separation Wall in Wall and Piece. He says: Palestine has been occupied by the Israeli army since 1967. In 2002 the Israeli government began building a wall separating the occupied territories from Israel, much of it illegal under international law. It is controlled by a series of checkpoints and observation towers, stands three times the height of the Berlin Wall and w ill eventually run for over 700km the distance from London to Zurich. Palestine is now the world's largest open air prison and the ultimate activity holiday destination for graffiti artists (Banksy 2006: 136). So Banksy's position is clear: he thinks the Wall is an abusive use of power to reinforce the Palestinians' minority status and to control and limit their access to Israeli public forums. His Wall project pieces do show Banksy's bias, even without the stat ement. Some of them distort the wall, such as the horse whose head and feet are visible through trompe l'oiel windows, and though they are in proportion to each other they
79 are much too far apart, emphasizing the disproportionate height of the wall. Anothe r example of Banksy's use of artistic convention to emphasize the height of the wall is the little boy who ha s painted an enormous ladder all the way up the wall (in fact the ladder is drawn to resemble graffiti, which may be another statement) Other piece s use the window effect in order to put a fantasy on the other side of the wall, such as the beach boys piece below. (Banksy 2006: 138) I think these pieces are quite powerful, and that they could have served as very biting criticism if they were on the Israeli side of the wall. But they are not. Every piece is on the Palestinian side. This does not seem like an effective way of criticizing the Wall. Instead it seems that he is more or less preaching to the choir: Look, you're being oppressed! Rather than serving as social critic ism or political
80 activism, this kind of action could be considered merely a self centered publicity stunt. During my fieldwork, I asked several people why they thought Banksy painted on the Arab side of the wall. When I began ask ing Rex this question, he cut in and responded, He was trying to make the wall more beautiful when quite frankly they'd rather just not have the wall. This echoes a conversation Banksy included in his book: Old man: You paint the wall, you make it look b eautiful. Me: Thanks Old man: We don't want it to be beautiful, we hate this wall, go home. (Banksy 2006: 142) To me, too, "making it beautiful" doesn't seem to be a good enough reason for a critical artist to put his sarcasm on the side of the wall seen every day by those that he considers to be oppressed by that wall. In fact, it seemed a lot like the situation in an article on Electric Intifada in which an American art critic e mailed the site hoping to start up a conversation about how to beautify t he Wall, since it had to be there. Parry, the author, responded, "That's a little like arguing for nice faux painting on gas chamber walls or calling for Martha Stewart torture chamber bed sets. Clearly ethics play no part in your school of design criticis m" ( Parry 2005). The article actually goes on to discuss Banksy's Wall Project pieces explicitly. First the article replicates the Manifesto from Wall and Piece which evidently used to appear on the Banksy.co.uk website tab of the same name. Then the aut hor states, "Whereas Nathan Edelson [the art critic] wants to create no more ugliness than is absolutely necessary, Banksy's the kind of guy who prefers to draw a 20 foot high arrow pointing at the ugliness to encourage us to ask why the hell it's there in the first
81 pla ce" (Parry 2005 ). Whereas Parry compared Edelson to Leni Riefenstahl and Richard Wagner, he says of Banksy, Banksy is the anti Leni Riefenstahl and anti Richard Wagner, reclaiming public spaces as a space for public imagination and enlightenm ent where they have become propagandistic barriers to thought and awareness, as is the very terminology for Israel's West Bank barrier itself. Banksy's summer project on Israel's Wall stands out as one of the most pertinent artistic and political commentar ies in recent memory (Parry 2005). T his endorsement of B anksy's work was at least able to quell my fears that Banksy's Wall Project was a misguided publicity stunt. It may raise more questions, though. For instance, in my theoretical framework, graffiti i s powerful because it is a visual disruption that everyone must see, but on the internet it cannot be a disruption. I asked New Orleans based art critic Doug MacCash the same question: why would Banksy paint his social criticism on the side of the wall wh ere the message was well known, where the eruption of the sight of that oppression would not have the effect of making apathy a conscious choice? O ut of a concern for time I included the question with another about whether the location of graffiti was still important in a time when so many of the people who look at graffiti do so almost entirely online. He answered in terms of New Orleans, a parallel I'd also drawn, saying, Well I would say that when Banksy painted in the city of New Orleans, the positi on of his works was focused on street level, I mean they're definitely not on main commercial drags, you know, they're pretty out of the way, so in that way he did [place his paintings specifically for the people who lived there] But, you can have your ca ke and eat it too. He did it with the confidence well, with the absolute knowledge, if we trust his website, that those things were documented and were on the internet before a New Orleanian could have toured around and seen them all. And I know that for a fact because I tried. And I don't think anybody did it faster than me. So you can have them both. They were definitely scattered deep in the neighborhoods, but they were also international, almost immediately.
82 In retrospect, MacCash's answer was quite incisive, both about New Orleans and about the pieces on the Segregation Wall, but at the time I still felt unsatisfied. I asked at least 15 different people their opinions on the issue, showing them the pictures and then pointing out how effective t he criticism would have been on the other side. Most people either basically agreed with me or basically agreed with Rex that probably Banksy just wanted to show his solidarity with the Palestinians. On a global level, at least, it was far more effective f or Banksy to put these paintings on the Palestinian side, and allow people to take pictures of them and put them on the internet over and over. In this case it does make sense that he would paint in solidarity with the Palestinians, even if his pictures do n't hold any kind of radical meaning for them. It's not that the pictures are so beautiful that they somehow make the wall better (which I still think is an awful explanation). Nor, of course, are the pictures there to open the Palestinians' minds which w ould just be insulting to these highly educated people They're on the wall in Palestine to open the minds of people thousands of miles away people who might never have seen the wall otherwise. Banksy Framed Banksy has also managed to take his work ind oors without giving up his guerilla tactics in another experiment which manages to be subversive without being threatening (except perhaps to museum employees). This experiment too, though, may bring up questions of this kind of graffiti's effectiveness. I n the "Art" section of Wall and Piece Banksy says, "If you want to survive as a graffiti artist indoors I figure your only option is to carry on painting over things that don't belong to you there either"
83 ( 2006: 158). Even though he calls these works "va ndalized paintings," he is not defacing original masterpieces. Instead he uses the style of famous works to carry on making humorously subversive messages. For instance, he has one piece that looks like Van Gogh's famous sunflowers, only withered up. Banks y calls this piece "Sunflowers [from petrol station]." He does, however, surreptitiously install some of his canvases in museums. "[In] March  Banksy achieved a sort of art world quadruple crown when he snuck his works into four New York City museum s the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Brooklyn Museum in a single da y" (Howe 2005). These actions, and his statements about them, do seem to imply a resistance to art museums as the bastions of culture. Art is not like other culture because its success is not made by its audience. The public fill concert halls and cinemas every day, we read novels by the millions and buy records by the billions. We the people, affect the making and t he quality of most of our culture, but not our art. The art we look at is made by only a select few. A small group create, promote, purchase, exhibit and decide the success of Art. Only a few hundred people in the world have any real say. When you go to an Art gallery you are simply a tourist looking at the trophy cabinet of a few millionaires. (Banksy 2001: 170) This seems to me to be a novel approach to the same problem of reclaiming the right of everyone to participate in the formation and reformulation of culture through inclusion in the public sphere. Rather than fighting for the right to public space, as thro ugh graffiti, here Banksy is seeking to disrupt the idea that museums are the benevolent bastions of publicly agreed upon taste that exist to give culture to the masses. This "exhibitionary complex" of the contemporary museum (Bennet t 1994) can be understo od as another part of the bourgeois construction of the public sphere as
84 something made by the upper half of society, the part that knows best. Even Foucault would agree that this function of the museum is a will to power through the regulation of knowle dge. Thus through opening up museums as places into which public discourse ought to reach, Banksy encourages a reclamation of "culture" by and for everyone. The only problem is that the majority of these pieces do not stay on the museum wall very long at a ll those in Wall and Piece all lasted somewhere between two hours and two weeks, although one "wall art" piece was apparently added to the permanent collection of the British Museum after 8 days (2006: 185). Much like the Separation Wall example, though, m any more people have seen or at least read about these works than would have if they'd survived on museum walls for months or more. Is the idea of this disruption of order as powerful as colliding with the reality of its interruption? (Banksy 2006: 185) Faceless Icon for the Voiceless I believe that this paradox can be answered by considering that not only does Banksy oppose Broken Windows theory through creating graffiti that appeals to many different kinds of people, he also encourages others to engage in opposition to it. His
85 graffiti proves that this c an be done in a beautiful or highly risky or highly amusing way. Thus many people connect with Banksy's artistic appeal, respect it as political in nature, and even embrace his graffiti as inspirational in spite of the fact that its creation is a criminal act. This might be a good place to reproduce the Manifesto from Wall and Piece. When readers come to this section of the book, they are first confronted with a confusing image: (Banksy 2006: 235) The Manifesto on the opposite page is a described as a n "extract from the diary of Lieutenant Colonel Mervin Willett Gonin DSO who was amongst the first British soldiers to arrive at the Nazi death camp Bergen Belsen" in 1945. It was shortly after the British Red Cross arrived, though it may have no connect ion, that a very large quantity of lipstick arrived. This was not at all what we men wanted, we were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things and I don't know who asked for lipstick. I wish so much that I could discover who did it, it was the a ction of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for these internees than the lipstick.
86 Women lay in bed with no sheets and no nightie but with scarlet red lips, you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the post mortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had done something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tattooed o n the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity (Banksy 2006: 234). B efore I started doing research on Banksy, I had somehow always skipped over this explanation, and the Holocaust image had bothered me greatly. It had seemed to me like another example of the kind of problem I had with Banksy painting on the Palestinian side of the Segregation Wall it l ooked political, but really it was just using other people's suffering to make a startling image. Once I read the Manifesto, I changed my mind about what it meant. This, too, ties in with the idea that Banksy is building up a theory that people need to be able to express themselves expression is a part of being human, but it is also something one must claim. Banksy reiterates this idea when he says: Imagine a city where graffiti wasn't illegal, a city where everybody could draw wherever they liked. Where every street was awash with a million colours and little phrases. Where standing at a bus stop was never boring. A city that felt like a party where everyone was invited, not just the estate agents and barons of big businesses. Imagine a city like that an d stop leaning against the wall it's wet (2006: 97). Banksy is reacting against Broken Windows theory in this statement, and reiterating the idea that everyone ought to have th e chance to express themselves. M ore importantly he also implies that by acti ng out his opposition he is both reclaiming the city and sending a message that will help others reclaim the city as well. When Banksy's works are interpreted this way, many of them can be seen as the kind of political actions described by Freeman as chan ging the mise en scene. As one
87 very direct example, on more than one occasion Banksy has stenciled a sign on some wall proclaiming it a "Designated Graffiti Area." This act has turned nearly blank walls, devoid of meaningful engagement, into the equivalent of heated conversations. In the pictures provided in the book, Banksy's original signs were nearly or even completely covered over by other graffiti within a few weeks (2006: 58 62). The result is not particularly aesthetically appealing, of course: the w alls become a cacophony of graffiti. However, the effect is undeniable. Banksy is encouraging viewers to doubt what they're told, or to participate in the conversation going on around them by painting on the walls themselves. And Banksy's other work does t he same thing. By putting up his own paintings in museums, he encourages people to remember that anyone can make art. By using official property or signage as his canvas, he encourages people to remember that they are the reason for the structure of the ci ty. This kind of graffiti is extremely effective at altering the mise en scene opening up the walls and street signs and billboards of a city as spaces for people to engage in a public discourse about public discourse. As to the questions raised earlier a bout whether graffiti on the Palestinian side of the Separation Wall or ephemeral postings inside of museums serve as this kind of visual interruption, I am not sure. The problem is whether the images reach the audience who would avoid seeing them if possi ble. Certainly those who do see the images get the idea of subversively interrupting visual space But what are the alternatives? In Palestine, the guerrilla art alternative was to paint on the other side of the wall an action which would have resulted in the immediate removal of the images. Allowing them to stay by painting them on the Palestinian side has allowed many
88 people to take pictures of them and make their own connections with the images; has allowed other artists to interact with the images; has allowed them to become a semi permanent part of the discourse there. The guerilla alternative to posting short lived art inside of museums might be to paint graffiti on the outside of the building, which might or might not last longer but which would not i nvade the exhibitionary space of the museum itself. Even if neither of these types of graffiti reach their intended audience except indirectly, though pictures and media attention, their placement is still important to understanding their meaning, and the meaning can be read so quickly through the viewing of the images that the statements are accessible to many people, much more so than writing an essay with the same statement. The presence of this kind of graffiti may not change minds directl y but, as Free man points out, by continuing to pop up in society, it may begin to create a mise en scene in which even unused spaces are imbibed with meaning, specifically by being unused. In this kind of society no one will be able to avoid knowing something about the political struggles that surround them, and being apathetic about public discourse is the conscious choice.
