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More on graffiti and stencils. Wandering about town to get the photos, and looking through the archive, has reminded me why I'm interested in well-designed and executed street art. And why it leaves me bored when it's out of its natural context.

Like fanfic, 'zines and mash up music, the appeal is connected to the amateur nature. Not in the perjorative not-very-good sense of the word but in the passionate not-for-profit way in which these forms generate and replicate without any official sanction or financial consideration. This is culture reproducing itself without the mediation of commercialism: people appropriating what they like and, by re-interpreting it, making it their own and spreading it onwards. It's a system of cultural reproduction which comes up from the subcultures rather than coming down from the arbiters of taste. Active co-option rather than passive absorbtion. It also has the ability, through being embedded in the public space, of jolting you out of the eyes-down, getoutofmyway charge through daily life. It wakes you up to your surroundings.

Just before Christmas, I went to Santa's Ghetto in London. They didn't have any photos online before I went, so I was expecting something a little more anarchic and haphazard, a little more like a street bazaar, than the bog standard cooler than thou art gallery. I find it rather ironic - and gods, I hope it is meant to be - that the pictures on walls collective claim to be "art for everybody, made by nobodies" and then sell it on the names of Hewlett, Banksy etc. I like Banksy's work, like it a lot. The Tate Britain escapade is one of those things you want to do yourself*. I first saw the stencil stuff on old wooden hoardings in a dirty side street south of the river and it gave me that jolt. That jaw down, laugh out loud, wow jolt. Seeing it pinned to a wall, tagged with a label and a price, all that sense of spontaneity was drained out. It's not an "illegal = cool" thing (got past that a decade ago), it's a context thing. By pricing something, it is devalued. It's become a commodity, a possession to be bought rather than an idea to be appropriated (coincidentally chequebook vandalism was the first Banksy I saw). It's preserving something rather than letting it evolve.

I'm fairly positive I could do an over-extended metaphor involving butterflies at this point, so I'm going to stop. I've already had to edit out the word 'capitalism'.

*I've had an idea for one for a while now, it's just getting the wherewithal to create it and the confidence to do it.

Posted @ 11:14 pm on Thursday, January 22, 2004
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