I recently attended a screening of music video director Jon Reiss’ new feature, Bomb It!: The Global Graffiti Documentary. And even though I left the theatre feeling enlightened, informed and impressed, I also exited with some very strong views on the act of “bombing.”
Firstly, there are taggers. They go around the city writing their names in marker or spray paint in lettering only legible to other writers. You see it on walls, buses, subways, washroom stalls, phone booths, etc. To the average eye, it does not look like much, even though they have made considerable effort to develop their style. However, their tags do not contribute anything to the city they are marking. It is an act of narcissism, to be recognized simply because they exist.
Next on the list are the writers. They also tag their cities but their names appear bigger and with more style. They are often colourful and far more imaginative than the above-mentioned tag. While their motivations may still be the same (to be recognized), at least they are creating something that gives reason to recognize them and can be appreciated by more than just other writers – and considering that includes the majority of the city, it is less a blot on the landscape.
Finally, there are the graffiti artists. Their work is the most artistic and widely favourable. They claim public space to display their talent and share their creations with the greatest number of people possible. Their work ranges from political commentary to social critique to art for art’s sake. They are admired by passersby and coveted by various corporations.
Graffiti raises the question of public space – who does it belong to? If the answer is everyone, should bombers not be accountable to the rest of the public (not the authorities) by at least contributing (by statement or art) to the neighbourhoods they bomb?