89 Chapter Five Field Research As stated earlier I chose New Orleans as the sit e of my cas e study because of Banksy 's statement that his work in the city was meant to do battle with a famous anti graffiti activist, the Gray Ghost. These two larger than life representatives of conflicting perspectives did create a surprisingly symbolic story, an d even though my fieldw ork did not yield the results I ha d imagined it would, New Orleans was in many ways the right place at the right time for me to ground all these theories in a case in w hich each of the perspectives I ha ve traced in the preceding chap ters came together into a conspicuous and well documented conflict. I left for New Orleans on Wednesday, January 21. I took a friend with me Matt, whose father lived in New Orleans part time. This arrangement allowed me to share the 16 hour drive and guaranteed me a safe place to stay while I was there. Unfortunately, it also meant I had a younger student's father worrying about my safety. The first night we were there, Matt's father had an after hours meeting which kept him from being around. He asked us not to go out around New Orleans that night, and in fact sat me down for a lecture about how people get killed "murdered in cold blood" in New Orleans every single day, and how it wasn't safe for a young woman, or for anybody, to go out alone into an u nfamiliar city that had so much anger. As a general note on myself as an ethnographer or really just a person I should say that I believe I look quite young, which has led many people to at least start out taking me less seriously than I think they should For the last couple of years I've been cultivating dreadlocks,
90 partially in an attempt to mitigate the effect my appearance normally has of making people think I'm in need of protection. Now I'm often caught wondering whether these two factors my apparen t youth and my being a white kid with dreadlocks affect the kinds of people who talk to me or the things they think I want to hear. This was certainly a concern in New Orleans, as well. I ended up spending the evening arranging times for the interviews I had secured, including agreeing to meet up with Rex, head of the pro street art group NOLA Rising, that very night. Unfortunately, though, he called me back a little while later and told me that he'd have to reschedule. So Matt and I took the forced free t ime from my work to go meet up with the three other New College students who were in New Orleans volunteering for the month an activity which evidently was rendered acceptable to Matt's father by the fact that those people had been in New Orleans for nearl y a month and weren't dead yet The five of us walked around the touris t areas of downtown for a while, which was my first experience of New Orleans in almost seven years. I wrote in my journal: Last night Matt and I met up with three other friends from N ew College and walked around Bourbon Street for a long time, until one of them got sort of molested by a bum who kept calling her "The first black girl I've met since Obama was elected! OBAMA!" and drunkenly kissing her. (She was white, and he was black: b ut she figured he was calling her black because she 'd flat out told him she didn't want to play his game and he realized she wasn't stupid, and therefore wasn't white.) I kept feeling like we were in Europe: Paris or Amsterdam maybe, but not America. For everyone else Bourbon Street was just a backdrop to our conversation but I was trying to take in as much as possible. The buildings themselves were small and tightly packed together, which helped encourage an old world feel even in spite of the ridiculous amount of neon lighting. Every building was a business, every business w as
91 aimed at tourists, and practically every place we passed sold at least some form of alcohol, even if that had nothing to do with its primary function. Trinket shops also sold mixed drinks "to go"; hot dog stands sold beer by the glass. My friends kept mentioning that this was the barest they had ever seen Bourbon Street at that time of night, and that it was surely because of the incredible cold snap. Still, there were a good number of tourists, and they were overall much older and more conservative loo king than I had expected. I guess I had thought Bourbon Street would have been full of college aged people ready to show their tits or hoping to see some tits, depending, but in general there were more middle aged couples or small groups than anything else Women were wearing Burberry scarves; men were wearing leather shoes. A group of four such middle aged people two women and two men stood talking about what to do next in front of a topless bar. Other couples spoke to each other in German or other languag es. I asked my friends whether they thought that was normal, or if it was just that the Europeans weren't scared off by the cold; they guessed that a lot of Europeans felt comfortable in New Orleans since it was more like their own cities anyway, and that the abysmal state of our economy was encouraging a lot of European tourism, but that in general this was not a particularly strange mix of Bourbon Street visitors. Eventually we tired of dealing with drunken tourists particularly the groups of men who tho ught it was funny to tell our friend Matt how lucky he was to be surrounded by four women, or otherwise to try to pick us up in spite of a huge age gap as well as with bums trying to get us to let them guess where we got our shoes. We decided to follow our friends back to Common Ground their volunteer
92 organization. As it turned out, Common Ground was based in what used to be a neighborhood in the Ninth Ward, directly in front of the area where the levee broke. The neighborhood looked positively post apocal yptic. I wrote in my journal, It looked to me like the whole 9th ward was just deserted except for the volunteers: in general all the houses seemed to be placed on lots completely at random, rather than in neighborhood formations of any kind, lending to th e impression that this part of the city was actually just a part of a Fallout map. Not that there were any destroyed houses here in fact, those had all been torn down. But there were rows of empty lots where houses once had been, where now there were only foundations and maybe here and there a pile of rubble. Dropped seemingly at random among these foundations were a few rebuilt one story houses which resembled what had been there before the disaster, as well as a good number of the "Brad Pitt houses": ful ly complete, brand new houses fit for the beach, which appeared to me though it was dark to come in various pastel colors. Both types seemed to be placed at random among the destruction, rather than in any kind of neighborhood pattern. True, they took up l ots in the neighborhood, and I'm sure they all faced the road but with so few houses in the area, I couldn't even tell where the roads should be until I was upon them. Even the plant growth seemed somehow post nuclear: there was grass, and some strangely w iry sort of shrubs, but no trees; nothing that looked old. Eventually I realized the lack of plant life was because the area had been flooded with salt water and the soil could no longer support normal plant growth. The Common Ground house was small and pa cked with volunteers all white, all young, all ready to blaze after their cold day of work. We five New College undergrads set up camp in the awkward space that amounted to their room, where we
93 discussed their time in New Orleans and their interactions wit h the art there. They had all spent some of their volunteer time working with Prospect One, an art show based on the theme of Katrina and New Orleans' recovery and they were all pretty bitter about the show. They made jokes about the art consisting mostly of debris that people had found and altered, "over and over." And they talked about the general plot among Common Ground volunteers to sabotage one of the public works that was still up. They also mentioned having come across the "Umbrella Girl" Banksy pai nting by accident, and they all seemed really excited about that. The next morning I had an interview across town with Doug MacCash, the art critic for the Times Picayune I got directions to the place from Google Maps and set out a full hour earlier than the 30 minutes that Gmaps expected I'd need. Good thing, too: I only missed my turn once, when the map told me to take I 610 and no sign ever said 610 (it did say something like LA 4359), but eventually I found it. But there were other problems. I realize d on multiple occasions that I didn't know how right of way worked when turning left across the neutral ground, and I just had to cautiously guess. Then I got on an on ramp to the expressway behind a pick up truck carrying a n upright refrigerator whose mea ns of being secured in the bed of the truck was a teenage boy holding it When I slowed down to give them space in case of what I was almost sure would be a tragic end based on my understanding of physics, the car behind me first honked and then decided to squeeze by me in spite of there only being one lane. Finally I came to the place where my directions told me to go, and there was no coffeeshop. There was actually almost nothing there at all. I puzzled for a while and looked at the map. Eventually I real ized that there was another road with the same name a bit farther
94 south. I finally arrived at Anonymous Coffeeshop with just enough time before my interview for some coffee and to decompress from trying to navigate a city that apparently didn't feel it was important enough to have decent signage anywhere except where tourists were supposed to go. I was the first person in the caf that morning, I think; the lady behind the counter was ridiculously friendly. I curled up in the back with my laptop and she so on came to the same area, explaining that it was so dead this morning surely because of the cold and she never had time to read anymore, and she was reading such a good book. We talked about it a bit it was definitely not something I was interested in, but it seemed impolite not to engage her in conversation when she was telling me so much about herself. Soon another customer came in and I found a few seconds to look at the questions I was planning to ask Rex before the woman decided that she should give me samples of everything she made for the new customer. When he stepped into the restroom, she asked me whether he'd left (no, I think he's gone to wash his hands); she looked outside and asked if that was my red truck (no, I parked in the next lot over); sh e told me that she wanted to smoke but didn't want to leave our friend waiting. I said I'd let him know his drink was ready when he came back out, which pleased her. She gave me instructions to tell him to go ahead and take it from the counter, and stepped out back. Later I would recount this story to Matt and his father, and they would laugh and explain that that was New Orleans hospitality. Eventually I realized I should ask her how she felt about graffiti, since I was already talking with her. I explaine d that I was doing a project about graffiti, asked if she'd like to be included, and then realized I had no idea what to ask.
95 "Have you ever had trouble with graffiti at the Anonymous Coffeeshop?" I asked. "Here? Oh, not that I know of, darlin', but I've only worked here about a year and a half," she replied. "Oh, well, that's good," I said, then realized that was a stupid thing to say I had just made a value judgment about graffiti while talking to an informant twice. "Well, do you have, um, any opinions about graffiti in New Orleans?" She hmmed and said, "I think graffiti here is mostly down in the bigger parts of the city, y'know," and began naming areas of the city. "Hum. Well. Do you think graffiti can be constructive or is it mostly destructive?" I asked. "Constructive? Yeah I think graffiti can be can be something more than destruction. I f that's what you mean." (I nod ded) "I think, I mean, it depends on what you're talking about. But there is some really nice stuff out there. And then there is some junk, you know, and if somebody is out there makin' something just to be lewd, that I'm not a fan of. But there "(someone walks in) "can be there can be art. There can be art too. Scuse me now." Before she could get back to me, Doug MacCash came in a s well. We introduced ourselves and he sat with me, at which point our server chastised me for not telling her before that I was there on business; she would have left me alone; she would have turned off the music and is my computer connecting to the Inter net okay? (No, actually it wasn't.) Later I asked her if she knew of Banksy, as I was leaving. She
96 didn't, so I didn't pursue it further, but she was wonderful and I ought to have found a way to interview her. My interview with Doug MacCash was very impor tant, since so much of my information on the graffiti happenings in New Orleans came from his articles or blog entries. And happily it went very well, although I almost definitely would have been more focused on what later emerged as important issues had I interviewed him last. Still, it was a pleasant interview. MacCash has a very wise air: each time he responded, I had the sense that every funny turn of phrase contained a secret, as though he knew much much more than he felt he should say. He was aware o f how to be interviewed, and aware that he was giving soundbytes, in a way that only a seasoned interviewer could be.We finished up around 10 a.m., just as his own interviewee a local artist, in fact arrived. Afterwards, I decided to go around looking for graffiti until Matt got hungry ; since he didn't have a car in New Orleans, I had to make sure not to abandon him for too long. I attempted to go south, into downtown, with no other plan in mind. I had trouble getting to downtown, which seemed strange don' t all roads lead to Rome, as it were? but during my journey I did spend some time in what seemed to be the industrial area, and didn't see any graffiti at all, which seemed strange. I finally got close enough to the tourist areas that signage re appeared, so I followed some signs to the French Quarter, thinking that it would be more inhabited, more pedestrian oriented, and therefore more graffitied. I parked my car and started walking around. I found a few instances of graffiti, mostly just monochromatic ta gs, and a few instances of the famous gray buffs associated with the Gray Ghost. But nothing was nearly as
97 impressive as I had expected. And my expectations were not built up unreasonably by the city's reputation as a quirky and colorful place, nor by Bank sy's presence there; I simply thought New Orleans would have a similar amount of graffiti to my home city of Atlanta, and other big cities I've experienced. I did notice that when I found graffiti, it was usually in places that were already being used for communication purposes, as in the picture of the garage door below. This picture can summarize my work from the morning. It shows some small tags and buffs, all centralized on a garage door that was already being used to communicate via the four signs f orbidding parking (note that one was home made). Three of the buffs have since been tagged, and at least one of those was buffed in at least two layers. I took a couple more pictures mostly of big gray splotches before deciding I needed to turn home. When I arrived, Matt had only just woken up and wasn't yet hungry for lunch. I checked my e mail, only to find out that Rex had gone to Baton Rouge and wouldn't be
98 back until 2 or 3 AM. So, suddenly my afternoon was open again. Matt agreed to come with me back downtown, so after I made myself a snack we drove the 30 minutes back to the French Quarter and walked around together looking for graffiti. Matt hadn't lived in New Orleans since he was younger, but he did know much more about the city than I did, and wou ld make comments from time to time reflecting on how the city was doing. About the French Quarter, he said he was happy to see that it was doing really well, and was gearing up for Mardi Gras. This kept me thinking about the kinds of places we were in down town; they were such an amazing contrast from the neighborhood we had experienced the night before. Downtown New Orleans didn't look as though it had been through a natural disaster which was true, of course. The floodwaters didn't reach the French Quarter which was built on much higher ground than the Ninth Ward. But of course there had been a mass exodus from the city after the levees broke, and there were definite signs of change. Matt was quick to point out that the racial balance of the city seemed to have shifted Where before Katrina it would have been common to see street musicians who were generally older black men, while we were there we saw largely young white kids of both genders, whom Matt referred to as "crust punks." This is not to say that w e didn't encounter a good number of black men too, but we both felt that things had changed noticeably. Again we had what I thought was a surprising amount of trouble finding graffiti worthy of using up a picture to capture. Early on, when we were in very European looking areas of mixed use buildings consisting mostly of wood paneled houses, there was almost no graffiti to be found. As we moved inward by way of completely random streets, slowly transitioning to areas full of newer looking buildings made la rgely of
99 concrete, we began to encounter a few tags but they were still unimpressive: mostly in marker, always in only one color. The first thing I decided to capture on film was a wheatpasted sign. We had passed two of them already by the time I decided i t was a phenomenon worth investigating: The next time I found one of these posters, I pulled up the picture on the camera and compared them. The blood spatters were different, which I thought was an interesting detail. Later I would be told that each sig n was in fact "individually blood spattered" by the artist, who had been putting these up around the city in memory of a friend who had been killed, and in protest that the police had not continued to investigate the case. Eventually we wandered deep eno ugh into downtown that we began to find areas where there was some traditional, spray painted graffiti. For instance, we saw this building housing the Japanese restaurant and bar Yuki, located on the corner of Decatur and Frenchmen. Its side wall appeared from far away to have authorized art, but I thought it might be worth investigating anyway. I walked towards it to get a closer look and realized that the white areas were in fact graffiti tags, meaning the wall was a combination of authorized and unauthor ized art.
