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Empathy Loading

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Graffoto

29/08/2003
Furtherfield

Featured image: printed out photographs of the streets, pasted them back onto the surfaces where they were taken, and then rephotographed them

When we visited New York this spring, we met in Willamsburg, Brooklyn with Christina Ray, founder of Glowlab, multimedia arts lab for experimental psychogeography. According to the article ‘Preliminary Problems in Constructing a Situation’, in Situationniste Internationale No. 1 (1958), psychogeography studies ‘the specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals’.

We wandered the streets, chatting and observed the effects of the emotions and behaviour of the local communities on the streets of Brooklyn. Christina described for us the significance of various tags, stickers and stencils and told us about the brewing turf wars between the recent influx of middle class artists and disgruntled locals whose families have lived in the area for generations, but who were facing the consequences of creeping gentrification and the threat of fast-rising rents. The diverse concerns of the local community were spelt out in frenetically pasted, posted, taped and painted signs, tags, images and messages of all sorts. Every wall, every piece of street furniture shares its surface with an accretion of eye-catching stickers, advertising local bands, spray painted decorations, tags and statements of protest, like ‘more yuppie bullshit’.

The Graffoto project divides into three distinct parts. Graffoto 01 documents the richly textured expressivity of the Brooklyn communities. The social commentary mixes with exuberant, colourful and stunningly executed murals and sometimes inexplicable expressions of appreciation for the absurdity of life, such as ‘saving to buy air conditioner- saving to buy a bike (written and illustrated on 2 strips of masking tape stuck to a wall heavy with graffiti). These images draw you to spin out narratives. Sometimes further clues to the complete story lie in the details of the surroundings, whilst other accounts are completely opaque to the outsider but suggest a connection of great significance to individuals, groups or events in the locality.

In Graffoto02, MOTC (man of the crowd) has printed out photographs of the streets, pasted them back onto the surfaces where they were taken, and then rephotographed them in situ. I guess that in the streets these images act as a mirror of sorts for the street artists of Brooklyn. Also as a sign that the guttural and wonderfully articulated expressions of protest, humour, threat and joie de vivre can be both appreciated and participated in but also consumed by the world of mediation. These second stage images do evoke a strange threat of surveillance.

The final layer of the Graffoto project invites us to participate by sending in images of our streets for others to print out and post in their own public localities. Alternatively we can download and print an image from the collection and paste it onto the lamp-post outside our own doors.

We can only imagine these images so rich with local texture and information will start to appear in all the lands of the world; turning up like tourists, marked out by their strange dress, stranger cultural values and the blind spots afforded them by their communities. Or perhaps more like illegal immigrants, their language will be foreign, their deepest and most obvious narratives veiled, their protests displaced and irrelevant to the communities amongst which they find themselves.

MOTC offers a strategy for border crossing. OK, we loose much of the texture, the information and with these, many pieces of the narrative but something equally important is facilitated here. The photographs and printouts of the graffiti are a sign of something foreign, mediated, stuck and mingling in a community that isn’t sure why it’s there, whether it’s any of their business and whether they like it.

August 2003