The word on the street is… art

I recently picked up a birthday gift featuring urban street art and it got me thinking. One of the most interesting things about living in LA is watching the unspoken dialogue between its denizens on my daily travels across the county. LA is a very talkative place if you take the time to look and listen. I’ve observed vivid visual conversations between the public space taggers and the city’s Dept. of Public Works. From “eavesdropping” over the span of a few years on a particular freeway, the conversations have gone pretty much like this:

Tagger: *grabs spray paint*
“*unintelligible*
*unintelligible symbol*
*unintelligible symbol* was
*unintelligible symbol* was here!” (x10)

DPW: *grabs heavy duty cement-colored paint*
“*unintelligible symbol* was here!
*unintelligible symbol* was.
*unintelligible*
.” (x10)

It has become this constant banter that I’ve gotten sucked into following like a daytime soap opera. I’ve rooted for some graffiti styling and found myself a little sad when they were painted over. On the other hand I’ve felt a sense of equilibrium restored when I drove my route and passed the newly cleaned up freeway support beams. The conversations naturally ebb and flow just like ones that are spoken. I’ve wondered what the symbols, which I can’t really understand, mean? I’ve also wondered:
Who exactly is on both sides of the conversation?
What is it that the freeway taggers really wish to communicate so badly, risking safety and arrest to do so?
How does the rest of the Los Angeles population feel about these markings?
Why does this same dialogue continue again and again?

And of course,

Who exactly is paying for all this to continue?

In a sense I like that the dialogue continues because it means that people traditionally without a voice are utilizing a public forum to attempt to be heard; Using actions like words in a visual wave of communication instead of violence or worse. So instead of judging it as merely an act of petty vandalism, maybe by trying to understand and challenge myself to appreciate that form of dialog it will eventually lead to a change of heart to view this conversation as art.

LA locals: Banksy is sponsoring free Monday admission at MOCA for all visitors to the museum’s Geffen Contemporary space in Little Tokyo for the duration of the exhibition “Art in the Streets,” running through Aug. 8. Read more about British artist Banksy’s contribution to this dialog here.

Here’s an LA Times Entertainment article reviewing the Art in the Streets exhibit.

Here’s the LA Times Culture Monster Blog announcing admission sponsored by Banksy. Looks like I now have some 4th of July plans.

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About madeline

a digital media pro w/ lots to learn. just the way i like it. i read, learn, and do things to make my inner kid proud (via A Mad Vox podcast, coming soon). View all posts by madeline

One response to “The word on the street is… art

  • Jenny

    There’s some really interesting urban art that is put up here in my city too. I’m always really amazed at the level of effort some go through to mark a certain place…I’ve seen graffiti on abandoned railroad track bridges that span over a river. I like what you said about the act of graffiti as being a way of being heard when they traditionally do not have a voice…I’ve never thought of it that way.

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