100 W hen we came to the front of the building there was a sudden explosion, a jackpot of graffiti! After all the graffiti free buildings we'd passed, it seemed like it might be some kind of gimmick a one man job made to look like a graffiti zone. U pon inspection I decided that was not the case. A number of different tags wer e clearly visible, as well as various stickers and a few apparently unsigned artistic flourishes
101 such as the running people at the bottom of the wall. It seemed that someone at Yuki had authorized the use of its property as a canvas. I wanted to ask someone about it, but when I walked into the doorway a young man quickly shooed me out: they were closed, and he couldn't answer any questions right then. Matt shrugged; I wrote down our location and we moved on. Not far from t here, we found a temporary wall adjoining a coffeeshop filled with dreadheads and young people with notebooks.The coffeeshop, Khave Coffee, was at the corner of Touro and Royal. The temporary wa ll ha d a big, beautiful stencil, a few tags, and several gray buffs. I walked into Khave Coffee and ordered an iced coffee, but they were all out. I frowned, wanting to give them business if I were to ask for an interview, but not wanting a hot drink. The ba rista said she could put some hot coffee and espresso on ice for me, but then she remembered that the espresso machine was down. I settled for a
102 regular cup of coffee and tipped the barista before asking if she'd be willing to talk to me about graffiti. Sh e sort of bit her lip and looked over at another woman who seemed to be filing things under the counter, who stood up and said she was the owner. I asked if she'd like to answer a couple of questions about graffiti, that it was for school and I would be su re to protect her identity. She pretty much cut me off and said she was really busy right then; that I could come back later. I felt pretty rejected at that point, and didn't even ask when later might be but simply thanked her and left. Matt pointed out th at if their espresso machine was down and they didn't even have any iced coffee they were probably having some trouble. I agreed, but only to save face. I still don't understand why she wouldn't talk to me, but her flat rejection caused me to feel uncomfor table talking to any of her customers, either, which is a shame because they looked like artists. Then again, though, it's probably for the best that I cut down on the ratio of my informants who are "like me" again the dreadlocks serving as a good metaphor for a bigger concern about the particular vision of the city I was getting. Across the street I found a NOLA RISING stencil painted on the ground with a fleur de lis. That was exciting; I thought I could ask Rex about it later, since he had agreed to an interview. I was curious as to whether it was done by someone from his organization, since it seemed somewhat dangerous for a "pro street art organization" to actually spray paint its name around the city. I also found this placement interesting: graffiti on the ground is pretty rare, and this one faced the street, which seemed like an odd choice. Who was supposed to see a tiny logo like this on the sidewalk from the middle of the street?
103 Not far from there was a good example of what I was beginning to understand was characteristic of graffiti in New Orleans: a building perfectly free of any graffiti, with a sign out front almost completely covered in tags and stickers. The reverse of th e sign was covered as well, but it didn't seem as exciting as the front and I didn't want to waste another precious picture. Visible here are the bare walls of the building behind the sign; on the sign itself is a sticker with the symbol that Doug
104 MacCash had called a "chess piece," which were very prevalent everywhere I went downtown although apparently the artist had another symbol in mind. There is also a sticker made to look like a graffiti style stencil of a woman. Another interesting thing about this sign is that some of the marks are clearly in dialogue with each other. There was white writing on the arrow at some point, which was covered over with black perhaps by government workers. On top of that buff is a newer writing, "OUTLAW BOOKS!" which was l ater partially covered over with a sticker to modify the statement to "READ BOOKS!" We kept walking. The same thing continued to prove true: there would be whole blocks of completely graffiti free buildings, with sudden explosions of graffiti and buffs in very specific places. For instance, we came upon these faces on the decorative tiles of the front of a building, and when I looked on the side of the building a tag war was clearly visible:
105 This instance seemed particularly confusing. There was clearly a competition going on here, but it didn't seem to be of concern to the property owner that these rather ugly marks were all over the wall of his house, or they would have been painted over. Instead, it was a battle for whose name could stay. (SNAKE seemed to be winning.) Then I saw the following wheatpasted purple flower, something I thought I recognized from my research online, though I couldn't remember its significance. I took a picture, both because of its interesting placement and because there was wh at might have been a bizarre poem on the paper, although this "poem" was so strange to me that it might have really been just an accident. Bending to read it, I noticed that this particular poster was torn, as though someone unfamiliar with the tenacity of wheatpasting had tried to tear it down. Internet research would later reveal these posters to be the work of Flowerguy (also known as Michael de Feo), who is in fact not a local New Orleans artist but rather another international artist. His work has a ppeared in Chicago, Paris, Amsterdam, and
106 other cities, and NOLA Rising greeted his presence in the city much the same way they greeted Banksy's, although the Times Picayune gave de Feo no coverage at all, as far as I can tell, while giving Banksy quite a bit. As my walk progressed, I came upon another of these flowers outside a shop called Pharaoh's Cave located at the corner of Cuartel and Calle Real I took a nother picture this time mostly because I liked the placement which looked to me as though th e flower was just peeking out from behind the door. Then I gathered up my courage, which had been bruised from the rejections I'd gotten that day, and went inside. I walked up to the only person in the shop, a man behind the counter, and asked him if he knew anything about the flower outside. He answered in a very soft voice with a very thick accent I couldn't identify that no, he didn't know anything about it: he only knew that he had come in to work one morning and it had been there. "I like it," he ad ded. "I wish I knew who did it; I would thank them." I tried to act neutral about this statement, but it made me really happy partially
107 because he seemed so happy, and partially just because someone was finally talking to me about graffiti. I asked if he would mind if I wrote down what he said for a paper for school and he said something like, "No, no. Why should I?" Then I asked if he'd like me to protect his identity by using a fake name for his shop and he just shook his head. As we were talking he cam e out from behind the counter and went outside to close the door, motioning that it was so I could get a better picture of the flower. Having finally gotten somewhere, Matt and I decided we needed to begin trying to make our way back to the car. We were only lost for about an hour. By the time we got home we were both starving, but Matt's father was about to get off, and took us to dinner at Cane's. While we were there we talked about New Orleans. He hadn't heard of Banksy, so I said a bit about him and described his New Orleans pieces. He told me about his understanding of the problems the city was facing, explaining that there are many neighborhoods where there's a lot left, but not everyone came back: and now there will be one person for every four hou ses, which really isn't safe. And the main thing now is to keep that last person from leaving, because once that person leaves, there is no neighborhood.
108 After dinner, completely exhausted by the combination of the emotional stress of the successful interv iew, the rejections for interviews, the seeming loss of an interview, the difficulty of finding graffiti, and the strain of navigating the bizarre and often unlabeled streets, I passed out. The next day I had two interviews lined up: first, with James O'B yrne, the features editor for the Times Picayune for 2:30 at the newspaper building, and after that an interview with Rex at 5:00 I was supposed to call at 4:30 to see where it would be good to meet up. I also had a woman from the art museum who said she' d be willing to talk to me but was still looking for a time. I had thought it might work out for the morning, but I guess she got too busy. I showed up to the first interview on time and checked in with security at the front desk, who told me they would tell James I was there. I sat and waited for about half an hour before getting uncomfortable. Another twenty minutes after that, James O'Byrne showed up and took me upstairs, explaining that there was a little crisis going on. He showed me into the confere nce room in the Features section of the newsroom and promised that he'd be back soon. This gave me a chance to watch the reporters, which was interesting, but as I waited I began to worry that I wouldn't be able to make it to my interview with Rex. I sent him a message asking if we could push back our interview, right as James O'Byrne came in. He apologized, explaining the situation, but I began the interview thinking that he wouldn't have enough time for me to be comfortable drawing out anything really use ful. I was wrong: I started with what I thought was a fairly simple question about newspapers in the internet era, and O'Byrne responded to just that question for at least fifteen minutes. In fact, he spent so much
109 time answering each question that I wasn' t able to ask some of the questions I'd planned out based on my experiences the day before; for example, about the changing racial make up of the city. But the interview was great. We talked about the position of a newspaper editor in a world moving towar ds free internet news, and about how clever Banksy was, and about how the real problem with the Gray Ghost was that he was dogmatic, and there's no place for dogmatic judgment in a city like New Orleans. I could have kept talking to him for much longer, bu t I was worried both that I was taking him away from his job for too long and that if I kept talking I would miss my meeting with Rex. When I left, it was 4:50. I called Rex to apologize, planning to say that I was sure I could meet him soon. He said he'd ended up getting dragged into a meeting and that we could meet up later, and then hung up. Confused, I decided to let it go, and went on another quest for graffiti. This time I was looking for Banksys. I had a couple of intersections written down from Fli ckr pages, so I pulled out a map and drove to each location. At none of them did I find a Banksy. The journey, however, was worthwhile. I saw some interesting public art, including large sculptures placed in the neutral ground and murals under overpasses, as well as several painted cars: another kind of reclamation of space for art. I also noticed how different the neighborhoods of New Orleans were from each other, which was important to experience in order to really understand the meaning of "neighborhood" in the New Orleans sense
110 Is this art? Van go! While taking a picture of one small graffiti piece, a man smoking a cigarette was watching me ; I noticed that he was wearing an apron and assumed that he was on a break from work. I decided to tell him I was trying to document N ew Orleans graffiti for school (he seemed nonplussed) and asked him whether he'd ever heard of a graffiti artist named Banksy. He responded that he hadn't heard of that one. We made a bit of smalltalk about my project and he wished me luck. W hen I decided to turn home I was once again incredibly tired and rather depressed about my inability to find the things I needed. Back at the condo, Matt's father had evidently decided that we were capable
111 enough of not getting killed that he cou ld go home to be with his wife in Pensacola for the weekend. I had just enough time to thank him again for his couch before he shoved off. It was Friday evening by that point, and the weather had warmed up, so I determined that we should go back to Bourbo n Street and experience a more representative craziness. Sure enough, it was much fuller this time, and now that the people advertising each store weren't freezing, there was even more of a carnival feel: people selling shots on the street, calling out the ir 3 for 1 drink specials, or advertising a "bottomless" bar (because of course it was topless). And in fact I had been right that there would be more young people out. I also stopped to watch a street performance by several men breakdancing since breakdancing had grown up alongside the graffiti movement and I was interested in the extent to which this form of dance was subject to the same forces as graffiti Afterwards they passed around a box, asking for donations. I asked one of them how long the y'd been doing it. "Since about 6:00," he responded. I laughed and he smiled back, saying they'd been doing it for about 15 years. Semi professional b boys drawing a crowd on Bourbon Street
112 Things began to get stranger at this point. A girl about my age walked right up to us and asked if we did acid. I responded, "What?" and Matt said, "Um, I don't think so," and we kept going. We never could figure out if she was trying to buy it or sell it. Once again, though, I felt like having dreadlocks was exposing me to a very particular part of the city. We left Bourbon Street early since Matt was underage and I had to drive. We had a quintessential New Orleans dinner po boys from a restaurant called Mother's, which looked like it hadn't been redecorated since the 50s and went home. I was settling into transcribing interviews when unexpectedly I got a call from Rex: he was finally free for an interview. He offered to meet me on my side of the city. I d escribed where I was, and we agreed on a coffeeshop I'd never noticed outside of the neighborhood. By that time in the week, it made sense for me to wait for Rex to get there and to call me but when he called it was to say that the coffeeshop was closed. I asked Matt if he thought it would be okay if Rex came over, and he did, so I gave directions to the condo. Rex was an interesting person to meet. I had real trouble staying on topic with him, although it could have had at least a little to do with us sta rting our interview around 10:30 at night. Sometimes it was quite productive other times mostly just personal, though still interesting. Finally, struggling to find words to better explain the question I was failing to get Rex to answer, I decided to show him the pictures I'd taken in New Orleans. The first picture I pulled up he immediately recognized, mentioning where the piece was and who had done it. He also read me the majority of the tags I'd been unable to interpret, and indeed seemed to know many if not most of the artists
113 personally. I mentioned what Doug MacCash had called "chess pieces" Rex called them "chalices," and pointed me to the artist's website. Our interview went on until around 1:00 AM; I was interested in what he was saying but nearly falling asleep. He had given me a list of the actual locations of all the remaining Banksy pieces, as well as a few other politically important sites, such as the street address of the authorized mural whose buff had gotten the Gray Ghost arrested, and pro mised to send me a few things in the mail if I'd give him my address. Before he left, he mentioned that I really should see the warehouses where the graffiti artists do their real work: the stuff that takes time and money, which they don't do on the street s since they know it will just be covered over. He said he was willing to take me, but that he wanted me to know that he was going to bring a gun. It's somewhere between probable and extremely likely that I visibly balked at this statement, because Rex am ended, first, that if he were going alone he probably wouldn't bring a gun, but that since I would be going he would feel the need to be armed, to protect me. Then he added that if I had a problem with guns he could maybe just bring a knife. "That's, uh, pretty intense," I said. "Yeah well, welcome to New Orleans." We talked about that for a little while, and he said that I should call him tomorrow if I wanted to go. I thanked him and said that I probably would. I meant it at the time, but after he left Matt and I ended up talking: as it turned out, he really needed to get home for work. And since it was the weekend at that point, I had to admit that I really didn't have a lot of hope left that I'd get an interview with the woman from the
114 museum. I agreed that as long as I got to actually see some Banksy pieces the next day, we could leave. So I set my alarm for an early start and went to bed, feeling like I'd only partially achieved my research goals, and hoping that the next day would bring good luck. I n the morning, Matt agreed to go with me around the city looking for the Banksy pieces. We plotted a course and went to the first dot. I drove back and forth for a little while, not seeing anything. I started to think that I was blind, crazy, or just incap able of writing about graffiti: I couldn't even find something when given explicit directions to it. Matt wasn't as concerned as I was about the situation, and suggested we try the second dot as I turned around to drive back down one of the roads. Right th en I saw the piece just across the street. It had been hidden behind an idling van that pulled off at just the right moment, as though by magic. I made some kind of crazy U turn and parked the car. Matt and I got out and went over to get a better look. I t ook this picture, to get a sense of the context of the piece:
115 The piece was, as Rex had noted, commentary on the Gray Ghost. It was placed in a slowish part of downtown, across the street from an nearly empty coffeeshop, in the part of the city that look ed more like America than the tourist heavy areas. Still, the corner was quite visible, to both pedestrians and traffic. The piece itself seemed to walk a productive line between blending in and standing out; its colors went with the colors of the wall, an d in fact I suspect that at least the big gray splotch on the far left was a "real" buff, especially since the gray is a slightly different shade than the gray of the other, though it could just as easily have been created by Banksy for the purpose. It was mostly protected under a large sheet of plexiglass. There were some interesting details of the piece when viewed up close that I think are worth mentioning. F or instance, in the part of the picture not covered with plexiglass, there is already a tag on to p of the fake buff. Additionally, one can tell that the Gray Ghost stencil consists of at least three layers, since it is 4 colors (the flesh colored left arm could have been a part of another colored layer). The darker layers were done carefully, but the white layer was done with quite a bit of freedom, lending the piece a sense that it was in fact made with spray paint a fact which is not otherwise obvious. In other words, Banksy's stencils are so perfect that he had to think about how to make them look l ike graffiti. Finally, I assumed at the time that that the cream colored buffs were carefully made to create an impression of painted over sunflowers. Researching this piece later would reveal that in fact it had begun as sunflowers, and later the cream co lored buffs were put over the colored stems and flowers whether by Banksy or not remains a mystery. The next piece we went looking for was the other one Rex had marked "commentary on the Gray Ghost." This one was located much farther away from the
116 tight, walkable part of the city, and in fact the area felt much more dangerous, if only on account of the lack of "eyes on the street," as Jane Jacobs would say. We had a hard time finding this one, too, although we saw some other really interesting graffiti in this area, such as this piece peeking out from inside a clearly uninhabited building. These types of markings made me think of what Rex had said about the insides of warehouses. We finally spotted the Banksy, though, off the street and hiding behind a chainlink fence. I took pictures from far away at first, which is good because once again it allowed me to capture something of the context. Interestingly, the only thing tagged anywhere in the block was the red trailer. One can see how ol d the building is:
117 The placement of this piece is a mystery to me. On the one hand, it seemed like a safe place to hit; the entire area seemed more or less abandoned. If the prevalence of graffiti in and around the other buildings was any sign, the poli ce weren't patroling too frequently for street artists here, and maybe even the Gray Ghost had given up on this area. But it also seemed quite out of the way for most people, and therefore as though Banksy was missing the chance to make an impression or pa rticipate in a conversation. Perhaps this piece was done out in the middle of an agreed upon graffiti area for the sake of lending it a little authenticity. I quoted Manco in a previous chapter suggesting that out of the way stencils are like "hidden treas ures" which could be a valid explanation for the placement of this piece. Or maybe Banksy just didn't want to put all his eggs in easily visible baskets, lest they all get buffed too quickly. I tried to get a shot of the Banksy painting through the links, which was somewhat successful but still unfulfilling. Luckily Matt pointed out that the re was a
118 part of the fence that was bent down almost to the ground. Perhaps it had been trampled by other Banksy seekers? Either way, w e went over it too, and I got a d etailed picture of the piece. This piece clearly uses the same stencil as the former, only flipped. The whole thing is once again covered in plexiglass. This iteration is different from the first one, however. Here Banksy did not use the cavalier style I noted before, and in many ways this piece does look startlingly realistic. The buffing joke is different, too: here the Gray Ghost is buffing a stick figure who seems quite concerned about the ordeal. From looking at the piece in context, you can also see that without the use of the big thick lines and abrupt color changes that characterize most graffiti, this piece is rather difficult to see from far away. The next piece on our list was back in a part of the city that I recognized from my previous attempt to find graffiti. I'd driven back and forth near the area before,
119 looking for the piece at the wrong side of the intersection. In fact, this was the area of town whe re I'd seen a number of hand painted advertisements on telephone poles and other signs that street art was alive as a part of the regular operation of the economy. Perhaps having a search image from having seen the other Banksy pieces made it easier to find this painting It was placed on a wall that faced the street only diagonally, which meant that regulars in the area might notice the piece by accident, but it took me having directions twice. Still, this piece was the only one of the four we photographed that wasn't under plexiglass, which was also interesting since it was incredibly bold and bright. From my unprofessional inspection, I concluded that the boy and his skateboar d were a stencil, but that most of the work was done with a brush or a marker rather than with aerosol. This was also the only piece that was on a building where Im sure I could have found people to interview who could legitimately have been considered s takeholders or
120 at least regulars in the area. But while we were taking pictures, a truck pulled up behind my car and the people stared at Matt and me in a way that made us both uncomfortable. I should have talked to them, but I was worried that we were in a place that made us seem sketchy we were hanging out behind a grocery store at 8:30 in the morning, and it wasn't the right way to approach people. Plus I had been relatively sure that the Umbrella Girl would be the key to getting a couple of good soundby tes, if not interviews. And also I'm debilitatingly shy around strangers Still, I regret not speaking to anyone about this piece if I could go back, I would find people in this area to talk to. Maybe in a less threatening environment than behind a grocery store, though. There were three more pieces on our list that day, but two of them didn't end up working out. The explanation for one of them was that it was on the levee close to Common Ground but the area around Common Ground scared us badly enough that we decided not to spend an indefinite amount of time wandering around where people weren't necessarily supposed to be looking for a piece that might or might not exist. Next was the piece Rex had said was a "secret" piece that he'd only recently started telling people about, also in the Ninth Ward. We drove around and around looking for it, finding ourselves continually on one way roads going the wrong way, hitting potholes, and generally feeling both a little sketchy and rather invasive of these people's seemingly tenuously patched up lives. So we gave up on that one. I'm not sure it existed anyway. The final piece on our list was all the way back in the tourist area of town, which in many ways was a huge relief. We headed over to that side of the city, h appy to
121 get out of an area that was mostly people's living space. Sure enough, there she was: the Umbrella Girl The Umbrella Girl was also under plexiglass, and not actually in a particularly well trafficked spot as is probably fairly evident from the walls one can see around her. I had really hoped she'd be on the wall of someone's business, but it just didn't appear to be the case. Still, the piece was at least located in a more pedestrian oriented part of downtown: the part with small, tightly packed buildings that were mostly commercial, and lots of little one way streets. The area was positively covered with Gray Ghost style buffs, as is evident in the picture, though interestingly the large red tag next to the Umbrella Girl is the same one as in th e picture on Banksy's website, which was taken four months before my picture.
122 I t was another really powerful piece: in fact, after seeing it, I've decided it was my personal favorite. She's the same size as the other pieces, but whereas that made the Gray Ghost half sized, the Umbrella Girl is almost the right height for a little girl. The raindrops running down the wall underneath her umbrella are actually silver paint, so in real life they sort of sparkle. In the picture, I think perhaps she mostly looks comical, but when I saw it up close, I thought her expression was heartbreaking. I wanted to find someone to talk to about the piece, but it was early, and there really was just no one around. I decided that at least I was armed with a few good interview s and some e mail addresses, and that now that I'd seen the actual pieces for myself I could e mail my informants with better, more nuanced questions, and maybe also use them to find others who would talk to me. With that, we headed home. In the end, I do n't think I learned much from going to New Orleans that I couldn't have learned from home, barring the fact that phone interviews are far more difficult and usually much less productive than face t o face. This feeling that I hadn't done or learned enough m ay have had a lot to do with my biggest obstacle in anthropology: the fact that I'm extremely shy. I do not consider my fieldwork a complete failure, partially because "being there" was a necessary part of feeling like I had learned all I could about this issue, and thus necessary for me to write this thesis, and partially because I did get a much better feel for the state of the graffiti controversy in New Orleans by seeing the walls of the city myself. Still, my most informative ethnographic research actu ally took place online.
123 Chapter Six Analysis of the New Orleans chapter of the Graffiti Controversy I mentioned in the previous chapter that my fieldwork in New Orleans was not as useful to my research process as was my online research. Part of the rea son this was the case was that my online research was itself largely ethnographic. From the time I began looking into these issues, I was poring over not academic texts but the comments section of the articles posted online by the Times Picayune people's picture albums on Flickr.com of New Orleans graffiti and their reactions to it, blog entries in which people waxed philosophical about graffiti or buffing in New Orleans, and YouTube videos of the major players in the New Orleans graffiti scene talking abo ut their strategies. In fact, the extensive online record of the ideological conflict was part of the reason New Orleans was such a good place to ground an analysis of my theoretical questions. The other reason is that the recent developments in the New Or leans staging of the graffiti controversy involved larger than life characters and surprisingly apt metaphors for the larger story. The Gray Ghost: Defending the Dogma The first reason that New Orleans is a good case study of graffiti is not so much bec ause it has a booming graffiti scene as because at least according to some it does not. I did experience this in my fieldwork, and was often confused by how much more difficult it was to find graffiti in New Orleans relative to my home city of Atlanta. Bes ides, c ities especially old cities such as New Orleans are usually full of graffiti.
124 And New Orleans is generally known as a vibrant, colorful, even a weird city, one full of personality and surprises, one where odd behavior is not only tolerated, but used as a tourist attraction. So why a dearth of writing on the walls? According to the Times Picayune art critic Doug MacCash, a leading factor in this lack of color may be due to the work of just one man: Fred Radtke. In an article from July 2008, MacCash w rites, "Unlike other Amer ican cities where graffiti is a conspicuous feature of daily life, in New Orleans markings remain relatively scarce. Radtke's persistence seems to be the key" (MacCash 2008 a ). This kind of success is a mystery in its own right. How can one man have succeeded where so many police forces have failed? The answer is complicated, and it is worth explaining who Radtke is and how he fits in to the larger picture. Clearly, though, Radtke embodies the anti graffiti movement for the case stu dy of New Orleans. Fred Radtke has been leading an anti graffiti campaign in New Orleans Since 1997 He started an organization called Operation Clean Sweep, an "anti graffiti task force," of which he seems to be the charismatic leader. The operation consists of himself and volunteers who paint over graffiti anywhere in the city, free of charge. The org anization's website explains: "The focus of this program is to work with educators, law enforcement, residents and business owners to control and prevent the damaging effects of graffiti, through ERADICATION ENFORCEMENT AND EDUCATION [emphasis in original] ( operationcleansweepnola.com ). The "eradication" component is the most controversial and conspicuous function of Operation Clean Sweep (OCS). Radtke and his organization have a hotline offering quick graffiti removal. When they get a call, they p romise to show up and
125 remove the offending marks within seven days. On his website and in interviews, Radtke estimates to have covered over 10,000 pieces this way. In an interview on Channel 6 News, Radtke claims to have reduced graffiti "65% overall in th e city and 85% in the French Quarter" before Katrina; that he's eliminated over 4000 tags in the French Quarter alone, and that he is continuing operations post Katrina as well, in spite of having lost a lot of supplies and being relocated by the storm. An d, as McCash notes, he's been "celebrated by mayors, police officials and civic organizations along the way" (MacCash 2008a). An article by Richard Webster is more specific: "Mayor C. Ray Nagin, New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Warren Riley, th e Louisiana State Police, the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI have praised his work" (Webster, "Gray"). Transcripts from television coverage of anti graffiti activism in New Orleans reveal news stations referring to Radtke as a "graffiti crusader." He even has what Doug MacCash called a "super hero" name: The Gray Ghost. It seems that what Radtke is crusading against is exactly the same thing that the general anti graffiti movement crusades against: the "disorder" that stems from graffiti according to Broken Windows theory. The fact that Radtke overtly relies on Broken Windows theory in order to justify his actions may mean that he is trying to use the apparent authority of the theory to lend his own claims some clout. On the Operation Clean Sweep webs ite's "About Us" page is the following box containing a summary of Broken Windows Syndrome (a box much like the one Banksy included in his book, as discussed previously).
126 Farther down on the same page, the organization explains "the need for the proje ct in the community," first by again invoking Broken Windows theory, and then explaining why graffiti is so harmful: The unconscious connection between graffiti and more serious crimes causes property values to decline, stymies business growth and d iscourages tourism. Graffiti vandalism also has an adverse impact on architecture. Unable to overcome the problem and unwilling to waste money on repetitive removal efforts, authorities specify vandalism attracts other forms of crime and street delinquen cy to the area, slowly replacing the sense of ownership once common amongst residents with fear, anxiety and frustration. By responding within seven days to remove graffiti and maintaining removal for one year, prevents all of the above mentioned. Als o, it educates the awareness about graffiti, and reduces graffiti city wide, provides a better quality of life for the citizens of New Orleans, and reduces crime. (OCS website) By reproducing this quote along with its grammatical mistakes, I do not mean t o present Broken Windows theory itself as misguided. Rather, I want to make it clear that OCS is deliberately invoking the theory's social capital as an academic work in order to lend their own claims more authority. Of course, as discussed previously, Bro ken Windows theory does not hold much clout among social scientists today. Its authority lies mostly in the popular realm. Still, this has evidently been a very convincing explanation for those whom Radtke's work helps: in particular, members of the local government and police force. It is perhaps not incidental that this page of the site also
127 claims Since inception, OCS Ed. & Dev. saved the New Orleans Police Department over 4,000 phone calls by creating the Graffiti Hotline." I ha ve already conflated R adtke and Operation Clean Sweep because Ope ration Clean Sweep appears to be merely an extension of Radtke's personal mission, rather than an organization that is picking up steam on its own. While it has volunteers at times, other times Radtke works alone OCS's policies have not changed over time, even with increasing criticism. It seems that the entire project remains the brainchild of the one man who began it. I asked Doug MacCash what would happen to the organization if Radtke left town. He said, Certa inly Radtke is the founder and director, and it is in part a c harismatic sort of an effort. He is the symbol and he is the energy behind removing graffiti in New Orleans. So I would think that if Fre d decided not to do it anymore, or if he left town, I sh ould think, you know, there would be a void. On the other hand, there are other Fred Radtkes elsewhere. The organization has at least been extremely prolific for being mostly the effort of a single man, and seems to have impressed the police force as well as several local news sources. So Radtke apparently command s quite a bit of authority, at least in certain spheres those who are already a part of the anti graffiti movement or simply those who embrace the ideas of the vision of control However, outside of the co ntrolled space of his own websit e, Radtke doesn't seem to be the popular guy built up in the television interviews as a selfless public servant. The main reason for this is probably his methodology: to simply paint over the offending graff iti, always with the same color of gray paint. Thus the name "Gray
128 Ghost, which come to think of it sounds more like the name of a villain than a hero. All over New Orleans, Radtke's buffs leave splotches of gray conspicuously indicating the absen ce of g raffiti Many people find the gray splotches ugly in their own right. Others feel that they are a symbol of censorship, and find that idea offensive. Furthermore, having their pieces "buffed" or covered over is taken by many graffiti writers as a challenge encouraging them to hit the same spot again. This has led to some walls where gray and colored layers have built up, leaving behind a very thinly layered material record of an ideological war. Rex Dingler has a Flickr photo set called "Reactio ns to Gray," which as of April 8 2009 contains 372 pictures of what are ostensibly Radtke's gray splotches, though a few seem potentially mislabeled. The cover of the album is a picture of a bumper sticker that reads, "Hey Gray Ghost, New Orleans hates you!" ( Di ngler, "Reactions" ). Interestingly, a large number of these pictures are of road signs that have been partially covered by gray paint. Rex makes the point that this kind of buffing is dangerous even more dangerous than the original graffiti, since it block s the whole sign. Robert Mendoza, the New Orleans Public Works Department director, criticized Radtke's practice of painting over graffiti on street signs. The gray paint does not allow for the reflectivity necessary to see the signs at night. Mendoza equa tes this practic e to putting the public at risk (Webster, "Gray" ) "The NOPD, however," says Rex, "has no intention of charging Radtke with the defacing of public or private property and praises his efforts in reducing crime and improving the city's qualit y of life."
129 a photo from "Reactions to Gray" Another reason Radtke faces controversy is that he or at least, I shall say, the Gray Ghost, and by this I mean the personification of Ope ration: Clean Sweep paints over graffiti whether it's called for or n ot. In fact, recent allegations suggest that at times, the Gray Ghost paints over graffiti on private property not only without authorization, but in spite of requests that he stay away. Articles from October 22 23, 2008 chronicle an interesting event, sum marized in one article: "Fred Radtke, the infamous scourge of graffiti also known as the Gray Ghost, ran into a brick wall Wednesday while painting over one" ( Webster 2008 ). The event concerns one wall of the Southern Waterproofing building, whose owners h ad allowed local artists to paint the wall in a graffiti style, "so long as it wasn't offensive or gang related." The week after the mural was first completed, it was painted over by the Gray Ghost. T he owner of the building, Michelle Gallodoro, told Radtk e that he had no right to come on her private property and paint over something she approved. Local artists painted a new mural but even after the warning, the Clean Sweep activists came back and again
130 began painting over the mural with gray paint. The own er dialed 911 and two National Guard military officers not the local police showed up to chase them off. According to another article by Doug MacCash, one of the activists ostensibly the leader was taken into custody, but later released without charges ( Ma cCash 2008b). These events also came up in several of my interviews. James O'Byrne features editor of the Times Picayune brought up the issue as part of his response to a question about who is responsible for most of the graffiti in the city. The intere sting case of the Gray Ghost is one in which he presumed that a piece of art was unauthorized and went to blot it out in what was an unauthorized [action] To what extent is the Gray Ghost simply a graffiti artist who paints in gray? I think those are inte resting questions and I think in a city like New Orleans where art is so important and artistic expression is so much a part of our culture, it's been an interesting debate. And in N ew Orleans there's been a sort of an informal authorization of the Gray Ghost to engage in his craft, or his obliteration, or whatever you call it, without any consequence because of the general sort of law enforcement infrastructure view that all graffiti is vandalism. Banksy and other street artists have challenged that no tion and I think that it's possible that the wall painting that they got authorization to paint was a set up, you know, to some degree. (interview, 1/23/09) I asked him about this final statement, but he did not elaborate, so I did not prod. Still, it's an interesting thought. Some support for this idea might be found in the fact that it was not the local police who responded to the call, but National Guard officers instead. In my interview with Rex, he also suggested that the police specifically would no t respond to a citizen's request to remove the Gray Ghost from their property, saying, I mean we've had people who have paid street artists to spraypaint a mural on their building, and he comes in behind them and paints over it. And that's money that they 're out. And he tells them if they don't like it to call the police. Well he's so embedded
131 with the police, certain quality of life officers, the cops aren't gonna do anything ." (interview, 1/24/09). And in fact, based on the kinds of posts and comments on both the NOLA Rising website and the articles above, it seems that many people who care about these events enough to comment on articles about them are angry not only that R adtke puts his paint where it is not welcome, but that he is never chastised for it. Rex maintains that Radtke's work is criminal. In our interview, he said, "W e've really been able to do a lot for street art by pointing out that Radtke is nothing more th an a vandal. Because he doesn't get people's permission. And as much as he says he does, he's out the re destroying people's property" (interview, 1/24/09). Some have even accused the Gray Ghost's signature gray splotches of being just another kind of tag. Why else the argument goes would he not try to match his cover up paint to the color of the wall? To many and to graffiti writers in particular the Gray Ghost's immediately recognizable cover ups are "ups" themselves. One blogger wrote it better than I ev er could calling the conspicuous cover ups existentially provocative tags with a "post Rothko" quality. Fred Radtke is fucking amazing.... Everyone knows his tag, because he's all city in a way no one else is. The cops don't bother him, the City funds him, the paint store welcomes his business Authorities turn a blind eye to his work, because he's outsmarted them. He's gotten their blessing to establish his tag on every surface in every neighborhood, and by god, he doesn't half ass it. He has subverte d the 'buff' and made it his personal trademark. How sick is that?? Fred Radtke is the face of New Orleans graffiti, and to me, he's much bigger than high concept clowns like Banksy or whoever else populates coffee table "street art" books these days. Rad tke doesn't need words, doesn't need appropriated 70s underground comix imagery, doesn't need scene cred or 'authenticity.' His tag is primordial, both pre and post verbal. His tag is an entire PALETTE... he is the color grey, bitches, and you all know it He goes over everything. You can love him or hate him -he's way beyond you -but give the man the respect he deserves. He IS
132 graffiti, he IS the king, and he IS New Orleans. Keep talkin g shit... Radtke's out painting (d block 2008 ) This is a joke, of course. Radtke is not a graffiti writer in disguise although his blotches are so recognizable that it may seem that way at times He is simply defending a particular dogma the dogma of Broken Windows theory. James O'Byrne put it beautifully during our in terview. I would say that any inflexible ideology runs into problems, and I think that the Gray Ghost's ideology is inflexible. And when you apply that to the real world in general, and more specifically to the real world in post Katrina New Orleans, you r un into problems, cause inflexible ideologies don't really work well here, never have. So it's ironic that he works in gray, but allows no gray in his sort of worldview. He's a black and white guy. (1/23/09) Radtke seems to believe so thoroughly in the B roken Windows theory that it has caused him to believe that any graffiti will cause increased crime beyond its own creation. He apparently thinks allowing graffiti to stay on a wall is so problematic, so harmful, that he volunteers thousands of hours to co vering over any and all graffiti with clunky gray blotches. Based on my personal experience in New Orleans, these blotches do not blend in well, even in the ugliest parts of the city. P erhaps New Orleans is the only place where gray could be conspicuous bu t regardless, it is difficult to imagine that many people think these marks are an aesthetic enhancement. This is not their purpose of course Their purpose is to exclude graffiti from entering the mise en scene and thereby creating a dangerous atmosphe re. Perhaps because he knows that in order to get the media attention he desires, and to gather support for his cause, Radtke does this in such a conspicuous way that the buffs are more recognizable than tags. Thus whether or not he intends to do this, Radtke's methods keep the "voice" of graffiti out of the public sphere in a way that is conspicuously about silencing an entire discourse over and
1 33 above any other concern. This dogmatic belief has made Radtke into a larger than life character, conceived of by many as the enemy of color: the Gray Ghost. Banksy 's Role As I explained previously, Banksy's "vandalism" could easily make someone a fortune. I had hoped that the Gray Ghost would fall into Banksy's trap by painting over some Katrina survivor's newfound wealth. This scenario would have such value as a human interest story that I figured it would out Radtke to the whole city as a nother kind of vandal, a role reversal that would have opened up many mor e opportunities to study the way peopl e conceive of graffiti in New Orleans However, this did not happen or if it did, there was not enough evidence that it was Radtke for anyone to get a lawsuit out of it. Several of Banksy's New Orleans pieces were in f act buffed or vandalized by others, however MacCash told me about some of these buffs The first piece that was ruined was covered over with red spray paint, which looked to me like vandalism, looked like a deliberate attempt not just to remove it, but to deface it. And then the next one that I was aware of was a neighbor keeping an eye on a piece of property that Banksy had graffitied, had painted on a marching band and that guy told me directly, "Banksy Shmanksy," he didn't know any of that, he just d idn't want the attention drawn to the building, and he went over and painted it up. So he had no, there was no artistic bent, or political bent, or anything to him. Other pieces were simply removed, ostensibly to be sold but no one seems to have owned th e buildings from which the pieces were stolen, so once again there was no opportunity for a story about the loss of what might have been a fortune.
134 (Burcher 2008) There are, however, mysteries reg arding some of the pieces that a re gone or changed Fo r instance, the piece I photographed during my fieldwork in which I mentioned cream colored buffs that suggested the shape of sunflowers was documented on Gawker.com in August with actual sunflowers, and no cream colored buffs.
135 ( Nolan 2008a for Gawker.com article published 8/28/08 ) My fieldwork five months later yielded a picture of a modified painting in the same place : ( Personal photograph, taken 1/24/09) Another Gawker.com page from the same day, 8/28/08, has a similar picture (bu t without the plexiglass) and the following blurb:
136 This particular new Banksy piece in New Orleans that we posted earlier today is a statement on the city's aggressive art buffing practices, so of course it has already been painted over. But in the most h ead scratching way possible. Idiotic example of the power structure missing the point, or the work of a sympathetic city worker? Or just more art ? (Nolan 2008b). It's not clear to me, however, that this was a buff. August 28 2008 is within the timeframe in which Banksy might still have been in New Orleans, and I think it's likely that he painted the cream colored buffs himself, especially since a protective layer of plexiglass was added to the same piece later. Perhaps t he only reason this possibility occ urred to me is that Rex mentioned in our interview that Banksy had in fact covered over one of his Gray Ghost paintings the day after he painted it, replacing it with the little boy flying a refrigerator kite. An article by MacCash draws the same conclusio n pointing out that the "ghost" of the earlier painting could still be seen beneath the surface of the new one (MacCash 2008b). (Now, unfortunately, the Refrigerator Kite has also been buffed.) Interestingly, the original painting in this case too was of the Gray Ghost covering over painted flowers, although since the Gray Ghost stencil in this picture seemed to be missing a layer, it struck me as possible that Banksy had nixed the piece for that reason. If however, he painted over his own flowers being b uffed twice there really is a mystery. Why would Banksy remove his own color in favor of neutral toned paintings? Didn't that undermine one of Banksy's main advantages in his "battle" with the Gray Ghost? I asked MacCash whether he thought Banksy had been effective in doing battle with the Gray Ghost, his stated reason for coming to New Orleans. MacCash responded: Yes, in this way: Banksy's graffiti was of such a higher order than most, that I think that even the ordinary person on the street who has no use for
137 graffiti, and would not consider it art or any worthwhile endeavor, I think that even that person paused f or a moment and said, Wow, that little girl with the umbrella is really beautiful,' or Wow, that Simpsons child, that's funny.' (interview, 2/22/09) In the end, my fieldwork did not reveal the kind of overturning that I had h oped to chronicle in my thes is. O nly those who were likely to know about any happening in the graffiti scene had m uch to say about Banksy's visit. However, he was successful at creating a pleasurable visual interruption in New Orleans, and since his art carries such weight, at least some of these visual interruptions are being protected under plexiglass For that reason, at least, these few paintings are likely to stay a while and have a more lasting effect on the mise en scene of the city than many local graffiti artists could hope t o have in a few paintings even in authorized murals. Perhaps it is enough that Banksy gave people a few images with which to connect, if only for that moment of pause. photo by blogger Ernie ( used with permission, Svenson 2008 )
138 NOLA Rising local art culture and news in the age of free media I left New Orleans feeling humbled by the discovery that I had discovered nothing. Then I reconsidered, and realized that what I had found was that t he real players in the fight to reclaim public space for public interaction goes on, led by those who feel compelled to continue to give voice or help or hope to the people of the city through simple passion. I might call this the pro art movement or the pro art discourse, which is actually a complicated and multivocal set of discourses including artists, gallery owners, coffeeshop kids, freedom of speech activists, journalists, graffiti artists, liberal bloggers, and many other people. I cannot hope to summarize this here. However, in my res earch on New Orleans, I found a running theme in a majority of the pro graffiti comments on all the articles and blog posts and Flickr sites and YouTube videos of the Gray Ghost, and that theme was Rex Dingler and NOLA Rising. Rex Dingler, too, explained that he took on his role in this story a street artist, founder of NOLA Rising, and militantly pro street art blogger out of passion for the city and compassion for victims of the storm. NOLA Rising is a New Orleans based pro street art organization which provides an almost literary foil to Operation Clean Sweep. First, Dingler is the charismatic leader of the organization Second, Dingler claims that Radtke considers him a personal enemy; likewise NOLA Rising has been connect ed with several anti Radtke cam paigns. Dingler told me he started NOLA Rising to help send the cool message that New Orleans is gonna come back and really be the cultural Mecca of the South and to make art that's uplifting, and put it on the street for people who were depressed aft er the storm." And further:
139 When I started, I was working on the lower 9 th ward so I had to drive through it every day, when there were still houses in the middle of the street, and houses on top of houses, and you know cars in trees.. So I started putt ing them (s miley faces, flowers, quotes, like T. S. Eliot quotes, Edgar Allan Poe ) up out there, because I thought that area needed it the most. (interview, 1/24/09) Rex, too, is a "superhero name." The artist's real name is Michael Dingler Interestingly Rex is both his blogging name and his tag though of course he is "officially retired" from tagging. Rex (or ReX, as he signs his blog entries) means "king" in Latin, and when I asked him how he got this name he mentioned this meaning (though he was dodgy about the details). Still, ReX's name is all over the New Orleans graffiti blogosphere, and it's not uncommon in the New Orleans blogosphere in general. ReX is making a name for himself and his cause, much like a tagger might make a name for herself by wr iting her name all over the city. He built a persona by consciously becoming the voice of the pro street art conglomerate, and this character has thus beco me something worth investigating for p eople interested in the topic. For instance, print and broadcas t journalists who want "both sides of the story" often interview Radtke for the a nti graffiti perspective and ReX for the pro graffiti (or pro street art) perspective. Thus ReX has beco me a main character symbolizing the fight for a more open conception of public space. The other side of this coin, though, is that in order to form a legitimate pro street art organization, ReX had to give up making much guerrilla art himself. The Times Picayune has also played a large role in the unfolding of the graffiti co ntroversy in New Orleans, and this too had a lot to do with passion. James O'Byrne, the paper's features editor, told me that if you are going to work for a newspaper in the age of the internet, you have to do it for passion, not for money. He and Doug Mac Cash
140 had both gone through hell and (literally ) high water to continue to give people news when the city was falling apart after Katrina. They wanted to show the people of New Orleans that there were things left to care about. And O'Byrne was clearly pass ionate. He had a lot to say about the continued importance of the newsroom, if not the news paper (he even called the printed paper "the inkosaurus"). It occurred to me that perhaps the same changeover that he was describing, in which newsrooms had to get o ver the "nostalgia" of newspapers that people can touch in order to adapt to a new world order of online media, was perhaps applicable to contemporary graffiti too. I hadn't found anyone "on the street" in New Orleans who cared much about Banksy, but there were thousands of devoted fans online; records in blogs of hundreds of people who had made the trek to New Orleans from their various locations to see Banksy's newest pieces up close; hundreds of thousands of hits recorded on various articles about Banksy's latest stunt. My worry, though, was that if indeed this discourse had gone online, then graffiti would have stopped serving as a visual interruption and become merely entertainment for those already interested in the movement. The final player I profiled is another journalist driven by passion, Doug MacCash. B y all account s MacCash did more than his part in informing residents of New Orleans about Banksy's work there, and in fact he has done an amazing job of making a case for many different artists. Through reading his articles, I became convinced that MacCash had a fairly good relationship with the graffiti artists and other free speech advocates in New Orleans, and our interview only added to that impression. MacCash mentioned that he speaks to graffiti artists on the phone, something I was never able to arrange. This rap port with the graffiti/free speech community might have
141 to do with MacCash's own dedication to revealing art not just where most newspaper art critics would look for it, but among the street artists as well. He told me of Banksy's work in New Orleans, I t hought [Banksy's pieces] really were pretty respectable, I wa nted more people to see em. And I covered them, and I publicly declared, Let's let these hang around a while, and get a look at them. And I wrote about it, and fair or not, you get an art criti c spilling ink over a graffiti artist and people will pay attention. (interview 1/22/09) Rex, too, mentioned MacCash's influence on New Orle ans as being part of the reason that inhabitants who would not otherwise have been interested in graffiti had become interested in the Banksy pieces. This is not to suggest that MacCash is loved by everyo ne in the free speech community. I have included as an appendix one recent article by MacCash and its comments, which run the gamut from accusing him of being bia sed, clueless, even of pandering to the Gray Ghos t, to condemning graffiti and praising the Ghost, to calls to put the Ghost in jail Still, MacCash seems to be right that his ink got a number of people to take notice of Banksy. In fact, the controversy th at constantly rages in the comments section of MacCash's articles is good evidence that these articles are not only speaking to one half of a divided population. As O'Byrne said, speaking mostly of MacCash, I think the ne wspaper has been instrumental in i njecting some grey into the issue of what is graffiti and what is art We've worked the gray areas in the Gray Ghost's crusade. And made some people really sort of re evaluate what they're looking at." Perhaps the fact that these articles do walk a thin li ne, creating controversy on both sides, allows the newspaper at least to continue the function I've feared was being lost as the "localness" of graffiti has faded: that is, the newspaper puts the issue in everyone's faces. In that sense, centralized source s of
142 media, at least, help graffiti continue to serve as an unexpected interruption, even to those who do not see the graffiti in its original location. This is, I believe, more or less the conclusion I began to draw from Banksy's work in Palestine and h is ephemeral injections into art galleries. As long as these works last long enough to be photographed, they can actually be more effective through media, if only because they can reach more people. The original location is still important in the sense tha t it provides the meaning for the content of the image. Encountering them second hand can still have a disruptive effect. In fact, for pieces that draw attention to their location, such as the political statements in both Palestine and New Orleans, the abi lity for people who are not associated with the location in any way is an important part of the piece. Palestinians do not need to be informed that they are being kept out of Israel, but activists or even kids who like graffiti can bring these images to pe ople around the world with the click of a button. Similarly, New Orleanians do not need to be reminded that their city is still in a state of disrepair but reporters and others can bring the images to people who do not live in New Orleans, and who may hav e forgotten, or become apathetic. If the goal is, as Freeman put it, to make apathy the conscious choice, then media including newspapers play a vital part in that project. For New Orleans, each of the three characters profiled here really are playing a ro le in getting the images in question into the wider discourse. But none of these players are able to get out there on the street and create the kind of subversive visual interruption of space that they defend. Which brings me back to Banksy.
143 Banksy: Rep rise Banksy's visit to New Orleans didn't result in a cataclysmic conflict between the two opposed perspectives on graffiti, which surely would have helped spread his work even farther However, his status as a mysterious graffiti superstar helped lend a sense of legitimacy to the work, as well as a sense o f excitement, which MacCash, ReX and others were able to use to their advantage in promoting the idea that street art can be a boon to the city. More importantly, Banksy's "ideological warfare" on the G ray Ghost seems to have taken hold in New Orleans and to have become a part of the local discourse. The paintings that depict the Ghost rolling over color with his dull and orderly gray have become symbols and rallying points around which bloggers, artists t shirt designers, and even journalists have come together to discuss issues of free expression versus censorship in New Orleans. This is not actually surprising. A Google image search for the phrase "inspired by Banksy" returns pages and pages of shir ts and other merchandise with Banksy paintings on them, legal through a loophole in which Banksy doesn't quite claim the copyright to his images; photographs of people in radical activist attire throwing bouquets; men in official uniforms kissing; politica l cartoons based on paintings from the Separation Wall; and the like. As stated above, Banksy's New Orleans paintings are spoken of and photographed in a way that shows that some have an emotional connection to the images, especially to the Umbrella Girl. In a search for different image, though, I also found this photograph.
144 ( http://asset1.bigfolioblog.com/production/image1/6/6/2/1/66217b19148431dc/d8k3b2/grayghost.jpg accessed 3/24/09) This picture took a photograph of a woman in front of t he modified painting discussed above She is wearing tape over her mouth, in what has become a familiar convention by protesters or other activists to show that they feel that their voices are not being heard and the artist has modified the photo so that the blotches are covering over the woman as well. In other words, this photographer has used Banksy's piece to make her own political statement. E ven more recently, the story has taken another turn. On March 26, 2009, Doug MacCash published a new article about Radtke : A thread of irony runs through Gray Ghost Fred Radtke's plight ." According to this article, Radtke was charged on March 24 for the "illicit street painting" he had done in October 2008, when he painted over the authorized mural in the Bywater. MacCash e xplains why feelings towards Radtke may have changed: Graffiti is fashionable. Many New Orleans residents have come to consider it as appropriate for museum walls as it is for warehouse walls. Most of it is not, of course. In reality 99 percent of all gra ffiti is self involved scribbling, no more artistic than the doodling in the margins of a high school student's notebook. By removing it, Radtke has done the Crescent City a service. But
145 fashion can be as important as reality. Radtke should have realized t hat. Just two months before he attacked the mural, world renowned graffiti artist Banksy scattered paintings across the Crescent City, receiving wide praise. (MacCash 2009) Besides referencing Banksy as one possible reason Radtke should have thought twice, MacCash uses visual aides to argue that some graffiti should not be rolled over. That is, two pictures accompany this article: the Umbrella Girl and Banksy's depiction of t he Gray Ghost buffing a stick figure out of existence. MacCash's article ends with a question, and so must my thesis, since the answer has not yet presented itself. So, is this the end of the Gray Ghost and Operation: Clean Sweep? The judge that suspend ed Radtke's 60 day jail term stipulated that Radtke is now required to gain permission from all property owners -private, city, or state -before overpainting graffiti. That will eliminate the efficient high speed anti graffiti sweeps of the past. The b ook keeping will surely drag the operation to a crawl. In a mythic irony, has the Gray Ghost now turned the city over to the taggers? (2009) Clearly MacCash does not think this situation is preferable, having stated earlier that 99% of all graffiti is bet ter off removed. Yet Radtke's sentence is being celebrated by the free expression contingent in New Orleans. Maybe the increase in the lifespan of New Orleans graffiti will cause those who would have been writing graffiti anyway to create something more th an just a tag, ultimately enhancing the aesthetic expectations for graffiti in the city. One can even imagine that this opening could lead to a situation in which artists create beautiful things in the hopes that their targets will then choose to keep them Perhaps that vision is too idealistic but this moment is nevertheless an opportunity for color and freedom of expression to gain the upper hand at least for a short while over the black and white dogma of order in the New Orleans staging of the dramatic story currently playing itself o ut in the history of graffiti.
146 Conclusion The ordering of people and behavior that is enacted by the landscape itself is generally a hidden regulation, but graffiti can be effective at revealing this political function of p ublic space. Most people do not think of the fencing of parks (which are, ostensibly, public areas) as being politically charged, yet the fencing of public spaces is overtly political; it allows and normalizes the exclusion of certain people and certain us es of these areas. It is ironic, but more importantly, it is fundamental that the rhetoric surrounding this exclusionary practice constitutes it as upholding democracy through encouraging civility even as its true function is to uphold the hierarchical str ucture that keeps certain groups down. One can begin to tear a tiny hole in the fabric of this illusion by removing the veil that makes space appear neutral, and one way to do this is through graffiti. The ruling ideology that seeks to order and regulate spaces will inevitably villainize such actions, but through the careful use of other elements of the ideology, such as the right to make political statements or the right to engage in protest, it is possible for graffiti artists to overcome the threat of d elegitimation that goes along with being unauthorized. This careful framing allows graffiti once again to serve as a visual disruption of the normalized ordering of space. In the orderly public sphere, one can generally choose to change the channel, can choose only to receive information that agrees with one's stance. Graffiti, on the other hand, takes up visual space in the public arena. In this respect, graffiti emulates at least one lo st function of the agora : that upon entering into this public space, one is necessarily confronted with different ideas. Banksy speaks to
147 this idea too, claiming that in the modern city, advertisements are that which confronts passersby. But advertisement s, since they uphold the status quo, are another instance of a use of space that does not appear to be political, but is. Banksy seeks to uncover them as an invasion of (mental) space: "Any advertisement in public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It belongs to you. It's yours to take, re arrange and re use. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head" (Banksy 2006: 196). I believe this is an important development for graffiti. As Jeff Ferrell put it, Clean buildings, and the appreciation of them, are as much a part of authority and control as police patrols and prisons; and the markings of graffiti writers are as much a threat to this as are protest marches or rent strikes" (Ferrell 1 993: 184). If this is true, then, as I have argued above, postmodern art such as Banksy's is another step in the ongoing ideological battle between these two perspectives. However, this project is only a very preliminary investigation of the issues at hand for postmodern graffiti. Two issues came up in my research which I was not able to fully develop here a nd which would be excellent topics for further research The first is the issue of gender. In my review of the history of graffiti, I found that most books and articles about the early heyd ay of hip hop graffiti did mention that there were some female graffiti writers, though clearly there were far fewer female than male writers. The one woman who consistently came up in the literature from this early h eyday period was Lady Pink, and I considered including her in my overview as well, but something about doing that felt dishonest. I have not investigated the extent to which female graffiti artists were a part of the scene, and I do not want to keep parrot ing
148 the involvement of Lady Pink in order to avoid the gender question. The issue continued into my investigation of postmodern graffiti and graffiti in New Orleans as well: there are still one or two women artists profiled in each new book about graffiti that I reviewed, but once again it is as if these are "token women," and that concept makes me uneasy. I selected urban knitting as an example of postmodern graffiti not because the founders are women but because it struck me as such a good example of the concept. However, it makes me slightly uneasy that this is the one place in my thesis that women artists come up, since in a certain way it is quite essen tializing. My investigation of New Orleans, too, brought to the fore only one female graffiti artist, Swoon, another visitor to the city like Banksy. None of the tags or pieces in the pictures I took were identified by local artists as being the work of a woman. This strikes me as strange for several reasons, including that the only writers I know personal ly are women. The other issue that came up in my research was the issue of co optation. I wanted to explore the possibility for postmodern graffiti to open up new avenues for all graffiti, since I believe it has the potential to overcome the kind of deleg itimation that hip hop graffiti has undergone since becoming associated with criminality. However, to the extent that postmodern graffiti is something other than traditional hip hop graffiti, there is the potential for those still involved in the culture t hat invented hip hop graffiti to feel that the tradition they created has been appropriated or co opted. Certainly the monetary success o f artists such as Banksy only worsens this effect. This question is integral to understanding many of the questions I h ave raised, but unfortunately I felt strongly that I could not presume to say to what extent
149 these feelings of co optation exist or what their effects are. The ideas I put forward are the beginning of an investigation into the role of postmodern graffiti, but it will not be fully understood until more research is done in terms of this other side of the coin.
150 Bibliography Bennett, Tony. 1994. "The Exhibitionary Complex." In Culture/Power/History eds Dirks, Nicholas; Eley, Geoff; and Ortner, Sherry. Prince ton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Banksy. 2006. Wall and Piece. UK: Century. Banksy. 2005. Pictures of Walls. Pictures of Walls. BBC News. "Banksy painting fetches £288,000." Available online at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/6592739.stm "£208,100 eBay bid for Banksy wall." Available online at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/7188387.stm accessed 3/2/09 "Banksy rat boosts pub sale price." Available online at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/arts_and_culture/7702995.stm ac cessed 3/3/09 Burcher, Nick. 2008. "Banksy New Orleans Stolen!" available online at http://www.nickburcher.com/2008/09/banksy new orleans stolen katrina.html published 9/22/08 accessed 3/28/09. Castleman, Craig. 1982. Getting Up: Subway Graffiti in New Y ork. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. Chalfant, Henry and Prigoff, James. 1987. Spraycan Art. London: Thames and Hudson, Ltd. Collins, Lauren. 2007. "Banksy Was Here." In The New Yorker Online at ( http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/05/14/070514f a_fact_collins ) accessed 11/14/08 Cooper, Martha and Chalfant, Henry. 1984. Subway Art. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, LLCDo. d block. 2008. "Fred Radtke is New Orleans." Iron Rail Collective. Online at http://www.ironrail.org/blog/2008/05/fred ra dtke is new orleans.html accessed 3/30/09. Daily Mail. 2006. "Angelina Jolie buys Brit graffiti art for £200,000" Daily Mail available at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article 406161/Angelina Jolie buys Brit graffiti art 200 000.html accessed 3/2 /09 DeputyDog. 2008. "Urban Knitting." online at http://deputy dog.com/2008/11/urban knitting worlds most inoffensive.html accessed 3/01/09
151 Dingler, Rex. "Reactions to Gray." http://www.flickr.com/photos/nolarisingproject/sets/72157603814563231/ accessed April 8, 2009. FatCap. 2008. "Taki 183." Online, available at http://www.fatcap.com/taki 183/ accessed 12/28/08. Ferrell, Jeff. 1993. Crimes of Style New York, NY: Garland Publishing. Freeman, Richard. 2001. "The City as Mise en Scene: A Vi sual Exploration of the Culture of Politcs in Buenos Aires." in Visual Anthropology Review Volume 17, Number 1. Graffiti Gone! 2007. "Graffiti Statistics." Online at http://www.graffiti gone.com/public/graffiti/graffiti_info.html accessed 1/14/09 Graff itiHurts.org. "How Does Graffiti Hurt?" Online at http://www.graffitihurts.org/learn_more/how_does_graffiti_hurt.cfm, accessed 2/20/09. Grant, Christopher. 1996. "Graffiti: Taking a Closer Look." Online at http://www.fbi.gov/publications/leb/1996/aug963. txt accessed 3/7/09. Geertz, 1973. "Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture." In The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books. Habermas, Jurgen. 1993 (originally 1962). The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. Camb ridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. Harcourt, Bernard. 2001. The Illusion of Order. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. Howe Jeff. 2008 "Art Attack." In Wired available online at http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/13.08/bansky.html accessed 4/05/09 Lynch, Kevin. 1960. The Image of the City. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. Knittaplease.com. "About." Online at http://www.knittaplease.com/ABOUT.html accessed 3/22/09. MacCash, Doug. 2008a. Times Picayune online at http://blog.nola.com/dougmaccash/2008/07/vandalism_or_art.html, posted July 13, accessed 3/10/09. 2008b. http://blog.nola.com/dougmaccash/2008/09/a_reader_discovers_the_missing. html accessed 3/19/09. 2008 c Times Picayune online at
152 http://www.nola.com/n ews/index.ssf/2008/10/was_the_gray_ghost_busted.ht ml, accessed 1/10/09 2009: Times Picayune online at http://blog.nola.com/dougmaccash/2009/03/theres_a_thread_of_irony_throu. html#postaccessed 4/10/09. Manco, Tristan. 2002. Stencil Graffiti. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson, Inc. Manco, Tristan. 2004. Street Logos New York, NY: Thames & Hudson, Inc. Metcalf, Stephen. 2006. "The Giuliani Presidency?" From Slate. Available online at http://www.slate.com/id/2141424/ accessed 2/26/09. Mitchell, Don. 2003. T he Right to the City. New York, NY: The Guilford Press. Neatorama. 2008. "Banksy Graffiti Doubles Derelict Pub's Value." http://www.neatorama.com/2008/11/01/banksy graffiti doubles derelict pubs value/ accessed 3/3/09 Nolan, Hamilton. 2008a. "Banksy Doe s New Orleans." Gawker. Online at http://gawker.com/5042936/banksy does new orleans. Accessed 3/23/09 2008b. "Art or Dumb, or Both?" Gawker. Online at http://gawker.com/5043246/art or dumb or both Accessed 3/23/09 Operation Clean Sweep website. Online at http://operationcleansweepnola.com/index.htm, accessed 2/15/09. Parry, Nigel. 2005. "Well known UK graffiti artist Banksy hacks the Wall" in The Electronic Intifada 2 September 2005. Available online: http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article4153.shtml accessed: 3/20/09 Raftery, Brian. 2008. "Slice and Dice," from New York Magazine online at http://nymag.com/arts/art/profiles/50969/ accessed 2/25/09 Snyder, Gregory. 2006. Graffiti media and the perpetuation of an illegal subculture." in Crime Media Culture 2006; 2. Svenson, Ernest. 2008. "More about Banksy." Online at http://www.ernietheattorney.net/ernie_the_attorney/2008/09/more about bank.html, accessed 4/16/09. Von Joel, Mike. 2006. "Urbane Guerrillas" in State of Art Jan/Feb 2006. Online at http://discreet uk.com/state of art/ISSUE%20FOUR/urbane4.html Webster, Richard A. "Gray Ghost goes gonzo on graffiti." In New Orleans City Business. Online at
153 http://www.neworleanscitybusiness.com/viewFeature.cfm?recid=967 accessed 3/10/09 2008 "Gray Ghost strikes again, paints over treasured mural." In New Orleans City Business. Online at http://www.neworleanscitybusiness.com/UpToTheMinute.cfm?recID=21018 Kelling, George and Wilson, James Q. 1982. In The Atlantic, March 1982 ed. Online at http ://www.theatlantic .com/doc/198203/broken windows Wright, Steve. 2007. Banksy's Bristol. Bristol, UK: Tangent Books.
Appendix 1 I A thread of irony runs through Gray Ghost Fred Radtke's plight Posted by Doug MacCash, art critic, The Times Picayune March 26, 2009 1:48PM Fred Radtke the self appointed activist who has fought a 12 year crusade against illicit street painting, pleaded no contest to a charge of criminal trespassing Tuesday. His crime: illicit street painting. Radtke was arrested for blotting out a colorful, carefully composed mural in Bywater, using the gray enamel paint that has given him his nickname Gray Ghost. In this case, the problem was that the presumably renegade street artists who painted the graffiti style mural had permission from the property owner before they began. The presumably law abiding anti graffiti activist who ruined it, did not. The mural wasn't a great piece of art by any means, but it was clearly not the sort of spray paint vandalism that Radtke has long fought. Radtke once told me that he doe sn't want to be seen as anti art. Then why risk rolling over a painting that would be widely considered an artwork? Graffiti is fashionable. Many New Orleans residents have come to consider it as appropriate for museum walls as it is for warehouse walls. Most of it is not, of course. In reality 99 percent of all graffiti is self involved scribbling, no more artistic than the doodling in the margins of a high school student's notebook. By removing it, Radtke has done the Crescent City a service. But fashio n can be as important as reality. Radtke should have realized that. Just two months before he attacked the mural, world renowned graffiti artist Banksy scat tered paintings across the Crescent City, receiving wide praise. So, is this the end of the Gray Ghost and Operation: Clean Sweep? The judge that suspended Radtke's 60 day jail term stipulated that Radtke is now required to gain permission from all pro perty owners -private, city, or state -before overpainting graffiti. That will eliminate the efficient high speed anti graffiti
Appendix 1 II sweeps of the past. The book keeping will surely drag the operation to a crawl. In a mythic irony, has the Gray Ghost now tu rned the city over to the taggers? COMMENTS (25) Posted by humidcity on 03/26/09 at 4:08PM Doug, please don't be quite so clueless. This may seem to be a graffiti issue on the surface but what it really is is an issue of legality. Fred has been accused of assault, trespassing, and other wonderful behaviors over the years. The first time I became aware of him was when I helped a young man wo was bleeding from a head wound in the park behind the A&P on Magazine back in 98. T he grey paint splattered over his head and shoulders was a clue to the culprit.. Why don't you ask the girl who works the counter at Mojo's on Magazine who this ex marine brought t tears with aggresion and profanity when she told him the owners did not wa nt him "buffing" their building. The merits of Graffiti (or lack thereof) is NOT the issue. This piece has really made me lose a lot of respect for your writing. It is overly simplistic and ignores the burning issues in favor of trite and only slightly p ertinent arguments. Posted by zoom70116 on 03/26/09 at 8:28PM The issue here is a question of whether or not someone can apply opaque gray primer to your private property without your consent. It is not a debate on the merits of graffiti. For all of these years, Radtke has been paid with grant money to remove graffiti. This has resulted in "The Gray Ghost" simultaneously performing two distinctly separate acts: 1. He has been removing illegal markings of vandalism from public property. 2. He has been terrorizing private property with vigilante zeal by painting over privately commissioned art, painting over professionally stenciled loading dock instructions, and applying non automotive primer to private vehicles. Think about i t... This was a perfect ruling. Radtke is still allowed to remove graffiti and tagging from public property, but is now required to respect private property just like the rest of us by obtaining permission from property owners. We are lucky to have a judge with the insight to sort this out.
Appendix 1 III Eventually a third issue will need to be addressed: the careless, and negligent way in which he uses his funding to obscure signs containing traffic instructions. When it comes to stop signs and such, wouldn't it be muc h more appropriate and thoughtful to use a paint remover or some sort of specialized cleaning solution? Rendering public signs unreadable is not a sensible long term solution. Posted by haremgirl1 on 03/27/09 at 2:29AM While Doug MacCash is a "nice guy" according to friends of friends....i have not found his reporting terribly deep or well worked. I've found his stuff lacking in depth, and not well researched. Not a writer with a ton of credibility, in my book. Posted by rashul10chin on 03/27/09 at 6:21AM The main purpose of these graffiti markings is to do just that, mark territory boundaries. NOLA clearly has a growing gang problem and persistent ones with the amount of tagging that is taking pl ace. As soon as the graffiti builds up and these boundaries are clearly established, the crime will rapidly escalate because of it. The gray ghost has made a lot of people angry and may have become too vigilante with his progression but I feel his effort s have helped the city and residents in some ways to help to confused and frustrate some of these gang members who are trying to establish perimeters of their gang lines in our neighborhoods. That's why we see so many shoes hanging across power lines bec ause that"s how they have been marking lines for years. No matter what the city is damned if it does and damned if it doesn't. The City Of The Damned and soon to be the Graffiti Gangland too. Posted by wetbankguy on 03/27/09 at 7:55AM Well, we have a clear message from the courts. We can paint over anything we don't like with no real consequences. Now about some of those billboards for strip joints along the Pontchartrain Expressway, where can I get gray paint really cheap in the five gallon bucket? Posted by nonewsladder on 03/27/09 at 8:51AM Yes, Mr McCash, you completely missed the entire reality here with the violent illegality involved in the operations of this pig, Fred Radtke.
Appendix 1 IV What, do you work for the Great Nothing from "The Never Ending Story"? Isn't it cute how the gray spreads to cover everything of imagination. You have obviously never met the man. This is a common problem with TP "journalists" and their subjects, to wit: you people never seem to actually go and personally investigate. Had you met this fiend we would see a different article. But then again maybe not. I did meet Fred. You are a fool to mislead us with your disarming portrayal of him. He carries a pistol which he showed me. He t hreatened me. It was suddenly NOT my public right of way. I have NEVER been threatened by ANY graffitti artists --BUT THIS IS NOT ABOUT THEM YOU GODDAMN FOOL!!! But in many ways your ass'buff piece of misdirecting Press'tadigitation here scares me more t han Fred did that day -and he scared me like any other armed thug in this city! You think he is cute. Had we met in such a way after the flood of '05 I probably would have taken him, especially that first year afterward. This is not Prospector 1, Mr. Mc Cash. Perhaps you should move to Austin, write about the music business there or something and provide an opening for your position here in New Orleans. Maybe we'll get a local writer this time. If you aren't interested in protecting and enlightening our c ity the go to hell. Editilla~New Orleans Ladder Posted by VoxApox on 03/27/09 at 8:56AM Egomaniac and loose cannon Fred Radtke does NOT "remove" graffiti, he just paints ugly gray splotches over it. The gray splotches are Radtke's signature, or his "tag" if you will. There ARE ways to effectively remove graffiti, but Radtke has no interest in that because then people wouldn't know that the "gray ghost" had been there. Thus, Radtke is the worst and most prolific tagger in the city. That and the fact that he is extremely belligerant, confrontational, and violent make Radtke a menace. Posted by dollywood17 on 03/27/09 at 9:20AM Please stop attacking Mr. MacCash. He is not claiming to be an investigative reporter. He is the art critic for the Times Picayune, and his article is simply that. It is a view of Fred Radtke's eff ect (or lack thereof) on local graffiti artists' (and taggers) work from an art centric critical point of view. Posted by efenzie on 03/27/09 at 9:53AM
Appendix 1 V 99.9% of Graffiti is a dull and ordinary product of dull and ordinary minds w ell parodied and countered by the splotches of grey which have ironically become closer to art than what they cover. Thank Bansky for this unintentional canonization. Posted by edinlakeview on 03/27/09 at 9:55AM LONG LIVE OPERATI ON CLEAN SWEEP & THE GRAY GHOST! I have been "tagged" on numerous properties and have called upon Mr. Radtke to eradicate the un commissioned works. The taggers have broken into my property, and, without my "permission" proceeded to desecrate my property. No one from the city, where I pay taxes, has offered to paint it over. He has never entered one of my properties without prior approval. The State Police rent bucket trucks for him to remove the tags from Highway signs. Mr. Radtke has more knowledge of who 's doing this than the NOPD. He's one of the Good Guys. Let's help make this city tag free, not fight an organization than has been going it alone for a dozen years. Posted by daburgla on 03/27/09 at 10:06AM DOWN WITH THE GHOST!!! Posted by bmwtsu on 03/27/09 at 10:52AM Graffiti will only add more blight to the most blighted city in the Western World. Anarchists and gangs are going to paint this town silly. My five years of commitment to this place can't get here any sooner. Posted by tothepernt on 03/27/09 at 11:17AM I think the grey ghost just got a little drunk with the name recognition and power that came from what started as a great idea. At first, it was a real community se rvice. Then he just had to start painting over everything, all of the time, which made his grey lumps as much of an eyesore as the original graffiti was. If he wants to help clean up the city, maybe he can try something that isn't offensive to other peopl e's property rights, like picking up litter on the roadside or helping old ladies by mowing their lawns. That won't garner him coverage in a slew of TP articles though, which is why he'll never do it. Posted by agold on 03/27/09 at 11:23AM I was at a meeting recently where Mr. Radke spoke. I knew him from media reports but did not know until this meeting that he operates a non profit or has the ability to remove graffiti rather than just cover it up.
Appendix 1 VI Property owners are now requir ed by the city to help combat this graffiti problem either by covering up or removing it or face a fine. This will hopefully help encourage owners of blighted property and deadbeat landlords to take care of their buildings and not let them become graff iti magnets! http://operationcleansweepnola.com/ Posted by AnOddGirl on 03/27/09 at 11:37AM Cavemen did it. Builders of the pyramids and WWI and II aircraft did it. People love to leave behind their own brand of "Killroy was here". Graffiti is an ageless pursuit and will survive (I hope) long after this generation and their children and their children's children are dead. Most of the shameful scribbles in the Quarter are tourists le aving their messages albeit ugly, unreadable on 300 year old wall messages. However I find the graying of said scribbles to be just as intolerable. Most of the gang graffiti in the city Fred won't go near. This graffiti usually has profanity and drug refer ences, but then so do tennis shoes tossed over phone lines. (Doug you gonna let me post this entry this time? I'll give you my scribble take for free.) Most local graffiti artists use stickers or wheat paste ups, these are biodegradable or easily removed, unlike Fred's painting stop signs completely gray instead of removing graffiti as he has said he does (NOT). Fred's big gray blobs are just as ugly and depressing as scribbles. I'm sure if someone counted the blobs would overshadow graffiti art by some 100 to 1. YES, there needs to be public art. Yes, we have miles of levee walls that could be used as art platforms for the graffitist, art schools, kids that would love to leave their mark even if it's transitory. Several cities across the World do this s o why can't we? Posted by CrakaJ on 03/27/09 at 12:19PM VoxApox said it the best. Yall are talking about how taggers have ruined the city when in fact Grey Ghost is the biggist tagger of them all. If he really cared about the city he would try and be more artistic about what he is doing. Ive seen those stupid grey blotches on white buildings, blue building, all color buildings. Why cant this idiot match paint if he cares so much about how the property looks. I'd rather drive around and see graffiti all over the place then a bunch of crappy looking grey blotches done by an unartistic retard. Posted by lakehopper on 03/27/09 at 12:28PM Try dealing with the brilliant Cindy Chang! She asks no questions and rep orts on no facts then runs that same story over and over again! Maybe we could trade ,reporters, do you have a blind, moron for an ignorant idiot? By the way...not everyone agrees on what art is, Ghost, should not have the final
Appendix 1 VII say, I would rather see col orful, imaginative, expressive, tasteful artwork that grey blotches! Posted by tbaggins on 03/27/09 at 12:54PM Jail the Gray Ghost! Posted by rashul10chin on 03/27/09 at 1:04PM Maybe someone should simply ask these understanding and reputable citizens of New Orleans that are scribbling graffiti everywhere to stop, this problem would be solved once and for all. Posted by sealskin on 03/27/09 at 3:22PM Pr operty owners including the City of New Orleans have always been required by law to maintain their properties without graffitti. There are anit graffitti ordinances on our books. As is often the case it is an issue of enforcing the rules we have and not cl ouding the issue with more laws. Posted by itrebuchet on 03/27/09 at 4:58PM Fred Radke is a VIOLET PERSON to whom a blind eye is turned by the city. Considering the crime it's not surprising, but his terror spree is sponsored by those who should be busy detaining him. Jail him! Jail him! Jail him! Jail him! It is unsurprising that Radke has awful taste as well. Posted by paulusnb on 03/28/09 at 8:01AM I do not know why Doug MacCash keeps beating this iss ue and why he seems to dislike Radtke. Radtke is doing a great service for the city. The graffiti that pops up on walls are usually some stupid kid's initials. Putting one's initials on the side of a building is not Guerrilla warfare, kids, or an act of ar tistic expression. It is sheer stupidity. Posted by Exordium1952 on 04/07/09 at 8:43AM Hey! Keep Doug in Nawlins. We have our own idiots here in Austin to keep us laughing. Posted by Exordium1952 on 04/07/09 at 8:56AM Somebody needs to tag Radtke car or house. Keep up the good work Doug. It seems that only these hot button issues gets you feedback. But I am not surprise since only those who support the arts like the Gallery owners and rich read your a rticles. As for me I find this entertaining.:)
Appendix 2 VIII Map of New Orleans From http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/images/new orleans map1.jpg